What Are Some Examples of Archetypal Criticism?

Archetypal criticism, which seeks to determine the archetypal foundation of the plot or premise of a literary work, will often trace the story concept back to that of the quest or journey. In this common archetypal pattern, such as that found in Homer's "Odyssey," the hero departs from home to journey to a dangerous place, accomplishes the objective of the quest and gains some form of valuable knowledge or experience during the process. Other archetypal themes commonly found in literature are that of the Promethean rebel-hero, the femme fatale and the father search.

According to C.G. Jung, the archetypal patterns found in literature and folklore represent themes that are deeply embedded in what he called the "collective unconsciousness" of the human race. These common and easily recognized themes repeatedly occur in the myths, literature and folklore of mankind, regardless of the diversity of the cultures in which they appear. The task of the archetypal critic is to examine a work inductively, without allowing their analysis to be affected by personal taste, so that the work can be traced to its archetypal source.

Archetypal criticism is closely associated with the scientific disciplines of psychoanalysis and social anthropology in its examination technique and overall objective. In addition to Jung's influence, archetypal criticism can trace its origins further back to the work of the social anthropologist, James George Frazer, who examined the myths of various cultures in search of common and reoccurring themes. Frazer first published his findings in 1890 in "The Golden Bough." Maude Bodkin's 1934 publication of "Archetypal Patterns in Poetry" is also considered a major contribution to the critical examination of archetypal themes in literature.