Archetypes and Literature


Societies have developed their own literature, passing it along orally from one generation to the next. From the earliest times, people invented myths that explained the origins of the world, legends about colorful gods and heroic figures, and fables that instilled moral lessons. In some cases, similar stories have sprung up in cultures in widely different parts of the world and were told by traveling storytellers. For example, the rags-to-riches story of a Cinderella type of heroine has appeared in many ancient cultures, as has the legend of a great flood that destroyed nearly everything in the world. The universal symbolism of folk tales like these supports the theory of archetypes developed by the Swiss psychologist and psychiatrist, Carl Jung. He believed that in the collective unconscious of the human race there are certain symbols or archetypes that hold the same meanings for people of every place and time.


The definition of archetype is (noun) An original model after which other similar things are patterned. [Greek arkhetupos]


You can see archetypes acted out over and over in movies you've viewed. Think of your favorite movie with a hero. From Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz to Will Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean, the heroes ("sheroes") all are based on similar models. Our heroes usually are not raised with their birth family, they are on a "quest", they have a magical item in their possession, etc. When you research other archetypes, you will find they stick to a model as well which makes our favorite legends and myths relative to each other.


There are many types of archetypes besides heroes. Many of the modern day definitions have veered from the original versions of Carl Jung to the more worldly types we relate to today.

It is important that you not only recognize archetypes and their purpose in literature for Advanced Placement English courses, but also the use of symbols. Once you are familiar with their usage by authors, you can begin to apply that knowledge to written works with which you are not familiar. With this purpose in mind, this webquest will first delve into the concept of archetypes, look closer at the hero, target the epic hero, and finish with the epic hero's journey. You may collaborate with a partner while completing research, however, written responses must be original for each student and turned individually.


When you finish this quest that focuses on the hero archetype from Medieval and Modern tales, myths, legends, etc., you just might be able to discover what came first, the dragon or Darth Vader!

The best way to move about these pages will be to click on the icons at the bottom of the page. Occasionally you will need to go back to a previous page, so you can use the side navigation buttons at that point. Each page also includes" Need help?" at the bottom of the page if you need to contact me.
There are some PDF files included in this webquest. Try to open this - PDF. If you did not see a rubric for writing, you need to download the Acrobat viewer here -
Have fun!

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Webquest by Ann Alexander

August, 2005

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