SYMBOL — "a term, name, or even a picture that may be familiar in daily life, yet that possesses specific connotations in addition to its conventional and obvious meaning" (Jung).

·        More than apparent meaning--an inherent multiplicity of meanings

·        A larger "unconscious" aspect

·        Can be analyzed, but cannot be fully explained

·        Example: a penny=good luck (make a wish)


ARCHETYPE — an original model after which other similar things are patterned; from the Greek

            word arkhetupos meaning “exemplary.”


·        (In literature):  an image, story-pattern, or character type that recurs frequently and evokes strong, often unconscious, associations in the reader.  For example, the wicked witch, the enchanted prince, the sleeping beauty, and the fairy godmother are widely dispersed throughout folk literature and appear in slightly different forms in poetry, drama, and novels.

·        (Alternative definition): a term that accepts Carl Jung’s idea of recurring patterns of situation, character, or symbol they are the common themes that show up in every culture of the world. Archetypes are recurrent, appearing in slightly altered forms to take present day situations and relate them to the past to find meaning in contemporary world.




Situation Archetypes


THE QUEST—This motif describes the search for someone or some talisman (thing) which, when found and brought back, will restore growth and prosperity to a wasted land ( Galahad for the Holy Grail The Lion King, Excalibur, Idylls of the King.)

THE TASK—To save the kingdom, to win the fair lady, to identify himself so that he may reassume his rightful position, the hero must perform some nearly superhuman deed.  (Arthur pulls Excalibur from the stone, Frodo must arrive at Rivendale.)

THE INITIATION—This archetype usually takes the form of an initiation into adult life.  The adolescent comes into his/her maturity with new awareness and problems along with new hope for the community.  This awakening is often the climax of the story.  (Growing Up:  Huckleberry Finn, King Arthur, the hobbits.)

THE JOURNEY—The journey sends the hero in search for some truth or information necessary to restore fertility to the kingdom.  Usually the hero descends into a real of psychological pit and is forced to discover the blackest truths, quite often concerning his faults.  Once the hero is as this lowest point, he must accept personal responsibility.  (The Odyssey, The Canterbury Tales, The Aeneid, The Fellowship of the Rings.

THE FALL—This archetype describes a descent from a higher to a lower state of being.  The experience involves a loss of innocence and bliss.  The fall is often accompanied by expulsion from a kind of paradise as penalty for disobedience and moral transgression.  (Adam and Eve, Lancelot and Guinevere, Paradise Lost, etc.)

DEATH AND REBIRTH—The most common of all situation archetypes, this motif grows out of the parallel between the cycle of nature and the cycle of life.  Thus, morning and springtime represent birth, youth, or rebirth; evening and winter suggest old age or death.


NATURE VS MECHANISTIC WORLD—Nature is good while technology and society are often evil.   (e. g. Walden, The Terminator, )

BATTLE BETWEEN GOOD AND EVIL—Obviously, the battle between two primal forces.  Mankind shows eternal optimism in the continual portrayal of good triumphing over evil despite great odds.  (e.g. The forces of Sauron and those of Middle Earth in The Lord of the Rings)

THE UNHEALABLE WOUND—This wound is either physical or psychological and cannot be healed fully.  This wound also indicates a loss of innocence.  These wounds always ache and often drive the sufferer to desperate measures.  (Frodo’s shoulder, Lancelot’s madness, Ahab’s wooden leg)

THE RITUAL—The actual ceremonies the initiate experiences that will mark his rite of passage into another state.  The importance of ritual rites cannot be over stressed as they provide clear sign posts for the character’s role in society as well (weddings, baptisms, coronations)

THE MAGIC WEAPON—The magic weapon symbolizes the extraordinary quality of the hero because no one else can wield the weapon or use it to its full potential.  It is usually given by a mentor figure (Excalibur, Odysseus’s bow, Thor’s hammer, Samson’s hair)


Symbolic Archetypes


Light vs. Darkness

Light usually suggests hope, renewal, or intellectual illumination; darkness implies the unknown, ignorance, or despair

Water vs. Desert

Because water is necessary to life and growth, it commonly appears as a birth or rebirth symbol.  Water is used in baptismal services, which solemnizes spiritual births.  Similarly, the appearance of rain in a work of literature can suggest a character’s spiritual birth.  While water symbolizes life, rebirth, and purification, death symbolizes the opposite.

Innate Wisdom vs.

Educated Stupidity

Some characters exhibit wisdom and understanding of situations instinctively as opposed to those supposedly in charge.  (Sam from The Lord of the Rings, Alfred the Butler to Batman)

Haven vs. Wilderness

Places of safety contrast sharply against the dangerous wilderness.  Heroes are often sheltered for a time to regain health and resources.  (e.g. the Batcave, Camelot, Rivendale, the Crystal Cave)


Character Archetypes


The HERO:  this archetype is so well defined that the life of the protagonist can be clearly divided into a series of well-marked adventures.  At birth some attempt is made to kill him.  He is however, spirited away and reared by foster parents.  We know almost nothing of his childhood, but upon reaching manhood he returns to his future kingdom.  After a victory over the king or a wild beast, he marries a princess, becomes king, reigns uneventfully, but later loses favor with the gods.  He is then driven from the city after which he meets a mysterious death, often at the top of a hill.

Father-Son Conflict:  tension often results from separation during childhood or from an external source when the individuals meet as men and where the mentor often has a higher place in the affections of the hero than the natural parent. (e.g. Arthur and Uther, Romeo and Lord Montague)

Mentors: these individuals serve as teachers or counselors to the initiates.  Sometimes they work as role models and often serve as father or mother figure.  (e.g. Merlin, Gandalf to Frodo, Obi Wan to Luke) . 

Mentor-Pupil relationship: mentor teaches by examples the skills necessary to survive the quest.

The Initiates: these are the young heroes who, prior to their quest, must endure some training and ceremony. They are usually innocent and often wear white (e.g. Arthur, Daniel in The Karate Kid, Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker

Young Man from the Provinces: this hero is spirited away as a young man and raised by strangers.  He later returns to his home and heritage where he is a stranger who can see new problems and new solutions (e.g. Tarzan, Arthur, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Spock)

Loyal Retainers: these individuals are somewhat like servants who are heroic themselves.  Their duty is to protect the hero and reflect the nobility of the hero.  (Sam in The Lord of the Rings, Watson to Sherlock Holmes)

Hunting Group of Companions:  loyal companions willing to face any number of perils in order to be together.  (e.g. Robin Hood and his Merry Men, the Knights of the Round Table)

Friendly Beast:  this shows that nature is on the side of the hero.  (e.g. Toto, Lassie, Trigger)

The Evil Figure with the Ultimately Good Heart:  A redeemable devil figure saved by the nobility or love of the hero.  (e.g.  Green Knight, Scrooge, any romance novel hero)

Devil Figure:  Evil incarnate, this character offers worldly goods, fame, or knowledge to the protagonist in exchange for possession of the soul (e.g. Satan, Lucifer, Hitler, Mephistopheles)

The Scapegoat:  an animal or more usually a human whose death in a public ceremony expiates some taint or sin that has been visited upon a community.  The death often makes him a more powerful force in the society then when they lived.  (e.g. Oedipus, the Jews and the minority that can be blamed for the ills of the times)

The Outcast:  a figure who is banished from a social group for some crime (real or imagined) against his fellow man.  The outcast is usually destined to become a wanderer from place to place. (e.g. some cowboys, Cain, the Ancient Mariner)

Temptress: characterized by beauty, this woman is one to whom the hero is physically attracted and who ultimately brings about his downfall (e. g. Delilah, Guinevere)




The Natural Cycle


Day to night, spring to winter, youth to old age.  These suggest all kinds of imagery:


light = goodness            spring = hope             girl = innocence

darkness = evil            winter = despair                      crone = evil knowledge, impending death


A symbol may represent good or evil, depending on its context.  A tree is usually a symbol of life—but not if the author uses it as the venue for a lynching, or if it is turned into a crucifix.  Here are some images and their most common symbolic meanings:



protection, death, evil, mystery, power


purity, innocence, cleanliness, holiness


passion, emotion, charisma, creativity, blood, life,



innocence, childhood, feminine things


projects needing a push, abundance, fall


cowardice, health, sun


growth, fertility, renewal spring, things that grow


loyalty, protection, peace, calmness, and spirituality, sadness


royalty, sacred things


mother earth, friendship, strength

crescent moons

four seasons


strength, courage, clarity of vision


true love, lasting love, and love for others


welcome and hospitality


water, great abundance, growth, rebirth


ocean waves, smooth sailing in life


protection against fires, good fortune, hope, love, harmony


faith, hope, charity, and trust in mankind


abundance and goodwill


nature ordered to serve human needs; a paradise


nature hostile to human needs


life, often seen as ending in death as the river ends in the sea


chaos, death, source of life


youth; red flowers symbolize death of young men

country animals

ordered human society

predatory, wild animals

evil; threats to society


light, life


heaven, fate, or necessity


link between two worlds; between life and death

time passing

hour glasses, sun dials, clocks, and scythes

rain and mist



peace and forgiveness




friendship, faithfulness




strength of the family