Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Creating Riveting Romances in Fiction - The Anima/Animus Archetype (Part 1)

Psychological research shows a mere three things are crucial to human happiness, and one of them is love.*

Gods and goddesses of love, passion, fertility, and even marital fidelity appear in the earliest historic writings, and many of the stories that have endured best feature male and female heroes' passionate love affairs. Famous examples include Chr├ętien de Troyes' tale of Queen Guenevere's love affair with Lancelot (c. 1170); Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (1597); and Charles Perrault's Sleeping Beauty (1697).

This basic human need for romantic, sexual, and marital connections is reflected in Carl Jung's anima/animus archetype. In essence, Jung believed there is a psychological construct in males (the anima) that creates a strong draw to the feminine as it's embodied in real women, and a matching construct in females (the animus) that draws them to men. One of the best visual metaphors for the concept is the yin-yang; each of the contrasting halves, one of which refers (in part) to the female and the other to the male, is embedded with a disc of the opposite sex's color.

Losing and Finding One's "Other Half"

"Chemistry," as we now call it, has long been thought of as the need for and recognition of your "other half," and as Jung saw it, this recognition was prompted by the anima or animus. Plato's Symposium, written in 360 BC, provides an explanation for how the need initially developed.

"The original human nature was not like the present, but different. The primeval man was round, his back and sides forming a circle; and he had four hands and four feet, one head with two faces, looking opposite. He could walk upright as men now do, backwards or forwards as he pleased, and he could also roll over and over at a great pace, turning on his four hands and four feet, eight in all, like tumblers going over and over with their legs in the air; this was when he wanted to run fast... [The sexes were not two as they are now, but originally three in number; there was man (made of 2 male parts), woman (made of 2 female parts), and the union of the two (one male and one female part). But the primeval humans] made an attack upon the gods [and Zeus said]: "Methinks I have a plan which will humble their pride and improve their manners; men shall continue to exist, but I will cut them in two. [Apollo] gave a turn to the face and pulled the skin from the sides all over that which in our language is called the belly, which he fastened in a knot (the same which is called the navel).

"After the division the two parts of man, each desiring his other half, came together, and throwing their arms about one another, entwined in mutual embraces, longing to grow into one. Each of us when separated is always looking for his other half.And when one meets with his other half, the actual half of himself, the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and would not be out of the other's sight, as I may say, even for a moment: these are the people who pass their whole lives together. And the reason is that human nature was originally one and we were a whole, and the desire and pursuit of the whole is called love."

What all of this means is that, just like in real life, your characters should be attracted to their love interests for a reason. The potential love interest's traits and behavior must resonate with your hero because they somehow make him or her more whole.

Many writers create love interests that reflect their own ideas of the "perfect" man or woman; the danger is that sometimes we're actually creating love interests for ourselves rather than for our characters. We may assume that everyone would be attracted to the same things we are, and that little explanation is needed to justify why our heroes and heroines would fall for each other. But if your hero or heroine is so universally appealing, 1) Why hasn't s/he been snatched up yet and 2) Why has s/he fallen for this love interest? If the answer to 1 is that s/he's been waiting for the "right one" to come along, 2 is even more important. Also remember that in real life, the people we're most drawn to aren't always the ones who are best for us--sometimes we're so focused on a bad choice that we don't even see Mr. or Ms. Soulmate when s/he wanders by. Scarlett O'Hara's obsession with Ashley is doomed to failure because he can never be what she needs.

And of course, sometimes the people we're most drawn to won't have us, because while they could meet our needs, we don't or can't meet theirs. In the film Gladiator, Commodus is drawn to his sister Lucilla because she represents the purity and kindness he lacks, but he is too flawed for her to truly love in return, even as a brother.

The Anima, the Animus, and the Double

Because Jung didn't address gay and lesbian relationships in the way that the Plato did, the anima/animus archetype is difficult to apply to gay/lesbian relationships. Some modern theorists argue that an archetype they call the Double is responsible for committed same-sex partnerships.

The Double draws us into all relationships with individuals of the same sex, which can range from platonic friendships to love relationships. In other words, the Double helps us find our best same-sex friends as well as love our brothers and fathers (if we're male) and our sisters and mothers (if we're female). Meanwhile, the anima (for men) and the animus (for women) help us find our opposite-sex mates. For those people who were metaphorically cut apart from a same-sex other half, the Double takes over this responsibility as well.

Three Influences on the Anima/Animus

Both the anima and animus are influenced by three things: biology, sociocultural environment, and personal experience.

Biology

Reams of paper have been used to argue which sex is superior to the other, but research demonstrates that men and women are actually equal in terms of their psychological and cognitive (thinking, intelligence) skills--except for one thing. Men significantly outperform women on spatial ability ( i.e. they conceptualize distance, speed, spin, direction, and area better than women, which is believed to have developed because men needed to be able to hit exactly what they aimed at when they threw spears at prey).

From an evolutionary perspective, the differences men and women do have developed because they faced different adaptive problems. The principle of natural selection says that any genetically-influenced characteristic or behavior that contributes to the survival of oneself and one's offspring will eventually become more common in the general population.

For example, imagine all of the dangers our ancestors faced: predators, disease, famine, and long cold winters, just to name a few. Now let's pretend that there are four types of men in this ancient world: men who are fast, men who are strong, men who are smart, and men who have none of these characteristics. When faced with a natural predator like a bear, the fast men may be able to outrun it, the strong men may be able to fight it off, the smart men may be able to outwit it, and the men with none of these characteristics probably don't have a prayer.

Since the men who are fast, smart, or strong live longer, they have more years to produce offspring; they also are better able to hunt down and kill deer, buffalo, and other animals that provide food and furs. Men who then took these food and furs to their wives and children were more likely to have families that survived cold winters, thereby insuring that the man's genetic material stayed in the gene pool. Men who had two or more of the above characteristics (fast, smart, or strong) were more likely to become renowned warriors who led tribes and were therefore able not only to protect, feed, and warm their families, but who also received additional resources and protection from the warriors who served under them.

Now think about the women in this same tribe. The women were often unable to hunt or fight off predators alone, so they needed men to protect them and bring them resources to aid survival. (Imagine a woman who's 8 months pregnant chasing down a deer or fighting off a cougar and you'll see what I mean--feminism works much better in a world that equalizes physical differences.) If these women were attracted to men who had neither strength nor speed nor intelligence, they were more likely to be left unprotected and without food and warmth; therefore, they and their children were more likely to die prematurely. Likewise, women who were uninterested in caring for their offspring were likely to lose those children, thereby removing their own genetic material from the gene pool. (With our modern perspective, we tend to want to imagine these women and children getting assistance from the rest of the tribe, but when food was so scarce survival was in question, each family would have had to put its own needs first.)

Because men's hunting and fighting ability was so important, men convert energy to muscle more easily than women, experience faster healing of wounds and bruises, have fewer nerve endings in their skin (which makes their bodies less sensitive to touch and pain), and have excellent spatial skills (ability to think in three dimensions) that helped them shoot arrows and throw spears. Since they could never be absolutely sure that the children their partners carried were theirs, jealousy made them protect their wives from other men's sexual access. Because only young, healthy women can have babies, men who were attracted to these kinds of women were more likely to pass on their genetic material than men who were attracted infertile diseased women!

Women convert energy into stored fat, which is necessary to carry healthy offspring (women who are very thin often lose the ability to have children; some scientists believe that industrialized nations have higher infertility rates because women strive to keep their body fat and weight so low). They also have a stronger resistance to infection, have more acute senses of vision, hearing, smell, and taste so they can take better care of their children and find dangers like rotten food.

Women are better at reading body language and emotional expressions, which helped them figure out which men were truthful about being committed (this is actually why women analyze their relationships to death and men don't). They also have stronger verbal skills, which helped them get along in the community with other women, and better verbalize the need for help or medicinal remedies. Women also tend to be attracted to strong, masculine men who are of high status and have plenty of resources. This is why young, attractive women often end up with rich older men.

These differences have been encoded into our genes at the physical level, but Jung lived decades before David Buss' extensive research into this kind of evolutionary psychology. What that means is that Jung probably would have believed the idealized "masculine" or "feminine" was imprinted on the "psychic DNA" of the collective unconscious rather than the literal, physical DNA of our bodies.

Rather than seeing that as negation of the anima/animus archetype, we have to remember that the archetypes are psychological echoes of different parts of human nature, many of which are influenced by biology. The persona (putting on a "face" others will like) is underlain by a social instinct that led our ancestors to develop "packs" to fight off predators; the shadow is underlain by aggressive and often sexual instincts; and the anima and animus are psychic manifestations of biological attraction and mating instincts.

Sociocultural Environment

Different cultures value different things. Growing up, we're indoctrinated into our culture by learning that, for example, N is for Nurse (who's female), D is for Doctor (who's male), and T is for teacher (who's female). And just try finding an advertisement that has a little boy using a toy vacuum or a little girl in a room with footballs on her sheets.

Some people argue that gender is a social construction--that is, the greatest differences between men and women exist because we act like they're there. Myths, fairy tales, religion, art, and all of the other cultural images to which we're exposed help us build our understanding of what is male and what is female.

For example, Cinderella, the Virgin Mary, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Katherine Hepburn, and Angelina Jolie all teach us different things about what it means to be feminine. Likewise, King Arthur, James Dean, Steve McQueen, Al Pacino, and Adam Sandler all teach us different things about what it means to be masculine.

Individual Experience

Both anima and animus are affected by the relationships we saw between our primary caregivers (traditionally the mother and father), and the interactions we have with the same and opposite sex. As we grow, each of us forms a kind of blueprint of how the world works. We incorporate things like our parents' relationships and values, and their beliefs about relationships and sex.

These caregivers serve as doorways to the masculine and feminine in the collective unconscious. We come to understand what it means to be masculine (information contained in the animus) through our male caregivers and what it means to be feminine (information stored in the anima) through the feminine qualities embodied by our female caregivers.

Notes

* The other two are a/ satisfying work and b/ personality, most notably the qualities of high self-esteem, extraversion, and optimism.

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TEASER for ANIMA/ANIMUS PART II: When we write, we often focus on watching our characters fall in love without thinking about what happens after the "happily ever after." Given the 50% divorce rate in the United States, a lot of us like to leave our characters in a blissful state and pretend they'll never face the struggles we do in our real-life partnerships. But research shows that there are a few very specific behaviors that will make or break a marriage; by focusing on these things alone, researchers can predict whether a marriage will last with 96% accuracy!

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