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Archetype of the Week: The Orphan

Getting to know your students is paramount in your year being a successful one. That’s one of the reasons why the Diagnostic Essay is important that first week. Pretty soon, you’ll discover who your kids “really” are, and some or many of them might be longing for “the call for adventure.” For those of you teaching literature where loss is involved, you might consider discussing “The Orphan” with your students and tell them at different stages of our lives, we all experience this archetype.
excerpt from “Crossing Thresholds: The Hero Archetype
and an Introduction to the Individuation Process in Homer’s Odyssey.”
By Deborah E. Louis

The disappearance of a parent, whether through death, divorce, war, or self-seeking adventure, leaves a child with what Joseph Campbell describes as an “unsuspected world, and the [child] is drawn into a relationship with forces that are not rightly understood” (51). Activated by abandonment, betrayal, victimization, neglect, or disillusionment, this state of woundedness, according to Carol Pearson, launches the child into a form of the Orphan archetype (83). But one or both parents do not need to be missing in order for someone to experience the Orphan archetype.  According to Pearson, 

[w]henever we feel wounded by an injustice in our lives or an injustice in our society, whenever we realize that this life is not always fair, friends talk behind our backs, people of authority cannot satisfactorily answer our questions, and truths are contingent at best, the Orphan archetype comes to  the forefront. Whenever we lose our idealism, our Innocence, even for a moment, and feel a sense of hopelessness, we are facing our Orphan. (89)

Concerning its place in hero archetypes, the Orphan is a critical stage of a person’s growth and development. Woundedness, too, is an integral part of our human condition and, more importantly, how we deal with that woundedness. According to Pearson,

[t]he gift of the Orphan is to help us acknowledge our wounding and to open enough to share (in places that are safe) our fears, our vulnerabilities, and our wounds. Doing so helps us bond with others out of a grounded, honest, vulnerable place. This provides the bonding that  allows intimacy to happen and also to open the heart so we may learn to be compassionate with ourselves and one another. (92)

While the feelings associated with the Orphan archetype are full of pain and alienation, conversely, according to Pearson, “[t]he gift of the Orphan archetype is [ultimately] a freedom from dependence, a form of interdependent self-reliance. We no longer rely on external authority figures, but rather learn to help ourselves and one another” (85).  Therefore, at some point in our crisis of abandonment is the beginning of the hero’s journey, the “call to adventure.”

Works Cited

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton: Bollingen, 1968.

Louis, Deborah E. “Crossing Thresholds: The Hero Archetype and an Introduction to the Individuation Process in Homer’s Odyssey.” Approaches to Teaching Archetypal and Mythocultural Literature in a Technological World. Dissertation. April 2013.

Pearson, Carol S. Awakening the Heroes Within: Twelve Archetypes to Help Us Find Ourselves and Transform Our World. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991.


Dr. Deborah E. Louis

Ph.D. in Humanities

Dr. Deborah E. Louis' passion for educational excellence began as a classroom teacher. For sixteen years, Deborah taught On-level, Pre-AP®, and Advanced Placement® English Language Arts to secondary students of diverse ethnicities and learning styles. In 2010, Deborah purchased the Jane Schaffer Writing Program®, and along with her non-profit organization, Center for Educational ReVision (CerV®), her goal and that of her national team of experts is to provide the highest quality professional learning and mentoring to teachers in the areas of writing, advanced academics, high-stakes testing, and educational technology. Through webinars, workshops, job-embedded training, and teaching materials, Deborah strives to ReVision the educational system, combining traditional and flipped approaches to professional learning for teachers of grades K-12; and differentiating for Special Education, English Language Learners, and Gifted and Talented. Although her mission takes her all over the United States and abroad, Deborah lives in Dallas, Texas USA. She loves music, dancing, archetypal psychology, and continuous learning opportunities.

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