Project 2, Exercise 2: archetypes


The word archetype, "original pattern from which copies are made", first entered into English usage in the 1540s[1] and derives from the Latin noun archetypum, latinisation of the Greek noun ἀρχέτυπον (archetupon), whose adjective form is ἀρχέτυπος (archetupos), which means "first-molded",[2] which is a compound of ἀρχή archē, "beginning, origin",[3] and τύπος tupos, which can mean, amongst other things, "pattern," "model," or "type."[4]

Usage of archetypes in specific pieces of writing is a holistic approach, which can help the writing win universal acceptance. This is because readers can relate to and identify with the characters and situation, both socially and culturally. By deploying common archetypes contextually, a writer aims to impart realism[5] to his work. According to many literary critics, archetypes have a standard and recurring depiction in a particular human culture and/or the whole human race that ultimately lays concrete pillars and can shape the whole structure in a literary work.

[material downloaded from Wikipedia article "Archetype," 15 October 2016]


Character archetypes, their roles in a narrative and examples:

  • the hero: is generally virtuous, admirable and has the power to save or put things to right (example: Odysseus; Hercules)
  • the anti-hero: is not the antagonist to the hero, sharing many of the hero's characteristics but with flaws (example: characters played by Clint Eastwood in virtually every one of his roles; the title character in the book/movie Shane)
  • the artist: imagines, dreams and creates things that do not exist (example: the classical figure Achilles and a very long list thereafter)
  • the Christ figure: is a hero who suffers for heroism, sometimes to the point of offering/sacrificing his/her life for the person rescued (example:  most obviously the character Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but also Simon in The Lord of the Flies, Neo in The Matrix Trilogy, Dr. Who, others)
  • the trickster / joker: a useful character who can change the direction of the plot by introducing the unexpected or capricious (example: Loki in Norse mythology)
  • the fool: takes shelter behind humour and/or simple-mindedness to speak truth in situations when no one else would dare (example: Fool in King Lear)
  • the sage: a figure who can be consulted to provide insight or wisdom not possessed to others (example: Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings)
  • the king / the queen: the figure who holds ultimate power or authority, for good or for ill (example: Neptune in mythology; Mufasa in The Lion King; the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland)
  • the villain: usually the antagonist, helps drive the plot by opposing the hero or by making it necessary for a hero to arise (example: see any Bond movie... Goldfinger, Hugo Drax, Le Chiffre, Rosa Klebb, Scaramanga, Dr. No...)
  • the maiden: represents virtue, youth and/or innocence that usually need to be protected (example: Athena, Rapunzel, Snow White)
  • the crone / witch: an older woman who has some kind of power, whether of knowledge/experience or magic; could be good or evil, depending upon the story (example: the witches in The Wizard of Oz)
  • the hunter: one who pursues and thereby helps to drive the narrative (example: Diana / Artemis of Greco-Roman mythology)
  • the patriarch: the father-figure, with all the potential for love, protection, wisdom or control that that might entail (example: Zeus in mythology; Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird)
  • the matriarch: the mother-figure, with all the potential for love, protection, wisdom or control that that might entail (example: Hera of mythology)
  • the teacher / mentor: one who guides and imparts knowledge, wisdom or know-how that enables the hero or others in the narrative (example: Yoda in Star Wars)
  • the rich man / woman: has the power to reward, inspire envy and/or demonstrate the advantages and dangers of wealth and privilege (example: Croesus in Greek history / mythology)
  • the mastermind / architect: one who plans and builds and/or has practical wisdom that can be applied to problems (example: Sherlock Holmes)
  • the rebel: one who bucks the established order, whether for good or for ill (example: Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator; Guy Montag in Fahrenheit 451)

  • the traitor: a disguised antagonist who undermines the hero or others (example: Fredo Corleone in The Godfather, Part II; Peter Pettigrew in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)

  • the beauty: one whose attractive appearance can mirror inward virtue or demonstrate the deceptive nature of outward form (example: Helen of Troy; Sleeping Beauty)
  • the orphan: the child alone in the world, vulnerable without love or resources (example: Dickens' character, Oliver Twist)
  • the coward: in contrast to the hero, demonstrates the less-admirable side of being human (example: the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz; Count Rugen in The Princess Bride; Ichabod Crane in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)
  • the innocent / ingenue: sometimes a demonstration of vulnerability that must be protected, but can also be a warning about the dangers of failing to learn and mature (example: Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol; Ophelia in Hamlet)


Archetype versus stereotype

The tidiest description I found of the difference between the two "types" runs as follows: "Although both archetype and stereotype draw from a "type" of person to create character, the difference is that the archetype will use the template as a starting place, and the stereotype uses it as the end point." ["Archetype versus Sterotype," consulted online 15 October 2016]

Following this line of thinking, the archetype draws upon shared cultural or mythical knowledge that the reader already has to help move character and plot development along. There should be a sense of recognition about the function of the character in the story but that function could play out in many different ways -- or may even play against type. To be a true stereotype, however, the character can never be anything but a stock set of exaggerated and fixed attributes that will also spark recognition but will not allow for exploration, novelty or growth.