We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What Is an Archetypal Character?

By Mark Wollacott
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
Language & Humanities is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At Language & Humanities, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

An archetypal character is a basic character prototype found in stories and literature. It is a philosophical-psychological idea based on psychologist Carl Jung’s ideas on archetypes in society. In literature, the archetypal character often fulfills basic plot or story functions, allowing for a smoother run through the story. The character also often forms the basic outlines for main characters to be developed from.

Humans gain comfort from the presence of an archetypal character in stories, even though such characters are almost never present in everyday life. Carl Jung believed that such archetypes, whether characters or basic story elements, were essential to a human’s understanding of and relating to a story. If the story is not relevant to the person or he or she cannot relate to it, it creates alienation and separation.

The archetypal character, therefore, is a simple, readily identifiable character that does not require a lengthy introduction, description or back story. Jung believed there were four basic archetypes that all others have sprung from. These are the mother, rebirth, spirit and the trickster. The trickster is often called “the Devil,” as he performs the same function. One of the most famous tricksters in mythology is probably the Norse God Loki.

These four basic archetypes then developed into a wider brand of character types including the hero, the child, the wise man and the mentor. William Shakespeare and other classical writers have introduced their own characters that have since become archetypes. Two of Shakespeare’s include the star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet and the burly, bawdy knight, Falstaff.

Genre fiction, especially bad fantasy, is well known for stocking its stories full of simple archetypes. These are often called cardboard cutout characters because of their poor characterization. The fantasy band, about to embark on an epic journey or tale of daring do, is almost always filled with the same selection of archetypes: the honorable knight, the loveable rogue, the mysterious mage, the maiden, and so on. Detective fiction is also well known for its use of archetypal characters.

Harry Potter is a good example of the use of archetypes. J.K. Rowling has drawn upon many archetypes, motifs and mythological allusions to pull her story together and to make it readily identifiable to readers. These include the orphaned child (Harry), the mentor (Dumbledore), the villain who killed the orphan's father (Voldemort) and the sidekicks (Hermione and Rupert).

Good characterization in modern literature is seen as developing a character beyond the limits of its archetype. An archetypal character is seen as either minor and functional, or as an example of poor characterization by the author. Characterization is often accompanied by active attempts to move the character away from the norms of its archetype.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.