Jungian Archetypes in Goodfellas

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Jungian Archetypes in Goodfellas

Post  janealicek on Tue Jan 25, 2011 6:21 pm

Jungian Archetypes applied to Goodfellas

Goodfellas is an American gangster film that tells the story of Henry Hill, who ever since he was a young boy wanted to be a part of the mafia. In his youth he begins to work for a mafia family, parking cars at the local cabstand. However as he grows older he begins to assist the family in other ways. Eventually Henry is accepted into the family and becomes a gangster himself. As Henry earns more and more money for himself, he begins to sell cocaine without the knowledge or consent of his mafia boss. Henry reaches his downfall when he is caught by the police and is forced to “rat” on his fellow gangsters. Jungian archetypes can be applied to both characters, and the plot of this film.

Jungian character archetypes can be clearly seen in the character of Henry Hill The Devil Archetype can be applied to Henry and his relationships with others. Firstly, Henry’s relationship with the mafia is similar to the relationship between a protagonist and the devil. In exchange for knowledge, goods, fame, and specifically in this case the security of being apart of a mafia family, Henry must sell his soul. In this context the soul represents absolute loyalty to his fellow gangsters. In times of prosperity he enjoys all the perks of the gangster life and the comfort of belonging to a tight knit family. However, when he finds himself in jail and no longer able to supply money or goods to the mafia, he and is family are abandoned. Finally, when Henry is either forced to “rat” the mafia out or face a life long sentence in a federal prison; the devil archetypal roles change. Now Henry must sell his soul to the FBI in exchange for his freedom. In this context the soul literally represents his life. Once he betrays the mafia he and his family are in danger of being killed. As well, Henry’s relationship with his wife, Karen, has aspects of the devil archetype. When Karen meets Henry she is seduced by the gangster lifestyle. However, when they marry she gives up her life to be with Henry. In exchange for wealth and power, which Karen has when with Henry, she gives him her soul. This means that she is forced to stay with him through the good and the bad, and becomes caught up in the chaotic and destructive lifestyle. Henry is also seen as The Outcast when he joins the witness protection program, after testifying against his fellow gangsters. The Outcast is a person who is banished from a social group due to a crime against his fellow man. Henry becomes an outcast after he is banished from the mafia for both selling cocaine behind their backs and then betraying them to the police.

Situational archetypes are also found in the film. The fall is represented in Henry’s own rise and fall in the mafia. This archetype shows the fall from a higher to a lower state of being. When Henry is at the highest point in his career as a gangster, he feels like he is above the rest of society. He can have whatever he wants whenever he wants and does not have to follow any rules. Henry’s fall from this state takes place when he betrays his mafia family. In Jungian archetypal imagery, the fall is followed by expulsion from a kind of paradise. Henry is expelled from the life he had, which in his own eyes was a heavenly paradise. His betrayal can be seen as a form of disobedience because ever since belonging to the mafia, he was constantly told to never betray his family. The symbolic archetypes, Death and rebirth are seen at the end of the film when Henry leaves his gangster life. His death is symbolized by his betrayal, and he is then reborn into an ordinary life as an average nobody. Although death and rebirth are usually seen as positive for a character in this context, Henry misses his past life and is unhappy with the new life he has been forced into.

A symbolic archetype, which can be applied to the film, is Light vs. Dark. This is seen in all of the members of the mafia in two ways. Firstly, the members of the mafia perform certain tasks when “working”, which include killing and stealing. This can be associated with darkness. But they balance this darkness with their roles as family men, which can be seen as light. They are extremely loyal to their family, which includes both blood relations and their fellow gangsters. These contrasting roles are similar to the contrast between light and darkness. Symbolic archetypal imagery is also seen in Henry’s character arc. When he is earning well for himself and his family he feels hope and happiness, which are associated with lights. However, when he is in jail and has no money, despair and fear of what lies ahead (the unknown) are prevalent themes which are associated with darkness.


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Jimmy Conway character archetype - Madeleine Ganly

Post  mganly on Sat Jan 29, 2011 1:15 pm

Jimmy Conway exhibits aspects of the archetype of the Outcast. Jimmy Conway is somewhat of an outcast from a social group (the Mafia). Jimmy's "crime" is his Irish blood. It is because of Jimmy's Irish blood that he can never become a "made man" in the Mafia. Jimmy can never be fully integrated into this social group. He will always remain somewhat of an outcast. Jimmy also embodies the archetype of the Mentor. Jimmy Conway bestows knowledge on Henry Hill after Henry gets "pinched" for the first time. The knowledge Jimmy bestows on Henry will become a code for Henry to live by. Jimmy also gets Henry involved in the Lufthansa Heist and many other "jobs". Every time Jimmy involves Henry in a "job" he bestows more knowledge on Henry and gives Henry valuable experience. Jimmy also possesses traits of the Wise Old Man. Jimmy acts as a kind of father figure to Henry when he is younger. Jimmy also uses his own personal experience to guide Henry. The Wise Old Man is often portrayed as being "foreign", from another time, culture or even inhuman. Jimmy Conway, not being a full-blooded Italian, stands out in the Mafia as being foreign. The Wise Old Man is usually removed from the hero's life for a period of time in order for the hero to develop on his own. When Henry is sent to prison Jimmy is removed from Henry's life until Henry is released.


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Post  Mr. C on Sun Feb 06, 2011 1:19 pm

Jane - a great film and a great analysis. I loved your observation that essentially this a Faust story - that is, Henry Hills sells his soul to the Devil for a "heavenly" lifestyle. But what makes it even a stronger analysis (and more ironic) is that the Devil is both the Mafia AND the FBI! Hill can't win. Well done.

Mimi - A wonderful addition about Jimmy and his several character archetypes!
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