It isn’t cool to like archetypes anymore. Utter a name like Carl Jung or Joseph Campbell out loud at your MFA program and you’re likely to get a healthy dose of side-eye. Or, a knowing look that says oh, cute. I remember when I thought it was that simple, too.
It’s not that simple, but I would contend that archetype is still worth mentioning. Like it or not, we live lives dictated by the simplest of structures: birth, coming of age, connection with other humans, expression of faith in principles, procreation, and death. Life is, itself, organized into a basic narrative pattern. We are driven by common impulses ranging from healthy to destructive. We fear the other, the beast hiding in the dark, the loss of our station in life or the loss of our loved ones. It makes sense, then, that stories, which Didion so famously said we “tell ourselves in order to live,” appear in repetitive patterns. But as in life, there’s as much interesting storytelling in the rejection of structures—or the departure from the historic, the patrimonial, the exclusionary, or that which we think we can assume—as there is when we follow the pattern.
The problem—and why I think archetype gets such a big groan—is when we can’t let the pattern evolve.