What are the differences between archetypes and stereotypes? An archetype is a pattern, model, or ideal that is universally recognized, whether in art, film, or psychology. Characteristics or behavior that are considered to be typical of a certain type of person or thing are often referred to as archetypal. The word comes from the Greek archetypos, which means “original pattern.” Archetypes are constantly recurring symbols or motifs that appear in mythology and religion and may also be reflected in psychology.
A stereotype on the other hand, is a fixed image or characteristic that we assign to a particular group of people. We let them guide our thinking and our actions, without really questioning them. For example, we might think of women as being nurturing and loving, or men as being selfish and aggressive. These oversimplified stereotypical characterizations can be based on our own experiences, or what we see portrayed in the media.
While stereotypes may certainly help us to understand and process the world around us, they can also be harmful. When we stereotype someone, we make assumptions about their quality or performance based on their group membership. This can lead to discrimination and negative treatment of individuals who don’t fit the stereotype. It’s important to remember that not all members of a particular group will share the same characteristics or behave in the same way. We should strive to see each person as unique, rather than letting stereotypes dictate our perception of reality.
There are definitely some overlapping concepts between archetype and stereotype, especially in the psychological and narrative world. In this article, we’ll give you some basic information to help you keep track of both of these terms.
Stereotype vs Archetype
Before you can delve further into the concept of archetypes and understand what they are, you should be clear on the difference between an archetype and a stereotype. These two words may sound similar, and they may even be related, but they are quite different from each other. Being certain of the difference between the two is a good starting point for your studies and for further examining yourself.
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One of the clearest ways to remember the difference is simply by noting that archetypes are not ever intended negatively, while some stereotypes are. However, there is a lot more to it than just that. Read on to learn more.
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- Archetype: The connotations of the word “archetype” tend to focus on psychology or spiritualism. Most people, when they hear this word, think about the defining traits of a person or the different types of individuals who exist in the world. The connotation may not be especially positive, but it’s also not negative; it is fairly neutral.
- Stereotype: A stereotype, on the other hand, has very strong bad connotations in most instances. When people hear this word, they think of racial prejudices, sexism, ageist ideas and other negative thoughts about humanity or groups of people. These are often over-simplified concepts of who a person is. They may not always be negative, but they always have bad connotations.
2. Usage in Psychology
- Archetype: An archetype is a personality typing. Every human being falls into at least one archetypal category, and some may have more than one. These groups of personalities help to identify an individual’s entire sense of self.
- Stereotype: A stereotype is a group of personality traits that an individual may present. These traits themselves aren’t positive or negative, but the way others respond to them can be.
For example, a person may be classified as a jock because they enjoy sports or are very active. This may not seem like a bad classification. However, if the person is classified as a jock and therefore everyone thinks they aren’t intelligent, it then does indeed become one.
Usage in Literature
- Archetype: Much like the psychological take on archetypes, literary archetypes help understand and define a character’s type. All characters, just like all living, breathing humans, fall into at least one archetypal category. Literary analysis work to understand which of these categories a given character might represent, and then to determine how that affects the work as a whole.
- Note that an archetype is not the same as a character’s role in the store. A villain can still be a Mother; a protagonist can still be a Trickster, for example.
- Stereotype: In literature, stereotypes are more or less the building blocks of a character’s personality. If a character is a bookworm type, that is a stereotype. This may build into the same character being shy and innocent, which would classify them as a Child archetype. The two concepts work together fluidly when discussing literary analysis.
- Note that it is still possible to have bad stereotypes about a character based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or other characteristics. However, these are often formed by the reader in this case.
Usage in Self-Realization
- Archetype: Understanding archetypes may help an individual better understand themselves. When a person learns where they fit into society as well as into the collective unconscious, they may learn new ways to work with their role and use it to their advantage. On the other hand, they may choose to look for a new role and a new archetype if they aren’t satisfied with the one they’re in at the time.
- Some people meditate in order to speak to their archetypes. In this way, they can ask questions of these parts of themselves and work toward realizing and understanding their complete Self, too.
- Stereotype: Stereotypes may not be very beneficial when it comes to self-realization. However, if an individual is part of a marginalized group of people who are the subject of stereotyping more often than not, that person may choose to examine those and decide to live a life that portrays a different version of themselves. This is not a requirement, but it is something that many people work through at some point in their lives.
- Other people may choose to embrace stereotypes that are used against them. In this way, they can “reclaim” and use the bias to help create a stronger sense of Self, too.
- The Hero, usually the main character (but not always) or someone who wants to defend others all the time.
- The Trickster, often the villain or antihero (but not always) or someone who causes mischief and spreads chaos more often than not.
- The Child, who may not always be an actual child, but who is always innocent, pure, and cares about others.
- The Old Man, who may not be an actual old man, but who offers guidance and support while dispensing with advice most of the time.
- Gender roles, when in literature or in reality, boys are only ever allowed to or portrayed as playing sports, while girls are only allowed to or portrayed as playing with baby dolls.
- Good or evil alignments, especially in literature. Characters in books are often grouped into good or evil alignments based on the people they spend time with, where they come from, and more. This is, unfortunately, true in reality fairly often as well.
- Skin color, in reality and in literature. In reality, skin color leads to many forms of prejudice and stereotyping. In literature, oftentimes characters with darker skin are labeled as exotic, overly-sexualized, or otherwise stereotyped in a specific literary way.
Why is it important to understand these differences? As you can see, there are a lot of differences between the two terms, even though they aren’t always easy to spot. When you understand these differences and similarities, you’ll be able to better understand yourself and your fellow human beings.
Writers, educators, and more can benefit from this information. However, there are many ways every individual can gain something from knowing the definitions and meanings of these words. Keep all of this information in mind the next time you find yourself trying to determine your own archetypes or the stereotypes you may place on others. You may find the experience eye-opening when you take time to consider both of these terms.