American Archetypes: Five Jungian Motifs You’ve Adopted

You don’t have to be a psychology student or psychiatrist to know what Carl Jung recognized as archetypes. We can easily discern that Gandalf and Dumbledore both serve a familiar function in their stories as the old, wise man (impressing the “little” people with magic, offering brain-racking riddles as solutions for saving the world) just as much as we all acknowledge that Mario and Beowulf are both heroes. All memorable narratives have timeless motifs threaded through them that attempt to explain universal dilemmas and experiences. Like any great narrative (thank you, Hayden White), American history is filled to the brim with its own unique, yet recognizable archetypes. The following figures listed below include five of the most prominent —and unexpected—archetypes that inform our own collective American unconscious:

5.) Bigfoot as the Wild Man

While stories of the wild man can be found on every continent (maybe not Antarctica), the most famous and publicized ape-boy is America’s own, Bigfoot! While native legends extend the Sasquatch’s history back several centuries, the year 1958 and the Bluff Creek footprints helped catapult the Big Monkey straight through the canopy and into the limelight. Eight years later, the Patterson-Gimlin Film would transform the old Indian wives’ tale into an unmistakable American Icon.

Covered in shaggy fur and leading a life devoted to bipedalism, Bigfoot joins the ranks of the satyr, Yeti, and medieval Green Man in an archetypal lineage that extends all the way back to what was, perhaps, civilization’s first wild man, Enkidu. As the ultimate wingman in the Epic of Gilgamesh, Enkidu provided the standard for the wild man archetype that Bigfoot would inherit: gigantic, feral, furry, and all about “green living.”

With the recent airing of Animal Planet’s freak-nomena, Finding Bigfoot, the Tall Guy was reintroduced to the average American consciousness and allowed to maintain a cultural phenomena established by America’s first people, the Native Americans.

4.) Uncle Sam as the Father

Originally, there was “Brother Jonathan.”  Jon held the role as a vague personification of the Union before ultimately yielding to the charisma of his younger brother, Uncle Sam. While Old Sammy can originally be found in the 1775 lyrics to “Yankie Doodle,” his rise to fame supposedly began during the War of 1812, a conflict usually brought up during reviews for G.E. History courses or as a possible candidate for war re-enactors. His most famous appearance, however, was his spread for J.M. Flagg’s 1917 recruitment poster that infamously reads, “I Want You for U.S. Army.”

Like any good father, the U.S. government’s persona, Uncle Sam was protective, militaristic, and completely willing to pay for your college education. America’s Lord Kitchener became the subject of many political cartoonists who felt citizens could easily relate with a figure who strongly represented the demeanor of America’s founding fathers.

3.) Hurricane Katrina as the Deluge

For Christians, no flood was more important than God’s wrathful flooding of Noah’s world in Genesis. Anthropologists might claim that the Judeo-Christain account was nothing but a knock-off, with Greek, Mayan, Mesopotamian, and Native North American variations supporting their claims.  Most Americans, however, would probably cite Hurricane Katrina’s 2005 tempest tantrum as the most influential flood in recent history. As a category 5 hurricane, Katrina became the costliest cyclones in U.S. History in terms of both property damage and lives lost.

As a symbolic act of a deity’s compensation for sin, some (namely, The Westboro Baptist Church) might say the flood myth stood as God’s variation of ethnic cleansing. According to the likes of Pat Robertson, New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin and the W.B.C., Katrina was God’s reprimanding for America’s various purported offenses of abortion, Antisemitism, and provoking Al-Qaeda. Needless to say, Hurricane Katrina not only proved to be one of the deadliest natural disasters in U.S. History but also unveiled America’s unabashed ignorance.

2.) The Mob as the Trickster

As an archetype, the trickster holds prestige. Whether it’s Old Man Coyote redirecting rivers or even Bugs Bunny (yes, Warner Bros. mascot is quite the charlatan—just ask Elmer) outwitting the best of them, the trickster has swindled cultures around the world since the beginning of civilization. While Bugs may be a fair candidate for the title of America’s trickster,  his PG-Rated pranks fall flat compared to the pervasive influence of America’s most notorious gang, the American Mafia.

Although the Mob has roots in the Sicilian Mafia, our own version began to flourish along East Coast metropolises such as New York during the Italian diaspora at the turn of the 20th Century.  Maintaining holds in cities such as New Orleans, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Chicago, the Mob would rely on a rigid hierarchy and harsh codes to rise to national notoriety. At the height of their influence, the Mafia would work with the U.S. Government during World War II and attempts at Fidel Castro’s assassination. Pop culture relics such as Scarface, The Sopranos , and the Oscar-winning The Godfather would pay tribute to what The Wall Street Journal claims is “the largest organized crime group in the U.S.”

1.) Communist China as the Shadow

Carl G. Jung, founder of analytical psychology (and the whole reason this article is able to exist!), claimed that the Shadow represents “those aspects of oneself that exist, but which one does not acknowledge or with which one does not identify” (Fordham). Essentially, our own Shadows consist of traits we either refuse or fail to acknowledge in ourselves. Jung himself claimed the Shadow was the “seat of creativity” and akin to the “unconscious” of his mentor, Freud.

Seeing both the constructive and regressive qualities of what the Shadow is capable in an individual, how might America’s own Shadow be expressed? The answer might lie somewhere West of America’s Promised Land in the unlikely tendencies of Communist China.

Although America’s First Red Scare seemed mainly concerned with Russian Bolshevism, which later became the Federation’s own Communist party, the Second Red Scare roused suspicions in Americans following Communist China’s success in the Chinese Civil War and consisted of the infamous act of “McCarthyism.” With media hysteria plaguing the minds of Post-WWII America, Communism was undeniably off-limits to any respectable American. Nevertheless, the Communist Party USA remained to remind us that as an ideology, communism has free reign in a constitutionally founded country and is very much on the mind of America.

While America may boast of its own self-empowered system, a stroll through your local Toy-R-Us or Walmart will quickly remind any consumer that China practically monopolizes America’s production of goods. Furthermore, with China owning $1.268 trillion in U.S. debt (Amadeo), Communist China appears to be more of an underlying economical backbone rather than a foreign competitor. At this point, American patriotism might as well be another name for Jungian repression and denial.

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