Thursday, 8 January 2015

Storytelling and Identity (2)

Please choose ONE - or, if you wish, of course more than one - of the following options A, B, or C:

Find out more about Carl Jung's research on archetypes - as well as about Joseph Campbell's book The Hero with a Thousand Faces and about Northrop Frye's Anatomy of Criticism, in particular about his "Theory of Symbols" & "Theory of Myths."
Please comment on points that you find particularly interesting and/or useful in these works and relate what you have found out to some of the stories you know - or to your own life.
BTW, Northrop Frye is Canadian and quite ingenious as well as inspiring - though usually not read much today. You probably know Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell anyway. Joseph Campbell's work - and tons of other resources about mythology and related topics - are available at the Joseph Campbell Foundation website:

Check out Caroline Myss's Gallery of Archetypes and write down some of the archetypes that appeal to you. Write a short narrative or play, in which these characters meet and interact with each other or with you. Feel free to change the archetypes to more realistic life-like characters with their own unique features or cast them in a more stylized and traditional way.
Optional: take the archetype quiz and find out who you really are :)

Think about one of your favourite movies or books - one that you watched or saw several times - and try to find and analyze the archetypes in it. Reflect on how these archetypes relate to you and your life.

Image from: 


  1. Basic research on archetypes - Jung, Campbell, Frye - is a natural segue from the collective theses of preceding Ted Talks. Adichi warns against accepting single stories, Shafak avers that stories allow us to transcend cultural barriers, Lindsay, that “libraries are lost when elders die” (or languages, right Maclean?). The magic and artistry of Tempest and Patel, juxtaposed against Cowan’s caution to be “suspicious” of the stories we like the most, to learn to be comfortable with “messy agnosticism” might seem oddly placed - until one considers Jung’s premise that archetypes have existed since the beginning of (human) time. Our conscious egos/personas, he purports, can draw from either the personal unconscious or the collective unconscious. The latter, the whole spectrum of humanity’s symbolic heritage, is where things get interesting. It’s the well from which we all draw our communal archetypes. Mother, father, child (family), wise old man/woman images are universal and easily understood. So too can be the anima/animus oppositions that balance our sexual selves. Omnipotent (G)god(s) and a variety of trickster figures exist in the collective unconscious. Most often, however, we identify with the hero(ine) archetype, the one that slays dragons, conquers the enemy, makes all things right. The list goes on in mix-and-match variations that transcend the barriers of history, language, culture, religion, et al. But how do they relate to literature?
    Archetypes and their symbolic counterparts, claims Joseph Campbell, universally manifest themselves in the myths created by artists and storytellers as they attempt to explain psychological, social, cosmological, spiritual realities et al - like Tempest’s magic, Patel’s artistry. Adult world views, he claims, are often influenced by childhood experience (a nod to Schopenhauer). He did what we do as a people; we look for myths as explanation. Campbell’s father took him to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show as a child; he spent a lifetime seeking the earthy wisdom he perceived in the mien of the Show’s Native Americans. I can attest to his construct. I knew a few First Nations children in elementary school; their alternate culture intrigued me. At twelve, I attended a short segment of a Blackfoot Sun Dance in Nordegg, Alberta. Years later, an Okanagan family elder introduced me to a variety of tribal myths on a journey through their traditional territory; I was hitch-hiking and his family gifted me with a ride in the back of pickup truck, a meal, and an education. Today, my home is filled with an olio of First Nations symbols, art, and stories that form a part of my own myth.
    Northrop Frye deepens the literary context of both symbolism and archetypes in two of the four essays in his Anatomy of Criticism, laying out five symbolic phases in the former that bleed into an analysis of archetypes that mimics the natural human cycle, birth through death and rebirth. Admittedly, I have touched only briefly on Frye’s essays. They merit an in-depth study with particular emphasis on the concept of circularity in literary mimesis over time. Perhaps Frye will explain why we can all relate to the idea of the sapsucker finding his feathers, the raven stealing the light, the wifely duty of creation, the human desire to fly (literally or metaphorically), the inexorable lure of a siren’s song, or the image of a male ‘god’s’ procreative rights over women (grrrr..…). I only wish I’d read his book before I studied medieval literature…

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  3. Growing up surrounded by fantasy and sci-fi novels, one can easily discern patterns of conflict and character development whenever watching new shows or movies. I’ve always thought myself more intuitive that way. It wasn’t until I learned about archetypes in high school that I realized most of those intuition comes from the underlying archetypes in which these characters and story lines fall under. These archetypes are recurring patterns of behavior and characteristics that most stories, especially children’s books, possess. The Harry Potter series, which has by far the biggest impact on my childhood, in terms of both books and movies, contain both character and situational archetypes.
    The story’s protagonist, Harry Potter, follows “The Hero” archetype. This character usually undergoes several trials of faith and courage to prove one’s worth, often conquering both external and internal antagonists. Potter, in the story, battles both Voldemort and the workings of his own mind, in order to live a life outside the shadows of his parent’s tragic death and the bittersweet fame that precedes his name and his scar. Parallel to him is Lord Voldemort, “The Villain” of the story, following the archetype of a Devil figure, the characterization of carnal sin (greed, lust for power) and evil. Their story line follows the situation archetype of “battle between good and evil” which externalizes and personifies the internal identity struggles of man.
    The search for “the Deathly Hallows” follows the situational archetype of “The Quest”—in which the protagonist goes on a journey to find something, and in turn, discover something about him/herself along the way as well. Other character archetypes are also found throughout the series: Hermione as the Sage (who uses intelligence and logic to gain a better understanding of the world), Dumbledore as the Mentor (who helps the protagonist overcome his trials without directly helping him, simply giving advice), the Weasley twins as the Jesters (who act purely out of comedic relief; often referred to as the trickster).
    These archetypes are largely relevant to the way I would often make first judgments of people—they are basis of my stereotypes of people. These archetypes help me shape the way I regard people’s backstories and personalities, as well as how to act towards them. Character archetypes help me identify my own niche based on how I feel my personality dictates my sense of self-belonging.

  4. From my own definition, archetypes are characteristics, concepts, and value placed into certain characters or situations in order to define them. As a child growing up watching superhero cartoons and movies, and even now watching Marvel Films, I have easily associated my interests into the "Hero" archetype.
    Growing up, my biggest interest was in the show "Spider-Man." Peter Parker who played the hero, was an intellectual individual who had values I wanted to portray for the rest of my life. He had a quality in him that demonstrated him as a true hero in my opinion. The "Hero" appears to endure many trials and tribulations, in addition to challenges in order to prove the hero's self worth. I believe Spider-Man had to do this.
    As Peter started out as a regular everyday human being and individual, I felt like it was easier to identify with him on a day-to-day basis (minus the shooting webs portion).
    I thought Peter had many admirable qualities just as the "Hero" archetype carries in order to ward off the "Villains" in order to save society. This archetype, although less intensive, have helped me identify with my own values, to help others with the skills and values that I have and be true to myself.

  5. Recently becoming acquainted to 18th century literature by feminist authors (Mary Wollstonecraft, Aphra Behn, Jane Austen), I have grown to express a deep interest in Gothic satire, especially that of Austen’s Northanger Abbey. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, British female authors struggled to delineate how they experienced their era’s social, cultural and economic upheaval. Through her brilliant works, Austen immeasurably contributed to the popularization of the bourgeois woman omnipresence. While it was established that Northanger Abbey is a “Gothic parody” that satirizes schemes and conventions of sentimental medieval works prominent during her time, Austen simultaneously and very much so wittingly, expresses contemporary views of femininity for women of the British middle class. Readers fond of her novels are vastly those who pursue to break free from destructive sexist power dynamics; the publishing of Northanger Abbey served as the beginning of women’s collective efforts to liberate themselves from their domestic bondage in a newly industrialized society.
    Austen utilizes the character of Catherine Morland, “The Heroine” archetype, to advocate for a justly egalitarian society where women are infinitely free to self-govern and boundlessly independent to determine their own futures. Undeterred by societal forbiddance of questioning patriarchal dictations, Catherine Morland is a character who fails to stay within rigid borders of accepted social customs. Her forced interactions with the ill-mannered suitor John Thorpe, “The Villain” archetype, illustrate overt anti-feminist notions that make women subject to the patriarchy. Upon further inspection, we understand that Austen condemns both behaviours of ‘The Good Woman’ and ‘The Heroine’ – when the two are acted out in their respective contexts – since both remain inescapable to the obligatory fulfillment of societal expectations. In other words, these various categorizations retain harmful connotations that will only strengthen gender assumptions and circumscribed paths to inequality.
    Just like Catherine, I see myself at times unfamiliar and lost as to how I should think and act in our male-dominated, patriarchal society. I am eager and impatient to form well-articulated stances on controversial topics in society (religion, abortion and female reproductive rights) because I am also scared to bear a vacant mind and possessing the incapacity to scrutinize what society deems as legitimate due to a lack of self-perceptiveness. While Catherine diligently attempts to decipher her own ways of determining her destiny, I too refuse to submit myself as just a patriarchal product who feels validated only through willing submission to please men in the showcasing of physical, social and intellectual inferiority.

  6. I still remember that sometime in high school, one of our readings was a novel called Fifth Business, written by Robertson Davies. Although I definitely wouldn't call it one of my favourite books - I hated it so much when I was forced to read it as at the time I thought it was a lazy and uninteresting story - it has surprisingly stuck with me throughout the years although I've forgotten many of the other things we read in high school and it's one of those ideas I turn over in my head from time to time. I haven't re-read it since high school (I had to wiki it just to make sure I got the name right!) but I've come to view it in a more positive light.
    One of the main interpretations that we used to approach the book was through archetypes, since the title itself is kind of one and there are many others that could be applied throughout the book. I'm not confident enough to repeat any of the arguments that were made, but I still remember clearly that I thought using archetypes was an incredibly lazy way to approach a story. I hadn't realized that they could be used in a way to analyze and discuss them or considered how prevalent they are, even if they aren't the theme of a work (including in my own writing!)
    I've warmed up to the idea a lot. Although I still don't quite like the application of archetypes to "real life" as I think individual stories don't need to be swept under a blanket, I've realized that a lot of things I enjoy contain really obvious archetypes. Sherlock Holmes is super obviously a Crime Fighter sort of figure, Shakespeare frequently uses the Fool, Knights are prevalent in medieval literature, etc. Obviously none of these are lazy or inferior writing! I think archetypes can be a valid way of drawing connections and analyzing them can be very fruitful (like why do we only get super sexy Femme Fatales or brutish Woman Warriors?).

  7. To me, an archetype is a recurrent trait or characteristic that persons, things, or situations hold. Examples of archetypes as characters are the hero, the mentor, the scapegoat, etc. Examples of archetypes in situations include, the rise, the fall, the journey, etc. My favourite movie growing up was Hercules. This movie fits into many archetypes. Firstly, the main character, Hercules, belongs to the hero archetype, and the entire movie is dedicated to the situational archetype of the journey. The plot of the film revolves around Hercules trying to find the place where he belongs as well as trying to prove himself and his worth to the gods at the same time. In the end, Hercules sacrifices his powers, a huge part of his life, so he can save and stay with the love of his life, Meg. I think this is why Hercules resonated with me so much. I found the concept of him giving up his powers to save a life so inspiring. At that moment, Hercules put others ahead of himself and I think this is a very honourable thing to do. Even though I was young I think I learned a little bit about how I should live my life from this film. I do believe that there are times when you should put yourself ahead of others, but when others are in need like Meg was, I think it is important to put them ahead of yourself and help them in any way you can.

  8. Growing up in Canada and heavily influenced by American pop culture, I was raised on Disney movies; Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, etc. that featured beautiful bedazzled princesses waiting for a prince to save them from one thing or another. I admit that when I was a kid, I was foolishly enamoured of these fairytales until I grew up enough to admire and appreciate the other Disney tales that had far less demeaning archetypes of helpless princesses. Recent Disney movies such as frozen try to break free of stereotypical tropes, but they have also been done in older classic Disney movies. I find it disappointing how movies like Brother Bear (sibling love) and Atlantis (book smart kid who grows up and eventually saves the day but not without help from a headstrong princess) are lost to perceived stronger modern movies. Yet tropes are extremely difficult to avoid because just as art imitates life, life also imitates art but what we learn and are influenced by. And so the cycle repeats.

  9. When I am told the word archetype I immediately associate it with stereotypes. Basically they are just characteristics that define someone or something. Growing up with cartoons and anime several archetypes are recurring and are extremely common even to this day. These archetypes reflect everyday life such as common school life. They portray all the different kinds of people and personalities in a school classroom. I find them pretty realistic since they show human behavior to a certain extent. Obviously, they are sometimes exaggerated but often they are able to show the core traits that people have. I think they are an ok representation of what humans and people are like in everyday life.