Jungian criticism: A type of literary criticism based on the theories of Carl Jung, a twentieth-century Swiss psychiatrist who was originally a disciple of Sigmund Freud. Jung later developed his own theory of analytical psychology, a theory that differs markedly from the psychoanalytic theory of Freud and that has had a distinctly different effect on literary criticism. Freud focused on the individual unconscious and its manifestations; Jung identified and concentrated on a collective unconscious that, he claimed, is universally shared by people across cultures. In works such as “The Concept of the Collective Unconscious” (1936) and “Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious” (1954), Jung posited that the collective unconscious contains racial memories and archetypes, primordial images and patterns, that reflect the elemental content of human experience from its earliest beginnings.
Like Freud, Jung applied his psychoanalytic theory to literature, suggesting that the works that speak to generation after generation express the archetypes and racial memories contained in the collective unconscious. According to Jung’s theory, great authors are great largely because they can tap into the elemental grounds of the human psyche and transcribe its contents for the reader, and classics have universal appeal because they harness the collective unconscious much like myths that transcend individual cultures. For further discussion of Jungian theory and examples of Jungian criticism, see Jungian Literary Criticism (1992), edited by Richard P. Sugg. Jungian theory has had a particularly strong influence on archetypal criticism and myth criticism.