2.18.2008

How curious that is, and what a bizarre coincidence!

The other morning I was working on a cryptoquote, and I had finished the actual quote part. It said, "Mothers are the affectionate and effective teachers of the human race." Ian happened to be there, eating his breakfast and watching me fill in the letters, and he said, "So who said that?"

I looked at the source name, for which I had a few of the letters.

"Well," said I, "I think I know who it is, but even if I didn’t, I could tell it was a man."

"How can you tell?" said Ian.

"Because it sounds like something a man would say." Then I filled in "Daniel Webster". "See? It’s a man."

"What do you mean it’s something a man would say?" said Ian, pursuing the subject a little further.

"I think a woman would be more realistic," I responded, "whereas lots of men buy into the archetypal woman figures. Daniel Webster’s talking about the archetypal mother." I didn’t know if Daniel Webster was doing anything of the kind, but it sounded pretty good to me.

"The what?" said Ian, buttering some toast to cover his confusion.

"You know, archetypes. The mother archetype, the virgin, the --" and I decided to say it, "--the whore."

He looked at me for further elucidation. So I said, "People, especially in literature and art, tend to represent women as either virgin, mother, or whore. Or sometimes as a combination." I began to feel right about now that I wasn’t too sure I knew what I was talking about, but that's never stopped me.

Ian was still skeptical. "Don’t you mean stereotype?"

"Well, a stereotype is where you judge a whole group by the behavior of one. An archetype is . . . an archetype is . . ." I got the dictionary and read to him the definition of archetype: "The original pattern or model of which all things of the same type are representations or copies." And then I asked, "You’ve never talked about archetypes in your English classes?"

"No," said Ian.

I'm not surprised, because he’s currently taking bonehead English. He has three AP classes this year, two of them having to do with his future college career, and he didn’t want to burden himself with AP English as well, since that won’t be his future major. I tried at the time to dissuade him from this decision.

"You’ll be bored to death," I said. "You’re too smart for college prep." It really is college prep English and not bonehead English, but at our high school the two terms are pretty much synonymous. Anyway, he said that would be all right, as long as there was a light workload. So, yeah, no mention of archetypes.

I decided to illustrate archetypes by giving some examples. "There’s Greek mythology," I said, "with Artemis as the virgin and Aphrodite as the whore. And I guess Hera would be the mother. I suppose most people nowadays would think of Aphrodite as the most admirable character. And I guess the prime example of the virgin-mother combination would be Mary."

"Uh-huh," said Ian.

I also mentioned the case of Posthumus in Cymbeline and the depiction of women in rap music, but it occurred to me that in those cases I was indeed confusing archetype with stereotype. Anyway, we talked about it a bit more and Ian thought he got the idea of female archetypes. I told him there were male archetypes, too; in fact, there were all kinds of archetypes in literature. But then I had to go so the discussion ended.

Where I had to go was the Bottom Shelf, where I volunteer a couple of times a week. The Bottom Shelf is the bookstore run by the local Friends of the Library. While I was there, some generous fellow brought in six boxes of books to donate. I started unpacking the boxes and going through the books and I was surprised by what I unexpectedly found:

I took the two books home to show Ian that I was not making this all up. "Things like this happen sometimes," I told him, referring to the mysterious appearance of the archetype books. "And that is why I believe in the world of Invisible Scary Skeletons."

1 comment:

eric & adrien said...

that is weird that that happened (with the books that is). and it doesn't surprise me that they don't teach about archetypes in bonehead english. i think we barely even touched on them in a.p., and i don't know if it was junior or senior year. in fact, i think we may not have even covered them at all (maybe during the scarlet letter? maybe not...). hmm.