The course I recently took at McDaniel was Jungian Psychology and the Hero’s Journey. I went through the Hero’s Journey over the last couple weeks so it’s time for the psychology of Carl Jung as it relates to fiction writing. According to Miriam Webster online, an archetype is “an inherited idea or mode of thought in the psychology of C. G. Jung that is derived from the experience of the race and is present in the unconscious of the individual.” Jung looked at myths and legends in many cultures over time and space and found that there were nearly identical tales present in all of them. He believed that these archetypes reside within the collective unconscious of man and therefore the unconscious of each individual human.
In literature, archetypes are typical characters, situations, themes, images, etc., that represent the universal patterns in human nature. Character archetypes include:
• The Hero – the good guy trying to restore order or harmony or justice (D’artagnan, Robin Hood, Ray Kinsella).
• The Wise Old Man/Woman – knowledge and good will (Obi-Wan Kenobi, Dumbledore).
• The Trickster – the antihero (Severus Snape).
• The Persona – letting the job/role take over the person underneath (Darth Vadar).
• The Shadow – the doppelganger (Dr. Jekyll’s Mr. Hyde).
• Anima/Animus – soul mate (romance fiction is littered with these).
• The Great/Earth Mother – the good mother who guides her “child (Glinda the Good Witch).
Archetypal symbols were likely drilled into most of our heads in high school English class. Things like water, sun/moon, a tree, an apple, a circle, and so on, can represent an idea or a theme. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane was my Advanced Grammar and Expository Writing term paper my senior year in high school. I still remember little Henry Fleming facing the ‘dragon’ and the ‘serpent’ which both represented the Union troops. My English teacher graded all of our papers with green ink instead of red because that is an archetypal symbol of hope. But, I digress. In Dream a Little Dream, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Rachel is on a quest (situational archetype) to find the Kennedy chest because she believes it holds the key to finding a couple million dollars which would give her financial security. The box represents that security but isn’t actually the security.
The Hero’s Journey is one situational archetype and Rachel’s quest in Dream a Little Dream is also. YA books often have initiation archetypes and coming-of-age themes. Good versus evil, death and rebirth, nature versus mechanized world are common situational archetypes as well. The Red Badge of Courage was both a hero’s journey and an coming-of-age story (and many other archetypes, I’m sure, but it’s been [I won’t say how many] years since my senior year in high school).
The function of archetypes in writing is to help the reader identify with the characters and the situations they are in, the journeys they are on, and the characters they take along with them or run into along the way. After taking this course, I’m much more tuned in to the archetypes and I find myself wondering if the author did it on purpose or if it was unconscious. Can you identify archetypes in your writing? Did you use them on purpose?