Analyzing The Simpsons w/ Jungian Archetypes

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Analyzing The Simpsons w/ Jungian Archetypes

Post  nickyewener on Sun Jan 30, 2011 12:19 pm

Analyzing The Simpsons with Jungian Archetypes
By Nicky Ewener


Summary
The Simpsons is the longest-running prime time animated TV series, running for over 20 years and with over 400 episodes to its credit (although 200 of which are admittedly unbearable). The Simpsons is about a dysfunctional family of the same name, who are Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie. Their adventures range from the ordinary, like “Bart Gets An F”, to the absurd, like “Bart Vs. Australia” (in which the Prime Minister tries to boot him).

Because of The Simpsons’ longevity and popularity, it’s no surprise many of us have our own favorite quote or episode. A whole generation has grown up watching it every week and the series has built a large fan base. What makes the show memorable is its use of the running images of western culture, which often take the form of archetypes.

Situational Archetypes
The episode “El Viaje Misterioso de Jomer” (“The Mysterious Voyage of Homer”) is set around the archetype of the Journey. After getting into a fight with his wife, Marge, Homer descends into a mind-altered state (caused by his ingestion of candle wax and potent Guatemalan peppers). In this psychological hell, Homer meets a mystical coyote who acts as his mentor, by telling him the purpose of his journey. The coyote forces Homer to consider the blackest truths about his self – the possibility that perhaps Marge is not his true soulmate. Homer then roams the city in search of the one who completes him – his anima, in that sense – but to no avail.

What breaks Homer out of his psychological hell is love, and it re-establishes the fact that Marge is his anima. He comes to the realization that Marge is his soulmate, after she locates him at the lighthouse using only her intimate knowledge of him, like his fondness for blinking lights.

Symbolic Archetypes
The archetype of Heaven vs. Hell is used in several episodes of The Simpsons, inserting a moral core into the multi-layered series. God and the Devil are practically recurring characters; they speak directly to members of the Simpson family. Homer’s appetites and desires are typically responsible for bringing evil into the household, but his family and friends will guide him the right way by the end.

In the episode “Homer Vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment” Homer gets an illegal cable hook-up, which Marge identifies as an “evil presence” in the house for its dividing influence on the family. Lisa believes not paying for cable is wrong, citing the 8th commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Steal”. In a memorable scene, she imagines the walls melting into flames and the Devil seated with her family in front of the cable, inviting her to join them. Lisa is concerned for Homer’s soul, but he is only concerned with the immediate satisfaction he gets from the cable – his new channels and the newfound popularity it brings him. Ultimately, it is Lisa’s unhappiness that sways Homer’s conscience and he cuts the cable connection. Good has prevailed, and Homer’s soul is saved, according to Lisa.

In a similar episode, “Homer the Heretic”, Homer decides to stop going to church because he has a better time at home (breaking another commandment, “Keep the Sabbath Holy”). His behavior distresses Marge and the community, but nothing bad happens to him, so he assumes he can carry on. His behavior also brings about the attention of God, who visits him in a dream and sanctions his new faith.

When he is left alone next Sunday, his cigar ignites a pile of dirty magazines and his house is set on fire. Homer is overcome by a hell of his own doing, the symbolism is fairly explicit, but is rescued by the neighbors he offended. In this case, fire acted as a destroyer and then purifier, as Homer then decides to return to church.


Character Archetype
In the episode “Bart’s Girlfriend”, Bart falls in love with Jessica Lovejoy, who takes on archetype of the Temptress (a bit of foreshadowing: the sign on the church reads, “Evil Women in History: From Jezebel to Janet Reno”). Jessica is very beautiful, and it is this superficial attraction that immediately draws Bart to her. He is even willing to change is immediate persona to impress her – he mistakes her for good, because she is the Reverend’s daughter, and tries to pretend that he is the same. However, he soon discovers it is his bad boy persona which she prefers.

It often seems as if Bart has no conscience, though he actually has a strong sense of family, and values his reputation. He realizes Jessica has him down a very dangerous path, acting in ways even he finds reprehensible.

Fulfilling the role of the Temptress, Jessica is responsible for Bart’s downfall. Bart then takes on the role of the Outcast when the townspeople blame him for Jessica’s crime – stealing the church collection plate. They persecute him without evidence. Jessica is happy to let Bart take the blame, and he does not rat her out.

He is soon exonerated with his sister’s help, but Jessica never learns her lesson, it is only reaffirmed that she has the ability to manipulate boys. At the end of the episode she has Bart washing the church steps for her.

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The Simpsons - the Devil Figure

Post  Misha2828 on Sun Jan 30, 2011 2:27 pm


You mentioned how the devil and God are practically recurring characters, and I completely agree with you on that. So, even though it’s obvious, I thought it was appropriate to mention that the devil is quite literally the devil figure. It is most obvious to me in Treehouse of Horror IV: The Devil and Homer Simpson. In the episode, Carl and Lenny eat all of the doughnuts while Homer is asleep at work. When he wakes up and finds all the nearest doughnuts gone, Homer sells his soul for a doughnut by signing a contract with the devil. The devil figure is an evil incarnate who offers worldly goods, fame or knowledge to the protagonist in exchange for possession of his soul. Even though doughnuts wouldn't quite be classified as either of the three, the devil comes to Homer in the form of Ned Flanders and Homer sells him his soul. Again, I know it's obvious, but it applies.

Good job on your analysis. I found it really successful.
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Unhealable Wound and Trickster

Post  kara on Sun Jan 30, 2011 4:50 pm

Nice Review!

I also found another Situational Archetype; "The Unhealable Wound". Jung defines this as a "physical or psychological wound that cannot be healed fully. This wound also indicates a loss of innocence. These wounds always ache and often drive the sufferer to desperate measures". In the Simpsons, this wound is seen in Moe Szyslak, owner of Homer's favourite bar, Moe's Tavern. Moe suffers from acute loneliness. This loneliness causes suicidal and homicidal tendencies and anger issues which certainly suggest a loss of innocence. In addition, this loneliness drives Moe to desperate measures, such as trying to steal Marge away from Homer.

The Character Archeytpe "The Trickster" is seen in Bart. The Trickster's role is generally "to make trouble". This Bart certainly does. For example, Bart frequently prank calls Moe at the Tavern. Because of this example, and the countless other pranks that Bart plays, Bart fits into Jung's "Trickster" archetype.

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Re: Analyzing The Simpsons w/ Jungian Archetypes

Post  Maddy Bouchard on Sun Jan 30, 2011 7:12 pm

I would like to add another outcast character in the Simpson's. The outcast is someone who "is banished from a social group. The outcast is usually destined to become a wanderer from place to place." Ralph in this TV series suits this role very well. Ralph is the son of Police chief Wiggum and is in Lisa`s class. Ralph is best knows for his random and bizzar statements as well as his odd behaviour. Ralph has no friends and Bart is sometimes forced by his parents to hang out with him which he really does not want to do. Ralph is a typical basket case and is usually a wanderer in the episodes he appears in. In the episode "I love Lisa," (season 4 episode 15), Lisa notices that no one has given Ralph a valentine card for valentines day. She then gives him one out of pity. Ralph gets the wrong idea and to Lisa`s horror becomes attracted to her. She confesses to him she never liked him but they still manage to be friendly to one another in the end. This episode is a good example to show how much of an outcast Ralph is.

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Re: Analyzing The Simpsons w/ Jungian Archetypes

Post  Ajan Thunder on Mon Jan 31, 2011 4:31 pm

I'm guessing this review is on the series as a whole. With that said, in the series, would Homer be considered "the father" or the "dark father" or both? He seems to occasionally ruin the life of his family and friends yet at other times does the exact opposite. He shows glimpses of being a good husband, father, and role model. At other times, he shows his drunkenness, stupidity, and extremely poor decision making based on the needs of himself over others. I can't decide for myself where to put him as in terms of classification as an archetype, so I thought to post this as food for thought.

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The Simpsons

Post  Graham Mansfield on Wed Feb 02, 2011 10:57 am

Another character archetype that could be applied to The Simpsons is 'The Temptress'. In and episode that I am unable to remember the name of, Homer goes on a business trip with a sexy new co-worker named Mindy. She is a very pretty woman, and though Homer is married, he is very attracted to Mindy. One night after Homer receives a fortune cookie that tells him he will find happiness with a new love, he decides that to battle his inner emotions would be futile and that they will end up having sex. Homer does not have sex with Mindy, but it is clear that his attraction to her was strong.

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Feedback

Post  Mr. C on Sun Feb 06, 2011 11:40 am

Nicky - great analysis. I especially loved your hint at Frye's literary theory as well Smile It seems that the girl tempting Bart could also be a Great Whore, eh? (Assuming little girls can be GWs...I suppose they can in The Simpsons). It is interesting that you point out how much God and the Devil figure in to what is an essentially ironic sitcom. Clearly there are good vs. evil archetypes that apply. I also liked that you mentioned that half the episodes are somewhat tortuous to experience, but of course, our addiction to this dysfunctional family usually prevails Smile

Great additions from everyone else. Given the breadth of this television show, I am sure we could exhaust Jung himself with our communal analysis of it.
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