Archetypes Guide: Definitions and Meanings Explained
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 8 min read


  1. What are archetypes?
  2. How archetypes apply to personalities
  3. Archetypes in Jungian psychology
  4. Archetypes in literature and film
  5. How to identify archetypes
  6. Why archetypes matter in storytelling
  7. Common archetypes and their meanings
  8. How to use archetypes in character development

Imagine you're having a chat with a friend about your favorite movie characters. You start realizing that despite the diversity of films, there's a striking similarity in the roles these characters play. Ever wonder why? Meet archetypes! This guide will walk you through the definition of archetype, their meanings, and why they're more prevalent in our lives than you might think.

What are archetypes?

At its core, the definition of archetype is a typical example, a model, or a recurring symbol that appears in literature, art, and mythology. Think of it like the blueprint that shapes the characters we see in stories, the roles people play in society, or even the personas we adopt in our everyday lives.

  • Blueprint of Character: Archetypes are like the cookie cutters used to shape characters in stories. Ever noticed how most adventure stories have a hero, a mentor, and a villain? Those are archetypes!
  • Social Role: In a society, archetypes might be the roles people typically play like the caregiver, the rebel, or the wise old man. These roles are not just random, but they reflect deep patterns in human behavior and our shared cultural heritage.
  • Personal Persona: On a personal level, archetypes can represent the different facets of our personalities. One day, you might play the role of the innocent child, the next day, you might be the explorer setting out on a new adventure.

Remember, the definition of archetype goes beyond just a stereotype or a cliché. It's a fundamental pattern that reflects our shared human experience, and that's what makes them so powerful and intriguing.

How archetypes apply to personalities

Ever had a moment when you thought, "Why am I acting this way?" Well, you might just be channeling an archetype. Let's dig into how archetypes apply to personalities.

Think of your personality as a home. It's not just one big empty space, right? It has different rooms for different purposes – the kitchen, the living room, the study, and so forth. Similarly, our personality isn't just one thing; it's a complex structure with different 'rooms' or aspects. These aspects are often shaped by various archetypes.

  • The Hero: When you step up to face a challenge head-on, you're channeling the Hero archetype. This doesn't have to be slaying actual dragons (although if you do, we'd love to hear about it); it can be as simple as standing up for a friend or pushing through a tough workout.
  • The Caregiver: When you find yourself going out of your way to help others, that's the Caregiver in you. This archetype is all about compassion, generosity, and selflessness.
  • The Explorer: Do you have a thirst for adventure? Love trying new things? That's the Explorer archetype. It's this aspect of your personality that pushes you to break away from the norm and seek out new experiences.

Understanding these archetypes isn't about putting ourselves in boxes—it's about recognizing the many facets of our personalities. So next time you're surprised by your own actions, you might just have encountered an archetype in action!

Archetypes in Jungian psychology

If you've ever taken a deep dive into the waters of psychology, you've probably bumped into a fellow named Carl Jung. He introduced the concept of archetypes into psychology. But what exactly is the definition of archetype in Jungian terms?

In the world of Jungian psychology, archetypes are universal symbols or themes that reside in our collective unconscious. These symbols are shared by all of humanity and shape our thoughts, dreams, and behaviors. They're like the DNA of our shared psychological makeup.

Here's a quick rundown of a few key archetypes in Jungian psychology:

  • The Shadow: This archetype represents our darker side – the repressed thoughts, feelings, and actions we don't want to acknowledge. It's those parts of ourselves we'd rather keep in the shadows.
  • The Anima/Animus: The Anima and Animus archetypes represent the feminine and masculine aspects within us all. Whether you identify as male, female, or non-binary, you have both Anima and Animus within you.
  • The Self: This archetype is the granddaddy of them all. It represents the unified unconsciousness and consciousness of an individual. It's the archetype that encapsulates your whole personality and strives for balance and wholeness.

When we understand Jung's archetypes, we can better understand ourselves and others. Recognizing these patterns can help us navigate our relationships, our dreams, and even our personal growth journey. So, the next time you're trying to understand a complex emotional experience, remember—there's probably an archetype for that!

Archetypes in Literature and Film

Pop the popcorn and get comfy because we're about to dive into the fascinating world of archetypes in literature and film. Have you ever wondered why certain characters or stories feel oddly familiar? Well, that's because many of them are based on archetypes. Understanding the definition of archetype in this context can add a whole new layer of depth to your next Netflix binge or book club discussion.

In literature and film, archetypes are typically expressed through characters, themes, or situations. They provide a framework that helps us quickly understand a character's role or a story's direction. Let's look at a few examples:

  • The Hero: The hero is a character who embarks on a journey to overcome challenges and bring peace or justice. Think Harry Potter or Frodo Baggins.
  • The Mentor: The mentor offers guidance and wisdom to the hero. They are often older and wiser characters, like Dumbledore in Harry Potter or Gandalf in Lord of the Rings.
  • The Villain: Every story needs a good villain! This character opposes the hero, creating conflict in the story. Think Voldemort or Sauron.

These archetypes are found all over literature and film because they resonate with us on a deep, psychological level. We connect with them because they reflect universal aspects of the human experience. So next time you're watching a movie or reading a book, see if you can spot these archetypes. You might just find that it adds a whole new level of enjoyment to your experience!

How to Identify Archetypes

Now, let's put our detective hats on and uncover some tips on how to identify archetypes. It's like a treasure hunt, but instead of gold, we're unearthing universal patterns of human behavior!

The first step to identify an archetype is to look at a character's role within a story. Are they the hero, the villain, the mentor, or the sidekick? Perhaps they're the star-crossed lover or the trickster? Once you've figured that out, you're halfway there!

Next, examine their behavior, strengths, weaknesses, and the challenges they face. Does the hero have a tragic flaw? Does the villain have a redeeming quality? This adds depth to the archetype and makes them more relatable.

Also, consider the recurring themes or situations in the story. For example, the journey, the quest, or the transformation are all archetypal situations that can give you clues about the characters involved.

And lastly, don't forget the setting! It can also be an archetype. From the small, peaceful town to the bustling, corrupt city; the enchanting forest to the terrifying abyss—each of these settings has an archetypal meaning.

Remember, the definition of archetype is a universally understood symbol or term, or pattern of behavior. If a character, situation, or setting feels familiar or universal, there's a good chance it's an archetype. So, keep your eyes peeled and happy hunting!

Why Archetypes Matter in Storytelling

Did you ever wonder why some stories, regardless of their origin, feel so familiar and comforting? Or why some characters, despite their flaws, are so relatable and captivating? Well, our friends, the archetypes, deserve some credit here!

Archetypes are the secret sauce that adds depth and universal appeal to a story. They tap into our shared human experience, making the narrative more meaningful and impactful. And that's why they're so important in storytelling.

By using archetypes, storytellers can craft characters and situations that resonate with audiences across different cultures and time periods. They offer a sort of 'shortcut' to understanding complex emotions and motivations, making the story easier to connect with and digest.

Moreover, archetypes foster predictability—not in a boring sense but in a comforting one. When we spot an archetype in a story, it's like running into an old friend. We know what to expect and look forward to how the familiar will interact with the new.

But don't mistake this predictability for simplicity. Archetypes can be surprisingly complex and versatile. They can change, grow, and even surprise us—just like real people. This complexity makes them even more engaging and relatable.

So, next time you read a book or watch a movie, try to spot the archetypes. You'll be amazed at how much more depth and meaning you'll find in the story. And remember, the definition of archetype is not a rigid mold but a flexible pattern that can be adapted and reshaped. Now that’s the beauty of storytelling!

Common Archetypes and Their Meanings

Now that we've touched on why archetypes are an integral part of storytelling, let's dive into some common archetypes and their meanings. You might recognize some of these from your favorite books, movies, or even from people you know!

The Hero: Ah, the person we all root for — the hero. Their mission? To save the day, of course. The hero is defined by their bravery, selflessness, and determination to overcome obstacles and achieve their goal. Think Harry Potter, who despite numerous challenges, never stops fighting against the dark forces.

The Mentor: Who would our hero be without their wise and experienced mentor? This archetype provides guidance and advice, often helping the hero realize their full potential. Just like Dumbledore did for Harry, a mentor often sees the hero's potential before they do themselves.

The Outlaw: Meet the rebel, the rule-breaker, the one who dares to challenge the status quo. The Outlaw archetype isn't afraid to upset the apple cart to bring about change. They're often seen as a symbol of freedom and non-conformity. Robin Hood, anyone?

The Lover: This archetype is all about passion, romance, and relationships. They seek to create deep connections with others and value love above all else. Romeo and Juliet, despite their tragic end, embody this archetype to a tee.

The Jester: Life's a stage, and the Jester is here to enjoy the show! This archetype represents joy, humor, and the ability to live in the moment. They remind us not to take life too seriously and to find joy in the everyday—just like Olaf from Frozen.

These are just a few examples of the many archetypes out there. Each one represents different aspects of the human experience. And by understanding the definition of archetype, we can better understand the characters we meet in stories—and maybe even in real life.

How to use archetypes in character development

Alright, let's get down to business. You've gotten a grasp on the definition of archetype and some common examples. Now, how do you use this knowledge to flesh out your characters? Let's find out.

Start with the basics: Begin with the basic traits of your character. Are they brave, wise, rebellious, romantic, or maybe a bit of a jokester? This can help guide you towards an archetype that suits your character. For instance, a brave character might fit well into the Hero archetype.

Build on the archetype: Once you've selected an archetype, don't just stop there. Use it as a foundation to build a complex, well-rounded character. Remember, an archetype is not a stereotype—it's a starting point. Your Hero can have flaws, your Outlaw can have moments of doubt, and your Jester can have hidden depths.

Add some conflict: One of the most compelling parts of a story is the conflict. What if your Hero is afraid of responsibility? What if your Mentor has a secret they're hiding? By adding conflict, you can create tension and add layers to your character.

Use archetypes for relationships: Archetypes can also help shape the relationships between characters. A Hero and Mentor relationship can form a deep bond, while a Jester might provide comic relief or challenge the Hero in their journey.

In the end, remember this: archetypes serve as tools to help you understand and develop your characters, but they should never limit your creativity. Use them as a guide, not a rulebook. The real magic happens when you let your characters break the mold and become truly unique.

If you're intrigued by the concept of archetypes and want to learn how to incorporate them into your art, don't miss Juliet Schreckinger's workshop, 'Composing Complex Illustrations using Basic Shapes.' This workshop will guide you through the process of creating visually striking illustrations that are rich with meaning, making use of archetypes to enhance your work.