What traits would an archetypal character have?

Updated July 20, 2017

An archetypal character is the stereotyped manifestation of a particular "kind" of person. These stereotype characters often display similar personalities, behaviours, and characteristics regardless how unique they may appear at first glance. Character archetypes are utilised by many writers and film-makers as devices to help present a story in an easily understandable way, and are based in a long history of archetypal traditions that date back to some of the oldest written stories available.

The Hero Archetype

The traditional "hero" archetypal character found in a majority of books and films often demonstrates characteristics valued by his or her primary culture, and often is a character who seeks to complete a specific quest in order to defeat evil. The hero archetype will often demonstrate specific cultural characteristics in a hugely magnified form. For example, a male American "superhero" character is more likely to show signs of strength, be fairly patriotic, and have a tendency towards resolving problems using physical means.

The Innocent Archetype

The "innocent" archetype character is the naive individual who is innocent in that he or she knows little of the evils in the world. The "innocent" is generally young and lacks "real world" experience, and as such, is more likely to suffer at the hands of others. For example, a female "innocent" may be a young girl who has lived a privileged and uneventful life and is forced to experience the world first-hand after leaving home.

The Villain Archetype

The "villain" archetype is a character who displays characteristics of pure evil. Typically the "villain" is self-centered, power-hungry, and interested only in achieving his or her personal goals (usually at the cost of others). An example villain archetype would be a power-hungry politician who has his political enemies assassinated to ensure his victory in an upcoming election.

The Sage Archetype

The "sage" archetype is a character who is wise, often very old, and generally helps the hero in his or her quest. The "sage" can be a man or woman, and often lives in relative seclusion from others. The sage's hermit-like lifestyle and often eccentric behaviour usually sets him or her apart from other characters. An example sage character would be the wise old wizard who provides thoughtful advice to the young adventurer.

Additional Archetypes

Traditional literary and Jungian archetype lists include more than 30 different kinds of characters. Listed below are some additional "common" characters found in many books and films.

The "witch" archetype is often the "old hag" or "old crone" who seeks to entrap the hero of a story.

The "temptress" archetype is the beautiful female character interested in seducing the hero or protagonist of a story.

The "trickster" archetype is a character who tricks others into getting his or her own way.

The "mother" or "father" figure archetype is a character who acts in a paternal or maternal way towards the hero. These characters often provide the protagonist with parental advice.

The "damsel" archetype is generally a female character who is helpless and in need of rescue by the hero.

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About the Author

Jeremiah Burt has been working in the field of English since 2001. He is a certified high school English teacher and adjunct university professor. Burt earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from Walla Walla University, as well as a Master of Arts in English from the University of Idaho.