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Islands and transformation: An archetypal pattern in Western literature

Edward John Federenko, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation proposes the castaway and the island experience as a parallel to the hero and the hero's journey as a metaphor for what C. G. Jung has called the individuation process. The island setting as a site for the spiritual, emotional, or psychological transformation of a character has remained a constant in Western literature from Homer to E. Annie Proulx. The typical island story involves a character in many, if not all, of the following: removal to a remote island; awakening to, and taking stock of, strange surroundings; initial setbacks followed by increasing adaptation; spiritual, emotional, or psychological growth due specifically to island experiences; a climactic event which challenges growing feelings of wholeness; and escape and return to the home society in a much-altered state. Drawing on over fifty fictional works, I trace the influence of the island on the castaway story in terms of six archetypes: wanderer, hermit, artist, magician, king, and hero. Jung refers to the influence on the psyche of certain places and situations when he says that "only in the region of danger (watery abyss, cavern, forest, island, castle, etc.) can one find the "treasure hard to attain" (jewel, virgin, life-potion, victory over death)" (Collected Works 12:438). But the specific workings of the archetypal place as agent of change receives less than full elaboration in Jung's work; Jung was concerned primarily with describing archetypal figures and their effect on individuation. This dissertation attempts to extend that concern by considering how the archetypal setting inspires human transformation. The conclusion I draw from examining the function of these six archetypes in island fiction is that they are given impetus by the island setting because of the island's remoteness from the castaway's home society and the island's isolation from all other societies. Jung notes that a particular kind of psychic energy flourishes in isolation resulting in "an animation of the psychic atmosphere, as a substitute for loss of contact with other people" (CW 12:57). The island--a kind of incubator--exerts a more active influence on a character's growth in island fiction than has hitherto been acknowledged.

Subject Area

Comparative literature

Recommended Citation

Federenko, Edward John, "Islands and transformation: An archetypal pattern in Western literature" (1996). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9709593.