Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Writing Basics: Jungian Archetypes

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If you have read my recent posts, you know that I added Juliet Marillier's Wolfskin to my 2015 Reading List and have been thinking a lot about reading with a writer's eye. Well, the next book I picked up was Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes's Women Who Run with Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. I am only 40 pages in, but in light of my recent reads and focus here on the blog, Women Who Run with Wolves seems like the perfect book to get me thinking about archetypes.

In the book, Dr. Estes focuses a lot on the psychology of storytelling, especially in relation to the archetypal "Wild Woman" figure. In her explanations of this archetype, Dr. Estes cites Carl Jung's theories of societal archetypes.

This post is going to focus primarily on the work of Dr. Carl Jung in relation to the nature and presence of archetypes (perhaps I will have a feature post on Women Who Run with Wolves at a later date).
What is an "archetype"?

An archetype, as per the psychology of Dr. Carl Jung, is the direct result of the collective unconscious in which a large group of people associate patterns, images, or symbols with a set figure. Historically, as they still do today, these archetypal figures appear in mythology, fairy tales, and dreams (dictionary.reference.com). In other words, an archetype emerges when a large group of people attribute certain characteristics to a certain type of person.

What is an archetype in literature?

A literary archetype is a character, a situation, or an action that "seems to represent . . . universal patterns of human nature" (literarydevices.net). Archetypes in literature are often seen as universal symbols that represent some aspect of the human condition.

Jung's Theories on Myths, Creation Stories, and the Nature of the Archetype

Relevant to this discussion of archetypes is Jung's theory on myths and creation stories. Jung believed the purpose of myths, gods, and origin/creation stories is to provide humankind with a symbolic representation of its own desires for self-realization; i.e. Man created the world as he knows it in his own image. Throughout the course of his psychoanalysis of myths and origin stories, Jung posited that characters like the hero figure were not characters at all but were instead "symbolic keys to truths about the human condition and the path to personal enlightenment" (Stenudd.com).

In so much that archetypes are a direct result of humankind's desire for self-realization, an archetype can fall somewhere on the spectrum between Ego, Freedom, Social, and Order (also known as the four cardinal orientations). Each archetype exists to fulfill a set point of pull between one or more of these cardinal orientations (Soulcraft.co).

Jungian Archetypes

Before we get into the most commonly cited and discussed Jungian archetypes, it is worth noting that "Jung's archetypes are not limited to human characters - there are also animal archetypes, like the serpent and the lion, and objects functioning as archetypes, like gold or the castle or the forest" (Stenudd.com).

Here is an infographic from usefulcharts.com via ChartGeek that gives examples for some of the most commonly used archetypes in Science Fiction and Fantasy (note that, though the terminology discussed below, the archetypes represented are equivocal).


(Refer to the above diagram of the Four Cardinal Orientations to get a sense of how these archetypes function in relation to Ego, Freedom, Social, and Order). Each of these archetypes symbolize basic human motivations (Soulcraft.co).

1. The Innocent

The Innocent's primary objective is to achieve and maintain a happy state of being. This type of character is trusting and often seen as naive.

2. The Orphan/The Regular Guy (Everyman)

Often seen as "down to earth" and a realist, the Everyman wants desperately to belong somewhere. This type of character will often compromise his/her own sense of self if it means belonging to a group, especially one the character has idolized.

3. The Hero

The Hero often strives to prove his/her worth as a being the expert in his/her field and by performing acts that require strength, courage, or cunning. Hubris and the constant need to establish moral, physical, or intellectual superiority is often the downfall of this type of character.

4. The Caregiver

The Caregiver, as the name suggests, seeks to preserve, protect, and heal. This type of character is afraid of appearing selfish or ungrateful and often gets exploited by others.

5. The Explorer

The Explorer is constantly seeking experiences that authenticate or justify his/her sense of being. This type of character is often bored unless experiencing something new and has the potential to become an aimless wanderer, often at the expense of personal relationships.

6. The Rebel (Outlaw)

The Rebel sees rules not as a necessary part of society but as an object to be overcome. This type of character is quick to identify unjust situations and act on them; for this reason, the Rebel often tip-toes the line between good and evil, and Rebels who "go to the dark side" have the potential to become villains.

7. The Lover

The Lover is often driven by a need for intimacy and the desire to experience new things. This type of character is afraid of being unwanted, overlooked, and alone and so seeks to constantly make him/herself more attractive physically and emotionally.

8. The Creator

The Creator strives to create things of value and has the need to express his/her vision. This character is a slave to perfectionism and fears being seen as mediocre or being unable to execute his/her creative vision.

9. The Jester

The Jester seeks to live a life full of experiences and enjoyment and as such is often the life of the party. This type of character fears being bored/boring and is prone to wasting time on activities that seem frivolous to other characters.

10. The Sage

The Sage is a truth-seeker who uses his/her intelligence and analytical mind to understand the world and situations in it. This type of character is afraid of being outsmarted and so seeks to self-reflect and consider a situation from every angle to avoid being duped. This character is also prone to inaction by justification of "needing to study the problem more."

11. The Magician

The Magician, like the Sage, seeks to understand the mysteries of the universe. Unlike the Sage, however, the Magician doesn't seek knowledge for its sake alone; the Magician strives to enhance the lives of those around him/her. The Magician most fears unintended consequences or mistakes while trying to fulfill other characters dreams. Because of his/her power and knowledge, this type of character can become manipulative, using his/her knowledge to garner favors, wealth, or status from other characters in exchange for "wish granting" (fulfilling another character's desires).

12. The Ruler

The Ruler's sole focus is to -- you guessed it -- rule. This type of character sees power as THE resource, not a resource, to controlling his/her family, community, kingdom, etc. While  maybe possessing good intentions, this type of character's authoritarian attitude often renders him/her unable to delegate responsibilities to others, which can lead the character to burn out and feel like he/she is losing control.

Objects/Symbols (Stenudd.com)

1. The Beast

Often a literal animal, the Beast represents man's primitive past.

2. Life

Life represents a cycle (Western - Life, Death; Eastern - Life, Death, Life) and thus the very nature of existence.

3. The Tree

Trees represent an upward sense of direction, a feeling out and within of past and origins. The Tree, in this way, represents the act of self-fulfillment.

4. Water

The ever changing nature of Water makes it the perfect symbol for emotions and the unconscious.

5. The Shadow

The Shadow is meant to be the literal dark places, the amoral aspects, of humanity's instinctual animal origins.

6. The Persona

We see the Persona's use a lot in theatre, especially, because the Persona is the pretense we carry with us; it is the mask we show others.

How can you identify an archetype?

It is important to remember that archetypes are symbolic in nature and thus cannot be directly associated with any one specific type of object or person. Archetypes should be identified by their function in the story as opposed to their appearance in the story (example: a character looks for all the world like the mother figure but functions as the hero archetype).

Why do you need archetypes in your stories?

As we have discussed so far, archetypes were born out of humankind's need to realize certain aspects of its nature. When you evoke the essence of an archetype -- be it the Caregiver, the Ruler, or the Jester -- you are bringing out subtle aspects of your readers' own personalities. And, as we can all agree, we like best those books in which we can relate to the characters.

Now, whether you mean to or not, you will probably always end up utilizing one or more of these archetypes when creating characters for your stories. Yes, even if you shout to the heavens "I DEFY YOU, JUNG, AND YOUR BASTARDLY ARCHETYPES!" you will still use them. Why? Because you just can't help it. Archetypes are the pure essence of humanity, and if you want characters who have any feel of realism about them, you will end up giving them attributes, personalities, and characteristics belonging to one archetype or another. It is inevitable.

Final Thoughts

It is evident that storytellers use archetypes -- almost instinctively -- as representations of the historical and collective unconsciousness of mankind. For this reason, anyone crafting a story could benefit from having a cursory understanding of both Jung and the nature, recurrence, and relevance of archetypes.

What do you think about archetypes in literature, and do you think this post has helped/influenced your writing in any way? Let me know, if it has? 
I LOVE knowing that you all read my posts and that the content of my posts has some influence on you. 
Have anything to add to the discussion of archetypes? 
Let's discuss!

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