“Archetype is a term brought into literary criticism from the psychology of Carl Jung, who holds that behind each individual’s ‘unconscious’—the blocked-off residue of the past—lies the ‘collective unconscious’ of the human race—the blocked-off memory of our racial past, even of our prehuman experiences. [It is something like having subconscious allusions.] This unconscious racial memory makes powerfully effective for us a group of ‘primordial images’ [arche] shaped by the repeated experience of our ancestors and expressed in myths, religion, dreams, fantasies, and literature…. The literary critic applies archetype to an image, a descriptive detail, a plot pattern, or a character type that occurs frequently in literature, myth religion, or folklore and is, therefore, believed to evoke profound emotions because it touches the unconscious memory and thus calls into play illogical but strong responses….” (Handbook to Literature).


mid 16th cent.: via Latin from Greek arkhetupon something molded first as a model, from arkhe- primitive + tupos a model.’ (New Oxford American)

Archetype Writing Exercise

Choose a work currently in revision. How would you describe the protagonist in this work? Is this character more of a hero/ine or antihero/ine? How does this character represent the every(wo)man? With which mythical figure does the character most relate? Complete the below quiz for your character:

Once you’ve decided upon your character’s mythical identity, study the myth further. How might you employ the mythical details to strengthen the identity of your character? How might you do the same for other characters in the work?


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A Handbook to Literature. William Harmon.

“Cogito et Histoire de la Folie.” Jacques Derrida.

Eats Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. Lynne Truss.

The Elements of Style. William Strunk. 

New Oxford American DictionaryEdited by Angus Stevenson and Christine A. Lindberg.

The Norton Anthology of World LiteratureMartin Puchner, et al.

The Norton Introduction to PhilosophyGideon Rosen and Alex Byrne.

Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain EnglishPatricia T. O’Conner

Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. Janet Burroway, Elizabeth Stuckey-French & Ned Stuckey-French.

Writing the Other. Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward.

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