Friday, April 11, 2014

Jung's Archetypes - Crafting Characters #AtoZChallenge


 "Not for a moment dare we succumb to the illusion that an archetype can be finally explained and disposed of. Even the best attempts at explanation are only more or less successful translations into another metaphorical language. (Indeed, language itself is only an image.) The most we can do is dream the myth onwards and give it a modern dress. And whatever explanation or interpretation does to it, we do to our own souls as well, with corresponding results for our own well-being. The archetype — let us never forget this — is a psychic organ present in all of us." 
                                                        The Archetype as a Link with the Past ' Carl Jung, Collected Works

 Carl Jung developed the concept of character archetypes as models of people, behaviors or personalities. Jung theorized that the psyche is composed of three parts: the ego, the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious.

Archetypes come from the realm of the collective unconscious. The collective unconscious is a sort of psychic pool which is common to all humanity;  we draw from this pool, for example, when we create elements of our culture such as artwork, religious symbols, or folk tales. Since archetypes are from the unconscious, they can only be recognized by examining (by others, or thru thorough self-analysis) their manifestations thru behavior, art, myths, religions, or dreams.

Those archetypes that form the main structure of each individual's psyche are the self, the persona, the shadow, anima/animus, and the ego.

  • Self is the union of conscious and unconscious in an individual.
  • Persona (mask) is how we present ourselves in various situations and to various people.
  • Shadow is the "dark side", the unconscious and often repressed drives, desires and instincts.
  • Anima/Animus is the representation of the opposite gender in our subconscious. Our experiences with the other sex (parent, sibling, lover) get filed here as well.
  • Ego is the "I", our representation of ourselves (which may or may not be how others perceive us).

 Archetypes come into play in other forms as well.

  • Figures include great mother, father, wise old man/woman, devil, god, hero, trickster.
  • Events include birth, death, marriage, separation
  • Motifs include creation, deluge, "deal with the devil", apocalypse
  • Nature includes fire, ocean, river, mountain
  • Themes include quest, journey, initiation, fall
  • Symbols include mandala, animals (fish, owl), astronomical objects (moon, sun)

Take each of your characters and describe the 5 main structure archetypes for him/her. Pay particular attention to the shadow and the anima/animus.  What is driving them?  What are they repressing? How have their past relationships with the opposite sex (even if it has no bearing on the plot) affected their psyche?

Have you used any common symbols to give depth to your story?  Is the main character particularly drawn to water, have a friend who is a "trickster", use a symbol which means something in particular? A star tattoo, a religious symbol on a wall, a particular color?  What is the underlying archetypal theme in your story?

Further reading:

Jungian Outline, Clifton Snyder

Carl Jung Wikipedia

Holy Grail Of the Unconscious (NY Times)

Adjectives for the day:  jactancy, jannock, jejune, jocose,



  1. Fascinating post. I have ben thinking about archetypes, stereotypes, clichés and the like recently as a result of reading a Cuban novel in translation (English). I loved this part: "Archetypes come from the realm of the collective unconscious. The collective unconscious is a sort of psychic pool which is common to all humanity; we draw from this pool, for example, when we create elements of our culture such as artwork, religious symbols, or folk tales."

    Many thanks.

    Greetings from London.

    1. I've always found the idea of a collective unconscious fascinating. It makes me wonder: is the pool finite?

  2. I guess I've never even though about archetypes. Not until now!

    1. I think many of us use them in writing without even knowing it!

  3. Jung is rewarding every time I read him. His science is questionable, and his theories seldom backed up by the empirical data I'd like, but there's a murky resonance about many of his theories. His structure of the self is like Freud's for me in that it's incomplete and in some ways functionally incorrect, but in other ways functionally useful in analyzing oneself.

    1. I can't say that I've spent much time analyzing myself, but I love his work dealing with symbols and motifs which seem to have arisen in so many cultures despite their having no contact with each other.

  4. A seriously interesting reflection and something that woulf be great to explore ones characters :)

    1. I'm hoping to work some of his themes and ideas into future stories. :-)

  5. I can see where this will be helpful when we create our characters. Certainly gives us something to think about during the creation. :-) I just joined as follower through the A to Z, and I'm glad I found this blog.

    1. It's just one more tool in the box - especially when I get stuck!

  6. While Jung is a great starting point, I've been thinking lately that perhaps someone should update them to reflect more modern understanding. A lot has changed from when Jung created his list.

    1. My AtoZ challenge