Understanding Archetypes

Archetypes are models and themes that are represented as characters or symbols that occur again and again. Common archetypes are found across all cultures and have similar meanings attached to them. Archetypes are recognized in literature and analyzed in dreams. Carl Jung described these archetype elements as the workings of the human mind and are a connection to a collective unconscious.

Jung's Archetypes

Carl Jung recognized four main archetypes. To Jung, a person does not fall into one particular archetype, but rather all four archetypes exist within an individual. Jung's archetypes include the shadow, anima, animus and self. The shadow is the dark side of the psyche. It embodies wildness and danger. The shadow emerges in dreams and stories as something bad and represents trouble. The anima and animus represent the male and female or can be considered the collective unconscious soul. The anima or animus in dreams represents the true self, according to Jung, rather than the masks worn in the real world. The self does not represent "me" but rather a connection to God. The self combines the conscious and unconscious into harmony and nirvana.

Story Archetypes

In every story, the characters will fit into one or more archetypes and provide a specific role within the story. Common archetypes found in stories include the hero, the outcast, the scapegoat, the mentor and the shadow. The hero is typically the protagonist of the story who is the champion or rescuer. The outcast has been cast out of society. The scapegoat is the character who is blamed for everything whether it is warranted or not. The mentor symbolizes wisdom, knowledge and experience and helps the hero along the way. The shadow is typically the main antagonist and opposes the hero. Many more archetypes exist and can vary depending on the genre of literature, such as the wizard, who exists in science fiction and fantasy writings.

Family Archetypes

In dreams and in stories, family archetypes are present. The father symbolizes authority, power and control. The mother archetype is the opposite of the father. She is nurturing, calm, sweet and the feeder. The child is the symbol of innocence, beginnings and salvation.


Archetypes are not limited to characters but can also be situations and symbols. Examples of situation and symbolic archetypes include the quest, the loss of innocence, the initiation and water. The quest archetype is what drives the hero. A loss of innocence can be represented through sexual, violence or other means. The initiation involves the character moving into another sphere of influence. In many cases, the initiation is the journey into adulthood. Water represents life, cleansing and rebirth.

Animal Archetypes

Archetypes can be found in animals. The dog represents undying loyalty. The cat represents self-serving agendas. Other animals such as the horse, snake and lion have archetypes associated with them. The horse represents never giving up. The snake is devious, conniving and sneaky. The lion represents loyalty and strength.