Archetypes In Literature, Films And Life

Four methods of analyzing personality using archetypal references, such as Greek mythology, can be helpful tools in understanding literature and films.

Jungian theory posits that much apparently random variation in human behavior is actually quite orderly and consistent, and that patterns of behavior are responsible in great measure for particular personalities. Many in the field have organized their theories about personality and archetypes, and their works are significant to the study.

The Meyers-Briggs Type Inventory attributes this uniqueness (but repeatability) in human behavior to certain basic differences in the way people prefer to use their PERCEPTION and JUDGMENT. The MBTI, a tool used by career counselors, therapists and educators, shows strength of these preferences as well as two realms of orientation to life, EXTROVERSION vs. INTROVERSION, and two lifestyle patterns, JUDGMENT vs. PERCEPTION.

A combination of letters reflecting personal preferences in these four areas indicates a person's personality type, one of a possible sixteen combinations, in Meyers-Briggs jargon. Understanding the theory on which personality typing is based should liberate, not limit or merely categorize an individual, but rather express one's personal preferences, ways we have each chosen to behave, or in which we behave based on inherent qualities. See Manual: A Guide to the Development and Use of the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator by Isabel Briggs Meyers and Mary H. McCauley or Gifts Differing by Isabel Briggs Meyers and Peter Myers, Consulting Psychologists Press, 1980.

Another archetype-based tool, The Enneagram Theory of Personality is based on an ancient Sufi method of self-understanding and often utilized both by Jungian therapists and spiritual guides. It organizes personal types around spiritual, cognitive and emotional behaviors and tendencies and charts them in a numbered wheel, or clock pattern, which clearly demonstrate influencing patterns on either side of one's "type," and opposing patterns indicated on the side of the wheel opposite one's type. Understanding the resulting archetypes, #'s One through Nine, clarifies both personal development and inherent strengths and weaknesses in a given individual. Helpful reading is (The Enneagram by Helen Palmer, (Harper and Row, NY 1983 ). Type names give clues to more complete descriptions in Palmer's work, and that of others. The types are:

One = The Perfectionist

Two = The Caregiver

Three = The Performer

Four = The Tragic Romantic

Five = The Observer

Six = The Devil's Advocate

Seven = The Epicure

Eight = The Boss, and

Nine = The Mediator.

Gods in Every Man (Harper and Row, 1989) and Goddesses in Every Woman (Harper and Row, 1984) by psychotherapist Jean Shinoda Bolen uses an overlay of Greek and other mythic types to organize the variations in human behaviors into sixteen types, eight female, eight male. These cultural images of various human archetypes can further understanding of clusters of tendencies and possibilities for future growth and development, particular as the characters' mythic stories are learned, their strengths and weaknesses studied.

They include, for men,

Zeus, God of the Sky, Realm of Will and Power

Poseidon, God of the Sea""Realm of Emotion and Instinct

Hades, God of the Underworld""Realm of Souls and the Unconscious

Apollo, God of the Sun""rcher, Lawgiver, Favorite Son

Hermes, Messenger of God and Guide of Souls""Communicator, Trickster, Traveler

Ares, God of War""Warrior, Dancer, Lover

Hephaestus, God of the Forge""Craftsman, Inventor, Loner, and

Dionsyius, God of Wine and Ecstasy""Mystic, Lover, Wanderer.

The female mythic types are:

Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt and Moon""Competitor and Sister

Athena, Goddess of Wisdom and Crafts""Strategist and Father's Daughter

Hestia, Goddess of the Hearth and Temple""Wise Woman and Maiden Aunt

Hera, Goddess of Marriage""Commitment Maker and Wife

Demeter, Goddess of Grain""Nurturer and Mother

Persephone, The Maiden and Queen of the Underworld""Receptive Woman and

Mother's Daughter

Aphrodite, Goddess of Love and Beauty""Creative Woman and Lover.

The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes by Tami Cowden, Caro LaFever and Sue Viders, (Lone Eagle Publishing, 2,000) also uses Jungian theory to posit clusters of human behavior and tendencies in eight male and eight female "types." While Jungian in theory, like the three previously mentioned systems of personality, the current volume dwells more in practical applications and examples of these archetypes than in the theory that underlies their construction. References to literature, film, television drama and more create a richly textured panoply from which to draw material for characterization.

The two sets of male and female archetypes include:

Male: The Chief

The Warrior

The Charmer

The Lost Soul

The Professor

The Best Friend

The Bad Boy

The Swashbuckler


The Boss

The Spunky Kid

The Crusader

The Waif

The Librarian

The Nurturer

The Seductress

The Free Spirit

Consider, the authors suggest, the interactions of a Chief, as exemplified by Ricky Ricardo, and The Free Spirit, as exemplified by Lucy. Or, in another example, Kevin Spacey as Lester Burnham, playing out the life of a Best Friend, and Annette Benning, as Carolyn Burnham, a good example of The Boss, in American Beauty. In literature, Jane Austen's Emma gives two good examples, the Best Friend archetype of Mr. Knightly, and the Free Spirit of Emma. Many more examples abound in this work.

Archetypes in Literature, Film and Life are the stuff of conflict, growth, development and drama. There are many routes to understanding them, and to ignore their existence precludes a rewarding avenue of growth both in self knowledge and the creative possibilities of character-making in the arts.


The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines, Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever, Sue Viders, Lone Eagle Publishing, Hollywood, CA 2000

The Enneagram by Helen Palmer, Harper and Row, NY (later published by Psychological Processes, Inc.)1983

Gifts Differing, Isabel Briggs Myers and Peter Myers, Consulting Psychoogists Press, Palo Alto, CA 1980

Introduction to Type, Isabel Briggs Myers, Consulting Psychologists Press, Palo Alto, CA 1980

Gods in Everyman:A New Psychology of Men's Lives and Loves, Jean Shinoda Bolen, M. D. Harper and Row, San Francisco, 1989

Gods in Every Woman: Jean Shinoda Bolen, M. D., pub. Unknown, Harper and Row, date unknown

From Image to Likeness:A Jungian Path in the Gospel Journey, by W. Harold Grant, Magdala Thompson, Thomas E. Clarke, Paulist Press, NY, 1983

People Types and Tiger Stripes: A Practical Guide to Learning Styles, by Gordon Lawrence, Center for Application of Psychological Type, Inc., Gainesville, FL, 1979

Prayer and Temperament:Different Prayer Forms for Different Personality Types, by Chester P. Michael and Marie C. Norrisey

Please Understand Me:An Essay on Temperament Styles, David Kiersey and Marilyn Bates, Prometheus Nemesis Books, DelMar CA, 1978

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