In Brief: Archetypes, Not Dirty-Mindedness

When discussing archetypes, it’s really easy to accuse the literary scholar of being dirty-minded, for it seems that everything tends to lead back to sex. Chasms and other cracks are generally synonymous with the female genitalia; obelisks and other pointed edifices, either natural or artificial, are sure-fire signs of steadfast masculinity; caverns are symbolic of the womb; the color green represents fertility and the color red represents bloody, furious passion; and so on. But the important thing to remember is that literary scholars do not point these symbols out to snicker at and show to their friends, but rather to draw connections between texts and reality. These connections tend to be universal–that is, they are found in every culture across the planet. It just so happens that sex is not only universal to all cultures, but it is something that drives us all subconsciously, whether we want it to or not. We may be embarrassed by it, ashamed of it, or even proud of it, but the fact remains: all humans on the planet are connected by the simple fact that we all feel the need at some point in our lives to reproduce. Archetypes–these narrative symbols that show us correlations between the stories we tell and the lives we lead–merely signify this for us in easily recognizable forms. And while sex is a predominant drive in our psyches, it is by no means the only drive; hence other archetypes, such as symbols related to nourishment, community, rejuvenation, death, etc. Thus, when your teacher points out that So-and-So’s sword represents masculine sexuality and the person he stabs represents the passive, conquered partner, do not think that teacher dirty-minded; instead, appreciate that your teacher is pointing out something fundamentally human to you, and just go with it. Chances are, accepting the sexual symbolic reading of the text will make complete sense to you.

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