What is an Archetype? Definition, Examples of Archetypes in Literature

Archetype definition: An archetype is a setting, character, image, or story pattern that is universally understood.

What is an Archetype in Literature?

Archetypes are settings, characters, images, or story patterns that repeat across various cultures and are universally understood.

Example of Archetype

The evil stepmother is an archetype that is presented across various cultures. This archetype is often found in fairy tales such as Cinderella that has versions in many different cultures.

The Function of Archetypes

Archetypes are an important device used in literature. When literature includes various archetypes, it allows for a universal understanding of the story and for people of various cultures to relate to the archetypal figures by the author. They also allow for a strong emotional response from the readers due to the deep subconscious connection society has with these symbols.

Different Types of Archetypes

Here are some commonly used archetypal characters:

Hero: The hero is defined as the character, usually the protagonist, who displays such positive characteristics as honesty and innate goodness. The hero often must overcome evil in order to bring order back to society.

  • Example: Simba can be seen as the hero in Disney’s The Lion King.

Mentor: The mentor is the character who during the hero’s journey against evil provides guidance and aid to the hero.

  • Example: Phil can be seen as the mentor to Hercules in Disney’s Hercules.

Scapegoat: The scapegoat is a character that during the course of the story accepts blame for all of the unfortunate events that occur.

  • Example: In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Snowball can be seen as a scapegoat.

Villain: The villain is a type of antagonist that is cruel or evil and goes to great extents to continue the injustice that the hero is fighting against in the story.

  • Example: The Joker can be seen as a villain in the DC Comic Batman.

Lover: The lover is an archetype that goes to great lengths to experience love. While the lover is typically in search for romantic love, it could described the search of any sort of loving relationship such as friendship or spiritual.

  • Example: Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid can be seen as the lover archetype.

Archetype Examples in Literature

In Homer’s The Odysseus, he employs the use of several different archetypes. The main character, Odysseus, is representative of the hero archetype. He is on a long journey home from The Trojan War. Through this journey home, Odysseus receives the aid of many mentors who help him. The most prominent mentor he receives aid from is the goddess Athena. Once he is home, he must over come the villainous suitors who have overtaken his kingdom in order to restore justice to Ithaca.

In William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, he includes the lover archetype Romeo. Throughout the story, Romeo is passionately in search for romantic love. He quickly falls in love with women based on their looks rather than taking time to get to know them. This irresponsible approach to love the young teenager takes eventually leads to his downfall.

Summary: What Are Archetypes?

Define archetype in literature: An archetype is a character, setting, image, or story pattern that is universally understood across various cultures.

Final Example:

In the popular movie Star Wars IV, Obi Wan Kenobi is an example of the mentor archetype. He aids the hero, Luke Skywalker, in the fight against the Imperial Army led by the villainous Darth Vader.