Trope vs Archetype

In this article, you will learn what a trope is, what an archetype is what are the key differences between the two.

Trope vs Archetype: What are the Differences?

Before you can understand the differences between tropes and archetypes, you first need to understand what each are.

Here are brief definitions for both a trope and an archetype:

What is a trope?

Trope refers to any literary device, such as speech, image, character, theme or part of a plot, that is repeatedly used by writers across a genre so that it becomes familiar to readers.

Concepts such as irony, juxtaposition and hyperbole can be identified as tropes within literature, or it can be more specific concepts, such as specific phrases (e.g. ‘once upon a time’) or devices (e.g. a ticking clock used to create suspense).

Advantages & disadvantages of tropes

Trope are useful in literature because they are immediately recognisable to readers and help them connect quickly and more deeply to the material they are reading.

The use of the phrase ‘once upon a time’, for example, will immediately signal to a reader that they are commencing a fairy tale type story and they will become comfortable with what they are about to encounter straight away.

However, when the overuse of trope means that they can quickly become cliche and readers can be quickly turned off by them when this happens.

Using the previous example, readers may simply have had their fill of fairy tale stories and on hearing that familiar phrase used be unwilling to give the work a go, even on the chance that it may be a unique twist on the genre.

What is an archetype?

An archetype is a character or story which is universal and as such commonly recognisable in all cultures due to what it reveals about human nature.

Archetypal characters are instantly recognisable to readers because we have seen them before, in different forms, in many other stories – we know their traits and understand their motivations because they are based on a common template.

The same applies to archetypal stories – they follow the same common patterns and themes so they are familiar to us.

Advantages & disadvantages of archetypes

Archetypes are advantageous in literature because their familiarity allows readers to connect instantly with the characters and story, ensuring they quickly become invested in the outcome.

The archetypes also allow readers to consider aspects of their own personality or features of their society which they may not have considered previously, shining a light on the human condition through their familiarity.

However, a disadvantage of the approach is that it can make the story or characters presented seem formulaic, with familiarity breeding contempt amongst readers.

Another criticism of archetypes is that they discourage the use of originality in favour of familiarity.

Prototype vs Archetype: What are the Similarities and Differences?

Tropes and archetypes are similar in that they are devices which can be used to quickly make a reader comfortable and familiar with a literary work, helping them to relate to what they encounter.

However, tropes do this at a fairly superficial level whereas archetypes are more revealing about something deeper in human nature due to their universality.

Unlike tropes, archetypes never become old or cliched, and instead can be retold in many forms over generations due to the deep meaning behind them which tropes simply do not have.


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