Understanding the Enemy: A study of the enemy archetype in literature

Essay by snipesHigh School, 10th grade September 2004

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In The Fixer, Bernard Malamud uses the enemy archetype to show how we determine who our enemies are, and how it affects our behavior towards them. Yakov Bok is a simple handyman who grows from an insignificant victim of anti-Semitism, to a martyr for his people. After realizing that his life's misfortunes are the cause of human society, Bok gains the strength to fight for not only his own, but also his people's justice.

The enemy archetype originates from all of our negative emotions. There are many characteristics and reasons for how we identify an enemy. Enemy images are generally created due to group dynamics. Since, humans have a psychological need for a social identity, they base their values and beliefs on those of the group identity. Group identities are usually defined by contrast to other groups.

Hypocrisy is very common when we define our enemies. People often label the other side with their character flaws, ignoring the fact that they share the same faults.

The enemy is de-humanized, and considered to be something below humanity. De-humanization is an important part of physical conflict, especially war. If the enemy is considered to be on the human level, killing him would be too psychologically difficult. Bringing the enemy to a sub-human level is what has made killing so easy for well-meaning people.

Enemies can also be created when there is a problem without a clear cause or solution. A person, a group of people, or even an abstract concept such as God, or luck, usually end up being the supposed cause of the problem. The creation of a scapegoat provides a cause of a problem that is much easier to accept than the real cause (such as the group that created the scapegoat), or the fact that there is no cause.