Examples of Archetypes, Literature
© Deborah Rudd

Guerin, Wilfred L., et al. "Mythological and Archetypal Approaches." A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature. NY: Harper & Row, 1979: 157-161.

Guerin et al.states that archetypes are universal symbols, motifs or themes that may be found among many different cultures. They recur in the myths of people worldwide. These symbols

carry the same or very similar meanings for a large portion, if not all, of mankind . . . . certain symbols, such as the sky father and earth mother, light, blood, up-down, and others recur again and again in cultures so remote from one another in space and time that there is no likelihood of any historical influence and causal connection among them. (157)

Water: birth-death-resurrection; creation; purification and redemption; fertility and growth.

Sea/ocean: the mother of all life; spiritual mystery; death and/or rebirth; timelessness and eternity.

Rivers: death and rebirth (baptism); the flowing of time into eternity; transitional phases of the life cycle. . . .

Sun (fire and sky are closely related): creative energy; thinking, enlightenment, wisdom, spiritual vision.

Rising sun: birth, creation, enlightenment.

Setting sun: death.


Red: blood, sacrifice, passion; disorder.

Green: growth, hope, fertility.

Blue: highly positive; secure; tranquil; spiritual purity.

Black: darkness, chaos, mystery, the unknown, death, wisdom, evil, melancholy.

White: light, purity, innocence, timelessness; [negative: death, terror, supernatural]

Yellow: enlightenment, wisdom.

Serpent (snake, worm): symbol of energy and pure force (libido); evil, corruption, sensuality, destruction.


3 - light, spiritual awareness, unity (the Holy Trinity); male principle.

4 - associated with the circle, life cycle, four seasons; female principle, earth, nature, elements.

7 - the most potent of all symbolic numbers signifying the union of three and four, the completion of a cycle, perfect order, perfect number; religious symbol.

Wise old Man: savior, redeemer, guru, representing knowledge, reflection, insight, wisdom, intuition, and morality.

Garden: paradise, innocence, unspoiled beauty.

Tree: denotes life of the cosmos; growth; proliferation; symbol of immortality; phallic symbol.

Desert: spiritual aridity; death; hopelessness.

Creation: All cultures believe the Cosmos was brought into existence by some Supernatural Being (or Beings).


Spring - rebirth; genre/comedy.

Summer - life; genre/romance.

Fall - death/dying; genre/tragedy.

Winter - without life/death; genre/irony.

The great fish: divine creation/life.

Freud's symbolism/archetypes:

Concave images (ponds, flowers, cups, vases, hollows): female or womb symbols.

Phallic symbols (towers, mountain peaks, snakes, knives, swords, etc.) male symbols.

Dancing, riding, or flying: symbols of sexual pleasure.