Archetypes in Orange is the New Black

Archetypes abound in contemporary films and literature as they have in creative works of the past, being unconscious projections of the collective unconscious that serve to embody central societal and developmental struggles in a media that entertain as well as instruct. Films are a contemporary form of mythmaking, reflecting our response to ourselves and the mysteries and wonders of our existence. Stuart Voytilla.

This passage alludes to Carl Jung’s unconscious collective study of archetypes and how they are manifested within fairy tales. In the book Discover Your Woman Within, the author Charlene Bell Tosi bases her authority on the Jungian Archetypes to help women transition through their journeys. (Tosi 2012) Char as she is affectionately known in women’s group discusses eight archetypes: Queen, Infant, Child, Adolescent, Lover, Mother, Warrior, Shadow and Crone. Five cast members of one of the most Fractured Fairytales on television Orange is the New Black will be examined and assigned their unconscious archetype. Leading with the most vulnerable character and descending into the primordial. These manifestations into the societal parameters are even more constraint by being imprisoned.

Jenji Kohan wrote an episode for Sex in The City. This premier ensemble of sexually powerful actresses in a television series attributed to contemporary female archetypes. Samantha was the lover, Carrie the adolescent, Miranda the warrior and Charlotte the queen. Jenji also created the phenomenal fractured tale Weeds. Most of the archetypes to be discussed here are all rolled up into the female lead character Nancy Botwin. Nancy transitioned from the mother archetype, to an infant after she became a widow. She then progressed onto the child, then to a rebellious adolescent, and in many episodes as the lover archetype. Nancy stepped into her power and became a warrior and proceeded to be the queen of Weeds. However Nancy carried the shadow archetype throughout her journey. Nancy sat in her shadow archetype while in prison. She provided a gateway to Orange is the New Black. Ms. Kohan takes the prescribed filter off the lens. She widens the audience’s view of diverse and dynamic archetypes within Orange is the New Black. While keeping with the psychological aspect of Carl Jung. His words guide the discussion “The great problems of life-sexuality, of course, among others-are always related to the primordial images of the collective unconscious.”

Child Archetype: Playful, Wants to be Seen and Heard

In every adult there lurks a child, an eternal child, something that is always becoming, is never completed, and calls for unceasing care, attention and education. This part of the human personality which wants to develop and become whole Carl Jung.

Dayanara Diaz~Child Archetype: Playful, Expressive, Wants to be Seen and Heard
Dayanara Diaz~Child Archetype

The archetype of the child follows these characteristics; “wants to be seen and heard, is full of wonder, playful and expressive.” (52) Dayanara Diaz does want to be seen and heard by her mother. Daya brought all her siblings to the prison to visit their mother. They were neither seen nor heard. Their mother’s only concern was why hasn’t her boyfriend Cesar visited? After the visit Daya travels three hours with her brother and sisters to get back to their apartment. Daya is feeling wounded by her mother so she engages in very expressive sex with her mother’s boyfriend Cesar. Her need to be seen and heard was met by Cesar. However Daya is finally seen by her mother when she enters the prison system as an inmate. This was evident in the first episode when her mother slapped her face. As time passed Daya began to wonder about one correctional officer. She became very playful in his company. She expressed her desires toward him with her manga drawings and short love notes. These play dates produced a pregnancy. While Daya herself is yet a child she is with child. She still craves to be seen and heard from by her mother; even though her mother places her in compromising situations with two correctional officers. Perhaps with the new season Daya may begin a new archetypical direction to care for her inner child both figurate and literally.

Lover Archetype: Open Hearted, Sensuality, Sexuality

“Love is of all passions the strongest, for it attacks simultaneously the head, the heart and the senses,” Lao Tzu. Nicky Nichols certainly does attack; she is most definitely the lover archetype.

Nicky loves passionately from the very beginning of Orange is the New Black. Nicky deliberately displays her sensuality with a couple of compassionate positions.

Nicky Nichols~Lover Archetype: Open Heart, Sensuality, Sexuality, Male and Female Energies
Nicky Nichols~ Lover Archetype

She has female flesh filling her mouth; proudly engaging in her sexuality. Nicky displays her prize like the grinning Cheshire cat. Nicky continues to drip with sex and leave puddles as she walks by willing partners. She is the extreme lover archetype. ‘Darling’ Nicky embraces her masculine and feminine psyche as she makes love to other women in the prison. She takes on the traditional male role of the pursuer yet maintains the sensitivity of the female. Nicky uses her sensuality to experience ordinary tasks in life. For example she becomes fluid and expansive when she was working in the electric shop. She drilled a hole in the wall and tells the shop keeper “ it is a glory hole.” She puts her fingers into her object of art and then sniffs it as if she just removed her fingers from her lover’s vagina. (93, 96) She is very open hearted and listens to her lovers and potential lovers with great concern. She also communicates directly with her lovers she makes them aware that there is only “one chance to break my heart.” Nicky exemplifies the lover archetype with her open heart, sensuality, sexuality, love of her body and exploring male and female energies. (93) Nicky plays the role of the lover expertly and may want to savor this archetype for many seasons to come.

Adolescent Archetype: Transitions, Navigation, Exploration

It is the twilight zone between past and future that is the precarious world of transformation within the chrysalis. Part of us is looking back, yearning for the magic we have lost; part is glad to say good-bye to our chaotic past; part looks ahead with whatever courage we can muster; part is excited by the changing potential; part sits stone-still not daring to look either way.-Marion Woodman

Sophia Burset fits this description of the adolescent archetype perfectly.

Sophia Burset~Adolescent Archetype: Transitions, Navigation, Exploration of Identity and Relationships
Sophia Burset ~Adolescent Archetype

Sophia was in a cocoon as she battled her anima and animus psyche. Sophia’s phenotype was male and she longed to transgender into her desired female physique. She began her journey as a firefighter who is married with a son. Sophia’s wife supported her transition and assisted the navigation from male to female. However the wife did request that Sophia not remove the penis. Like most adolescent behavior they are self-centered and tend to defy authority. Sophia was going to complete the transition from male to female and become a transsexual. She needed money and obtained it illegally. Sophia is only concerned with her desire and need to have the operation. Sophia continues to navigate relationships with self absorbed behavior. She asks her wife to smuggle in hormone pills for her. She did this without concern for her wife or their son. Sophia then plots a course to befriend the nun to gain access to her hormone treatment. Sophia slowly examines her behavior and begins to value relationships without her being the center of attention. She eventually gives blessing to her wife as she becomes interested in a pastor. Adolescence is a difficult stage in life and Sophia is in the middle of her adolescence.

Queen/Mother Archetype: Confident, Powerful Leader

“Queen Bee” and the mother archetype are a combination exceptionally demonstrated by ‘Red.’ The queen archetype is confident, powerful leader, visionary, prosperous and expansive. The queen is blessed and blesses others. (19) The mother archetype continuously creates nurtures, teaches and heals. (113) Galina ‘Red’ Reznikov, strides around the sovereignty of her kitchen, where she creates substance for the prison. She is responsible for nurturing all their bodies with food.

Galina 'Red' Reznikov~ Queen Archetype: Confident, Powerful Leader, Visionary, Nurturer, Teacher
Galina ‘Red’ Reznikov~ Queen Archetype

This is an example of the queen reining the kitchen and the mother taking care of all her children. Red understands she needs to take care of herself so that she can take care of others. She makes sure she is well rested, that her hair remains deep red, that her legs are shaven. She as a queen has others do this for her but as a mother she knows the importance of self-care. Red was a shrewd business woman before she was incarcerated. She advised a group of Russian men to expand their business and think large and get a government contract. Red maintains her business end of the kitchen compound as well, another example of the duties of a queen. Red also has her special tribe of women who call her ‘mom’ she takes special interest in them and protects them. Her action was motivated by what she believes to be in the best interest of her girls. For example when one of her girls was going through withdrawals she had her turn herself in for detox. She did this hoping it would bring an investigation into the prison drug problem. Unfortunately the plan proved to be fatal. Regrettably as a mother and a queen she finds out that it was a mistake. Now it is her duty to learn from her failure. Red does weave her experience and shares her information to educate the other inmates so they can obtain their potential. Just as any noble queen would do for her subjects and any good mother would do for her children. (119, 124, 128)

Warrior Archetype: Focused, Courageous, Protective

“I threw my pie for you and that makes you my wife.”

Suzanne 'Crazy Eyes' Warren~ Warrior Archetype: Focused, Strategic, Courageous, Protective
Suzanne ‘Crazy Eyes’ Warren~ Warrior Archetype

Crazy Eyes is being protective of her mate similar to primal primates that sling feces at their divergent. Crazy Eyes is fully present in her conflicts, this is an identifying aspect of the warrior archetype. Another example of primal act is the territorial pissing by Crazy Eyes on Dandelion’s floor. The warrior is also brutally honest. Crazy Eyes spoke her truth about how she felt about Piper’s rejection. “I used to spend a lot of time thinking how I could make you love me. Like, if I had long pretty hair, or if I made chocolate cake with frosting, or if I had a green bicycle. Turns out the answer is you’re not a nice person. You’re a mean person. And I used to think you was a yellow dandelion, but you’re all dried up with the puff blown off.” Suzanne came from a unique home that exposed her to some theater. She was excited to recite her speech to the juveniles who toured the prison. Displaying her intellectual abilities is also a trait of the warrior. She also displayed an authentic and vulnerable moment like a warrior when she asked the question “why does everyone call me Crazy Eyes?” She was open and honest about her psyche, “Sometimes when I’m real upset they tie me down like a balloon so I don’t float away.” The warrior also uses her intellect to manifest her mission perhaps her mission will be evident in another season. (155)

Orange is the New Black allows the audience to be introduced to a multitude of diversity; from various hues of colour, religions, socioeconomics, education, immigration, ages, weight, and height. These elements of diversity allow for many of the archetypes to exist. This assists with the expansion of the audience to feel connected to the show. Another aspect of widening the viewing audience is that many people experience a sense of imprisonment either physically or metaphorically. With the ability to reach out and connect to a wider audience through, diverse actresses and actors, sense of confinement and various archetypes Jenji Kohan has set the stage for collective reflections. The use of an archetypical psyche can allow for “… unconscious projections of the collective unconscious;” therefore allowing alterations into a collective consciousness. The viewing audience has the opportunity to examine the archetypes and observe transitions or ruminations of being stuck. Jenji Kohan is taking the opportunity to entertain and to educate a vast audience with her archetypes in Orange is the New Black.

Works Cited

Kohan, Jenji. Orange is the New Black. 2013- Television

Stuart Voytilla, Myth and the Movies. 1999. Michael Wiese Productions. print

Tosi, Charlene. Discover Your Woman Within, A Journey to Wholeness. 2012. Tosi and Associates, Inc.

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  1. Helen Parshall

    Excellent article. I love the way you applied these theories to such a fascinating show. OITNB is amazing for all these archetypes through which we viewers can connect and find bits of ourselves, I think. Thank you for an incredibly thought-provoking piece!

    • Jacque Venus Tobias

      Helen; Thank you for your vibrant comment! I can feel the love. I started watching the second season and see a dramatic shift in the Queen/Mother Archetype for ‘ Red’ it looks like a new Queen is on her way. ‘Crazy Eyes’ is changing a little as well, letting her warrior simmer and becoming more of a follower. However something may set her off and she may step back into her Warrior Princess mode.. So it is interesting to watch their transitions.
      Many Thanks

  2. Xiomara

    Surprised on how much i like this show. It’s funny, interesting and you don’t see much Prison shows nowadays.

    • Jacque Venus Tobias

      Hi Xiomara, Reflecting on your thought regarding prison shows. I know when I have been watching this show, I realize a new sense of freedom and how fortunate we are to have this privilege to go where we want when we want and not be watched as closely as the characters in the OITNB.

    • Prison Break was awesome, but that was finished a few years ago.

  3. Luis Fierro

    I started watching House of Cards a couple days ago, another Netflix show, its awesome!

  4. Latrice

    I just started this and have seen 3 episodes. Its Pretty good, definitely not “Great”. Its something unique and different which is nice. But its not nearly as engrossing as other good dramas.

  5. Mignon Earls

    Laura Prepon’s character is my least favourite character on the show, I thought she was gone from the show, but I guess she will be back to be a regular, ugh.

  6. Aliya Gulamani
    Aliya Gulamani

    What a brilliant analysis of a great programme. I’ve just started watching it – goodbye social life for a good few days?!! – But its absolutely brilliant and your article real nails why its such an intriguing show. Thanks 🙂

    • Jacque Venus Tobias

      Thank you Aliya for your wonder words. Hope your exclusion from the world into the Litchfield Prison is exciting.

  7. This was a great article!!! Always think it is important to bring up the archetypes presented in the media. I believe it is fair to say that OITNB is totally breaking down and questioning gender norms and thus far makes it one of a kind.

    • Jacque Venus Tobias

      Thank you for the archetypical references and gender norms. It was very exciting seeing how the definitions and the characters blended.

  8. I really didn’t think I’d like this show, and then before I knew it I binge-watched the entire first season in one day. Some really great acting

  9. Tiana Mock

    It caught me by surprise, everybody was raving it online and saying is a must watch, I thought it was gonna be a tongue in cheek show about women’s prison life but I watched the first episode and ended up burning through the series over a weekend.

  10. Am I the only one who likes this show only because the supporting cast? The three leads IMO are just whatever,Ana is pretty bad, Biggs is ok and so is the shows lead…

    But the supporting cast is just brilliant

  11. Nice post. Can’t believe I watched the entire first season of this show. At least half it is designed for the sole purpose of making Christians look like idiotic lunatics.

    • Jacque Venus Tobias

      Thank you and yes Pennstucky really took her fanatical actions to the extreme. Ironically she was met with Christian fanatics when she was having one of many abortions. Then the same group came to her rescue. Very intricate story line.

  12. My Girlfriend and I love this show! Binge watched the first season this past summer in like 2 days.

  13. Amanda Dominguez-Chio

    Really interesting read! Live this show and thanks to your thorough analysis, I will be finishing Season 2 in a different perspective. Nice work!

  14. Jamie Tracy

    Great job.
    I admit I am watching season 2 with your archetype analysis in mind.
    I’d love to see how you’d analyze other popular series’, ie Game of Thrones, Modern Family and so on.

    • Jacque Venus Tobias

      Jamie thank you soon much for your editorial direction. I really appreciate your guidance. Thanks for throwing down a gauntlet for analysis of other shows.

  15. irna capps

    after ep 10 I stopped watching, piper pissed me off so much with what she did

  16. no offence but i really dislike this show

    • Verona Shirley

      It’s not offensive at all, particularly in that almost nothing created on this earth is universally liked by all, but I have to ask – what possessed you to click on this article link just to say you didn’t like this show…? I’m not trying to be a smart ass or harass you, I’m truly interested in understanding this mindset…

      Sidebar – I’m new to commenting and only started commenting here over the last 12mths (before branching out to others), as a way to voice my appreciation for things I enjoy, with others who share the same passions. What I’ve noticed in comment threads however, is this particular mindset that people just wish to voice negative opinions, and I can’t wrap my head around it.

  17. Great show, and one of the few ever to showcase a multi-dimensional transgender character that’s not simply in the background. The character progression and story arc is very impressive, and I cannot wait to watch the next season.

  18. I’m going to have to watch all 13 episodes again now, which shall be a delight!

  19. Conlan Carter

    I definitely agree with you about Daya as the “child.” Especially in season one, she seems have a child-like agency to all of her major actions in the plot; it is all motivated by a need to be noticed. Of course, her background lends some empathy to this (she basically had to skip being a child to raise her siblings), and I find myself always rooting for her.
    Admittedly, I am only a few episodes into the new season, but I am enjoying the sub-plot following Red. It is interesting to think of her as a queen dethroned (sorry, spoilers incoming) after she lost her Head Chef position. I have a feeling that she will try to find her way back on top soon enough.

  20. Jane Harkness

    I’m absolutely obsessed with this show, and your analysis was so interesting, especially the section on Sophia and how she grows as a character.

  21. The character are more fleshed out this season but next season should focus more on piper if this is her story.

  22. Jordan David

    Fun observation. One of my all-time favorite shows!

  23. Edward Haynes

    Cool article. I was just wondering what the numbers in brackets are referencing, I assume they’re reference numbers but I can’t figure out what they link to.

    • Jacque Venus Tobias

      Edward, Hello the numbers you speak of are page numbers from the works cited section. Hope this helps.

      Tosi, Charlene. Discover Your Woman Within, A Journey to Wholeness. 2012. Tosi and Associates, Inc.

  24. Nof

    This article was really insightful! I absolutely love the show. Watching the show after reading the article will be interesting, I will be keeping what you have said in mind! I have never thought about Kohan’s incorporation of the character archetypes. Good job.

  25. This is a really interesting article! Your analysis of Red is particularly apt.

  26. Ben Hufbauer

    Thanks, VenusEchos, for this perceptive Jungian analysis of some of the characters of one of my favorite shows. Do Jung’s Archetypes of the Unconscious really exist? How universal are they? I honestly don’t know, but I guess I’d like to think that many people share some similar hopes, fears, and loves….

  27. Stephanie M.

    I love any piece that incorporates psychoanalysis, especially of characters, so good job. I especially enjoyed your analysis of Red as the Queen/Mother.

  28. This is a reminder of how much this show was discussed in the public sphere…before it suddenly stopped.

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