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Summer SAVY 2019: Session 3, Day 3 – Archetypes and Literature (Rising 5th/6th)

Posted by on Wednesday, June 26, 2019 in Grade 5, Grade 6, SAVY.

Wow! What an exciting day we’ve had writing and exploring archetypes!
We opened with a quick recap of Jung’s theory and a quick debate over whether or not Jung was correct. Is there really such a thing as a collective unconscious? There are significant variances in stories and symbols as we compare across cultures, and we are aware that some symbols – colors, for instances – may have meanings that deviate from the patterns Jung detected. Some of us aren’t completely convinced that Jung was correct; nevertheless, his theory of archetypes offers a fascinating lens through which to consider literature and human psychology.
We tested out Jung’s theory through a comparison of two versions of “Little Red Riding Hood,” the well-known version which came to us through the Brothers Grimm, and the Japanese tale “Grandmother Tiger.” Students noticed interesting symbolic correspondences as well as differences between the two tales. In different ways, both convey the message that children should be careful of strangers and listen to parents. Both include an innocent character who undergoes “initiation” into awareness of the dangers of the world, the forest as a setting of danger, and villainous wild beasts that disguise themselves as grandmothers. We observed a strange but undeniable “death and rebirth” symbolism in “Little Red Riding Hood” and the surprising significance of a tree in “Grandmother Tiger.”
Later, we read the book Corduroy and traced the appearance of archetypes. It was exciting to see the archetypes of the hero, the hero’s quest, an unhealable wound, villains (who may not always be evil!), encounters, a caregiver, and a rags-to-riches situation emerge in this familiar children’s story. We noticed that a single character can inhabit more than one archetype: a hero can also be an explorer, for instance, or even a person in need of saving.
Throughout the day, students were excited to offer examples and insights of archetypes within stories. We talked about everything from Star Wars to Lord of the Rings to Crispin: the Cross of Lead and even examples from American history. Carl Jung’s complex theory continues to raise fascinating difficulties and questions as we figure out what “counts” as a symbol or archetype. Colors, for instance, may show forth a symbolic meaning, but this is not always the case. Sometimes purple just means purple, and green just means green. To figure out whether a color is symbolic, we have to consider the story as a whole. As writers, we also considered the power writers and artists have to subvert common symbols and give them new meaning. Creating new symbolic meaning in art or writing an be a fun challenge for a creative person! (Achieving this effect successfully may be harder than it looks!)
We ended the day with an exciting (and competitive!) archetype scavenger hunt. Students worked in teams to identify as many different archetypes (not just examples, but types of archetypes) and kinds of encounters as possible in four timed rounds with sets of children’s books. Justifying archetype identification was challenging, requiring careful reasoning and accurate evidence sufficient to convince Ms. Allison or Ms. Mary Beth. The team that identified examples of the most archetype categories won. (Our winning team showed extraordinary focus and successful teamwork, as well as strong reasoning!)
Some of our SAVY writers have even begun to discover potential archetypal symbols in their own writing! We enjoyed more than one solid chunk of writing time today, and most all of us have figured out which story we will be developing for the rest of the week. Tomorrow we’ll encounter the archetypal “hero’s journey” and figure out how our own characters might follow this ancient pattern.