4 Common Character Archetypes in Literature

If you decided to write a fictional story or even a whole book, one of the major tasks you should accomplish is to create impeccable characters. Despite your vast knowledge and creative skills, it may turn out to be difficult to embody your ideas and invent an original protagonist if you’re not aware of the main literary archetypes. The word “archetype” itself means a reoccurring theme, pattern of behavior or fundamental characteristic of a person or thing. Classic archetypes usually occur in art and literature. It’s especially interesting to investigate the archetypes in literature in order to create them on your own.

The Hero and the Antihero

It’s almost impossible to imagine a book without the central character though a witty human mind can invent even such plotlines. One of the most common archetypes is the hero, which is usually presented as the protagonist. However, it’s also essential to mention its antipode – the antihero, which shouldn’t be confused with the villain – a completely wicked and indecent character. Both the hero and antihero can be central characters – it purely depends on the vision of the author. Of course, as a modern person, you should have noticed that we’re talking about the hero as the male character: indeed, certain gender discrimination existed in traditional books. On the contrary, contemporary literature produces heroines more often. The hero or heroine is typically strong-willed, sharp-witted, and exceptional individuals with the mission to overcome impediments, solve the most complicated problems, and, frequently, save the world. The hero is virtuous, noble, altruistic, and brave.


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Examples of heroes: Odysseus (The Odyssey), Harry Potter (Harry Potter fantasy novels), Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mocking Bird).

In contrast, the antihero is imperfect: this person is often on the verge of the protagonist and antagonist. The antihero is much more selfish, not so courageous, and occasionally even aggressive. However, this character is more of a rebel than an immoral person. The antihero is usually an existential individual, different from the others and sometimes a recluse, which makes him quite hostile. Anyway, even the antihero can be suddenly heroic and extremely intellectual.

Examples of antiheroes: Holden Caulfield (The Catcher in the Rye), Quentin Compson (The Sound and the Fury), Huckleberry Finn (Adventures of Huckleberry Finn).

The Everyman

This character greatly appeals to the reading public. Why? The everyman reflects every one of us, an ordinary human being. But why then the normal person has become a literary archetype? At some point in the plot, this ordinary individual, who often lives a peaceful life, finds himself in some unexpected and bizarre circumstances. A fantastic event or extraordinary situation turns the everyman’s life upside down. The everyman can help the hero solve certain problems, but he never becomes the hero himself.

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Examples of everymen: Dr. John Watson (Sherlock Holmes), Arthur Dent (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), Leopold Bloom (Ulysses).

The Mentor

A mentor is a wise man or woman that usually shares their knowledge with the heroes or other central characters. Oftentimes, this highly intellectual and spiritual individual, besides the impressive depth of knowledge, has magical abilities. Though heroes are brave and smart, they can’t complete their dangerous missions and adventurous journeys without the omnipresent mentors, which give them valuable lessons and suddenly appear in life-threatening situations.

Examples of mentors:
Gandalf (The Lord of the Rings), Dumbledore (Harry Potter), Mary Poppins (Mary Poppins’ series).

Though books may have various plots, simple and complicated ideas, certain unchangeable epitomes occur in diverse genres. Each literary archetype is a skeleton for your brainchildren – once you comprehend its core, you’ll be able to adorn it with your own symbolism and outstanding features.

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