Archetypal stories have survived and been passed down through the ages in every culture. What is it about archetypes that appeal to the human psyche? Perhaps it is as Carl Jung says: all humans plug into the “collective unconscious” and archetypes are a part of that which makes us human. Archetypal stories and characters are always realistic and similar to what every day people go through in their lives. The reader finds pleasure and entertainment through stories showing exploits that one day, they just might experience for themselves. Archetypes, be they subtle or obvious, are an essential part of literature. This story uses the hero archetype to demonstrate the importance of loyalty and the justice that exists in society.
In this story, the archetype around which all the others revolve is the hero archetype. The story begins with the destruction of Kuo Jing’s home and the motive behind the murder of Kuo Shao and the abduction of Kuo Yun. However, Kuo Jing knows none of this as he is growing up, his parents and origins remaining somewhat of a mystery until his 11th year. An important quality in Kuo Jing is his loyalty to his family. He remembers nothing of his father and mother, yet he commits fifteen years of his life to avenge a dead man and find his mother. In the Chinese culture, it is believed that when one’s ancestors pass on to the other realm, their spirits watch from above and can intervene in the world of the living. Respect for one’s ancestors is very important to the Chinese people, and Kuo Jing’s quest to avenge his father’s death is a form of respect for his father’s memory. A part of Kuo Jing’s nature is his mercy and good heart. The hero must be a good person in order to get the reader on his side. Kuo Jing learns from his master to listen to his superego and control his id. His quest is a combination of the two elements, for what he wants will also benefit society.
Kuo Jing’s quest, in itself an archetype, is a very lofty goal for an eleven year old boy. To even consider challenging a high ranked and accomplished general of the enemy is a frightening prospect. However, this ties in again with his duty to his father. He never questions or doubts the need to take revenge on the man that did ill to his father, for it is his responsibility to be loyal to the family name. Many obstacles stand in the way of his goal, but he perseveres to the end. His youth and inexperience put him at a definite disadvantage to the general. However, they also serve as an advantage because his youthful enthusiasm allows him to continue without discouragement and his energy eventually gives him the edge over the general.
The last component of the hero archetype is the victory after the final confrontation. The most difficult part for the hero in this story is the lead up to the final confrontation. All the preparation and arrangements in order to meet the general take years, whereas the actual confrontation lasts only hours. Though it is a grueling experience, it is one that is easily resolved, for it depends only on the skill and endurance of each individual. As in all archetypal stories, the hero succeeds in his quest and lives happily ever after.
The mentor and father archetype are similar and often parallel. Two characters, Chu Yuan and the martial arts master, can potentially fit both of these archetypes. The mentor is one of the key helpers in the development of the hero. Chu Yuan who nurtures and acts as a surrogate father for Kuo Jing teaches by example and simply by the way life he leads with the Kuo Jing. Kuo Jing learns the value of hard work by toiling in the fields every day and seeing the results when winter comes and they can live and eat comfortably when others are starving. Chu Yuan’s most important function during this story is the role of the explainer and source of information. It is Chu Yuan that first reveals to Kuo Jing the whole story of his past and his ancestry. This is the incident that sets Kuo Jing off on his quest. The more obvious mentor is the master of the wood. He not only teaches Kuo Jing the physical skills necessary for martial arts but also the mental side of the art. He explains the role that martial artists must play in society and believes in individual responsibility. Martial artists are more enlightened than the peasants; therefore one must be responsible for those that do not have natural talent.
This storyline follows the typical vindication plot structure. The main character is wronged by his enemy and he must seek revenge for past deeds. However, the reader must keep in mind that this story is not about revenge. Revenge carries negative connotations of being spiteful or malicious. Kuo Jing seeks to avenge his father not out of anger but out of justice. He wholeheartedly believes that seeking out the general in order to fight him and reclaim his mother is his duty to his father’s memory. Though Kuo Jing is undoubtedly angry at the general, he shows his mature perspective on the situation when he allows the general to live and metes out only a slight punishment for the immense wrong he suffered. Though the story itself follows the structure of the revenge archetype, the attitudes toward this revenge are totally different.
All people are drawn towards the good, the just, and the honorable. Heroes from every culture are similar in that they possess these key traits. This is what marks them as heroes. It is not the hero’s deeds that impress the reader most but the motivation behind those actions that show who they truly are. The reader must be able to tell that the hero is genuine and that his beliefs can coincide with his actions. The heroes of fairy tales and novels may seem beyond the reach of normal people, but in reality, each and every person is a hero in some way. Though our goals may not be so lofty, nor our challenges so severe, human lives are a string of obstacles and conflicts. As negative as they may seem, life would not go on without them. Heroes in stories exist because they are what we envision ourselves to be.