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Collective Unconsciousness

To know what archetypal criticism in literature is, we need to define what archetypal criticism is first. Archetypal criticism states that archetypes determine the form and function of literary works. It argues that a written works’ meaning is shaped by cultural and psychological myths. Archetypes are the basic forms personified or concretized in recurring images, symbols, or patterns that are unknowable. The usual themes include the quest for heavenly ascent and typical character types such as the hero and the villain. The symbols used in these images are already full with meaning.

Archetypal criticism was made popular by psychologist Carl Jung. He postulated that humankind has a “collective unconscious” or a universal psyche. This universal psyche is manifested in our myths and dreams and it can be inherited. For Jung, it is the “total dream of human kind.”

Archetypal Literary Criticism

There is one person in particular who comes to mind when we talk about archetypal literary criticism and that is Northrop Frye. He is the author of “The Archetypes of Literature” and the Anatomy of Criticism.” In his second book, he covered the common archetypal approaches where archetypal literary criticism is based upon. He aimed to classify the archetypes of literature using four ‘mythoi’  these are comedy, romance, tradgedy, and irony (or satire).

Frye wrote 4 essays that clearly define the forms of an archetypal literary analysis essay. There are Frye’s four essays titled:

  • “Historical Criticism”– A Theory of Modes.
  • “Ethical Criticism” – A Theory of Symbols.
  • “Archetypal Criticism” – A Theory of Myths.
  • “Rhetorical Criticism” – A Theory of Genres.

If one wishes to write an archetypal essay, one could always refer to Frye’s archetypal schema using the seasons to define each type. One can base his or her archetypal criticism essay with these definitions:

  • Comedy: It is aligned with spring because it signifies the birth of a hero, revival and resurrection. It suggests victory over evil and creation of anything new. The idea is that spring defeats the darkness that winter brings. Spring is also the time when plants begin to grow again or the return of life after a long winter. These are the reasons why spring is comparable with comedy.
  • Romance: It is aligned with summer because it signifies the culmination of life in relation of the four seasons. It is comparable with the romance genre where it culminates with a victory especially if the characters get married.
  • Fall: It is aligned with tragedy or sorrow. Fall is pictured as the dying stage of the seasonal calendar. In literature, this signifies the downfall of the protagonist. Fall symbolizes the melancholic fall in literature.
  • Winter:  It is related to irony or the genre of satire. It symbolizes the ‘dark.’ Satire, as we all know, is a mocking act. It is related to the ideas of darkness, dissolution, and the return of turmoil after the fall of the protagonist.

Character Symbols

An archetypal literary essay  can discuss the characters that have symbols that are portrayed in various forms of literary. These are the usual characters:

  • The Hero – a figure of good that struggles against evil.
  • The Outcast – a figure who was banished or being shunned by society.
  • The Scapegoat – a figure who gets blamed for every misfortune.
  • The Star-crossed Lovers –  young couple who was separated by fate.
  • The Feme fatale – a female figure who brings the downfall of a hero.
  • The Shrew – a bothersome and nagging figure.

An archetypal literary essay can use the other elements of a literary work as carriers of symbols. One only needs to delve deeper into the meaning of the work itself. Can’t cope with your paper on your own? Feel free to hire our literature review essay writer!

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