By Michael Premo (Contributor)
After reading Nathaniel Branden’s “The Psychology of Romantic Love, which offers a powerful insight into cultural archetypes underpinning love, I better understood the cultural undercurrents and had a historical context in which to base them. The reason why these undercurrents are important is that they lend to the creation of archetypes, and archetypes have presence within our readers psyches, especially regarding love, an emotion that is born with everyone arguably at conception. These are generalizations, a short list of possibilities, so keep in mind that each can be tweaked to better fit your character and story.
According to Branden, primitive love was not love of two individuals, but the love of the tribe and procreation for survival. Many times we see in movies and read it in stories about how a young person wants to follow their love and go against this cultural dictate. But that is a modern notion of love, a notion of the individual and choice. The appearance of individual love is a relatively new phenomenon, a Western cultural phenomenon rising from industrialism and capitalism, culminating in the American ideal of individualism. The early Greek cultural beliefs followed the primitive form of love, where love of the state was the epitome of love. Interestingly, love for the Greeks was also a very male ideal, never female. Writing about primitive and early Greek love would be a challenge for today’s writer and reader. The contrast between primitive love and individualism can seem anachronistic and contrived.
Another possible cultural type of love is a detached, calculated love rising from the Romantic era into Victorian culture; love is staid; sexuality is suppressed. One of the best examples of this comes from Tolstoy’s masterpiece, “Anna Karenin” and his Count Alexei Karenin. The juxtaposition of a royal, a businessman of position, and a young woman, Anna, yearning for a romantic love until a suitor arrives. An example of a male character can be found in John Williams’ novel “Stoner.” The title character, William Stoner, has an affair because of his wife’s failure to love, marked by her distance and suppressed sexuality. Another example of detached and anti-sexual love comes from early Christian beliefs during the middle-ages, when choice and self-assertion were ruinous and sex was evil. During this time in Western culture, love only came from God.
The above examples are only a handful, yet their influence on literary characters is apparent. Today, we have an undercurrent of individualism that appears to have influenced cultures throughout the world. Individual love is a way of seeking love, a journey of serial monogamy until that one person complements the individual, not completes them, because that would mean that the seeker was flawed. Writing characters within their cultural norms is important, however, giving them context and thought that lies outside the norm makes for a great story filled with tension and conflict. As writers, we can build characters and stories entirely out of love and the conflict and tension that arises from love, either in the journey or in the presence of it. I’ll leave you with this quote, that I think is pertinent to this topic: “The fact that two human beings love each other does not guarantee that they will be able to create a joyful and rewarding relationship” (43). I think we’ve all read these stories that are flawless designs portraying love and the conflict it brings. Please leave a comment or two regarding examples that you’ve seen of this type of love in modern literature, so we can all benefit through collaborating examples.
Michael is an avid fisherman with a writing problem. A graduate of the Spalding University MFA program, Michael finds the esoteric nature of writing to be fascinating. He earned his B.A. in English from the University of Iowa. After graduation over the course of two decades, he held several positions in marketing and advertising. For a change of pace, he was a stay-at-home dad for almost a decade, a position he calls his most challenging so far. Currently, he holds a position as a senior researcher in a boutique analytics and editing firm. He enjoys exploring the academic landscape for pertinent, sometimes novel, information. His interests in art and writing involve form and function. Also, understanding theories, regardless if they are social, scientific, or artistic, is one of his passions as a writer. His current projects involve polishing two novels and starting a 3-act play.