White resonates purity, divinity and peace, while black mourns in the dark. Three signifies The Holy Trinity, and three sixes indicates the advent of evil. Many examples have been stereotyped into categories, and have been copied time and again after making the original an archetype. Here are some of them.
Did You Know?
The word ‘archetype’ originated from the word arkhetupon or arkhetupos, meaning the first-molded.
Archetype is stereotypical; original model; pattern; prototype; universal symbol from which others are created or copied. Archetypes include plots, scenes, scenarios, settings, certain repetitive images, character sketches, colors, symbolism, race, gender, etc.
These archetypes are used in mythologies and literature, further influencing other literature, poetry, dramas, and many aspects of life, giving them a universal tone. They can be broadly classified into five main categories―symbols, images, characters, situations, contrastive symbolism―which are listed below along with some examples.
Darkness, evil, mourning, etc. Grim Reaper. Villains are often dressed in black.
Tranquility, sky, water, heaven, innocence, honesty, etc. Blue skies.
Wealth, gold, etc. Jewelry. Gold chalice.
Vegetation, envy, spring, fertility, spring, etc. However, green also stands for jealousy – the term green with jealousy.
Love, lust, passion, blood, fire, heat, etc. The apple is a symbol of temptation and a forbidden fruit – Eve eating the apple. A scarlet letter is a warning. The color also stands for love and lust. My love is a red red rose – Robert Burns’s poem ‘A Red Red Rose’. Red also symbolizes anger.
Tranquility, moon, wealth, etc. Silver cutlery.
Enlightenment, purity, innocence, calm, peace, etc. White figure – ghostly figure or spirit. If light – epiphany.
Time – past, present, future. The Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Tridents in Greek mythology.
Mankind. Four limbs, four directions, four seasons.
Evil, devil, anti-Christ, etc. Omen.
Seven deadly sins. 7 days of the week. Creation of the world. Colours of the rainbow.
Unlucky or unholy number. 13th guest at the Last Supper was the traitor.
Harbingers of death. The birds flock around- The Omen.
Satan sends his pet snake to meet Eve in the garden of Eden – Paradise Lost. Bracy sees Geraldine as a snake in his dreams- Christabel by Coleridge. Snakes are also seen as a phallic symbol in literature, poetry, and mythology – Cleopatra was bitten by a snake on her breast.
Big, bad wolf – Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood. Werewolves and wolves have been closely linked, hence, marking them as villains.
Banquets, Dinner Parties, Feasts, Dances
Commonly seen in Shakespearean literature – Macbeth. Dances in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf.
Child Out of Wedlock
Illegitimate child, commonly seen in mythology related literature – King Lear by Shakespeare.
Running away and getting married – Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. Lydia and Wikham in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
Suicide or Bloodshed
Shakespearean literature viz. Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf.
Romeo and Juliet. Elizabeth and Darcy. Pocahontas and John Smith.
Resembling the erect penis – triangles, trees, rockets, swords, towers were often used in literature to the masculinity of a certain character – Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare.
Resembling the vagina – upside down triangle, chalice, cups goblets, wells, cauldrons, etc., are often seen in poetry. The Da-Vinci Code by Dan Brown.
Protagonist – Othello. Romeo. Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. Harry Potter.
Damsel in Distress
Usually the protagonist’s love interest – Juliet, Rapunzel, etc.
Mrs. Copperfield – David Copperfield by Charles Dickens.
Motherly Figure or Fairy Godmother
Glinda in Wizard of Oz, and many other fairy tales.
Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice.
Evil Step-mother or Step-father
Lady Tremaine – Cinderella. Edward Murdstone – David Copperfield’s evil step father.
Evil Mythical Creatures
Usually cursed or possessing supernatural power or a pet of Satan – Werewolves, vampires, snake in ‘Paradise Lost’.
Wizard of Oz. Cinderella. Mostly seen in fairy tales and poetry.
Jokers, jesters or clowns – Often seen in Shakespearean comedy and tragedy. Mr. Collins and Mrs Bennet from Pride and Prejudice.
Hen-pecked but Loving and Caring Father
Mostly fathers of daughters – Mr. Bennet- Pride and Prejudice.
Desdemona in Othello.
2 characters who are madly in love with each other – Romeo and Juliet, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, Heathcliff and Catherine, Vronsky and Anna, Gatsby and Daisy.
Sidekicks (good or bad)
Close friends of the protagonist – Dr. Watson from The adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Iago and Othello from Othello.
Seductive woman with unbelievable bravery and courage – Bathsheba, Drusilla, Delilah are famous Biblical Temptresses.
Unlikely victim whose death gives a twist to the story – Mercutio and Tybalt’s death in Romeo and Juliet.
Oracle or Priest or Wise Prophet
Someone who predicts the future and as magical powers – Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Alice in Wonderland. Madame Sosostris from The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot.
Oliver Twist. Bambi. Snow White. Cinderella.
Unlikely characters that surprise the reader by their acts of heroism and support – Ron Weasley. David from David and Goliath. Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice.
Lil’s husband from The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot. Edward Rochester from Jane Eyre. Tom Buchanan from The Great Gatsby.
George Wickham in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
Rags to Riches
Poverty to wealth – Oliver Twist, David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, etc.
Greek mythologies, Shakespearean tragedies, etc.
Sudden strike of realisation or divine intervention – Hamlet in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Denial and Acceptance
Elizabeth and Darcy’s love for each other in Pride and Prejudice.
Search of something or someone – The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Alchemist by Paulo Cohelo.
Grief or sorrow – Adonais: An elegy on the death of John Keats by Shelly.
Deal with the Evil/Devil
Rosemary’s Baby. Rumpelstiltskin. The Lord of the Rings: nine kings exchange their souls with Sauron. The Little Mermaid.
Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra.
Great Sacrifice of Love or Life
Love and Life Lost in Romeo and Juliet, Othello.
Romance involving three people – Twilight. The Hunger Games. Romeo, Juliet, and Paris in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. Elizabeth Bennet, Darcy, and Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice.
Lack of communication- Iago creates misunderstandings between Othello and Desdemona. Between Romeo and Juliet. Misunderstanding between husband and wife in Home Burial by Robert Frost.
One-sided love – Les Misérables and the Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. Persuasion and Emma by Jane Austen. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux.
There may be one or more contrastive symbolism in a drama, literature, mythology, biblical tales or poems
Life, Birth, and Death
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens.
Beauty and Ugly
Beauty and the Beast. The Ugly Duckling.
Mortal and Immortal
Mythological stories or poetry – Tithonus by Alfred Tennyson.
Rich and the Poor
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.
Hero and Villain
Othello and Iago. Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort.
Revenge and Forgiveness
Othello kills his wife Desdemona, but she forgives him before she dies.
Love, Jealousy, Hatred
Othello and Iago in Othello.
Heaven and Hell
Milton’s Paradise Lost. Marriage of Heaven and Hell by Blake.
Good and Evil, God and Devil
Milton’ s Paradise Lost.
Innocent and Cunning
Innocent Desdemona and cunning Iago.
Natural and Supernatural
Christabel and Geraldine in Coleridge’s Christabel.
Pride and Money
Pride and Prejudice.
Dejan Stojanović once said, “Creating means living”. Archetypes once created by great writers and poets long gone now, relive every time someone resurrects them in a new version, even if it is only a little part of the character, scene, element, etc.
However, different cultures in different parts of the world have different interpretations of the same archetypes, and they may vary from time to time and literature to literature, depending upon the message that the author or poet wants to convey.
It’s only a matter of reading which equips the reader with better understanding of what is being said and what message is being conveyed beyond the words.