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How should we think about interpreting literature?
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Jungian Criticism

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Carl Jung's interpretation of art

Jung believed that great art, which certainly includes literature, reveals the primordial archetypes of humanity's collective unconscious.
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Even though Jung is sometimes referred to as a psychoanalyst (since he was a student of Freud), his final account of depth psychology diverges from psychoanalysis. Jungian criticism of literature is wholly different to psychoanalytic criticism of literature.

The Argument

In his theory of psychology, Jung emphasizes something he calls the collective unconscious, which is where humanity’s “racial memories” and “archetypes” reside. Archetypes are primeval images, ideas, and experiences that come up in every culture. For Jung, great works of literature are illustrations of the archetypes of the collective unconscious. A great author understands the archetypes of the collective unconscious and expresses them with wisdom. Knowledge of archetypes will, Jung argues, invigorate the reader’s psyche and propel him or her along the path of self-realization.[1] Writing that is infused with archetypal figures, patterns, and ideas can help individuals attain self-realization (or self-integration) and thus maintain good mental and emotional states.[1] Literature, and art in general, allows human beings to become consciously aware of archetypes, which are quintessentially unconscious entities. Myths and dreams also allow human beings to become consciously aware of archetypes.[2] Jung identified four archetypes of particular importance: the shadow, the anima/animus, the persona, and the self. Different myths and works of art illustrate these archetypes. Consider the shadow archetype, for example. One’s shadow is the often-unrecognized dark side of one’s personality—the aspect of one’s personality that one wants to hide.[2] An evil figure, such as Satan, illustrates this archetype in literature. The goal of Jungian criticism is to find such archetypes in literature, explain their representation, and examine how such representations illuminate the distinct qualities of each archetype.

Counter arguments

One argument against Jungian criticism of literature is that literature is much more than a means of representing archetypes. [3] In trying to find archetypal representations and images in a literary work, one can easily neglect its aesthetic and rhetorical greatness. The search for archetypes can cloud one from seeing the work for what it is, which is art. Jungian criticism of literature cannot provide a full interpretation of any literary work; it must be used alongside other forms of literary criticism that focus on the linguistic, aesthetic, and cultural value of the work. Many literary critics argue that there is no Jungian school of literary criticism. [4] The interpretive goal of finding archetypes from the collective unconscious within a story or poem comes from Jung's psychology, but Jung himself was not a literary critic. There are some Jungian literary critics like Bettina Knapp and Edward Eddinger, but not enough to create a school of literary criticism.[4]



Rejecting the premises


This page was last edited on Monday, 22 Nov 2021 at 21:50 UTC