Archetypal Analysis of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Category: Literature
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When reading Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, it is typical to look past some of the deeper messages the text is painting. As a reader, more emphasis is placed on interpreting the story lines or characters based on personal thoughts or experiences. However, as an analyst its important to use a literary theory to guide the exploration, looking for different meanings the text may hold. As a reader, the sorting hat would be just that, a hat that sorts the characters into their houses they will stay in at Hogwarts.

However, when analyzing, the sorting hat has symbolic meaning and must be explored more deeply. Depending on which literary theory used to interpret Harry Potter, the sorting hat may symbolize several different ideas. Each literary theory will examine the text through different lenses, resulting in different interpretations. Using an archetypal literary criticism, Harry Potter can be analyzed by focusing on different archetypes, such as, symbols, images, and character types in the text. (“Literary Criticism.”)

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Archetypal criticism builds upon Carl Jung’s idea of a “collective unconscious”. (“Archetypal Literary Criticism”) He argues that people from around the world have a universal psyche that comes from inherited memory and experience. This idea is separate from the personal unconscious, as collective unconscious doesn’t involve experiences of the individual. It is something that is inherently common to all human beings. The collective unconscious contains archetypes, or pre-existing imageries inherited from earlier descendants. Literary archetypes are simply copies recreated from the original “subconscious” experiences. They can include: repeated symbols or themes in literature that characterizes common patterns of human nature, such as, “love, religion, death, birth, life, struggle, and survival.” ( “Archetype – Examples and Definition of Archetype.”)

When examining Harry Potter, there are character archetypes present throughout the text that the author has used to engage her readers to relate and accept to. Characters can be identified in Harry Potter using Joseph Campbell’s “cast of characters” or character archetypes. (Winkle, Chris.) The first main character is the “Hero”, who leaves his or her habituated setting to enter a new one. The hero will be relatable and, at first, not too skilled or talented. The story follows the Hero’s journey into learning their new environment. Harry will be the hero in J.K. Rowling’s “The Sorcerer’s Stone”. She made Harry relatable, allowing the audience to connect to him.

Although he is a wizard, he doesn’t find out until right before he is sent to Hogwarts, leaving him unexperienced and not as expert as his fellow classmates who grew up around magic. When harry is introduced into this fantasy world he has never heard of before it allows the reader to jump in with him. “There were shops selling robes, shops selling telescopes and strange silver instruments Harry had never seen before, windows stacked with barrels of bat spleens and eels’ eyes, tottering piles of spell books, quills, and rolls of parchment, potion bottles, globes of the moon….”. (Rowling, J.K., pg. 56) While Harry is learning all of these new ideas and objects apart of the magical world, the readers can connect and learn with him along the way. The hero of the story characterizes a theme of struggle, survival, and life from the collective unconscious. The main character will be followed throughout the whole story and therefore needs to be universally accepted.

Another character archetype repeated in stories is the Herald. The Herald changes the course or starts the Hero on his journey. In this case, the herald isn’t a character but an object that changes the course for Harry. His invitation to Hogwarts is the first hint of a new life for Harry. It was an invitation, that no matter how hard the Dursleys tried to intercept would begin Harry on his journey. Despite many attempts at ridding of the letters, the Dursleys house was constantly filled with more. “On Friday, no less than twelve letters arrived for Harry. As they couldn’t go through the mail slot they had been pushed under the door, slotted through the sides, and a few even forced through the small window in the downstairs bathroom”. (Rowling, J.K., Pg. 30) Even after they went to the middle of the ocean, Hagrid was sent to hand deliver the message. Therefore, he may also be considered as a herald, who gave Harry his first indication of the journey to come at Hogwarts. This repetition of the letter being sent again and again until received by Harry may suggest a deeper meaning to the text. It can be further analyzed as an unconscious idea or theme of what is meant to be, will be.

Along with the herald and hero, mentors, threshold guardians, tricksters, shape shifters and shadows are often character archetypes in stories. In Harry Potter Dumbledore serves as the mentor, universally wise and gives advice to Harry to help guide him through his journey. Snape, Draco, and Fluffy are all examples of threshold guardians found in Harry Potter. Each of them in some way has stopped Harry from progressing. For example, to reach the sorcerer’s stone, Harry had to get past Fluffy and all of the other steps along the way: “I reckon there are other things guarding the stone apart from Fluffy, loads of enchantments, probably”. (Rowling, J.K., pg. 182) Each enchantment Harry had to get past would serve as a threshold guardian. This idea of hurdles to get past to achieve the goal at hand, would be universal to all human beings. The threshold guardians serve as an example of struggles consistent with all of human nature and that idea of “collective unconscious”.

The tricksters add humor to the story, such as, Peeves. “Peeves the Poltergeist was worth two locked doors and a trick staircase if you met him when you were late for class. He would drop wastepaper baskets on your head, pull rugs from under your feet, pelt you with bits of chalk, or sneak up behind you, invisible, grab your nose, and screech, ‘GOT YOUR CONK!”. (Rowling, J.K., pg. 105) Peeves and also the Weasley brothers add light to the story. Shape shifter’s change characters during the story. For example, Hermione begins as a sort of pester to Harry and Ron by disapproving of their actions, however, she eventually joins to their side and becomes their voice of reason. Lastly, the shadow is the main enemy the hero must defeat in his or her journey. The character symbolizes evil and darkness. In Harry’s case this is Voldemort, who is the ultimate villain.

Along with character archetypes universally present in all stories, Archetypal criticism interprets archetypes in situations. Harry Potter falls under the category of a Hero’s Journey. Its elements are shown to be consistent through all stories from past and present. The archetypes in this journey are all common aspects of the human mind that symbolize universal life experience. The journey begins with “the ordinary world” where the hero’s usual life and story begins. In Harry’s case, his scene begins at the Dursleys home and town. Next there is a “call to adventure”, coming normally in a message that interrupts the ordinary world. In Harry’s situation it is the invitation to Hogwarts brought by Hagrid. Third is “refusal of the call”. This is an initial decline or hesitation of taking on the journey. This is apparent before Harry begins his journey to Hogwarts, as he isn’t sure he will be qualified to succeed in a magic school growing up around “muggles”. Harry then “meets the mentor” using his guidance to feel more comfortable starting his journey. This could be Dumbledore, as he looks up to him, or it could be Hagrid, purchasing and telling him all the information he must know before starting school following the summer. This brings Harry to “crossing the threshold” at 9 and three quarters train station to Hogwarts. The train will cross him from his ordinary world to his journey. Hogwarts will bring him “tests, allies, and enemies”. He meets allies such as Hermione and Ron and makes enemies such as Snape and Draco.

Tests such as lurking the halls at night, fluffy, fighting the troll are all obstacles preparing him for bigger ordeals. Harry “approaches the inmost Cave” when he sees his parents in the mirror of Erised. It brings inner conflict and makes his scar start to burn, suggesting “you know who” may be in the future. “The ordeal” happens when Harry, Hermione, and Ron are going through different tests to get to the sorcerer’s stone before Voldemort. Harry comes out on top leaving him to “seize the sword”. The sorcerer’s stone is safe and Voldemort is gone. “The resurrection” is Harry waking up in recovery of his injury with Dumbledore proud. Dumbledore offers 150 extra points to Gryffindor for their braver allowing them to win the house cup. This is the final reward representing Harrys growth and success through his journey, or “the return with the elixir”. (

As an author, J.K. Rowling uses theses situation and character archetypes to engage her readers. Readers are able to deeply connect to the text when some stories elements are similar to universal life experiences. Carl Jung’s idea of archetypes being ancient patterns inherited by all human beings, has been universally used in the story creating process for lifetimes. The archetypes are constant and can be found in literature and also life experience. Understanding the patterns help individuals become better readers and writers. Knowing the function of these literature archetypes, help a reader understand the characters purpose for the overall message. Using the hero’s journey, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone represents a universal human experience of birth, growth, struggling, striving, and dying.

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Archetypal Analysis of Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone. (2021, Aug 02). Retrieved from