In "Wit," what are the archetypes of Vivian's father, Professor Ashford, and Dr. Posner?

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Carl Jung lists twelve archetypes or personality types that are prominent in many myths, novels, and movies. The twelve archetypes are basically divided into three universal groups: the Ego types, the Soul types, and the Self types. It is important to note that a character can have more than one archetype.

Ego types: Orphan/Everyperson, Innocent, Caregiver, or Hero/Warrior.

Soul types: Lover, Rebel/Revolutionary, Explorer/Seeker, or Creator.

Self types: Jester, Sage, Magician, or Ruler.

Professor Ashford

In Wit, the professor's archetypes are that of caregiver and sage. It is from Professor Ashford that Vivian Bearing learns how to be a scholar of distinction. We learn as the play progresses that Vivian is suffering from Stage IV metastatic ovarian cancer. In town to visit her great-grandson (who is celebrating his fifth birthday), Professor Ashford looks in on Vivian at the hospital. She offers to read Donne to Vivian, but the latter declines the offer. Professor Ashford does not argue with Vivian but chooses to read to her from a children's book The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown.

Throughout her exchange with Vivian, Professor Ashford is compassionate, kind, and gracious. Her manner is soothing and gentle. Professor Ashford perfectly embodies the caregiver and sage archetypes, without betraying the pomposity common to the sage archetype.

Mr. Bearing (Vivian's father)

In the play, Mr. Bearing's archetype is that of sage. In a flashback, he explains the word "soporific" to Vivian when she is five years old. The word comes from a story The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies by Beatrix Potter. It is from her father that Vivian learns to love the written word.

Dr. Jason Posner

In the play, Jason Posner is a clinical fellow who works with Dr. Harvey Kelekian. Dr. Posner exhibits traits that comprise the sage and ruler archetypes. The ruler archetypes greatly prize self-possession. In the play, Dr. Posner interviews Vivian and then gives her a pelvic exam. Dr. Posner is sterile in his approach and emotionally detached from his patients. He does not acknowledge Vivian's discomfort and embarrassment during the pelvic exam. There is every indication that Dr. Posner behaves this way in order to protect himself from the relentless emotional demands of his work.

As a characteristic Ruler archetype, Dr. Posner exemplifies order and control; his emotional equilibrium, however, comes at the price of his bedside manner. In maintaining absolute emotional detachment, Dr. Posner betrays the rather more negative aspects of the sage and ruler archetypes. He lacks empathy and as a result, alienates his patients.

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Professor Ashford is introduced towards the end of the play, during a time when Vivian is on the heels of death and reaching the height of her personal revolution. Vivian reminisces about the time when Professor Ashford was explaining the importance of a semicolon in the poem that Vivian was analyzing. Professor Ashford had said, “Nothing but a breath—a comma—separates life from death everlasting."

The nature of Professor Ashford’s profound impact on Vivian’s life grants her the archetype of mentor. She gently shapes Vivian’s worldview and ushers her into a new phase of existence: in this case, death.

In stories, there often comes a time when the mentor is separated from the mentee. For example, Dumbledore dies, leaving Harry Potter to figure out the path to defeating Voldemort. But the separation can also come from the other way around. An example of this is Guru Pathik, one of Aang’s mentors in The Last Airbender. Guru Pathik teaches Aang about the forces of the universe, specifically focusing on the power of chakras. Afterwards, Aang leaves the guru, heading off to finish the rest of his adventure. In both examples, the mentor gives the mentee various amounts of information that changes his or her worldview, but they never actually complete the quest for them. Likewise, Dr. Ashford teaches Vivian about semicolons, but she cannot go with Vivian, at the time of death.  

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