Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Archetypal Lens in Appleman

Hey gals,

Here is what Appleman has to say about The Archetypal Lens / Perspective / Criticism. Since our first blog post concerns the lens itself, this might be a good place to start, although outside sources and information should prove helpful as well!

The Archetypal Perspective (141-2)

In literary criticism, the word archetype signifies a recognizable pattern or model. It can be used to describe story designs, character types, or images that can be found in a wide variety of works of literature. It can also be applied to myths, dreams, and social rituals. The archetypal similarities between texts and behaviors are thought to reflect a set of universal, even primitive, ways of seeing the world. When we find them in literary works, they evoke strong responses from readers. Archetypal themes include the heroic journey and the search for a father figure. Archetypal images include the opposition of heaven and hell, the river as a sign of life and movement, and mountains or other high places as sources of enlightenment. Characters can be archetypal as well; some examples are the rebel-hero, the scapegoat, the villain, and the goddess.

Archetypal Perspective (145)

In criticism, archetype signifies narrative designs, character types, or images, which are said to be identifiable in a wide variety of works of literature, as well as in myths, dreams, and even ritualized modes of social behavior. The archetypal similarities within these diverse phenomena are held to reflect a set of universal, primitive, and elemental patterns, whose effective embodiment in a literary work evokes a profound response from the reader. The death-rebirth theme is often said to be the archetype of archetypes. Other archetypal themes are the journey underground, the heavenly ascent, the search for the father, the heaven/hell image, the Promethean rebel-hero, the scapegoat, the earth goddess, and the femme fatale.

Archetypal Criticism - Literary Theory Card (150).

   1. Meaning cannot exist solely on the page of a work, nor can that work be treated as in independent entity.
   2. Humankind has a "collective unconscious," a kind of universal psyche, which is manifested in dreams and myths and which harbors themes and images that are hard-wired in all of us.
   3. These recurring myths, symbols, and character types appear and reappear in literary works.


   1. Consider the genre of the work (e.g., comedy, romance, tragedy, irony) and how it affects the meaning.
   2. Look for story patterns and symbolic associations, such as black hats, springtime settings, evil    stepmothers, and so forth, from other texts you've read.
   3. Consider your associations with these symbols as you construct meaning from the text.


  1. One of the most fascinating elements of the Archetypal lens is its overlap with Psychological lens. This idea of human kind having a “collective unconscious” that makes its way into literature is very intriguing. Apparently, one of the main proponents of Archetypal Criticism was Swiss-born psychoanalyst, Carl Jung. His work deals explicitly with the unconscious mind and the world of archetypes that are housed within it. Supposedly this differed from Freud’s school of thought, and the two were said to argue at great length! I think that Freud was more concerned with the individual unconscious, rather than the “collective” unconscious of human history that defines the Archetypal Lens. This “collective unconscious” is thought to transcend time and can be seen throughout the canon of literature and human experience.
    In our study of literature, we have heard terms like “primordial images” (which was actually coined by Jung). These images and symbols represent some hidden part of the mind that we think of as the unconscious. What’s interesting about this concept is that it suggests an objective quality to literature. Somehow these hard-wired images are making their way onto the pages of our literature, spanning across time, appearing and reappearing over and over again. They are universal in a sense. Since these archetypes are so prevalent, they must be important and worth studying in our process of finding meaning in literature.
    Something that struck me from the Appleman reading was the suggestion that these reoccurring images evoke a strong and profound response from the reader. For example, the death-rebirth image is highly emotional and deeply psychological. It seems that these patterns are worthy of a closer look and the Archetypal lens gives us the tools to do just that.

  2. As Brian points out toward the end of his post, I also noted how Appleman discussed (and implied) the propensity of the archetypal lens to elicit strong responses from the reader. And really, why shouldn't it? Appleman gives a brief list of possible archetypal roles as "hero/villain, protagonist/antagonist, prince/monster, and princess/heroine," I personally realized how much I, as a reader, expect that any story will have some of these roles embodied by certain characters. In fact, though there may not, for example, necessarily be a prince and monster archetype in any given story, I believe that literature is both written and read with the basic protagonist/antagonist types in mind.

    I can't think of a single story where there isn't a protagonist, whom I feel I am traditionally expected to root for. And if I find myself rooting for the more challenging or devilish or in some way antagonistic character, I am somewhat aware that either I am defying a norm, or that the author is purposely blurring the lines in roles. Either of these interpretations gives inherent credence to the fact that these set roles exist in literature, which in itself is not a very profound statement. But I do feel, in the classroom that it is crucial to establish even this basic idea when dealing with the archetypal lens.

    I can also appreciate how Appleman emphasized the strategy of considering genre (p. 150 - "comedy, romance, tragedy, irony"), as housed within each one are many sub-archetypes ( I think immediately of tragedy and the potential/expected hamartia of the hero who ultimately fails - think Oedipus, Hamlet). It seems to me that the archetype lens is a Reader Response for the masses, so to speak, in that what we bring to the table - not individually, but collectively as a group or culture - determines how we understand certain societal roles present in any narrative.

    I've begun to consider ways we might incorporate this lens in a classroom, and as I began to mention above, I feel that the place to start is by establishing that we - as readers - come with societally conceived ideas to any text we read. I suppose my question, or thing I'll be considering in reading our selected text (The Hudson Book of Fiction) is exactly how I might forge such an introduction.

  3. When researching the archetypal lens, words such as “motif” and “prototype” were commonly used alongside archetype. Seeing these words helped me understand the concept of the archetype better and also made me realize that this idea is not specific to literature, but also used in philosophy, psychology, anthropology, and other areas of study. As Brian was discussing in class, philosopher Carl Jung is associated with the archetypal literary criticism. From my understanding, he views archetypes as symbols that we have in our unconscious minds that organize the world around us. By definition, archetypes are reoccurring patterns and symbols that can be found worldwide and that are used to express deeper meaning.

    In my 10th grade class, we are just beginning a unit on fairy tales. The idea of archetypes and motifs fit perfectly into this unit. Fairy tales are filled with archetypes- I would even consider using a fairy tale to introduce our unit of the archetypal lens. There are many archetypal characters, roles, and symbols used in fairy tales across cultures. The princess, the crow, the fox, the wise man, fairy godmother, trickster, the hero are only a few examples commonly used in fairy tales. These characters and symbols may seem basic, but they often represent deeper cultural significance. As both Brian and Elizabeth mentioned, the protagonist and antagonist are two of the most common and essential archetypes.

    Early on in the unit, I would encourage students to think about the archetypes that they find in their everyday lives. It could also be fun for students to pick out archetypes from a popular television series or movie. Students could list the archetypes that they find and also discuss what their deeper meanings might be. For example, the business man on Wall Street could represent wealth, competition, possibly greed. The color red could represent love, rage, or passion. Realizing the different archetypes in our lives can help them understand the roles that they play and some of the people they interact with.

  4. I really like What Rebecca said about fairy tales because I think it really exemplifies the lens. While the archetypal lens is already relatively concrete a fairy tale really has one protagonist and a villain that tries to get in his or her way. Unless, as Elizabeth mentioned, the author was blurring the lines between the villain and protagonist characters.
    This already makes it easier for me to think about starting a unit with this lens. A fairy tale is a perfect example of short story for which the use of the lens would be natural because of the general pattern included. Using a fairy tale picture book could also be used as the simplest and most accessible example for students.
    Although the collective consciousness has already been discussed, I think it will be interesting to see how it would play out in a real classroom. I don't know whether they will have the same experience with the text, but I do not think I want to assume already that they will. Since this is not the reader response lens, it is probably okay for the students to concentrate more on the text then their own experience. A benefit of this lens, I think, could be when collective consciousness fails. If students have different ideas or different associations to the symbols of the text it can certainly lead to more class discussion.

  5. I wrote a comment, but it didn't post. I hate it when hat happens. My response was to Brian's first posting. I complemented him on the organized way he is setting this up for his group and the point he make about narrative archetypes - not merely symbols.
    I spoke of a colleague from my hs teaching days who found "The Robber Bride" to be the best story to use for introducing the heroes journey to his students. He laid that on top of Joseph Campbell's graphic rendering of the journey and invited kids to find their own visual representations to place along Campbell's graphic. The one that stood out to me was the way a student ued "The Lion King".
    All respondents have bee building on this post in mindful ways. I was a little surprised not to be reading about the actual stories in the text. I assume you have left that for this week [I do not have your group goal sheets at home with me, so I cannot check.