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An archetype is a symbol that is representative of all human experience and is embedded in what Carl Jung calls the collective conscious, which is the shared experience of a race or culture or of all of humankind. Significantly, it is debatable as to whether Alan Paton wrote Cry, the Beloved Country with the idea of archetypes in mind.
In fact, it could be argued that Paton was so far away from writing archetypal literature that if archetypal criticism were applied, brand new archetypes would have to be identified (Archetype: An original model or pattern from which other later copies are made, especially a character, an action, or situation that seems to represent common patterns of human life. [Literary Terms and Definitions. Dr. Kip Wheeler, Department of English, Carson-Newman Collage.]).
Under such a scenario, the new archetypal situation identified might be the corruption of the innocent by the city, while the new archetypal characters might be the entangled and doomed innocent, the dismayed and impotent questor, and the aggrieved helper. The reason for this is that Paton's point is that Absalom's and Stephen's story is not a previously universally shared experience; it is a new experience, an experience in which the location in which life is lived does, by virtue of the characteristics of that location, destroy the human life that sojourns there. It is this revelation that allows Stephen to reach some measure of peace at the end of the story, at the time of his son's execution, and it is reinforced by Arthur Jarvis's papers.
Having made this case against archetypal criticism, the application of this criticism to Cry, the Beloved Country can yield identifiable archetypes. There is no traditional Hero in Cry, the Beloved Country, only a protagonist who is dismayed, devastated and broken in spirit. There is no Scapegoat whose public execution removes a taint from the community, it only amplifies the taint. It may be said there is The Outcast though. Stephen's son Absalom is the outcast who has been banished from the community for breaking the archetypal taboo against murder. In a way, James Jarvis represents the archetype of the Earth Mother because after reading his slain son's papers he has an epiphany and brings food to the children and an adviser to restore the valley's habitat; an earth mother provides nurturing in abundance and gives emotional and spiritual sustenance to those around about. Gertrude fits the Fallen Woman archetype that represents innocence manipulated and forced into degraded circumstances. Finally, John Kumalo represents the Devil Figure archetype because his only motives are that of selfish, self-seeking self-gain. Some archetypal situations, besides Absalom's breaking the taboo against murder, are inescapable death, punishment, and fate.
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