The concept of an archetype /ˈɑːrkɪtaɪp/ appears in areas relating to behavior, modern psychological theory, and literary analysis. An archetype can be:
- a statement, pattern of behavior, or prototype (model) which other statements, patterns of behavior, and objects copy or emulate. (Frequently used informal synonyms for this usage include "standard example", "basic example", and the longer form "archetypal example". Mathematical archetypes often appear as "canonical examples".)
- a Platonic philosophical idea referring to pure forms which embody the fundamental characteristics of a thing in Platonism
- a collectively-inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, image, etc., that is universally present in individual psyches, as in Jungian psychology
- a constantly recurring symbol or motif in literature, painting, or mythology (this usage of the term draws from both comparative anthropology and from Jungian archetypal theory). In various seemingly unrelated cases in classic storytelling, media, etc., characters or ideas sharing similar traits recur.
The word archetype, "original pattern from which copies are made", first entered into English usage in the 1540s and derives from the Latin noun archetypum, latinisation of the Greek noun ἀρχέτυπον (archetupon), whose adjective form is ἀρχέτυπος (archetupos), which means "first-molded", which is a compound of ἀρχή archē, "beginning, origin", and τύπος tupos, which can mean, amongst other things, "pattern," "model," or "type."
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 the situation, both socially and culturally. By deploying common archetypes contextually, a writer aims to impart realism 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.
The origins of the archetypal hypothesis date back as far as Plato. Plato's ideas were pure mental forms that were imprinted in the soul before it was born into the world. They were collective in the sense that they embodied the fundamental characteristics of a thing rather than its specific peculiarities. In the seventeenth century, Sir Thomas Browne and Francis Bacon both employ the word 'archetype' in their writings; Browne in The Garden of Cyrus (1658) attempted to depict archetypes in his usage of symbolic proper-names.
The concept of psychological archetypes was advanced by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, c. 1919. In Jung's psychological framework, archetypes are innate, universal prototypes for ideas and may be used to interpret observations. A group of memories and interpretations associated with an archetype is a complex ( e.g. a mother complex associated with the mother archetype). Jung treated the archetypes as psychological organs, analogous to physical ones in that both are morphological constructs that arose through evolution. At the same time, it has also been observed that evolution can itself be considered an archetypal construct.
Jung states in part one of Man And His Symbols that:
My views about the 'archaic remnants', which I call 'archetypes' or 'primordial images,' have been constantly criticized by people who lack a sufficient knowledge of the psychology of dreams and of mythology. The term 'archetype' is often misunderstood as meaning certain definite mythological images or motifs, but these are nothing more than conscious representations. Such variable representations cannot be inherited. The archetype is a tendency to form such representations of a motif—representations that can vary a great deal in detail without losing their basic pattern.
Archetypal literary criticism argues that archetypes determine the form and function of literary works and that a text's meaning is shaped by cultural and psychological myths. Cultural archetypes are the unknowable basic forms personified or made concrete by recurring images, symbols, or patterns (which may include motifs such as the "quest" or the "heavenly ascent"; recognizable character types such as the "trickster" or the "hero"; symbols such as the apple or the snake; and imagery) and that have all been laden with meaning prior to their inclusion in any particular work.
The archetypes reveal shared roles among universal societies, such as the role of the mother in her natural relations with all members of the family. This archetype may create a shared imagery which is defined by many stereotypes that have not separated themselves from the traditional, biological, religious and mythical framework.