The Other Within Us…. The Shadow Archetype. “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious.” -Carl Gustav Jung. What is an Archetype?.
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The Personal Unconscious contains suppressed events, values, and fears of one’s own life.
The Collective Unconscious holds the inherited or taught ideas that persist as memories in the unconscious mind of every individual.”
(C. G. Jung Institute of New York)
(C. G. Jung Institute of New York)
-Snakes, M.C. Escher
(C. G. Jung Institute of New York)
Everyone has a Shadow. This is not something that one or two people have. We all have a Shadow and a confrontation with the Shadow is essential for self awareness. We cannot learn about ourselves if we do not learn about our Shadow, so, therefore, we are going to attract it through the mirrors of other people.”
When exploring possible literary representations of the Shadow, keep an eye out for reflection contemplation (whether within a man-made or natural mirror). In the mirror, a character’s reflected self is their Shadow; their exact image reversed. Just like Lewis Carroll’s Alice, within the looking glass we all often become someone else.
In literature, often the hero’s Shadow is embodied within a foil character. But not every hero/villain pairing is a true Shadow relationship. When the hero’s darker side exists within another character, there must also be a strong surface connection evident between the protagonist and antagonist. They are similar, but disparate. The similarities pull them together as the differences tear them asunder.
When seeking evidence of Shadow play in literature, also pay close attention to characters with a significant disconnect between their inner face and their outer façade. When literal or figurative masks are in place, chances are there is a Shadow fully operating behind the fragile covering; it is probable that there is a truer visage hidden behind this false front.
The Shadow knows...
The Shadow archetype is embodied in a reoccurring character known simply as The Shadow. With his menacing laugh, hypnotic powers, and famous tagline “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men…The Shadow knows,” the Shadow character has graced the pages of pulp novels and comic books, shadowed the screens of televisions and movie theaters, and floated across the radio airwaves since the 1930’s.
Comic books are ripe with archetype representations and their heroes and villains are consistently paired in shadowy configurations of opposition. Wolverine, one of the most popular X-men, is definitely shadowed by his arch nemesis Sabretooth. Both characters are bestial in appearance and attitude, but the chief difference is a deeply felt code of honor and humanity present within the otherwise grisly character of Wolverine. This respect for humanity is completely lacking within the chaotic and bloodthirsty soul of Sabretooth.
Within the Spiderman mythos there is also a heavy-handed sense of self and shadow, light and dark. When Spiderman first dons the black suit, his dark side is unleashed. But once the alien garment is discarded, it creates another symbiotic relationship with a new host and Venom is born. Venom is aligned with Spiderman superficially, sharing similar powers. Like Spiderman, Venom also possesses a strong sense of moral obligation. But Venom’s sense of justice is heavily warped by his need for revenge– his largest goal being to bring about the downfall and death of Spiderman.
Within the Batman film The Dark Knight, the co-dependent relationship between hero and villain, light and dark, is pushed to center stage. The Joker repeatedly states that the existence of Batman spurned the creation of the Joker, that each operates against and because of the other. Every coin needs two sides and although the Joker states it flippantly, there is a meaningful subtext when he says to Batman, “You complete me.”
The Stars Wars universe is chock-full of deliberate archetypes. The Shadow is no exception. The promotional image to the left directly speaks to the fact that Anakin Skywalker will eventually grow up to be swallowed by his Shadow; he will fall and rise anew as the black-hearted Darth Vader. His literal shadow foreshadows the eventual power his psychological Shadow will possess. The promotional image on the right again highlights this duality, within Anakin, of both light and dark. Tatters of the left portion remain human, but the majority of his face is covered in robotic darkness.
Within The Matrix trilogy, there is a strong sense of connection between the heroic Neo and the villainous Agent Smith. Both can eventually access and manipulate the computerized Matrix world. Each man is able to see beyond the programming down to the essential truths of their virtual reality. But Agent Smith refuses to yield his sense of purpose, vying to destroy Neo as Neo struggles to free others from the grip of their false computerized surroundings.
In J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, the hero and villain are conjoined through similarities and driven to opposition through significant differences. Both wizards demonstrate extremely powerful aptitudes for magic. The feathers within their wands even possess paralleled cores. But the chief differences define them – Lord Voldemort shrouds himself in hatred while Harry Potter has literally been marked by love. The lightening strike gashed across his forehead is a symbol of his mother’s affection and sacrifice when defending the infant Harry against Lord Voldemort’s attack.
In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, a complex system of Self and Shadow is established. There are many surface similarities between the halfling hero Frodo and his shadowy counterpart Gollum. Frodo Baggins is a hobbit, the type of creature Gollum used to be. Both have intimate knowledge of the pain and power associated with the role of a ring-bearer. But Frodo has not yet been completely overcome by his Shadow while Gollum has almost been defeated by the darkness within. Even within this Shadow representative, there is a further split between good and evil. Gollum has two distinct personalities bearing several differing names – Smeagol/Slinker still remembers shreds of his humanity while Gollum/Stinker no longer yearns for the touch of interior sunlight.
In this visually stunning adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Fight Club, Edward Norton plays a nameless narrator who is disenfranchised with modern life. He quickly meets soap salesman Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), who helps him to break free from his restricting routines and join a counter-culture group that uses personal violence and cultural terrorism in an effort to reshape human interactions and society. During the course of the film and novel, the narrator realizes that Tyler is actually his darker self. Tyler is his Shadow side set free and, much like the doppelgangers in Stevenson’s novels, both the narrator and Tyler have to metaphorically and literally wrestle for full control of their shared body.