Best-selling fiction, theater, and film often employ plotlines that introduce us to archetypal patterns that address problems we and other people are facing. For example, many people worldwide today suffer from isolation, loneliness, alienation, and society is changing so quickly that many have difficulty thriving within cultural contexts they feel unprepared for or even resist. So it is no surprise that groups feud with one another.
Perhaps that is why people still flock to performances of Shakespeare’s comedies. He too lived in a time of rapid change (as so many times are). His comedies were humorous, even slapstick at times, but also dealt with serious disorder and discord to achieve a happy ending. Beyond that, they provided a Lover archetype pattern for moving from dissension to authentic, right new order, where the people meant for each other marry, family and social feuds are resolved, and community is restored.
In these plays, the major characters have to leave the confines of their society’s norms and rules to go to the woods or get washed up onto an island so that they can throw off habitual ways of thinking. There, some wear disguises, but all have been playing assigned cultural roles, as we do today if we substitute our image or even our brand our true selves. When a wise character reveals the truth with transformational effect, disguises are thrown off and traditional roles abandoned so that the happy ending can be achieved for all.
Fredrik Backman’s Contemporary Update
Internationally acclaimed Swedish author Fredrik Backman’s novels and their video adaptations update this archetypal pattern for our time in fiction that can have you laughing one moment and crying the next, as they do not shy away from current realities like suicide, addition, and crimes motivated by despair. His books, such as A Man Called Ove, AnxiousPeople, and Britt-Marie Was Here, provide fictional examples of how this same serious/comic pattern plays out in compassionate actions so needed today.
Comedies with Jester Lightness: Ove and Britt-Marie are thrown out of the world of status and pretense into the woods of emptiness. Ove’s wife dies and he loses his job, yet his bossy angry old man stance is funny. Britt-Marie is left by her husband and is friendless, and her obsession with cleaning also is comic. In Anxious People, the unnamed woman known only as the Bank Robber was left by her husband for her boss, who then fired her, yet her ineptness as a criminal is hilarious.
All these characters are throwbacks to an older world, have few skills to succeed in a contemporary context, and initially are comic stereotypes, their genuine selves disguised from the reader. The masked robber’s hostages had come to check out a condo they might want to buy, and so compete with one another. Among them is a man in a rabbit suit paid to scare others away so that the couple who remain could get a better deal.
However, as hostages they bond and pass the time by sharing truths they would not ordinarily share, even with their life partners,
In a situation in your life, how might you mentally take a light approach, imagining your circumstance as capable of leading to happy outcomes, and then throw off your roles and disguises to communicate more clearly with others involved?
Finding the Lover Archetype Within: In reality, each of Backman’s seemingly stereotypical characters is living out aspects of the Lover archetypal experience. Ove is mourning the loss of the wife he loves with all his heart and seeks death to be reunited with her. Britt-Marie starts out expressing the pleaser side of the Lover archetype, allowing first her mother and then her husband to make her a servant, responsible for domestic duties only. The Bank Robber is a mom desperate to be with her daughters, needing money for rent to qualify to have co-custody of them.
The Lover resolution of all these plot challenges occurs because people share more honestly and begin to show greater compassion for themselves and one another.
Consider what and who you love deeply and explore what others do to discover the motivations behind what might seem like anachronistic or unreasonable actions.
Magician Unsung Heroes: The unsung heroes who begin to see through so much falsehood are unlikely figures who perceive deeper realities beneath outward appearances and thus can transform what happens. Ove’s new immigrant neighbor in his working-class neighborhood of isolated people continually interrupts Ove’s suicide attempts by getting him to help others, which begins to make him a valued part of a community.
A low-level government job placement worker places Britt-Marie in a temporary position that utilizes her domestic talents in a more modern context, so she updates her skills and increases her self-confidence.
The elderly woman showing her condo to potential buyers in Anxious People sees through the Bank Robber’s mask and gun to recognize that she is just a terrified young woman, not a terrifying criminal; engages a wise older policeman on the case to help, and organizes the hostages/condo seekers to work together to free this woman. She later invites her and her children to live with her.
Think about how you might be such an unsung hero by seeing yourself, others, and your situation differently, trying out alternative storylines in doing so.
Community formed: In these three books, more and more characters drop their roles, show up as who they are, and begin helping others, engaging with and forming a compassionate community. In Anxious People, especially, Backman also reveals hidden connections between many of the major characters, including the father and son policemen and their drug-addicted daughter/sister. The son also connects with other characters, all of whom share unfinished business with an earlier suicide that they might have helped cause or failed to prevent. Such synchronicities (meaningful coincidences) are so healing for all concerned that they seem magical.
Explore how you can promote mutuality and community while also noticing seeming coincidences that might support your effort.
Conclusion: Any of us might find ourselves feeling lost and alone and/or care about others who are. We can go into the “woods” by stepping out of our posturing and throwing aside our masks.
We can show love and transform lives by speaking our truths and by recognizing and encouraging strengths—our own and those of others—and using them to help others and restore community so desperately needed in the world around us today.
For more information on the Jester, Lover, and Magician archetypes, go to my book What Stories Are You Living? Discover Your Archetypes – Transform Your Life! For more details about this helpful pattern, check out Backman’s novels.
Backman, Fredrik. A Man Called Ove: A Novel. Amsterdam, Netherlands, Atria Books; July 15, 2014.
Backman, Fredrik. Anxious People. Amsterdam, Netherlands, Atria Books, 2021.
Backman, Fredrik. Britt-Marie Was Here. Amsterdam, Netherlands, Atria Books, 2016.