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Setting Archetypes Essay Sample

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Setting Archetypes Essay Sample

1. The River – Almost any source of water will focus on the importance of life. Without water there is no life. A journey on or down a river is often a metaphor for life’s journey or a character’s journey, especially if the river is shown as a road or means of travel – pulling or pushing a character through changes. (Twain’s Huck Finn) Rivers can also be a metaphor for the passage of time (Big Fish) or the stages of a human life (creek, roaring river, sea; or the crossing of the river Styx in Greek myths). Since rivers are often used as political borders or boundaries, crossing one may be seen as a “passing over” or a decision that cannot be taken back. In Africa, and thus African literature, rivers are the largest sources of income and commerce and so have additional meaning leaning toward the source of life and morality and the where the fight for good and evil happens.

2. The Garden – In ancient times, across many cultures (Sumeria, Greece, Rome) the garden was seen as a place of earthly delights. Often stories about young love had couples meeting in gardens. Gardens came to symbolize love, fertility and the female body – until the spread of Christianity. With increased teachings of the Bible the “garden” (Eden) became a symbol of an eternal, forbidden paradise. The walled gardens of later Christian art show the Madonna/Virgin Mary figure with baby Jesus protected behind the garden walls, which implies that garden walls protected virginity in young women. William Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet manages to blend the old and the new in his balcony scene. Japanese gardens, as in Japanese literature, have a totally different cultural history. Intricate landscaping and water features were used to create a place of harmony for people to find balance in their energies and help to rejuvenate the mind and body. A more modern literary concept of the garden is where a person must “tend” (to the garden and their own business) an orderly place of tranquility where a person retires to.

3. The Forest/Wilderness – The thick forest imagined in children’s fairy tales have usually represented a dangerous world full of beasts and darkness. The forest, or sometimes the jungle, is a wild, uncontrolled place. The forest, as a setting, has a rich history of characters who find themselves leading a solitary life (Hester Prynn, Red Riding Hood, Tarzan, Dracula). Christian values depict the forest as where sinners loose themselves in the “wilderness” or stray from the “path” of righteousness. A developing modern approach, perhaps influenced by Native American culture and current environmental awareness, shows the forest as a precious resource where new animals and medicinal plants are found and thrill-seekers venture into to “get away” from industrialized life and reconnect with nature.

4. The Sea – Again, water nearly always symbolizes the source or mother of all life. The sea has always had a good and an evil side throughout literature. The Greek god Poseidon could churn up giant whirlpools, storms or tidal waves. Characters have been lost at sea, swallowed by whales, attacked by pirates or drowned. No doubt the sea can be written about as a dangerous force of nature. The sea has also been home to huge pearls, found treasures, and has been the livelihood of many fisherman, especially in Japanese literature. Also since “all rivers lead to the ocean” the sea can symbolize heaven or infinity where all souls “empty” into. The sea has sometimes been represented as the subconscious human mind.

5. Boats – Related to the sea is the boat/ship setting where characters brave the sea and death and return to a type of spiritual, emotional or material rebirth. Journeys on boats are usually long and fraught with dangers that are overcome. Boats are also related to islands, since crew is isolated from the regular rules of society.

6. The Island – The Island is a metaphor for isolation. People on islands are separated from their society. This can have a positive or negative effect on characters (Robinson Crusoe vs. Lord of the Flies) Without the rules of society; the island setting strips away characters down to the very basics of humanity.

7. The Mountain – The mountain in Hindu (India) culture was seen as the center of the universe from which all things could be seen. Since people climb “up” mountains, characters that climb the mountains can be seen as
moving upward on a spiritual/emotional journey. Biblically, mountains are places where God reveals his truths to man. In nearly all stories mountains are mysterious, powerful places.

8. The Wasteland – Often a desert, the wasteland represents an emotionally/physically barren place or time in a character’s journey. A character is usually cleansed of fear or doubt and reconnects to his/her sense of faith or inner strength. Characters usually emerge from the wasteland stronger and more focused. Occasionally the wasteland wins and a character emerges from the wasteland insane.

9. The Pasture/Field – The pasture represents a simple farming life that is predictable and calm. Often referred to as a pastoral setting, many characters either begin here and are thrust into danger and personal growth, or they end up here as a reward for their efforts and struggles. In Christian literature, pastures are where congregations or sheep are watched over by Jesus, or a metaphorical shepherd.

10. The Tower – In ancient times, towers were places of worship, or burial. They were associated with priests, power and the elements. Biblically, towers that reach from Earth toward God are usually seen as a symbol of human pride and folly. Most towers “fall” or are overthrown like the Christian Tower of Babel. Towers, like garden walls, can also be seen as a protection of maidenhood or virginity as seen in many fairy tales.

11. The Castle/Gothic Mansion – This setting, like the sea and the island, has a distinct, two-faced identity. The castle, when set close to the time it was built, is a huge building bustling with life and high ideals. Castle walls are meant to house an entire community of workers and farmers belonging to a mid-ranged lord, or landowner. King Arthur and his ideas of equality, Camelot, are a perfect example. However, on the flip side of this coin, if you add three or four hundred years to the castle you get a story that includes a run-down, gloomy, nearly empty, gothic mansion. The owner of the neglected estate is usually the descendent of a dying royal bloodline. This is a common setting for creepier stories who have characters with family “secrets”.

12. The Inn – A remote roadside setting where traveler and locals interact, the inn is rarely a place of good news. Fear of the unknown often accompanies the tragedies of inn inhabitants. In some stories, a beautiful woman is an unexpected surprise at the inn.

13. The Small Town – Everyone knows and judges everyone else in this archetypal setting. Small towns in literature are notorious for expecting everyone to act just like everyone else. Small towns usually persecute, or run off characters that are different or seen as sinners. The small town often symbolizes intolerance or ignorance.

14. The Underworld – Any representation of a descent/entrapment into hell or the “depths” (caves, belly of the whale, etc.) can be considered an underworld setting. Characters go through a symbolic “death”, travel through an underworld and re-emerge through some kind of rebirth. A variation on this setting involves a passage through a maze, or labyrinth which can symbolize the complex journey through the human mind.

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