Archetypal analysis of a work is one of the most common forms of literary analysis. It is easy to understand and use with a little knowledge of the basics.

First of all, an archetype is a pattern from which copies can be made. That is, it is a universal theme that manifests itself differently on an individual basis. Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung believed that these archetypes were the result of a collective unconscious. This collective unconscious was not directly knowable and is a product of the shared experiences of our ancestors. Jung believed it was:

Primordial: That is, we, as individuals, have these archetypal images ingrained in our understanding even before we are born.

Universal: These archetypes can be found all over the world and throughout history. The manifestation of the idea may be different, but the idea itself is the same.

Archetypes fall into two major categories: characters, situations/symbols. It is easiest to understand them with the help of examples. Listed below are some of the most common archetypes in each category.


The hero - The courageous figure, the one who's always running in and saving the day. Example: Dartagnon from Alexandre Dumas's "The Three Musketeers"

The outcast - The outcast is just that. He or she has been cast out of society or has left it on a voluntary basis. The outcast figure can oftentimes also be considered as a Christ figure. Example: Simon from William Golding's "The Lord of the Flies"

The scapegoat - The scapegoat figure is the one who gets blamed for everything, regardless of whether he or she is actually at fault. Example: Snowball from George Orwell's "Animal Farm"

The star-crossed lovers - This is the young couple joined by love but unexpectedly parted by fate. Example: Romeo and Juliet from William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet"

The shrew - This is that nagging, bothersome wife always battering her husband with verbal abuse. Example: Zeena from Edith Wharton's "Ethan Frome"


The task - A situation in which a character, or group of characters, is driven to complete some duty of monstrous proportion. Example: Frodo's task to keep the ring safe in J. R. R. Tolkein's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy

The quest - Here, the character(s) are searching for something, whether consciously or unconsciously. Their actions, thoughts, and feelings center around the goal of completing this quest. Example: Christian's quest for salvation in John Bunyan's "The Pilgrim's Progress"

The loss of innocence - This is, as the name implies, a loss of innocence through sexual experience, violence, or any other means. Example: Val's loss of innocence after settling down at the mercantile store in Tennessee William's "Orpheus Descending"

The initiation - This is the process by which a character is brought into another sphere of influence, usually (in literature) into adulthood. Example: Ayla's initiation both into the Clan and into adulthood in Jean Auel's "The Clan of the Cave Bear"

Water - Water is a symbol of life, cleansing, and rebirth. It is a strong life force, and is often depicted as a living, reasoning force. Example: Edna learns to swim in Kate Chopin's "The Awakening"

Hopefully, you will now be able to recognize and understand archetypes as you come across them in your readings. They help to add depth and underlying significance to some of the world's best literature.


Each of your books has been divided into 6 sections. You will turn in a reading journal covering each of the six (6) sections. The purposes of this assignment are to gather data about the book, to read and think critically as you read, to evaluate data selected, and to practice skills of recognizing archetypes and embedding quotes.

As you read each section, use post-it notes to flag the following:

a. archetypes that you have discerned

b. passages that relate a myth, a cultural code, or a custom

c. passages that strike you as particularly significant in terms of tone or diction

d. passages that reveal a theme or motif

1. Pick one of the archetypes you found as you read and briefly explain how it functions in the novel so far. This will require concrete answers and incidents from the story. You will need to embed quotes in your journal and provide a page citation for the quotations (MLA format). Try to select different archetypes for each of the five sections of the book. Do not write an essay for any of these. Think in terms of one half to one full page (journal size) apiece.

2. Paraphrase one of the myths, cultural codes or customs you marked as you read. Explain its function in the story.

3. Select one of the passages you flagged for its tone or diction and briefly analyze the passage in terms of tone or diction.

4. Select one of the passages you flagged for theme and briefly analyze the passage. OR . . .Make up 3 multiple choice questions and 2 Bloom's Taxonomy questions of the Analysis, Synthesis, and/or Evaluation variety. [The questions must also be answered]

Home Page for Archetypes and Motifs in Literature and Cinema (many excellent literary and cinematic examples linked)

Lesson Plans - "Hero's Journey" Analysis

Click here: The Archetypal Hero Resource Page (some excellent links though it bothers me a bit that this college teacher misspells "heroes")

Archetypes in Literature

Understanding literary archetypes

Archetypes In A Rose For Emily

Archetypal Criticism and Joseph Campbell (uses Crime and Punishment as an example)

Trackstar: Archetypes in Movies and Literature