Sometimes, all we need is someone to give us unconditional love.
Cue the Caregiver, originally known as the Mother. This person will offer their heart openly and willingly, and extend whatever energies they can to help the hero succeed on their quest. Quick to forgive and encourage, the Caregiver offers characters weary from a long period of strain a welcome respite, in the form of companionship, health care, or emotional support. Sometimes, it is the presence of the Caregiver, or even the memory of that Caregiver, that keeps those that would otherwise fall from giving up. Because not all is bad in the world, and if nothing else, their love is a certainty.
As I have mentioned in prior posts in this series, this collection of posts deals with the archetypes first put forth by psychiatrist Carl Jung, and the use of these archetypes in fiction. Every post deals with the motivations, character profiles, and Shadows (or negatives) of each archetype. This week is the final of the Ego types: the Caregiver.
THE TWELVE ARCHETYPES
Also known as the altruist, saint, helper, and parent, the Caretaker is the archetype that is energized and fulfilled by taking care of others.
The Caregiver is moved by compassion and a genuine desire to help others through generosity or dedicated assistance.
As a peaceful archetype, the Caregiver strives to keep harm away from himself and those he loves. He is motivated by goals that assist more than himself, and in fact is prone to martyrdom, due to his need to satisfy everyone else before seeing to his own needs.
Though the Caregiver’s intentions are often meant with the best of intentions, she can sometimes enable bad or weak behavior in those she cares for. Additionally, though selfishness is her greatest fear, either in others or herself, over-extending her energies into those that would take advantage of her generosity can lead the Caregiver to become bitter, often demanding acknowledgment of her “sacrifices”, and guilt-tripping those that aren’t quick to sing her praises.
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Miss Minchin, of A Little Princess, is certain that her actions are for the good of all of the girls in her care. She is strict because she knows the world is harsh, and the chance of disappointment is high. She grooms her girls to accept these harsher realities, however, in the end, her dogmatic policies end up backfiring, and she loses her job, in ridicule.
Probably the most famous Caregiver of them all, Mary Poppins was the one that taught us all that a “spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”, and that even the most difficult of situations can be resolved if you go about it with an open heart.
Not Harry Potter’s only caregiver, by far, but a character moved only by the needs of others (and especially animals), Hagrid is altruistic to a fault, adopting deadly animals and indulging the dangerous behavior of our three main protagonists. His nature ends up getting him in big trouble with the school when he underestimates Draco Malfoy’s intentions, and he nearly loses all he has worked hard to achieve because of it.
Though this stepmother is from Disney’s Cinderella, she encompasses all of the mothers who have shirked the burden of raising their children. The harm they do is immeasurable.
Though Gothel’s rearing of Rapunzel was for purely selfish purposes, it was a manic, possessive quality over Rapunzel herself that makes Gothel a perfect bastion of the Shadow Caregiver. It is less about caring for her charge than it is about validating herself, and leeching off Rapunzel.
It’s a strange, weird world around the Venture compound, and the only man with any sense of parental instincts is Dr. Orpheus, the often teased neighbor to Dean and Hank Venture. Protective, but also eager to fit in to a mentor-like role, Dr. Orpheus is a good balance between the good and bad elements of the Caregiver.
One of the most familiar martyrs of the Caregiver archetype, Charlotte dedicates all of her very short life to keeping her friend, Wilbur, from slaughter. She is never short with him, is altruistic, and generous, to very little personal reward. In the end, she dies, leaving behind a final web for Wilbur, and a nest of children who must go forth motherless.
There are far too many of these characters to mention here. Harry Potter’s mother, father, Hagrid, Dumbledore, Snape, Sirius, the Weasley Family, McGonagall, etc… All offer some sort of support and emotional stability when Harry needs it most, even though nearly all of them end up martyred for their effort.
A generous, kind Jedi, Obi Wan Kenobi is unassuming, taking on the task of raising and training young Anakin Skywalker after his master is killed. He is indulgent, allowing Anakin’s darker feelings to develop and mature to disastrous consequences, and often turns a blind eye to all of the warning signs the council of Jedi insist are there. In the end, though, he takes responsibility, and confronts Anakin after his transformation into Darth Vader.
Miss Hanagan has slipped into the shadow side of the Caregiver archetype. Believing her work is done at food and clothing, she demands the girls thank her for having it as good as they do, and takes advantage of them any time she can, fully selfish and self-absorbed.
Miss Honey, of Matilda, is a gentle, caring teacher who ends up saving her student by physically adopting her.
There is a theme amongst the Caregiver archetype of a caregiver that is overbearing, overprotective, and far too sheltering with their charges. Part of this has to do with the potential lack of conflict otherwise, but also is a mechanism used to force naive and willful characters to the breaking point before starting out on their journey. In Ariel’s case, she comes to understand her father’s reasons later, and parent and sibling are able to resolve that conflict, and understand each other better as a result.
Marlin is the over-protective father who wants nothing more than to be reunited with his son. However, it was his overbearing parenting that drove his son away altogether.