In terms of usage, is it fair to say that an archetype is a broader description of a class than a stereotype?

Here’s a reference to the usage of archetype becoming blurry in my mind.

Mindy Kaling, in a New York Times article called “Flick Chicks”, describes different types of women characters who show up repeatedly in chick flicks. At one point, she refers to the Woman-Who-Runs-An-Art-Gallery type as a film archetype yet her description of this archetypal character is quite one dimensional. Would stereotype be a better term for these chick flick “archetypes”? The piece has a satirical tone, so I do admit that she overstates at times for effect.

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    First related question on the right → – RegDwigнt Nov 13 '12 at 10:20
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    We wish all of X would be like the X archetype. We regret far too many X are like the X stereotype. – SF. Nov 13 '12 at 15:35
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    I think you're confusing the terms because the archetype female gallery owner film role is also a stereotype of a modern woman. As long as the author doesn't refer to real life women the term archetype is correct. Mind you it's not easy to shelve feelings about steretypes when confronted with Hollywood shallow archetype characters. It's brain rot material and shouldn't be taken so seriously (by the author). – Chris Nov 13 '12 at 16:01
  • I might have said the Woman-Who-Runs-An-Art-Gallery is a trope or cliché i.e a common or overused theme or device : cliché <the usual horror movie tropes> – Mari-Lou A Jun 3 '15 at 7:11

From OED:

archetype - the original pattern or model from which copies are made; a prototype ... an assumed ideal pattern.

stereotype - a preconceived and oversimplified idea of the characteristics which typify a person, situation, etc.; an attitude based on such a preconception. Also, a person who appears to conform closely to the idea of a type.

I think there are two key differences here...

  1. Archetype is normally a pre-existing model, from which future copies/examples are created. Stereotype is a "conceptual model" created by abstracting the key features of current examples.

  2. Archetype is normally a positive description (but sometimes it may be simply a neutral term). Stereotype is invariably negative/pejorative. It's rarely neutral, and almost never positive.

It seems to me OP is already aware of that difference. He wants to call his example a stereotype rather than an archetype because the portrayal is "quite one dimensional". The implication is he sees the assessment as oversimplified, rather than accurately embodying the salient features.


I remember the meaning of prototype, stereotype, and archetype like this:

the primitive, representative, and ideal forms (in that order) of whatever being discussed.


Kaling has correctly identified that there is a "female gallery owner" archetype that may be represented in slightly different ways in a number of films. Your inference that this particular interpretation is not a well-rounded character might lead you to describe that one instance as a stereotypical portrayal.

But that does not mean that every "Woman Who Runs An Art Gallery" will be portrayed in that way. Meryl Streeep might take a character clearly derived from the same archetype and deliver a nuanced portrayal of a realistic individual; far from the stereotypical.

The two words can be applied simultaneously to different elements of the characterisation.


Damkerng is right. A prototype is primitive because it is the first of its kind that you see. A stereotype is representative because it is what you see the most often, and an archetype is what you want to see, it is the ideal form of the kind.

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