Archetypes and Symbols are for Everyone

A picture is worth a thousand words.  When I show you a picture it communicates everything visually.  I don’t have to use words to describe it.  But how can you use a minimum of words to get your audience to visualize what you are saying?  By incorporating archetypes and symbols into your writing.

Venus de Milo is all about love and beauty and femininity.

Ulysses is all about the hero and masculinity.

Modern day equivalents are Barbie and GI Joe Dolls.

You get the picture.

Both of these symbols can be considered archetypes.

Carl Jung considered archetypes to be universal in the human psyche.  He found they persist throughout history and across cultures.  He based many of his theories on delving into his patient’s unconscious and comparing their symbols with symbols in ancient myths and legends.

They are commonly used in many different ways to get us to feel something.  You could say it’s all manipulative, but you have to be the ultimate judge of that.

Symbols and Archetypes in Cinema and Fiction

That Red Sled

Remember that Orson Welles’s movie we all had to watch in high school?  Citizen Kane?  What was up with that red sled?  Rose bud.  I don’t know about you but it drove me nuts trying to figure this out.  All it was was a symbol of happiness before Charles Kane was forced to leave home.

Like my fiction teacher used to say, all fiction can be boiled down to these two motiffs: a hero takes a journey, or a hero comes to town.  Charles Kane had to leave home.  And it haunted him even though he became very powerful.  Charles Kane was in reality, William Randolph Hearst, the paper mogul.  A very interesting story, by the way.

How You Can Weave Symbolism into Your Fiction

Consider smell.  It is said that the sense of smell brings back the oldest memories.

Say you have a character who had an happy childhood.  We will call her Shiela.  She has this sickeningly sweet aunt who is nice to everyone.  Except Shiela.  The aunt wears a cloying lavendar smelling perfume.  The aunt is sitting next to Shiela and when no one else is looking pinches Shiela, leaving bruises.  Now, Shiela is grown up and everytime she sees or smells lavendar she wants to throw up.  You can see how this lavendar symbolism could lead into a multitude of possibilities.


I do not know why the critics go on and on about James Joyce’s Ulysees.  Oh it is brilliant!  The book of the century!  Joyce is a genius! 

They say all this nonsense because they think the book is hard to understand and it is unique.   First of all, all Joyce did was flip a switch unto this collective unconscious symbolism and let all of the myths and legends of the Irish come pouring in.  Some of it sounds like jibberish and some of it sounds coherent, but really, that’s all it is.

Second of all, it wasn’t that unique.  Virginia Woolf was doing the same stream of consciousness writing.  And later on Jack Kerouac joined the pack before he drank himself stupid and silly.

You too, Can Flip this Switch

Try this exercise sometime.  Pick a common archetype:  the hero, the mother, the child, the trickster, or the shadow.  See what resonates for you and then jump in.  Write it all down as a stream of consciousness activity.

Advertising:  Making Money on Your Unconscious Desires

One of my passtimes when I actually do turn on the TV is to laugh at the commercials.   These advertisers have a thing or two up their sleave.  It seems they know a great deal about psychology.

That Ford Explorer

Like a rock.  This vehicle is seen climbing over rough terrain and racing into the wilderness. It plays into our American mythology of being tough, adventurous pioneers.

The Explorer was a very popular vehicle.  But with the rising cost of gas we can no longer be adventurers.

I wonder what will replace it?

Photo Credit:  Ellen Wilson

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