Introduction to Literary Studies

Mythological and Archetypal Criticism

Aristotelian Criticism
Psychological Approach
Marxist Approach
Cultural Studies
Myths and Archetypes
Lit Terms

Analysis using Mythological and Archetypal Method

The Difference between mythological and archetypal criticism:


Mythological Criticism:

  • Has references to famous mythological stories in works of literature
  • These references are included in the hopes of getting a universal reactions from all readers
  • It is similar to a psychological approach because it also is concerned with the things that underlie human behavior
  • Myths are symbolic of people’s hopes fears, values, and other philosophical ideas.


Archetypal Criticism:

        First of all, archetypes are similar ideas, motifs, and images found in many different myths

        Normally defined as “universal symbols"

        Examples of archetypes are images (such as water, sun, certain colors or numbers, circles, the serpent, garden, tree, desert) “the hero,” "the earth mother", "the soul mate," "the trickster," motifs or pattern, and genres


Using Mythological and Archetypal Criticism:

  • Unlike the more traditional form of criticism that focuses on the history of the author and the piece itself, mythological and archetypal focuses on the history of the gods, goddesses, and other allusions mentions in the piece that involve mythology.  Reason for this approach:
    • Only recently was the proper means to use this type of criticism through the studies of anthropology, psychology, and cultural history
    • Many are skeptical of this approach, since it appears to lean towards the occult
    • There is also much confusion over the definitions of the objects in the actual myths, and the fact that people are more interested in concrete ideas


Three Different Facets of Mythological and Archetypal Criticism:

    • Anthropology: Anthropological studies began to advance at the end of the 19th century, and has been one of the biggest influences on mythological criticism.  They study of anthropology have a new understanding to the Greek myths, which are the most well known and often used allusions.
    • Jungian Psychology:  C.G. Jung was a student of Freud and psychologist and philosopher, who came up with many new insights to archetypes.  Jung felt that Freud’s approach was too narrow.  He contributed to this criticism approach through his theory of racial memory and archetypes.  He felt that archetypes were not inherited ideas, but a response to certain stimuli.  Myths are ways to show archetypes (ideas) in an actual form.
    • The American Dream: The idea of the “American Dream,” which is relatively new, is considered to be myth in many ways.  The characters created by American authors represent different aspects, both good and bad, of the American Dream.  The myth comes from the Myth of Edenic Possibilities, which involves the idea of creating a second paradise.


Taken from A Handbook of Critical Approaches ot Literature, Fouth ed. Guren, et al.

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