Jungian literary criticism is known as archetypal criticism and explores the link between literature and the “collective unconscious of the human race”.Jungian Literary criticism believes that stories and symbols take root from mythic models belonging to mankind’s past. Jungian psychoanalysis makes a distinction between collective and personal unconscious. The collective unconscious includes feelings, innate thoughts, instincts and memories present in the unconscious of all people. The personal unconscious, on the other hand can be accessed only through therapy. The collective or universal unconscious found expression in literature, art and myth., with Jungian literary criticism examining the archetypes emerging in literature.
The Origin of Jungian literary Criticism resting on the hypothesis of archetypes dates back to the philosophy of Plato. Jung himself found a similarity between archetypes and Platonic eidos or Ideas. According to Plato ideas were mental forms and part of the soul before it took birth into the world. Ideas as such were collective as they shared fundamental features of a thing rather than embodying any specificity. Jung’s archetype theory was more of a psychological analysis of the philosophical concept of ideas.
According to Jung an archetype residing in the collective unconscious is irrepresentable as they are present in the inaccessible recesses of the mind but manifests in its visualization as various archetypal ideas and images. Jung refers to these as primordial images which have been always been part of collective unconscious mind. Jung believes that universal archetypes and the unconscious are revealed and experienced through primordial images. Jungian literary criticism sees the archetype of death-rebirth, as quoted from Segal 4, as a “symbolic expression of a process taking place not in the world but in the mind. That process is the return of the ego to the unconscious—a kind of temporary death of the ego—and its re-emergence, or rebirth, from the unconscious”
In Jungian literary criticism, the central character of any literature is seen as real while the other characters symbolize the unconscious aspects of the hero’s mind. For example a woman represents the feminine side of the hero while the shadow denotes the antagonist. According to the psychologist Carl Jung, the four universal archetypes are “Mother, Rebirth, Spirit and Trickster”. Jung describes events such as birth, death, marriage initiation, separation from parents, etc as archetypal events. The archetypal figures include father, mother, child, God, devil, wise old men and women, hero, trickster, Apollo and so on. The Deluge, Appocalypse, Creation etc are seen as archetypal motifs that keep recurring.
According to Jung all humans strive for individuation, where the unconscious is made known to the conscious mind. The hero in any piece of literature subscribes to Jungian literary criticism as seen in the hero’s journey towards individuation. According to Jungian literary criticism, there are limitless numbers of archetypes but archetypal images that keep recurring are the shadow, the anima, the animus, the child, the wise Old Man and the mother. The Shadow represents the opposite of the ego while the Anima represents the feminine image in man and Animus being the masculine image in woman.