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Archetypes in Short Stories


Stories, films, plays and even modern video games follow basic plot structures that often depend upon archetypal characters. Psychologist Carl Jung first developed archetype theory in 1919. Archetypes are psychological constructions of ideas that are personified and presented in foundational myths across cultures throughout history. Short stories often employ foundational archetypes to create famailiar characters in a tale of limited length.

The Hero

The Hero character in a story is the main character or protagonist. The journey that the Hero undertakes outlines the story’s plot. Throughout the journey, the Hero must overcome various obstacles. By conquering these obstacles the Hero demonstrates the story’s lesson or moral viewpoint.

The Father

The Father figure is a protective character. The Father archetype simultaneously defends and guides the Hero. The Hero often loses the father figure at some point in the narrative. This teaches the Hero to defend and lead. Often the Father figure is male, but this is not always the case.

The Mother

The Mother figure is a supportive, nurturing character. Mother figures are gentler than Father figures and often provide the for spiritual and physical well-being of the Hero. They also provide a sense of home and of belonging. Often the Mother figure is female, but this is not always the case.

The Temptress or the Witch

The Witch or the Temptress is a female character that uses her intellect, knowledge of magic or appearance to seduce men. The Witch is often portrayed as old and decrepit while the Temptress is young and beautiful. These two archetypes sometimes merge when stories cause the Witch to disguise herself as a young woman. The seduction and destruction of the Hero is her goal.

The Villain

The Villain is also known as the main antagonist. This archetypal character is in direct opposition to the Hero. The goal of the Villain is to defeat or destroy the Hero. Often the Villain is portrayed as morally opposite from the Hero and is designed to elicit little sympathy from the reader.

The Helper

The Helper guides and teaches the Hero. Often Helpers are portrayed as elderly retainers of wisdom and authority. The death of the Helper is used to signify the end of the Hero’s instruction.

The Trickster

The Trickster, also known as the Fool, is a character whose main goal is to trick others into fulfilling the Trickster's own desires. The Trickster is not aligned with either good or evil, but serves only their personal whims. They can be treacherous to the Hero and to the Villain, and are often untrustworthy.

About the Author

Rachel Watkins has been writing for magazines and blogs since 2006. Her professional experience includes working in college admissions and academic planning. Watkins also covered environmental issues for the About My Planet blog network. She received her bachelor's degree in English literature and philosophy from Washington College in Maryland.

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