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The principle archetypes, representing the three principal characters, are the Old Crone, the loving Mother, and the wronged though once valiant Warrior and father. Archetype theory holds that there are universal types who appear in literature in many, or even most, cultural literature. These archetypes represent the typical roles that life offers us from King to divine Child, with many more between. There may be heroes or villains. For example, the old Crone is a villain in Hawthorne's story:
But when the old woman stirred the kneeling lady, she lifted not her head.
"Here has been a sweet hour's sport!" said the withered crone, chuckling to herself.
The protagonist of the story is the "lady, graceful in form and fair of feature." She meets the Crone in a magical place for the purpose contracting for a secret and dark service: she wishes to hear the voices of those she abandoned and left behind. Hawthorne constructs his story with mystery and suspense. We only find out the lady's story as voices materialize "in the pauses of [the Crone's] breath." Slowly, through the lady's suffering, it is revealed that she abandoned her husband, let their child die, and forsook all for another lover. She hears that all the beloved voices of her past have turned against her, her husband is "in a mad-house," and her child dead. Now, after the voices have finished, she too is dead with her forehead on the Crone's knees.
The archetypes are revealed in the storyline but with a cruel twist. The beloved Mother is in distress, yes, but it is of her own making because she has abandoned her love and duties. The valiant Warrior father is commanding men against enemies, but he is commanding them to listen to his woes and the enemies they fight are their own inner demons: "that frenzied company, whose own burning thoughts had become their exclusive world." The divine Child is still beloved and divine, though now being loved and divine in heaven.
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