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Literature Glossary

Don’t be an oxymoron. Know your literary terms.

Over 200 literary terms, Shmooped to perfection.

Archetype

Definition:

According to the somewhat controversial Swiss psychologist dude Carl Jung, archetypes are universal signs and symbols from the collective unconscious. They supposedly reflect common human experiences, like birth, death, motherhood, fatherhood, and whatnot.

Archetypes can be expressed in literature as settings, characters, images and situations. Literary critics like to talk about recurring patterns and motifs as archetypal. Think of them as symbols that everyone can recognize (without a whole lot of effort involved).

Check out our analysis of characters as archetypes in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men for a glimpse of archetypes in the wild.