Archetypal Criticism A Critical Approach to Literature
What is an archetype?
An archetype means “original form”
It refers to the universal symbols, theme, characters and images we find repeated throughout literature
In Literary Criticism: Ten Approaches , the editors, E.A. Watson and E.W. Ducharme, discuss archetypal criticism.
It is defined by Watson and Ducharme as “a recurrent, universal pattern or motif holding the same or similar meaning and significance for all individuals in every age and in every part of the world. ” (321)
Archetypal criticism is said to increase both the knowledge of a literary piece and the satisfaction in reading the work
Watson & Ducharme write:
“ One is able to see that an idea, image, character, setting or theme in a literary work corresponds to or is based upon the same or similar patterns in other works of literature and in present and past religious cultures”. (320)
“ Archetypal criticism looks in literature for patterns and traces them through works of classical antiquity into modern texts, and interprets those reverberations as symbols or manifestations of universal human conflicts and desires. ” (321)
And this is the description I like best:
Watson and Ducharme further describe the ability of archetypes to move us:
“ Great art is durable and always relevant precisely because, in the words of William Faulkner, it ‘ grieves on universal bones’”. (321)
Archetypal or Mythological Critics look for underlying, recurrent patterns in literature (archetypes)
These patterns reveal universal meaning and basic truths about the human condition for readers regardless of where or when they live
In simple terms…
An archetype is a pattern in literature , the meaning of which is understood by any reader
An archetype will elicit the same response from a reader of a literary work in China 5000 years ago as it will a reader in South Windsor today
Consider the implications of this idea.
An archetypal critic would suggest that all human experience is linked through literature and that this experience is expressed again and again using the same patterns throughout time and space.
An archetypal critic would also say that the recurring patterns in literature prove that there are universal truths and we can learn them by reading
Archetypes: Where does this idea come from?
Archetypes were first suggested by Carl Jung, pronounced “Young” (1875-1961)
Jung was a psychologist who applied the term archetype to the “primordial images” that spring from our common human experience
Jung suggested that we all share a “collective unconscious” in which all of the history of human experience in contained and to which we all have access through our subconscious minds
These images, or archetypes are expressed by our subconscious through the myths, religion, dreams, fantasies and literature of the human race
Because we all share in the “collective unconscious”, we all recognize these archetypes or patterns when we see or read them
Categories of Archetypes How can I recognize them in literature?
Categories of Archetypes
Archetypes can be divided into categories:
These are conflicts we see appear again and again in literature:
Young v. Old
Strong v. Weak
Rich v. Poor
Insiders v. Outsiders
Dreams v. Reality
Men v. Women
Coming of Age
Making a Sacrifice
Falling from a High Position
Loss of Innocence
Adam and Eve
David and Goliath
Garden of Eden
Faust & Mephistopheles
Sampson & Delilah
Archetypal Symbols Every symbol is an archetype!
Circle of Stories
Northrop Frye, an archetypal critic, suggests that literary archetypes can be classified by genre and these genres seem to correspond to the seasons of the year and the life cycle of humanity
Notice how each archetypal genre of literature corresponds to a season
Each of the four genres share characteristics of the genres next to them
You might have encountered this system of classifying archetypes in ENG 3U1
Why discuss archetypes?
The recognition of patterns in literature, and the understanding the universal truths associated with these patterns can help students of literature to unravel the meaning of the literature we read.
Will it be on a test?
Yes, you will be responsible for the basic theory behind archetypes as well as memorizing examples of each category and also finding common archetypes in the literature we study in class.
Liana Cote Montminy Under-simplified for you by your loving teacher,