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Primordial image, character, or pattern of circumstances that recurs throughout literature and thought consistently enough to be considered universal. Literary critics adopted the term from Carl Gustav Jung's theory of the collective unconscious. Because archetypes originate in pre-logical thought, they are held to evoke startlingly similar feelings in reader and author. Examples of archetypal symbols include the snake, whale, eagle, and vulture. An archetypal theme is the passage from innocence to experience; archetypal characters include the blood brother, rebel, wise grandparent, and prostitute with a heart of gold.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on archetype, visit Britannica.com.