Saturday, July 09, 2005

Archetypes and Stereotypes

As a writer, I am interested in archetypes and stereotypes. In case you're unfamiliar with the difference between them, here (in part) is what has to say about these two often-confused words.


1 - An original model or type after which other similar things are patterned; a prototype: “‘Frankenstein’ . . . ‘Dracula’ . . . ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ . . . the archetypes that have influenced all subsequent horror stories” (New York Times).
2- An ideal example of a type; quintessence: an archetype of the successful entrepreneur.
3 - In Jungian psychology, an inherited pattern of thought or symbolic imagery derived from the past collective experience and present in the individual unconscious.

Examples of some archetypes include: The Superman (the Omnipotent), The Hero (such as Beowulf, Doc Savage, Luke Skywalker, Thomas A. Anderson ("Neo"), Harry Potter), The Wise Old Man (such as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Gandalf, Albus Dumbledore), The Trickster or Ape (such as Brer Rabbit, Bart Simpson, Bugs Bunny).


1 - A conventional, formulaic, and oversimplified conception,
opinion, or image.
2 - One that is regarded as embodying or conforming to a set image or type.

In modern usage, a stereotype is a simplified mental picture of an individual or group of people who share certain characteristic (or stereotypical) qualities. The term is often used in a negative sense, and stereotypes are seen by many as undesirable beliefs which can be altered through education and/or familiarisation. Stereotypes are common in the world of drama, where they are often used as a form of dramatic shorthand.

Common stereotypes include a variety of allegations about various racial groups, predictions of behavior based on social status and wealth, and allegations based on sex.

In literature and art, stereotypes are clichéd or predictable characters or situations. For example, the stereotypical devil is a red, impish character with horns and a pitchfork, whilst the stereotypical salesman is a slickly-dressed, fast-talking individual who cannot usually be trusted. Throughout history, storytellers have drawn from stereotypical characters and situations, in order to quickly connect the audience with new tales.

Now, as you will note, the use of stereotypes is common in drama, particularly films (since nearly all Hollywood movie makers appear to be incapable of thinking in anything other than clichés ! A comment which I acknowledge could, in itself, be considered a cliché, but let's not confuse the issue !). Since archetypes are, according to Jung, part of humanity's Collective Unconscious, it is all too easy for an archetype to slide into a stereotype. Thus, we see Harry Potter, the archetypal Hero, who in the stereotypical Hollywood way, is played by a photogenic young man, who is certainly much better looking than the image of Harry Potter I had in my head after reading the first few books (which was some time before the first film arrived on the big screen). We also have the stereotypical "inspiring teacher", the first instance of which that I recall seeing was in Goodbye Mr Chips, but the idea was continued in Dead Poets Society, Sister Act 2 and latterly, Mona Lisa Smile - which is, I feel, the female equivalent of Dead Poets Society. Both Robin Williams' character and Julia Roberts' character are teachers who arrive at an educational institution, teach for a year in a way that is meant to broaden the minds of the young people (whilst actually causing some painful disruption for some of the characters), and leave at the end of the year in a defiant manner. (Both films also feature a character invading the school/college of a member of the opposite sex for the sake of pursuing a romantic relationship !) Now don't get me wrong, I enjoyed both Williams' and Roberts' films a good deal, but I also found them interesting because they clearly parallel each other in the way they portray the teachers of 1950s America - were there really that many inspirational yet subversive teachers around in America in the 1950s ?


Alex said...

Thanks for this

Neil.V said...

This was well written with great examples.... Archetypes hint at the importance of the individual.

Brook said...

thanks - you just helped me with my prep for my year 7 "Hero's Journey" lesson.

Michele said...

Welcome, Brook!

acotty said...

Very well explained! Question, though. Is it safe to say that a Stereotype is one who is fulfilling the expectations of society according to their stereotypical role? They are, in essence, a people-pleaser? As compared to an Archetype who behaves in such a manner because of their beliefs and convictions?