Dr. Hareshwar Roy

Archetypal literary criticism is a type of critical theory that interprets a text by focusing on recurring myths and archetypes  in the narrative, symbols, images, and character types in a literary work. It argues that archetypes determine the form and function of literary works. The meaning of a text is shaped by cultural and psychological myths. Archetypal images and story patterns encourage readers to participate ritualistically in basic beliefs, fears, and anxieties of their age. These archetypal features not only constitute the intelligibility of the text but also tap into a level of desires and anxieties of humankind.

Archetypal/Myth Criticism is a form of criticism based largely on the works of C.G. Jung and Joseph Campbell and myth itself. Some of the school's major figures include Robert Graves, Francis Fergusson, Philip Wheelwright, Leslie Fiedler, Northrop Frye, Maud Bodkin, and G. Wilson Knight. Whereas Freudian, Lacanian, and other schools of psychological criticism operate within a linguistic paradigm regarding the unconscious, the Jungian approach to myth emphasizes the notion of image.
The word Archetypal has Greek origin. The ‘arche’ means beginning or ‘original’ and ‘typos’ means imprint or ‘form’. The term ‘archetype’ can be traced to Plato, but the concept gained currency in twentieth-century literary theory and criticism through the work of C. G. Jung. Jung's Psychology of the Unconscious appeared in English one year after publication of J. G. Frazer's The Golden Bough. Frazer's and Jung's texts formed the basis of two allied but ultimately different courses of influence on literary history. In 1934 Maud Bodkin published Archetypal Patterns in Poetry that is the first work on this subject. Archetypal criticism became popular in the 1950’s and 1960’s, largely due to the work of  Frye. Though archetypal literary criticism is no longer widely practiced, it still has a place in the tradition of literary studies.

Frazer’s The Golden Bough was the first influential text dealing with cultural mythologies. It was widely accepted as the seminal text on myth that spawned numerous studies on the same subject. Eventually, the momentum of Frazer’s work carried over into literary studies. In The Golden Bough Frazer identifies shared practices and mythological beliefs between primitive religions and modern religions. Frazer argues that the death-rebirth myth is present in almost all cultural mythologies, and is acted out in terms of growing seasons and vegetation.
While Frazer’s work deals with mythology and archetypes in material terms, the work of Jung  is immaterial in its focus. Jung’s work theorizes about myths and archetypes in relation to the unconscious, an inaccessible part of the mind. From a Jungian perspective, myths are the “culturally elaborated representations of the contents of the deepest recess of the human psyche: the world of the archetypes”. Jungian psychoanalysis distinguishes between the personal and collective unconscious, the latter being particularly relevant to archetypal criticism. Jung’s definition of the term is inconsistent in his many writings. Regardless of the many nuances between Jung’s definitions, the collective unconsciousness is a shared part of the unconscious. The Jungian archetypal approach treats literary texts as an avenue in which primordial images are represented.
The major work of Frye’s to deal with archetypes is Anatomy of Criticism but his essay “The Archetypes of Literature” is a precursor to the book. Frye’s work breaks from both Frazer and Jung in such a way that it is distinct from its anthropological and psychoanalytical precursors. For Frye, the death-rebirth myth is not ritualistic since it is involuntary, and therefore, must be done. Frye was uninterested about the collective unconscious.
Archetypal symbols vary more than archetype narratives or character types. The best archetypal pattern is any symbol with deep roots in a culture's mythology, such as the forbidden fruit in Genesis or even the poison apple in Snow White. These are examples of symbols that resonate with archetypal critics.


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