An archetype is a shape, a meta-form, or collection of attributes and energies expressed in multiple forms. The concept calls back to Plato’s Theory of Forms that suggests every material thing has a mold or imprint of a kind, an abstraction that is the perfect and whole predecessor from which all material objects of its kind emerge. As we exist in materiality and specificity, we cannot comprehend the archetypal energy directly, we can only explore the world in all its messiness and complexity and, through specificity, uncover many facets of the archetype. To define an archetypal energy neatly is to separate out a facet from the whole. When we look at our humanity and creative expressions, we can view these things through archetypal lenses but lose something important when we reduce things to neat, cut-and-dried archetypes that become simply stereotypes. Archetypes are productive, dynamic energies, whereas stereotypes become closed, deadening shells. Yet as humans influenced by archetypal energies through story and culture, we can become identified with these concepts. This is a source of strength and a significant impediment, a narrowing of vision until we fixate on a particular role that does not include all who we are.
Beyoncé’s 2006 album B’Day explores the archetypal Virgin in contemporary life. With this reading, I want to acknowledge some biographical material from Beyoncé’s life that is relevant but largely focus on the text of the album. I make no assumptions that my reading has anything to do with her lived experience.