Archetype

Generally, a prototype or original pattern or a paradigm or abstract idea of a class of things that represents the typical and essential elements shared by all varieties of that class. In literature, myth, folklore, and religion, the term can be applied to images, themes, symbols, ideas, characters, and situations that appeal to our unconscious racial memory. T.S. Eliot explains this as civilized man’s “pre-logical mentality.” The archetype, or primordial image, touches this “pre-logical mentality.” The psychology of Carl Jung and the comparative anthropology of J.G. Frazer have given the study of archetypal patterns greater usefulness in literary criticism.

Archetypes can be primitive and universal, and consist of general themes like birth, death, coming of age, love, guild, redemption, conflict between free will and destiny, rivalry between members of the family, fertility rites; of characters like the hero rebel, the wanderer, the devil, the buffoon; and of characters like the lion, serpent, or eagle.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

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