Student: “Yo, like all of these archetypes are in Fortnite!”

Me: “Heck yeah they are! That’s pretty much the point…”


I’m in a love relationship with archetypes. To me, literary archetypes take symbolism to a whole new level—it’s literary symbols that inherently encourage text connections. Thinking archetypally was certainly a game-changer in my own literary analysis, and I want to equip my own students with those skills.

When a reader realizes that no literature exists in isolation, stories take on deeper meaning. When students begin to see that characters sharing a meal often symbolizes communion, they recognize that authors use this to show union, fellowship, connection. They can recognize when authors play upon this timeless archetype or when they tweak it for their own purposes. When students begin to recognize aquatic submersion, or sometimes rain, as baptism, they can quickly recognize the themes of rebirth, new life, restoration. They see archetypes as signal flags… “Hey, you’ve seen this before in stories. You should probably look to see if this author is referring to classic archetypes in other stories in order to tell you something.”

I first bring up the concept of archetypes to my students while reading Romeo and Juliet. We discuss the archetype of star-crossed lovers and compare the classic tragedy to other stories featuring lovers separated by fate, such as Jack and Rose in Titanic (with the iceberg playing the role of fate), and Hazel and Augustus in The Fault in Our Stars (in which cancer plays the role of fate). This helps them see how various authors take this archetype and change it to meet the various circumstances of their individual story.

However, I take on the concept of archetypes in earnest when leading into The Odyssey. Homer’s tale is rife with archetypes, and I want my students to be looking for these classic symbols in the story from the get-go. That gives us a platform for discussing text connections and looking for symbolic implications as we read the story. So, I have my students do an archetype scavenger hunt.

Well, a figurative scavenger hunt, at least. After refreshing their brains with the definition of an archetype, I give my students a list of common archetypes, most of which can be found in The Odyssey. I then have them try to list as many examples of stories which contain these archetypes as they can. I remind the students that “stories” can include movies, short stories, books, video games, songs, TV shows, or fairy tales—stories transcend traditional books. And, of course, the winning group gets candy, so… it’s a race! Ready, set, go!

Here is a list of the archetypes that I have my students use for the “scavenger hunt”:

The Quest or Journey

The Task

The Hero

The Blind Character

The Shared Meal

Death and Rebirth

The Battle Between Good and Evil

The Unhealable Wound

The character who thinks they are normal until told they are a hero

The Return Home

Mentor-Pupil Relationship

The Threshold Guardian

Father-Son Conflict

Hunting Group of Companions

The Side-kick

The Evil Character with an Ultimately Good Heart

The Creature of Nightmare

The Outcast

The Damsel in Distress

The Beautiful but Dangerous Woman

The Friendly Beast

The Shadow

The Devil Figure

The Unfaithful Wife

Lovers Who Are Separated by Circumstance (Star-Crossed Lovers)

Light vs. Darkness

Nature vs. Civilization

The Underworld

The Maze

The Castle

The Magic Weapon

The Whirlpool

Here is a PowerPoint and Word Document of the activity with another activity focusing on the archetype of The Hero, which allows me to also highlight differences between The Epic Hero and our modern conception of “heroes.” This prepares them to understand some of Odysseus’ choices which are at times frustrating to a modern audience.

Archetypes and the Epic Hero Archetypes and the epic hero

At first during the scavenger hunt, I usually have a few students who think they can’t list any archetype examples.

“I don’t know any stories,” they tell me.

“That’s false,” I respond. “You watch movies. You watch TV. You play video games. Those are all stories. Tell me a movie that has a hero in it.”

“Ummm, like, Thor Ragnarok? That counts?”

“For sure! Write it down!”

As they begin to realize that they actually know a whole lot of archetypes, even though they previously didn’t know that they were called “archetypes,” they get super competitive with the activity, which is exciting. Let’s be honest—it’s May in on-grade freshmen English class. The beginning of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities is eerily applicable this time of year. It’s getting tougher by the day to engage certain lovelies in these classes. However, all of my tough-sells were so into this. They were spitting out archetypal examples like literary profs.

After the scavenger hunt, one of these students turned to me and asked, “So, the next story we’re reading has all of this stuff in it?”

Me: “You better believe it!”

Student: “Sweet!”

I think I just got a 14-year-old wanna-be tough-guy pumped to read a 3,000-year-old epic poem.



I partially owe my love of archetypes to my college professor Dr. Gina Blackburn from Grove City College who assigned the book How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster. I would highly recommend this book to every high school English teacher or anyone who wants to find deeper meaning in the stories that surround our lives.

Liz Keiper is a contributing blogger for WVCTE. When she’s not dressing up in togas or running around her classroom with foam swords reenacting Shakespeare, she can be found enjoying the great outdoors, playing guitar, or adding to her rather out-of-control rubber duck collection. You can follow her on Twitter @KeiperET1.

WVCTE is wondering…

  • How do you engage your students with classic texts?
  • What are other ways in which you can help your students make symbolic text connections while reading?

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