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What Traits Would an Archetypal Character Have?


An archetypal character is the textual manifestation of a particular "kind" of person. These characters display stereotypical personalities, behaviors and characteristics regardless of how unique they may appear at first glance. Character archetypes are used by many writers and filmmakers as devices to help present a story in an easily understandable way, and they are based in a long history of archetypal traditions that date back to some of the oldest written stories available.

The Hero Archetype

The traditional archetypal "hero" character found in a majority of books and films demonstrates characteristics valued by his or her primary culture, often in a hugely magnified form. For example, a male American "superhero" character is likely to show signs of strength, be patriotic, and have a tendency towards resolving problems using physical means. Archetypal heroes often strive to complete a specific quest to defeat evil.

The Innocent Archetype

The archetypal "innocent" character is a naive individual who knows little of the evils in the world. The "innocent" is generally young and lacks "real-world" experience, and as such, he or she is more likely to suffer at the hands of others. For example, a female "innocent" may be a young girl who has lived a privileged and uneventful life and is forced to experience the painful realities of the outside world after leaving home.

The Villain Archetype

The "villain" archetype is a character who displays characteristics of pure evil. Typical villains are self-centered, power-hungry and interested only in achieving their personal goals, usually at the cost of others. An example of an archetypal villain would be a power-hungry politician who has his political enemies assassinated to ensure his victory in an upcoming election.

The Sage Archetype

The "sage" archetype is a character who is wise, very old and generally helps the hero in his or her quest. The sage can be a man or woman, and he or she often lives in relative seclusion from others. The sage's hermit-like lifestyle and eccentric behavior sets him or her apart from other characters. An example of a sage character would be the wise old wizard who provides thoughtful advice to the young adventurer.

Additional Archetypes

Traditional literary and Jungian archetype lists include more than 30 different kinds of characters found in many books and films. The "witch" archetype, for instance, is often the "old hag" or "old crone" who seeks to entrap the hero of a story; the "trickster" archetype is a character who tricks others into getting his or her own way. The "temptress" archetype is the beautiful female character interested in seducing the hero or protagonist of a story, whereas the "damsel in distress" archetype is a character who is helpless and in need of rescue by the hero. Finally, the "mother- or father-figure" archetype is a character who acts in a paternal or maternal way toward the hero. These characters often provide the protagonist with parental advice.

About the Author

Jeremiah Burt has been working in the field of English since 2001. He is a certified high school English teacher and adjunct university professor. Burt earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from Walla Walla University, as well as a Master of Arts in English from the University of Idaho.

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