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What is an Archetype?

Archetype Definition:

a common character, image, symbol, or situation that occurs in literature and in life, and considered to be universal across most cultures


Examples of archetypes are found in the world around us every day: in our speech, our beliefs, media, sports, video games, psychology, art, and even our dreams. Archetypes are universal; that is, they occur across all cultures, religions, and parts of history. Psychotherapist Carl Jung theorized that many of these ideas persist innately and come from our “collective unconscious”, culled from early human experiences that have followed our species since our beginnings. Jung’s hypothesis is similar to Plato’s Theory of Forms, which posits that Forms, or Ideas, are present in our souls, and we create things in life to copy the Forms that already exist in our immortal souls.

Dr. Carol S. Pearson has written several books on discovering our own personal archetypes, and has created a guide for finding our own inner archetypes. Students might be interested in finding their inner archetypes on her website, and then comparing their descriptions to some well-known fictional characters.

A short breakdown of Pearson’s research that can be used to help describe or categorize different literary characters and their archetypes can be found through the University Interscholastic League.

Author Jill Williamson also has compiled a comprehensive list of character archetypes on her website, along with short descriptions of movie, TV, or literary characters that exemplify the archetype.


In literature, archetypes often appear in the form of

  • Symbols or motifs
  • Situations or plot forms
  • Themes
  • Animals
  • Settings or places
  • Characters

An example of an archetypal situation or plot form can be found in The Heroic Journey. In The Odyssey, Odysseus faces many dangers on a quest to return to Ithaca, the theme of longing to return home that resonates universally.

Common Archetypes in Literature

Archetype Analysis Activity

Many classic works of literature make use of common character, situational, and symbolic archetypes. A great way to keep track and analyze some of these popular archetypes is with a storyboard! As students read, have them keep track of the different character, situational, and symbolic archetypes that appear throughout the work. The activity below is designed for use with The Scarlet Letter, but utilize the template to adapt it to any work of literature you are studying with your students!


Example Rubric

Archetype Analysis
As we read and discuss, identify and track the common character, situational, and symbolic archetypes that appear throughout the work. Create a scene for each archetype that highlights how it is utilized throughout the work. Add a brief description under each scene of how that object, person, or situation is an example of the archetype. Make sure the scenes you depict are historically and factually accurate, both to the allusion itself, and to the work of literature. Your scenes need to be neat, eye-catching, and reflect creativity and care. Please proofread your writing and organize your ideas thoughtfully.
Proficient
20 Points
Emerging
15 Points
Beginning
10 Points
Character Archetypes
All characters in the work are identified and categorized for their assigned archetypes. The characters and archetypes are identified correctly, and the explanations are thoughtful and utilize evidence from the text.
Some characters from the work may not be identified, or may not be identified and categorized correctly. The explanations are minimal, but they utilize evidence from the text.
Some characters from the work are not identified, or may not be identified and categorized correctly. The explanations are missing or too limited.
Situational Archetypes
There are a minimum of 3 correctly identified situational archetypes from the work. These archetypes are thoughtfully explained and utilize evidence from the text.
There are 2 identified situational archetypes from the work. There may be some inaccuracies in their identification and explanation, but they utilize evidence from the text. Explanations may be minimal.
There is only one identified situational archetype from the work, and it may not be identified correctly. The explanation is missing or too limited.
Symbolic Archetypes
There are a minimum of 5 correctly identified and explained symbolic archetypes from the work. These archetypes are thoughtfully explained and utilize evidence from the text.
There are 3-4 identified symbolic archetypes from the work. There may be some inaccuracies in their identification and explanation, but they utilize evidence from the text. Explanations may be minimal.
There are 1-2 identified symbolic archetypes from the work, and it may not be identified correctly. The explanation is missing or too limited.
Artistic Depictions
The art chosen to depict the scenes are historically appropriate to the work of literature. Time and care is taken to ensure that the scenes are neat, eye-catching, and creative.
The art chosen to depict the scenes should be historically appropriate, but there may be some liberties taken that distract from the assignment. Scene constructions are neat, and meet basic expectations.
The art chosen to depict the scenes are historically inappropriate. Scene constructions are messy and may create some confusion, or may be too limited.
English Conventions
Ideas are organized. There are few or no grammatical, mechanical, or spelling errors.
Ideas are mostly organized. There are some grammatical, mechanical, or spelling errors.
Ideas may be disorganized or misplaced. Lack of control over grammar, mechanics, and spelling reflect a lack of proofreading.

Related Activities

Check out these archetype activities from our guides on The Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, and Greek Mythology: The 12 Labors of Hercules




How to Analyze Archetypes in Literature Using Storyboard That

1

Choose a Literary Work

Select a literary work that you want to analyze for archetypes. It can be a novel, a play, a short story, or any other form of literature.

2

Identify Archetypes

As you read the literary work, identify and take note of the different character, situational, and symbolic archetypes that appear throughout the story. Look for recurring patterns and themes.

3

Create a Storyboard Template

Access Storyboard That and create a storyboard template to document the archetypes you identify. Use the cells to represent different scenes or instances where the archetypes are depicted.

4

Fill in the Cells

In each cell of the storyboard, describe and illustrate the specific archetypes you have identified. Use text and visuals to represent the characters, situations, or symbols that embody each archetype.

5

Analyze and Reflect

Analyze the impact and significance of each archetype within the literary work. Reflect on how they contribute to the overall themes, character development, and plot progression. Consider the deeper meanings and messages conveyed through these archetypes.

6

Share and Discuss

Share your storyboard analysis with others, such as classmates or teachers, and engage in discussions about the archetypes and their role in the literature. Exchange insights and interpretations to gain a deeper understanding of the work.

Frequently Asked Questions about Archetypes in Literature

Why are archetypes important in literature and storytelling?

Archetypes are important in literature and storytelling because they represent universal human experiences and themes that resonate with audiences across cultures and time periods. By using archetypes, authors can tap into these shared experiences and create characters and stories that are relatable and meaningful to readers.

How can understanding archetypes help me better analyze and interpret literature?

Understanding archetypes can help you identify recurring patterns and themes in literature, and can provide insight into the author's intended message and the meaning of the work as a whole. By recognizing archetypes and their associated characteristics, you can better understand the motivations and actions of characters, as well as the underlying themes and symbolism in the story.

Are archetypes still relevant in modern storytelling?

Yes, archetypes are still relevant in modern storytelling because they tap into universal human experiences and themes that are timeless and relevant across cultures and time periods. While the specific forms that archetypes take may change over time, the underlying concepts and themes remain relevant to audiences today.

Image Attributions
  • Rings • Elsie esq. • License Attribution (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)
  • Rubble • pasa47 • License Attribution (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)
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