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Archetypes in Lyrics: Finding Literacy in Song Essay

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Updated: Feb 22nd, 2022

Songs about war and its heroes are common and popular in most cultures because it is a tragic event that affects many people. Most often, such songs describe the heroic deeds of soldiers, their courage and struggle, and their life in difficult conditions of war. However, the song “Love Vigilantes” by New Order is an unusual piece as it tells the story of a soldier after the war and has an unexpected ending. Nevertheless, “Love Vigilantes” has the familiar archetypes described by Northrop Frye that will be revealed in this paper.

The main plot of “Love Vigilantes” is the story of a soldier returning home after the war, who wants to see his wife and child. In the first two verses, the soldier talks about how happy he is to return home and how it feels to be free (Hook et al. lines 17-18). However, in the third verse, the listener and the soldier himself see his wife lying on the floor in tears and holding a telegram with a message about his death (Hook et al. lines 30-33). This turn of the story is unexpected because the text of the first two verses is cheerful, and the motive and melody of the composition have a fast and joyful mood. Even though Byron (5) argues that verbal cues are not necessary for choosing a strategy for listening to music and understanding it, this verse shows that words can be crucial. Although the joyous melody does not shift, the words dramatically change the meaning of the story. Thus, the authors wanted to emphasize with this discrepancy the tragedy of the moment and the absurdity of the war.

In the lyrics, the listener can mark the different phases or seasons that Frye highlights. The first verse refers to the spring phase as the soldier seems to get a new life after the end of his service and is born for the listener for the first time as a character. This approach coincides with the views of Frye (104), who described spring as the phase of the birth of a hero and the victory of good powers over darkness. This context, as well as the joyful mood, allow images and archetypes to be interpreted in a positive, though not comedic, light. For example, the very phenomenon of war in this context sounds like something positive, and soldiers are the archetype of heroes, not victims. This feeling is expressed in the lines “In the name of truth / With our soldiers so brave / your freedom we will save / With our rifles and grenades” (Hook et al. lines 4-7). Consequently, this verse, which is revealed in the spring phase, creates a joyful mood and context for interpreting images.

The second verse maintains and continues to transmit the mood of the first one but becomes even more romantic and inspiring. The character is on the way to his family, he thinks only about meeting wife and child, and this period is the dawn of his story. According to Frye (104), such feelings in the literature reflect a phase of summer and triumph and unusually reflects in comedy archetype. This context also creates an opportunity to interpret the character as a romantic lover who is eager to meet his wife and embrace her. The soldier says, “My wife and child waiting for me / I’ve got to go home / I’ve been so alone, you see (Hook et al. lines 23-25). These repeating lines, as in the first verse, carry the meaning of joy that the loneliness of the character will soon end.

However, in the text of the third verse, the mood changes dramatically due to the tragedy that happened in the soldier’s house. He sees his wife lying on the floor, and a telegram in her hand says, ” I was a brave, brave man / But that I was dead” (Hook et al. lines 32-33). These lines can have two interpretations, but both of them are tragic. In the first case, the wife has received a telegram by mistake, but she could not live without her husband. In the second case, the soldier was dead during the whole story but had not realized it, so the truth was revealed in the very end. However, in both cases, the story reflects the archetype of tragedy or the fall phase, when everything goes wrong, and characters meet challenges and suffering (Frye 104). This context also changes the meaning of the repeated chorus, which now carries regret, pain, and sadness. Consequently, this chorus also has an archetype of tragedy, winter, and dissolution phase, since the story fills with chaos and represents the defeat of the hero (Frye 105). Thus, the song reflects all four phases or archetypes described by Northrop Frye.

In conclusion, “Love Vigilantes” can be analyzed using the Frye archetype theory, since it has well-established images and typical features. The song’s lyrics reflect four seasons and phases that are key concepts in Frye’s classification, which help the author reveal the meaning of the story. One of the most interesting features of the song is that despite the tragic plot, the authors chose a cheerful melody, which allowed them to emphasize the horrors of war ironically. However, archetypes played a significant role in the song’s lyrics to convey the meaning and mood of the story.

Works Cited

Almen, Byron. “Narrative Archetypes: A Critique, Theory, and Method of Narrative Analysis.” Journal of Music Theory, vol. 47, no. 1, 2003, p. 1-14.

Frye, Northrop. “The Archetypes of Literature.” The Kenyon Review, vol. 13, no. 1, 1951, pp. 92-110.

Hook, Peter, et al. “Love Vigilantes.” Low Life, Warner Bros. Records Inc., Factory, 1985.

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