Orphan Archetype

Learn all about the orphan archetype, including definition, characteristics, examples and how it relates to the Innocent archetype.

What is the Orphan Archetype?

The orphan archetype is one that has become familiar throughout centuries of literature and features particularly strongly in childhood stories.

The story of the archetypal orphan stands in contrast with that of the archetypal child – rather than being a tale of innocence and playful joy, the story of the orphan is one of trauma, conflict, neglect, abuse and a sense of not belonging.

The orphan has been forced to grow up quickly, losing their youth to the realities of life and as a result often developing a hardness, pessimism and skepticism about the world.

Orphan Archetype Characteristics & Traits

  • The archetypal orphan longs to be accepted into a group or by the people around the, craving a sense of belonging or affection which they have never previously experienced.
  • This need can make them malleable and easily manipulated.
  • Where they find acceptance amongst those who are a positive influence, they will likely become a huge force for good in the world.
  • However, should they be taken in by those or who have more negative motives, or indeed never find acceptance at all, then they can turn to the dark side of life and a life of crime.

Orphan Archetype & Jung

In Jungian psychoanalysis the Orphan archetype is also known as the Everyman archetype, a transitional archetype which sits on an individual’s journey from the ‘Innocent’ to the ‘Hero’ or ‘Warrior’ archetype.

Orphan Archetype & Mythology

In mythology Hephaestus, the God of fire, volcanoes, blacksmiths and other artisans, and of sculpture, was thrown out of Olympus by his fellow Gods (including his own father Zeus) and so has come to be known as the archetypal orphan, one rejected and undervalued by others in society unable to see their true worth.

Orphan Archetype Examples

An example of the archetypal orphan in film is Simba in the Lion King. Left to fend for himself after the death of his father, the positive influences of those around him ultimately help him to develop from a pessimistic and lost youngster into the powerful ruler which he was always meant to be.

In modern culture actress Marilyn Monroe is a famous example of the archetypal orphan, having spent most of her childhood in a variety of foster homes and orphanages. Marilyn developed a profoundly childlike demeanor which was visible onscreen and remained with her throughout her life.

A reading of any biography of the actress makes it clear just how much of an impact her parentless and unsettled childhood had on her psyche.

Further Reading

Further reading on the orphan archetype includes:

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