Archetypes, as defined by psychologist Carl Jung, are representations of generic characters that have evolved through human history. Some of the broadest examples of archetypes, often used in literature studies but whose origins lie in mythology, fairy tales, and folk tales, are the Great Mother, the Trickster, and the Hero. Archetypes have been used in literary analysis since the mid-twentieth century.
The Archetypes used in character analysis at the PFS Book Club are designed to make connections between characters and in general, are more specific than some of the classic archetypes. Mostly, they are representations of characters and character arcs we see repeated in literature. Listed below are the current PFS archetypes, with examples from our Character Analyses. New ones will be added with each new Character Analysis.They are listed in alphabetical order.
The Afterschool Special
The Afterschool Special represents a character that is maimed, killed, or otherwise emotionally devastated for the purpose of another character learning a valuable lesson in life. The name comes from the television trope of the 80's afterschool specials, which were designed to teach children life lessons. An example is Stephanie Brown (pictured at left), who was killed in battle to teach Robin that he bears a responsibility to protect the people.
The Adulterer is a character who takes part in the common story arc of the affair. The Adulterer may or may not feel guilty about the affair and often meets a bad end. Only rarely does the affair end well, especially in works before the 20th century. Examples include Emma Frost, who had a psychic affair with Cyclops, Anna Karenina, who carried on an affair that ruined her, and Arabella Donn, who tricked Jude into marrying her and then married another man while still married to Jude.
The Anti-hero is someone who either does bad things to accomplish good goals or someone who is usually bad but sometimes does good things. Anti-heroes tend to live by their own strict moral compass and often come into conflict with both heroes and villains. They also tend to be very violent. An example is Pandsala, who had her own sisters murdered to protect the interests of her sworn king.
The Bad Mother
The Bad Mother is an archetype of the worst type of maternal figure. These women simply care nothing for their children, and are often portrayed as having vices like sex, booze, drugs, gambling, or other issues. Usually, they resent their children for some reason, and the children often appear to be better than their parent. When a Bad Mother is present, the father figure is generally absent. Examples include Arabella Donn, who gave up her child without remorse and felt little after learning of the child's murder-suicide, and Anna Karenina, who cares little for her daughter and abandons her son.
The Best Friend
A Best Friend character is someone who befriends the main character early on in a story and remains with them fairly consistently, offering advice and help. Sometimes these characters perish, sometimes they survive, sometimes they develop into A Love Interest. They are often there for comedic relief. An example is Hermione Granger, who stood by Harry Potter and assisted him in both life and in defeating the dark wizard that murdered his parents.
The Childlike Wonder
Childlike Wonder is often a characteristic of those characters experiencing something brand new for the first time. These characters often serve as the view point characters of the reader, to allow the reader to see something old with new eyes or from a new angle. They also appear in fantasy and science fiction stories, so the new world's wonders can be explained. An example is Shatterstar, who recently sexuality after a lifetime of warrior asexuality.
The Fallen Preacher is a religious character who has fallen from grace due to his or her own sin. They do not have to be ordained or be part of any particular faith. An example is Arthur Dimmesdale from The Scarlet Letter (pictured at right), who fell from grace by fathering a child with one of his practitioners in Puritanical Boston.
The Forbidden Love
The Forbidden Love is a common relationship from literature, wherein two characters have an affair that could hurt either of them physically or emotionally due to others not understanding. Most often, this takes the form of adultery or an echo of the most famous forbidden love, that of Romeo and Juliet. An example is Anna and Vronsky from Anna Karenina, who carry on a love affair even though Anna is married and a mother.
The Girlfriend is a female character who is romantically involved with a male main character (either protagonist or antagonist). The Girlfriend's main purpose is romantic conflict. An example is Stephanie Brown, whose first appearances were as Robin's love interest.
The Golddigger is an archetype, usually female, that represents a character who uses their associations, often of a sexual nature, to get what they want, usually money. The Golddigger is often a type of Seductress, but one inherently focused on money and/or power and who lacks the ability to love. An example is Arabella Donn, who tricked men into marrying her so that she never had to work.
The Good Cop
The Good Cop is a law enforcement agent who is the epitome of everything a cop is supposed to be. Their moral standing and love of the law is not questioned, and they would gladly give their lives in the line of duty. This archetype is the opposite of the Bad Cop. An example is Karrin Murphy, who lives her life by the edicts of the law despite living in a supernatural world.
The Good Girl is epitome of the female perfection stereotype: a sweet, young, innocent, and probably virginal young woman. These characters are abundant in literature, especially those prior to the feminist revolution. An example is the Scarlet Witch in her early appearances (pictured at left), who was sweet and charming and all the men loved her.
The Good Sister is a classic archetype that represents sisters who care for their siblings and family. Often in literature, when parents are absent, it is this character that is relegated to the mother role. These are generally positive role models for the younger children. An example is Susan Pevensie, who cared for her siblings while they were away from their parents in Narnia.
A character with Gray Morals is someone who balances the line between good and evil. They might have the best intentions, but they frequently break the law in favor of the greater good. They are not above murder. Examples include Emma Frost, who murdered her own sister but fights for the greater good of mutantkind, and Pandsala, who also murdered her own sisters to help further the plots of the heroes.
The Human as Monster
The Human as Monster is a fantasy archetype that results from a character with supernatural powers, often uncontrollable and terrible, who simply wants to be human. These characters wish to lead normal lives, but are frequently taken over by the darker desires created by their supernatural elements. Sometimes, these characters can also be based in psychological problems - people who give into dark urges despite a true desire to simply good. This archetype is the reverse of the Monster as Human, who are evil incarnate but appear on the outside to be normal human beings. An example is Richard Zeeman, a werewolf who wants to be a schoolteacher.
Insane characters are frequently used in Gothic stories or novels that pre-date Post-Modern literature. Their main characteristic is that they cannot be controlled and their actions are often violent but with no purpose. In works before the 20th century and the advent of modern psychology, these characters did not have nuanced portrayal of the variety of mental illnesses known today. An example includes Bertha Mason from Jane Eyre (pictured at right), Mr. Rochester's first wife, who was liked in his mansion for the protection of everyone, including herself.
The Love Interest
The Love Interest is a staple of the romance genre but appears in most every other genre, as well. Very few stories function without a love interest of some sort, and the character who is the love interest is often the next most important character besides the protagonist. The Love Interest is characterized by the romantic and sexual feelings they share with the protagonist. There can be multiple Love Interests in a narrative for each character. Examples include Richard Zeeman, who served as Anita Blake's love interest for multiple books, and Eowyn, who fell in love Aragorn and traveled across the world to be with him.
The Loyal Friend
The Loyal Friend is a secondary character archetype that describe a character who is always there for the main character in times of stress or danger. Unlike The Best Friend, the Loyal Friend is not always present and is not a part of the daily life of the main character. The Loyal Friend is characterized first and foremost by their willingness to support. An example is Karrin Murphy, who is Harry Dresden's first choice for back-up in combat.
Lurking in the Shadows
Lurking in the Shadows is a common literary device wherein one character (or multiple characters) appear in visions, in the darkness, or out just out sight several times before they actually appear in the narrative. These characters are often evil and appear most often in the horror and mystery genres. An example is Bertha Mason, Mr. Rochester's insane wife who frequently caused terror and confusion when Jane Eyre heard her banging on the walls long before she knew of Bertha's existence.
The Lycanthrope is a common fantasy type of character. Lycanthrope possess the ability to transform themselves between animal and human forms. The most common literary version of a lycanthrope is the werewolf. An example is Richard Zeeman, a werewolf who can also shift either into a full wolf or half-human forms.
The Material Girl is a female archetype that represents a woman who is obsessed with getting things. She is characterized by the sin of gluttony and just wants more, never being satisfied with what she has. She often goes to extreme lengths to get what she wants. An example is Arabella Donn from Jude the Obscure (pictured at left), who uses her husbands' money to live life as she pleases.
The Mentor is a character who passes along wisdom and training to the main character. It is one of the oldest archetypes and was part of Jung's analysis of human culture and story. The character is a main part of the Hero Quest. An example is Hermione Granger, who frequently taught Harry Potter lessons in magic and pointed out things he could not see for himself.
The Nerdy Girl
The Nerdy Girl is a character whose main focus is on something considered uncool or avoided by general society. They tend to be smart and/or artistic and are often discovered to be beautiful underneath their nerd exterior. An example is Hermione Granger, who always had her head buried in a book.
The One True Love is a character whose main purpose in the narrative is to be the main character's love at the end of the story. A staple of the romance genre, this character often is portrayed as being too good to be true and perfectly suited for a romantic relationship with the main character. There is a bit fantasy requiring the willing suspension of disbelief that goes along with this archetype. An example is Richard Zeeman (pictured at right), who was seemingly perfectly suited for Anita Blake.
The Overeager Teenager/Child
The Overeager Teenager/Child is a young character who is constantly trying to prove themselves by jumping headfirst into everything. They can also be Know-It-Alls and often do so in order to be seen as more adult. Examples include Stephanie Brown, who took up the mantle of Spoiler without any training, and Hermione Granger, who simply had to learn everything she could.
The Plot Device
The Plot Device is a character who is not really a character. Their main purpose in the narrative is to move the story forward in some way or to create more tension for our actual characters. While they might have characteristics that define them, they do not have any plot points of their own. An example is Bertha Mason, Mr. Rochester's insane wife whose existence derailed Jane Eyre's romance with Rochester.
The Post-Feminist Woman
The Post-Feminist Woman is a female character who embodies the multi-layered roles of a modern woman. These characters are normally found in contemporary fiction but can also sometimes be found in older works, which predate female suffrage and equality. Examples include Stephanie Brown, who believes herself to be equal to her male crimefightingcounterparts, Karrin Murphy, who routinely defeats men in hand-to-hand combatant while retaining her femininity, and Hermione Granger, who surpasses her male counterparts in both intelligence and skill.
The Pretty Girl is a female character whose main characteristic is her beauty. She may be other things, but a Pretty Girl is more concerned with her looks, fashion, and sex appeal than worldly affairs. She is often perceived as being not very intelligent. An example is Susan Pevensie (pictured at left), who became obsessed with make-up and boys in her early 20's.
Princesses are a common character type in fantasy and historical novels. A princess tends to be very girlie or womanly, and generally takes the damsel-in-distress role. In stories about the Post-Feminist Woman, the Princess is generally move evolved and even becomes a warrior herself. Examples include Wonder Woman, who is the princess of the Amazons and their ambassador to the world of man, and Pandsala, a princess-regent who schemed her way to power.
The Psychic is a staple of the sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, and comic book genres. They each have abilities that have something to do with the mind, often telepathy (the ability to read minds) or telekinesis (the ability to move objects with the mind). Sometimes, they can see the future. An example is Emma Frost (pictured at right), a skilled mutant telepath from the X-Men.
The Reformed Villain
The Reformed Villain is a character who once evil but who has seen the light. This is a frequent character type from comic book but appears in traditional books, as well. The Reformed Villain is genuinely repenent in their ways and often feel guilt over their past. An example is Emma Frost, who was a member of the evil Hellfire Club before joining the heroic X-Men.
The Replacement Death
The Replacement Death is a secondary character who is killed off in the place of the main character. The Replacement Death is a narrative tool of longer running stories (like comic books or television shows) that allows the "death" of a major character to happen, when in fact, a secondary character takes their place. An example is Stephanie Brown, who died while assuming the role of Robin.
The Reversal of Gender Roles is a common literary device wherein one character assumes the traits of the opposite gender, often for the purpose of making a point about gender identity. These characters tend towards the didactic. An example is Eowyn (pictured at right), who - as the lone woman in an army of men - killed the Wraith King, a creature who could be "killed by no man".
Probably a derivative of the Trickster mythological archetype, the Schemer is a character who is constantly plotting. They are frequently the villain, often working against the hero to succeed in their own ends, but sometimes the anti-hero, sometimes out to make mischief for mischief's sake. An example is Pandsala, who was constantly plotting to destroy those she hated.
The Seductress is a female character whose main characteristic is sex. She often uses sex as a weapon and to get what she wants. Her sexuality is usually over the top. Examples include Emma Frost, who is known for wearing gravity-defying and revealing outfits, and Anna Karenina, who made a game of making men fall in love with her to fill a void inside herself.
The Self-Empowered Hero
The Self-Empowered Hero is a character, usually the protagonist or occasionally a minor character who has become the protagonist, who has recently been through difficult times only to emerge through a baptism of fire to become a stronger person. The Self-Empowered Hero is the end result of a Hero Quest. An example is Stephanie Brown, who was nearly killed by her own mistakes but returned to take the mantle of and succeed as Batgirl.
The Sidekick is a character that assists the main character and is their partner, although they are less experienced than the main character. The Sidekick is most frequently associated with the superhero genre. Examples include Stephanie Brown, who became the fourth bearer of the Robin mantle and Batman's sidekick, and Hermione Granger (pictured at left), who assisted Harry Potter in defeating Voldemort.
The Sinner is a faith-based character who has committed sins against his or her God. To be a sinner, they must also feel tremendous guilt for their actions and usually, they want but cannot find redemption or penance for their sin. Examples include Arthur Dimmesdale from The Scarlet Letter, who suffered until his death for his sin of fathering a child while a priest, and Anna Karenina, whose sins end up destroying first her reputation and then herself.
Sins of the Father
Sins of the Father represents two character types: the father who sins or the child that is harmed by it. The Sins of the Father is a story arc that is showcases fathers who are either evil or have made horrible mistakes that the child suffers for or must find redemption from. Examples include Stephanie Brown, who took up the mantle of Spoiler to atone for her father's crime as the villain Cluemaster, the Scarlet Witch, who has fought off insanity thanks to the abuse suffered by her from her terrorist father Magneto, and Arthur Dimmesdale, who was never able to acknowledge his own daughter in public until his death.
The Skeptic is a faith-based character who questions other characters' beliefs and often questions their own belief in any religion or faith. The Skeptic, in religious tales, often either finds faith or suffers greatly for their lack of it. An example is Susan Pevensie, who doubted the help of Christ-like Aslan and eventually gave up her belief in Narnia.
The Surprise Gay
The Surprise Gay is a common plot element in which a character who was previously straight, or at least asexuality, becomes gay. This is normally done for shock value or humor. An example is Shatterstar, who was recently outed by sharing a kiss with his long-hinted at lover Rictor.
The Teacher is a character whose main focus is education. The Teacher is often a downtrodden character who sacrifices part of their own lives for their students or charges. They are usually underappreciated in their roles. Examples include Emma Frost (pictured at right), who has trained four groups of future mutants, and Richard Zeeman, who teaches middle school science despite being a werewolf.
Twins in literature often have special relationships to one another, stronger than that of siblings. In the fantasy and science fiction genres, they tend to even have special powers. An example is Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, mutant twins who fight evil as part of the Avengers.
The Unknown Father
The Unknown Father is a classic narrative, wherein the identity of a child's father is unknown. It was more common in times before DNA testing, especially in Victorian novels. Examples include Arthur Dimmesdale, whose identity as the father of Pearl is not confirmed until the climax of The Scarlet Letter, and Shatterstar, who may or may not be the son of the X-Men Longshot and Dazzler.
The Unrequited Love
The Unrequited Love is a common romantic entanglement, wherein one character falls desperately in love with another, only to have them not return their affections. The conflict can be resolved by that love transforming into hate, that love being replaced by another, or the death of either involved character. An example is Eowyn, who loved the warrior Aragorn but he was in love with the elf Arwen.
Victim of Abuse
The Victim of Abuse is a character who has suffered from abuse or continues to suffer from abuse, and is psychologically or physically tortured by it. These characters' personalities are shaped by the abuse and their own victimization. These characters frequently share a redemption story arc, where they overcome their own abuse to move on. Examples include Richard Zeeman, who has overcame his sexual abuse by accepting his life as what it is, and the Scarlet Witch, who was terrorized by her father Magneto which pushed her into wanting to help others.
The Warrior Born
The Warrior Born is a character who characterized mainly by their gift at fighting and their desire to fight. These warriors tend to be groomed for fighting from a very young age or even created to be warriors. They are often emotionless, until they grow over the course of the story. Examples include Wonder Woman, who was trained in the Amazon's warrior ways as a child, and Shatterstar, who was genetically engineered to be the perfect warrior.
The Warrior Woman is a female warrior that is mostly identified by their fighting ability. These characters are generally stronger than the majority of their male counterparts, but tend to retain a powerful and alluring beauty. The paradox of the Warrior Woman is that they also tend to be more intelligent and capable as leaders than their male counterparts. They are probably based on the Celtic and Nordic warrior women, often called Shieldmaidens, and the Greek Amazons of myth. Examples include Wonder Woman (pictured at left), an Amazon who came to man's world to bring peace through battle, and Eowyn, who pretended to be a man to join her uncle's army and defeated the Wraith King.
Will They or Won't They is a common romantic plot or subplot of two long term characters who know each other but rarely, if ever, cross the line into a romantic relationship, desite lingering sexual tension. An example is Karrin Murphy and Harry Dresden, who are the closest of friends but who have tried and failed to progress their relationship forward.
Witch & Wizards
Witch and wizards are fantasy archetypes who have the ability to use magic. They are derived from myth, like the Celtic druids, and are often seen as wise and powerful. An example is the Scarlet Witch, who is a modern superhero who can use chaos magic.
Women in Refrigerators
The term Women in Refrigerators refers to female secondary characters in comic books that are harmed, maimed, or killed for the sole narrative purpose of causing momentary grief to their male partners. The term was coined by comic book writer Gail Simone and is named for Alex DeWitt, the girlfriend of Green Lantern who was killed, cut up, and placed in the hero's refrigerator. Examples include Stephanie Brown, who was killed when she took her boyfriend's place as Robin, and the Scarlet Witch, whose character suffered a massive mental break when she killed several of her teammates so that the team could be rebooted as a nearly all-male squad.