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Archetypes in Literature Essay



There are a lot of different cases when one specific hero is presented as an archetype. Looking at different heroes existed at various times, it is possible to consider many of them as the archetypes. Sacrificing oneself for the benefit of the whole society is one of the main archetypes of the past. There are a lot of heroes who did all possible to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of mankind. In most cases, these people served for the benefit of society as they were sure that their lives were going to protect people.

There are a lot of heroes in history, folklore, and religion who served for the benefit of their societies and when it came time to decide whether to live or to die they chose the death if it could protect others and serve for their benefit. Oedipus, dying for the benefit of the community, Jesus, sacrificing himself for the benefit of everyone else, and Arthur, sacrificing himself, are three heroes who decided to die if it could assist people they lived with.

These archetypes are used in literature, religion, and folklore with the purpose to show that such actions as sacrificing oneself for the benefit of others are not just a simple action, it is the action which only heroes can make be sure that this action can bring the benefit for the society.

Oedipus dying for the benefit of the community

Reading Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, it is possible to find the examples when Oedipus is referred to as a hero. “Oh Oedipus, the king of the land, our greatest power”, “Oedipus, king, we bend to you, your power – we implore you, all of us on our knees”, “the man of experience”, “best of men”, “you have the power” (Sophocles 913) are the places when the society is sure the powers of their kind.

The story of Sophocles is complicated and diverse. Some people consider him as a criminal who killed his father and married his mothers, others are sure that he is a victim who appeared in a wrong place under the wrong conditions. However, the understanding of personal mistake is a great step. Trying to consider Oedipus as an archetype hero, it is important to refer to the dialogue between him and Creon. Oedipus exclaims, “Speak out, speak to us all. I grieve for these, my people, far more than I fear for my life” (Sophocles 914).

Oedipus wants to know the truth, he wants to get to know who killed the previous king and when he understands that it was he, he decides to kill himself. He knows that the life he lived was not his, he lived under another name and acted improperly. When the truth comes out, Oedipus is sure that he is going to serve the society better in the role of an insightful sightless existence rather than a king. Sacrificing his ordinary luxury life, Oedipus wants to prove the society that he is deeply bothered about what has happened.

Understanding that death is better than living blinded, Oedipus says, “I, with my eyes, how could I look my father in the eyes when I do down to death? Or mother, so abused… I have done such things to the two of them, crimes too huge for hanging” (Sophocles 947). Oedipus understands that to extinguish the guilt he has to live as the death is too simple punishment. Having sacrificed his eyes and the life of a simple person, Oedipus wants to show that all people are to pay for all their actions and this is his contribution to society.

Jesus sacrificing himself for the benefit of everyone else

The example of Jesus is one of the most notable in the history of archetypes. Jesus sacrificed his life for the benefit of the whole of mankind. Every time people remember God they also remember the action Jesus did for their benefit. All people are sinful. Understanding this, Jesus did all possible to protect people from sins. Walking the earth, Jesus taught people to lead faithful lives, to behave in accordance with the God’ rules and moral principles directed at general good and benefit of the whole society.

Jesus taught people the word of God whose main principles were as follows, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”, “honor thy father and thy mother”, “thou shalt not kill”, “thou shalt not commit adultery”, “thou shalt not steal”, “thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor”, “thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbour’s” (The Bible, Exodus 20:3-17). Jesus taught people this truth. However, he saw that people were not ready for the coming of God. Thus, he decided to sacrifice himself to make God leave people alive. Some people cannot understand the reason for Jesus’ action up to now.

However those who have understood will deserve to live after the Judgment Day. The main idea of Jesus’ action was to die for people to live. Jesus tried to cover the sins of people to help them live further. Jesus hoped that the time would come when people understand his action and begin to live by God’s word. God promised to leave people alive until there are more those who live the right lives when those who do not. People are to remember the action of Jesus to understand how far the love for people may bring.

Arthur sacrificing himself

There are many quarrels about King Arthur devoted to whether he was a historical personality of a folklore hero. However, no matter who was King Arthur, he left a great imprint in the lives of people. King Arthur is famous for his actions. Fighting with the enemies he did all possible to protect his people from the enemy. When the time came to decide whether to live and to give his land to another tyrant or to die sacrificing his life for the freedom of his people, King Arthur decided to die.

Reading the stories in King Arthur: Tales of the Round Table (Lang and Ford 172) and especially the final scene when King Arthur is killed, it becomes obvious that the death of this notable person was for the benefit of his people. He could not just look how his nation was going to be enslaved, therefore, he did all possible to prevent this action. Running towards Sir Mordred King Arthur understood that it could be his last action, however, he also understood that it was impossible to leave his people with that person.

Having betrayed everyone, Sir Mordred wanted to get Excalibur and the lives of others were not in the range of his interests. Therefore, having weighted the power he had and the benefit his action could bring to the mankind King Arthur did a correct action, he killed Sir Mordred, crying “Traitor! now is your death day come,”. However, “when Sir Mordred felt he had his death-wound, he raised himself up and struck King Arthur such a blow that the sword clave his helmet, and then fell stark dead on the earth again” (Lang and Ford 164).


Therefore, it may be concluded that the deaths of Oedipus, Jesus, and Arthur were necessary for society to understand something. Those who learned the lesson from those actions were successful as they managed to understand the failures they did and to prevent them in the future. Even though there were people who did not understand the deaths of the heroes appropriately, they still were aware of the action.

They could treat the deaths as just the necessary actions, however, the sacrificing for others is a great step which is to be remembered. When people sacrifice themselves, they try to teach others something and when the lesson is learned it is possible to speak about sacrificing for the social benefit. Having considered the examples of Oedipus, Jesus, and Arthur, it is possible to state that their deaths taught good lessons for the whole mankind as even many years later we still remember those people, and their actions. This is one of the main proofs that they sacrificed their lives, not in vain.

Works Cited

Lang, Andrew and H. J. Ford. King Arthur: Tales of the Round Table. New York: Wildside Press LLC, 2009. Print.

Sophocles. “Oedipus the King.” An Introduction to Literature. Sylvan Barnet, William Burto, and William E. Cain. Eds. Oxford: Pearson Education Canada, 2010. 910-952. Print.

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