The Six Main Archetypes of Literature

A list of the six main literary archetypes, explanations of them and examples.

An archetype is a pattern; a way of seeing; a recurring theme in literature and even in culture.  Carl Jung contends that all humans, regardless of time or place, recognize these archetypal patterns.  Archetypes are types of literature that most people are familiar with and are taught about during their lifetimes.  These 6 archetypes are:

1. Golden Age

This archetype is generally about a time when everything was beautiful, peaceful, no sin existed, plentiful food, no conflicts, no need for shelter (because you did not need to protect yourself), and no need for work (you didn’t have to).  Usually when coming across this archetype, the story tells about how things were much better back then and now humanity has basically screwed everything up and we want to go back to the good ole’ days.

2. God/Teacher

The God/Teacher archetype describes a role model who provides lessons on how to act, what’s important, survival, knowledge, love, etc.  This archetype is generally used in stories where you have someone quite experienced in some field teaching, helping, or instructing someone younger than them and inexperienced.  Examples of this archetype include the story of Prometheus and how he gave fire to humans or perhaps you could speak a bit more religiously and say that the Bible is also an example of the God/Teacher archetype due to the Bible teaching people lessons of life.

3. Loss of Innocence

While the definition of this archetype is broad, it’s effects are more narrow.  The loss of innocence literary archetype generally describes learning something knew or experiencing something new that completely changes you forever.  A prime example of this archetype is the book Lord of the Flies by William Golding, for which an archetype study can be found here.  Another one would be the book The Count of Monte Cristo.   There are 2 types of Loss of innocence.  The first one is Personal which is recognizing the harshness of the world and the recognition of one’s limitations.  The second kind is Society loss of innocence.  This is when evil is introduced into society.

4. Flood

The Flood archetype is one archetype that is very common nowadays considering the multiple apocalyptic movies and books and songs that are being made with each coming year.  The Flood archetype is simple to understand – it’s the end of the world.  Examples of this archetype include the movie I am Legend, and the song How far we’ve come by Matchbox Twenty.

5. Metamorphosis

Also another simple and easy to understand archetype, the Metamorphosis archetype is about changing from one thing to another and with a reason.  Either it’s a change that happens and occurs from within or it’s being changed by something outside – something external or something internal.  Examples would include The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein and the Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer.

6. Cycles

Fancy word there, Cycles, but this is still an easy concept to remember.  Anything like being a baby to being an adult to becoming an old person and then repeating with the next generation is a cycle.  Another easy one is the phases of the moon.

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4 Comments
  1. Posted October 31, 2010 at 11:25 pm

    i like literature

  2. Posted November 1, 2010 at 2:18 am

    nice write !

  3. Posted November 2, 2010 at 4:38 am

    i enjoy this piece of information…

  4. Debie
    Posted November 1, 2011 at 9:21 pm

    :) THANK YOU SO VERY SWEET KINDLY !

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