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An archetype essentially refers to an original model that finds manifestation in various later forms.  

Defining archetype

An archetype is a perfect example of something; the original pattern or model which all other things of the same type are based on. The word is derived from the Greek archein “to begin or lead” and typos “type;” its first known use was in 1545. An archetype can be an idea or kind of thought about something that is present in the subconscious mind. In the literary world, archetype refers to an original image, pattern of events, or character that appears again and again in literature. Synonyms for archetype are: antecedent, ancestor, forerunner, precursor, predecessor, and prototype.


As a literary device, an archetype is a typical character, character action, or character situation that represents a universal human nature pattern. It can be a universal symbol, character, theme, or setting. In literary criticism, archetypes are often used to shape the function and internal structure of a literary work, or are referred to in the process of a work’s critique.

Common archetypes in literature include the heroine or hero, the mother figure, and the innocent youth.

Archetype is often used in writing to present the perfect example of a successful human being, as in the following example: “She is the archetype of a modern industrial business leader.” 

Archetype can refer to a person, place, or thing, as well, and is not limited to descriptions of people, although it is most often used in reference to people. Another example of its use is: “The car was the archetype of 1960s expensive sports cars.”

Archetype in the medical field

In addition to the definition and literary definitions above, the word archetype is also used frequently in the medical world, both in the areas of psychology and general medicine.

Carl Jung, a famous Swiss psychiatrist, classified archetypes as models upon which the behaviors and personalities of people were based. In Jung’s model of the human mental process (the psyche), the mind was composed of the ego, the personal unconscious, and the collective unconscious. The ego is the conscious mind that we are always aware of, the personal unconscious holds all our memories, and the collective unconscious holds all the knowledge and experiences human beings have had during their existence. An archetype, then, is built from the collective unconscious, or species memories, and modern-day personalities are based on it.

In medicine, an archetype is a general model or pattern of structure based on a group of plants or animals. Another way to describe an archetype in medicine is as a typical specimen. The archetype is a specific characteristic of the ancestral animal or plant from which the modern-day plant or animal is derived.

An archetype is also the basic component of electronic health records (EHR) system architecture in web development, and allows clinicians and domain experts to design standard clinical content specification. Every EHR archetype is a computable specification for one clinical concept. This concept is inclusive of all specific data elements imaginable. The definition of an EHR archetype is broad in order to share the term across varied healthcare and clinical scenarios.

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