Are Archetypes Stereotypes?

Blame it on my Developmental Psych assignment. We were asked to pick 5 comics or jokes and identify stereotypes based on age.

Now, naturally I picked my favourites, Calvin and Hobbes, FoxTrot, XKCD and finally Prince of Tennis. Stereotypes are important and common elements in this medium because they give the reader a quick and easily accessible understanding. These mediums are short and limited in content, unlike 100+ pages great epic novel. Stereotypes allows common understanding, a sort of shorthand quick and dirty intro. Can these medium work without stereotype?

That got me thinking … the stereotyping also overlaps with archetypes. Calvin’s character is a stereotyped ‘naughty boy’. His clothes, his imaginary Hobbes, his icky girl-aversion, his dinosaur impersonation, trouble-magnet, his youthful optimism … not only is he a stereotypical boy, he is also strongly gender-typed. Those are also traits that makes him a Child Archetype.

What is the relationship between Archetype and Stereotype? While stereotype has a negative meaning in today’s context, I’d like to point out that stereotype is a generalisation of a group of people based on commonly shared characteristics. Stereotype is neutral, in that it can be either a negative or a positive trait or neutral trait. While it is easy to think of and point out negative stereotypes, can you think of a positive one? Since I’m in the Adolescence stage of my textbook, I remembered the stereotype we used to have of students from Chinese school in Malaysia. If a person is from a Chinese school, i.e. studied in elementary school where Chinese is the main medium of teaching, that person must be good in Maths.

While I’m mulling over this, I wondered, in fiction, we create characters. To make our story interesting, we create these characters to be distinctive from each other. Naturally, they have to be so or the story will be boring with characters that are clones and drones. Archetypes are also a sort of pattern that emerged from the many characters found in fiction. Yet Archetypes are originally conceived as part of Jungian Psychology to be applied to real life humans. Are archetypes the shorthand that writers use to easily identify the roles that each character plays in their fictional world? Or due to the sheer population of fictional characters that emerged from thousands of years of story telling, we naturally classify and categorise them in Archetypes?

Yet, strictly adhering to an archetype for a character, while it establishes the stability of the character’s role and temperament, can also turn it into a predictable character. Why? Because we’ve been exposed to so many stories and so many characters that … a pattern starts to emerge. And once we recognise the character type, we could predict where the character is heading, or doing. Then the plot becomes predictable. So, what if, an interesting and memorable character, is the one that establishes its archetype, then breaks it once in a while? Would that be work? Would it be interesting or chaotic? It would be something like 90% adherence to established pattern and 10% breaking it. Then again, maybe it’s just me and my personal preference. I like those little scenes that unexpectedly breaks established routine.

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1 Comment »

  1. Salivia Baker said

    I think once you know a character you can predict how he or she is going to act in other situations – like you do in real life with your close friends. But for a character it is crucial to stay interesting, either make him/her less predictable or create a story that throws off the character and let him/her change/under go a transition. That is for example the reason why tv shows nowadays can kill off charcters thy wouldn’t have dared to kill some years earlier. Some time ago the hero always had to win, no harm can come to him but people do not find that interesting anymore. The more the “hero” (or heroes) have to deal with the better. Let them go Darksite, let one of the group die, put the characters in a difficult situation over and over again.

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