AskDefine | Define archetype

Dictionary Definition

archetype n : an original model on which something is patterned [syn: original, pilot]

User Contributed Dictionary



from archetypum, from αρχέτυπον arkhetypon "pattern, model" neut. of adj. αρχέτυπος arkhetypos "first-moulded", from αρχή- arkhe- "first" + τύπος typos "model, type, blow, mark of a blow".


  1. An original model of which all other similar persons, objects, or concepts are merely derivative, copied, patterned, or emulated; a prototype
  2. italbrac usage conflict A person, story, concept, or object that is based on a known archetype; an archetypal character.
  3. An ideal example of something; a quintessence.
  4. In the context of "psychology": According to the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, a universal pattern of thought, present in an individual's unconscious, inherited from the past collective experience of humanity.

Usage notes

Traditionally archetype refers to the model upon which something is based, but it has also come to mean an example of a personality archetype, particularly a fictional character in a story based on a well-established personality model. In this fashion, a character based on the Jesus archetype might be referred to as a "Jesus archetype". See eponym for a similar usage conflict.


original model of which all other similar persons, objects, or concepts are merely derivative
  • Finnish: perikuva, arkkityyppi
person, story, concept, or object that is based on a known archetype
  • Finnish: perikuva, malliesimerkki
ideal example of something; a quintessence
  • Finnish: perikuva
Jungian psychology: universal pattern of thought
  • Finnish: arkkityyppi


  1. To depict as, model using or otherwise associate a subject or object with an archetype.

Extensive Definition

An archetype (pronounced: /ˈarkətaɪp/) is a generic, idealized model of a person, object, or concept from which similar instances are derived, copied, patterned, or emulated. In psychology, an archetype is a model of a person, personality, or behavior. This article is about personality archetypes, as described in literature analysis and the study of the psyche.
In the analysis of personality, the term archetype is often broadly used to refer to
  1. a stereotype—personality type observed multiple times, especially an oversimplification of such a type; or
  2. an epitome—personality type exemplified, especially the "greatest" such example.
  3. a literary term to express details.
However, in a strict linguistic sense, an archetype is merely a defining example of a personality type. The accepted use of archetype is to refer to a generic version of a personality. In this sense "mother figure" can be considered an archetype and instances can be found in various female characters with distinct (non-generic) personalities.
Archetypes have been present in folklore and literature for thousands of years and appear to be present in prehistoric artwork. The use of archetypes to analyze personality was advanced by Carl Jung early in the 20th century. The value in using archetypal characters in fiction derives from the fact that a large group of people are able to unconsciously recognize the archetype, and thus the motivations, behind the character's behavior.


The word archetype appeared in European texts as early as 1545. It derives from the Latin noun archetypum and that from the Greek noun αρχέτυπον (archetypon) and adjective αρχέτυπος (archetypos), meaning "first-moulded". The Greek roots are arkhe- ("first" or "original") + typos ("model", "type", "blow", "mark of a blow").
Pronunciation note: The "ch" in archetype is a transliteration of the Greek chi () and is most commonly articulated in English as a "k".

Jungian archetypes

The concept of psychological archetypes was advanced by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, c. 1919. In Jung's psychological framework archetypes are innate, universal prototypes for ideas and may be used to interpret observations. A group of memories and interpretations associated with an archetype is a complex, e.g. a mother complex associated with the mother archetype. Jung treated the archetypes as psychological organs, analogous to physical ones in that both are morphological constructs that arose through evolution.
Jung outlined four main archetypes:
  • The Self, the regulating center of the psyche and facilitator of individuation
  • The Shadow, the opposite of the ego image, often containing qualities that the ego does not identify with but possesses nonetheless
  • The Anima, the feminine image in a man's psyche; or:
  • The Animus, the masculine image in a woman's psyche
  • The Persona
Although the number of archetypes is limitless, there are a few particularly notable, recurring archetypal images:

Archetypes in literature

Archetypes can be found in nearly all forms of literature; with their motifs being predominantly rooted in folklore.
William Shakespeare is known for creating many archetypal characters that hold great Eurocentric (chiefly British) social importance such as Hamlet, the self-doubting hero and the initiation archetype with the three stages of separation, transformation, and return; Falstaff, the bawdy, rotund comic knight; Romeo and Juliet, the ill-fated ("star-crossed") lovers; Richard II, the hero who dies with honor; and many others. Although Shakespeare based many of his characters on existing archetypes from fables and myths (e.g., Romeo and Juliet on Pyramus and Thisbe), Shakespeare's characters stand out as original by their contrast against a complex, social literary landscape. For instance, in The Tempest, Shakespeare borrowed from a manuscript by William Strachey that detailed an actual shipwreck of the Virginia-bound 17th-century English sailing vessel Sea Venture in 1609 on the islands of Bermuda. Shakespeare also borrowed heavily from a speech by Medea in Ovid's Metamorphoses in writing Prospero's renunciative speech; nevertheless, the unique combination of these elements in the character of Prospero created a new interpretation of the sage magician as that of a carefully plotting hero, quite distinct from the wizard-as-advisor archetype of Merlin or Gandalf (both of which may be derived from priesthood authority archetypes from the Bible such as Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Elijah, etc).
Certain common methods of character depiction employed in dramatic performance rely on the pre-existence of literary archetypes. Stock characters used in theatre or film are based on highly generic literary archetypes. A pastiche is an imitation of an archetype or prototype in order to pay homage to the original creator.
In the superhero genre, two main archetypes are Spider-Man and Superman. Superman represents the old, bright and optimistic view of superheroes who were both physically and morally perfect (e.g. they would always do the right thing). Spider-Man represents the more realistic, cynical view where superheroes are simply regular people with extraordinary powers (i.e. they can be selfish and immature at times, while self-sacrificing and noble at others).
The young, flawed, and brooding antihero [Spider-Man] became the most widely imitated archetype in the superhero genre since the appearance of Superman.
Bradford W. Wright, Comic Book Nation: The transformation of Youth Culture in America 212
Superman on the Couch by Danny Fingeroth 151



  • Campbell, Joseph, The Masks of God: Vol. I, Premitive Mythology. (1991 reprint revised ed.), New York: Penguin Group Inc.
  • Jung, C. G., (1934–1954). The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious. (1981 2nd ed. Collected Works Vol.9 Part 1), Princeton, N.J.: Bollingen. ISBN 0-691-01833-2
  • Arrien, Angeles (1992). Signs Of Life: The Five Universal Shapes And How To Use Them. Sonoma, CA, USA: Arcus Publishing Company. ISBN 0-916955-10-9
  • The hero within: six archetypes we live by
archetype in Bulgarian: Архетип
archetype in Catalan: Arquetip
archetype in Czech: Archetyp
archetype in Danish: Arketype
archetype in German: Archetypus
archetype in Estonian: Arhetüüp
archetype in Spanish: Arquetipo
archetype in Esperanto: Arketipo
archetype in Persian: کهن‌الگو
archetype in French: Archétype
archetype in Croatian: Arhetip
archetype in Italian: Archetipo
archetype in Hebrew: ארכיטיפ
archetype in Kazakh: Архетип
archetype in Kurdish: Arketîp
archetype in Dutch: Archetype (model)
archetype in Japanese: 元型
archetype in Norwegian: Arketype
archetype in Occitan (post 1500): Arquetipe
archetype in Polish: Archetyp (psychologia)
archetype in Portuguese: Arquétipo
archetype in Russian: Архетип
archetype in Simple English: Archetype
archetype in Slovak: Archetyp
archetype in Serbian: Архетип
archetype in Finnish: Arkkityyppi
archetype in Swedish: Arketyp
archetype in Turkish: Arketip
archetype in Ukrainian: Архетипи
archetype in Chinese: 原型

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Geistesgeschichte, Hegelian idea, Kantian idea, Platonic form, Platonic idea, aesthetic form, antetype, antitype, archetypal pattern, art form, beau ideal, biotype, blind impulse, build, cast, classic, classic example, collective unconscious, complex idea, configuration, conformation, criterion, cut, engram, epitome, eternal object, eternal universal, example, exemplar, fashion, father image, figuration, figure, form, formal cause, format, formation, frame, fugleman, fugler, genotype, genre, highest category, history of ideas, id, ideal, idealism, ideate, ideatum, idee-force, image, imago, imitatee, impression, impulse, inborn proclivity, innate idea, inner form, innovation, instinct, layout, lead, libido, make, makeup, masterpiece, masterwork, matrix, memory, memory trace, mirror, modality, mode, model, mold, natural instinct, natural tendency, new departure, noosphere, noumenon, original, paradigm, paragon, pattern, pattern of perfection, percept, pilot model, precedent, primitive self, prototype, quintessence, regulative first principle, representative, rule, set, shape, significant form, simple idea, stamp, standard, structure, style, subconscious urge, subsistent form, the Absolute, the Absolute Idea, the Self-determined, the realized ideal, transcendent idea, transcendent nonempirical concept, transcendent universal, traumatic trace, turn, type, type species, type specimen, unconscious memory, universal, universal concept, universal essence, unlearned capacity, unreasoning impulse, urtext, very model, vital impulse
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