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Glossary of Literary Theory
by Greig E. Henderson and Christopher Brown

Archetypal criticism:

A form of criticism which is based on the psychology of Carl Jung, who argues that there are two levels of the unconscious: the personal, which comprises repressed memories that are part of an individual's psyche, and the archetypal, which comprises the racial memory of a collective unconscious, a storehouse of images and patterns, vestigial traces of which inhere in all human beings and which find symbolic expression in all human art. Myth criticism explores the nature, function, and significance of these primordial images or archetypal patterns. Whereas Jung focuses on the genesis of these archetypes, myth critics such as Northrop Frye focus on their analysis. For Frye, an archetype is "a symbol, usually an image, which recurs often enough in literature to be recognizable as an element of one's literary experience." Frye devises an elaborate taxonomy of modes, symbols, myths, and genres, establishing a complex and comprehensive correspondence between the basic genres -- comedy, romance, tragedy, and irony -- and the myths and archetypal patterns associated with the seasonal cycle of spring, summer, fall, and winter.

© Greig E. Henderson and Christopher Brown,
University of Toronto
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University of Toronto English Library
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Last modified: March 31, 1997