The archetypal development of the American woman through literature

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Virginia Tech

This thesis attempts to trace, on an archetypal level, the reasons behind certain recurrent character types in twentieth century American literature about women. Because of his emphasis on the "collective unconscious," the theories of psychologist Carl Jung are used as the basis for this study. The basic feminine archetype, herself complex, always retains her primary qualities, but shifts form slightly, according to the particular time and society in which she appears. Therefore, her various appearances in American literature can be linked to social as well as psychological phenomena and must be traced carefully from the literature of early America, through the literature of four distinct geographical and social regions--the Northeast, the West, the South and the Midwest--to twentieth century American literature, which is often violent and extreme, but which shows promise of growth and awareness.

The word "development" is important to the study, which concentrates on the archetypal process of "initiation," or becoming a complete, aware, mature human being. Few female characters in American literature have undergone this type of initiation, just as American women in general have often failed either to recognize their archetypal roots or to move from those roots into "individuation" or Selfhood. Men and women are first basically human, then male or female, then individual; to be fully aware of themselves, both men and women must come to terms with all three identities, learning who the are alone and in relation to each other.