Symbolism in English Literature

Page 1 of 9

Symbolism in English Literature

By | April 2010
Page 1 of 9
Archetypal figures present in Chaucer’s “The Miller’s Tale” By José Luis Guerrero Cervantes

According to Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, an archetype is a symbolic formula that begins to work wherever there are no conscious ideas present. They are innate universal psychic dispositions that form the substrate from which the basic themes of human life emerge[1]. The archetype is experienced in projections, powerful affect images, symbols, moods, and behavior patterns such as rituals, ceremonials and love.

Jung[2] compared the archetype, the pre-formed tendency to create images, to a dry river bed. Rain gives form and direction to the flow, we name the river, but it is never a thing located in any place, it is a form but never the same, it is always changing but it is still a river. Following this analogy, the archetype would be the dry river bed that motivates and modifies our conscious understanding of ourselves and the world (the water of the river) from which emotions, attitudes and ideas arise.

It is possible to track the use of archetypes in universal literature, according to Joseph Campbell[3], from the origins of human civilization. Archetypes help Chaucer to his main purpose when writing The Canterbury Tales: to reflect on the personal concerns and solutions of the evolving medieval society of his time. Characters with strong archetypal features has an automatically and unconsciously effect in the reader’s mind, allowing his mind to recognize experiences, emotions, and typical patterns of behavior, establishing a “dialog” or “unconscious link” between the reader and the text. The purpose of the present essay will be to identify such archetypal characters and situations and their impact in the reader’s psyche.[4]

It is possible to recognize in Nicholas’ behavior elements that match with the archetype of the “Trickster”. In mythology, and in the study of folklore and religion, a trickster is a god, goddess, spirit, man, woman, or anthropomorphic...