Learn all about the scapegoat archetype, including definition, characteristics, examples and how it relates to the Everyman archetype.
What is the Scapegoat Archetype?
The archetypal scapegoat is just as it sounds, the person who takes the fall for someone else’s mistakes or misdeeds.
A common archetype throughout history and culture, this archetype is built into the core beliefs of some of the world’s major religions.
Jesus Christ, for example, in his crucifixion can be seen as the ultimate scapegoat for the sins of humanity.
Scapegoat Archetype Characteristics & Traits
- The scapegoat will take the blame, whether it be willingly or not, for the ills of others.
- Sometimes this is in the control of others, and sometimes the events are out of all control.
- Sometimes the scapegoat is an individual, sometimes a group.
- The scapegoat is blamed regardless of whether they themselves bare any responsibility for the misdeeds which are being blamed on them.
- The scapegoat archetype is particularly common in storytelling, where they are often seen as a weak character until they die.
- They may even be a social outcast.
- Their death, often publicly, is commonly presented as a form of atonement for the flaws or sins of the main character or community.
- Only after their death, or at least taking of the wrongly placed blame, does the scapegoat then become a powerful force within the story.
Scapegoat Archetype Examples
Examples of the scapegoat in literature and film are plentiful. Daphne du Maurier wrote a whole novel, The Scapegoat, based around the concept.
In Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ the character of Tom Robinson is the scapegoat who takes the blame for the rape of a white woman, despite the best efforts of Atticus Finch to defend him and his obvious innocence.
In Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible Elizabeth Proctor is the scapegoat for a whole community when she is convicted of witchcraft.
Scapegoat Archetype in History
In 1930s Germany the Nazi’s used propaganda and lies to build suspicion and fear of Jewish people, scapegoating them for any number of perceived wrongs from the death of Jesus Christ to Germany’s loss of the Great War.
Such beliefs are unfortunately still common in some places today. The scapegoat can also be seen in modern society in the form of the ‘patsy’ – the person set up specifically to take the fall for the crime of another.
The most famous self-proclaimed ‘patsy’ was Lee Harvey Oswald, assassin of US President John F Kennedy, though it was doubtful whether his claims of scapegoating were anything more than an attempt to get himself off the charge.
Further reading on the scapegoat archetype includes:
- The Scapegoat Complex – by Sylvia Brinton Perera
- A Study on Scapegoat Archetype: Case Studies: Two Plays Written by Edward Albee and a Novel by H.G. Wells – by A’zam Jahangiri
- The Scapegoat – by Daphne Du Maurier