H AP
 
Northrop Frye's Theory of Archetypes
Overview

spring: comedy     summer: romance     autumn: tragedy     winter: irony and satire

Archetypes and Northrop Frye

Northrop Frye working in the field of literature defined an archetype as a symbol, usually an image, which recurs often enough in literature to be recognizable as an element of oneís literary experience as a whole.  Another way of thinking about archetypes is to imagine that in some way it is possible to plot the important aspects of a story onto a graph.  If enough points from several stories were plotted a pattern would start to appear.  If one then drew a line that approximated the pattern that emerged in the points, that best fit line would be an archetype.  No story perfectly matches the archetype, and some stories will diverge from the archetype more than others.  Still, recognizing that a pattern exists can be a powerful tool in understanding and comparing literature.

 

Mythos

Northrop Frye asserts in Anatomy of Criticism (1957) that all narratives fall into one of four mythos.  Each mythos has six phases, sharing three with the preceding mythos and three with the succeeding mythos.

Spring:
Comedy
Summer:
Romance
Autumn:
Tragedy
Winter:
Irony & Satire
one
Existent society remains
one
Complete innocence
one
Complete innocence
one
Existent society remains
two
Criticism of society without change
two
youthful innocence of inexperience
two
youthful innocence of inexperience
two
Criticism of society without change
three
Existent society replaced by a happy society
three
Completion of an ideal
three
Completion of an ideal
three
Existent society replaced by a happy society
four
Happy society resists change
four
Happy society resists change
four
Individual's faults
four
Individual's faults
five
Reflective and idyllic view
five
Reflective and idyllic view
five
Natural law
five
Natural law
six
Society ceases to exist beyond contemplation
six
Society ceases to exist beyond contemplation
six
World of shock and horror
six
World of shock and horror
 

Terms

Agnon : Romance : Conflict
Pathos : Tragedy : Catastrophe
Sparagmos : Irony and Satire : Absence of Heroism and Effective Action
Anagnorisis : Comedy : Recognition of Newborn Society
 
Alazon: a deceiving or self-deceived character in fiction, normally an object of ridicule in comedy or satire, but often the hero of tragedy.
 
Archetype: a symbol, usually an image, which recurs often enough in literature to be recognizable as an element of oneís literary experience as a whole.
 
Eiron: A self-deprecating or unobtrusively treated character in fiction, usually an agent of the happy ending in a comedy and of the catastrophe in tragedy
 
Hamartia: A term coined by Aristotle to describe "some error or frailty" that brings about misfortune for a tragic hero. The concept of hamartia is closely related to that of the tragic flaw: both lead to the downfall of the protagonist in a tragedy. Hamartia may be interpreted as an internal weakness in a character (like greed or passion or hubris); however, it may also refer to a mistake that a character makes that is based not on a personal failure, but on circumstances outside the protagonistís personality and control.
 
Hybris or Hubris: Excessive pride or self-confidence that leads a protagonist to disregard a divine warning or to violate an important moral law. In tragedies, hubris is a very common form of hamartia.
 
Mythos: One of the four archetypal narratives, classified as comic, romantic, tragic, and ironic.
 

Applications

  • Evaluation of an Example:  Examines how a specific text compares with the archetype.  The focus here would likely be in finding insightful variations from the traditional archetype and analyzing how these function.  An examination of a text that simply pointed out how the narrative meets the criteria for a specific archetype would be flat and uninteresting.
  • Textual Analysis:  Since the archetypes offer insight into typical traits that are present in different types of writing, they are useful in explicating a text in the readerís mind.  By using the archetypal traits as a guide, select interesting or unique traits and discuss their function in the work.  This could easily be applied to plot, characters, symbols, and setting.
  • Comparison of Archetypal Traits:  By using the traits outlined in the archetype create a comparison of two or more works.  The archetypal traits can be used here to guide the analysis implicitly or explicitly.
  • Definition of Archetypes: Too broad for this class, this approach would require creating your own theory of archetypes relying on numerous examples for support.  Northrop Frye did this with literary narratives, Joseph Campbell with world myths, and Carl Jung with dream imagery.
 
 

Resources

Books
Frye, Northrop.  Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957. (Available in the UHS Library)
 
The Northrop Frye International Literary Festival: http://www.northropfrye.com/home.htm  
Northrop Frye, Bedford/St. Martin's: http://www.bedfordstmartins.com/litlinks/critical/frye.htm 
Northrop Frye, The Literary Encyclopedia: http://www.litencyc.com/php/speople.php?rec=true&UID=1648
Northrop Frye Collection, Victoria University Library: http://library.vicu.utoronto.ca/special/fryeintro.htm 
Anatomy of Criticism, Book Review: http://pages.prodigy.net/aesir/aoc.htm
 
Wikipedia Links
Northrop Frye: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northrop_Frye 
Anatomy of Criticism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anatomy_of_Criticism 
 
General Interest
Northrop Frye, Simulation, and the Creation of a "Human World": http://www.transparencynow.com/introfry2.htm 
 
Revised: Aug 10, 2008 22:20 Ė Questions or comments: david.herring@tusd1.org.                                                                                        [Top of Page]