Subject: ELA: Archetypes; Child Savior Myth;

Ages: 14+

Length: Snippet: 22 minutes; Lesson: one 45 – 55 minute class period.



Students will be able to recognize and analyze the child savior myth, a recurring element in literature and film. Students will be introduced to the concept of literary archetypes.


Images of children are important in literature and are used to sell products, win elections, and encourage religious devotion. The child as savior, through whom people find truth, the answer to their problems, or salvation is an important feature of many works of fiction. An understanding of the literary archetype of the child savior will help students analyze and appreciate works of fiction. An understanding of the use of images of children in advertising and the media will help students make informed decisions. Finally, this lesson can be used to introduce students to the concept of literary archetypes, an important element in most works of fiction.


“Man on Fire” is an action film in which a former Special Forces operative named Creasy is employed as a bodyguard to protect the young daughter of a wealthy Mexican businessman. Creasy is suffering from remorse for savage deeds committed when he was working in counter-insurgency. As the snippet opens, Creasy is shown drunk, guilt-ridden, and puzzled by a failed attempt to kill himself. Standing in the rain, a clear symbol of purification, he looks up to see the child watching him from the window. Thereafter, Creasy begins tutoring the girl and coaching her efforts to become a better swimmer. He grows increasingly fond of her unrelenting innocence. At the snippet’s end, Creasy reaches for a bottle of liquor, uncaps it, recaps it, puts it down, and picks up the Bible. He is saved.


  • Location: The snippet starts at DVD scene 7 and runs for 22 minutes until Creasy caps the bottle and picks up the Bible.
  • Possible Problems with this Snippet: None. The remainder of the movie is violent and well deserves its R rating. DO NOT ALLOW THE MOVIE TO RUN BEYOND THE SNIPPET, SINCE IT QUICKLY BECOMES VERY VIOLENT.
  • What about showing the whole movie? TWM does not recommend showing the entire film in class. This R-rated movie is too violent for adults to show to children. The snippet alone adequately conveys what is needed for the lesson.
  • Teachers may want to reference works of literature, such as “A Child Went Forth,” by Walt Whitman or some of the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, to supplement their students’ understanding of the theme. In A Raisin in the Sun, Walter cannot accept the white neighbors’ money in front of his son. He is unwilling to destroy the child’s innocence by selling his principles.
  • The handout consists of the Supplemental Materials in a word processing file. Teachers can modify or supplement this information to adapt the lesson to the abilities and needs of their classes.
  • Students can benefit from the study of both literary and psychological archetypes. The information learned from the snippet taken from “Man on Fire” can be transformed into a serious study of patterns of personality, situations, symbols, motifs and ideas. Assignments can involve in-depth research into the archetypes such as those associated with Greek mythology. The Greeks looked at goddesses such as Hera, Artemis, Aphrodite and Athena, to name just a few, as patterns of personality that served to inform the whole of womanhood. Hera was the jealous, domineering mother and wife; Artemis represented the hunter; Aphrodite, the lover; and Athena, the warrior. A similar analysis can be made of the male gods of Greek mythology.
  • Other than the writings of Carl Jung and the study of Greek mythology, an excellent source for exploration of ideas involving archetypes can be The Golden Bough, by Sir James Frazer. The 1922 edition is easily accessed by students and will open their minds to ideas and archetypes they have never thought possible.
  • Essays are to be written according to the essay rubric established in class. When paragraphs are called for, they should be written according to the rubric for paragraphs established in class.


1. Review the film clip and to make sure it is suitable for the class. Review the Lesson Plan and decide how to present it to the class, making any necessary modifications. Decide whether to impart the information in the Supplemental Materials through direct instruction or by distributing TWM’s student handout, The Child Savior Myth: An Example of a Literary Archetype. Decide which of the activities described in the Snippet Lesson Plan will be best to finish up the unit and whether the activity will be given as a homework assignment or classroom work.

2. Become familiar with the location of the clip on the DVD. Before the class arrives, cue the DVD to the beginning of the clip and make sure that all necessary materials are available, such as copies of the handout.


1. Introduce the lesson.

Telling the class what is going to be taught and why the lesson is important. A suggestion for an introduction for this Snippet Lesson Plan is set out below. It assumes that the class is beginning its study of archetypes.

This lesson is about archetypes, those characters that repeatedly arise out of the relationships of family and community. They appear time and again in our experience and in our stories, both written and filmed. Archetypes include the mother, the father, the child, there is the good child, there is the black sheep of the family, and it goes on. Examples of archetypes in the community are the leader, the hero, the wise old man or woman, and the trickster. We’ll start with the archetype of the child and one of its most important manifestations, the child savior. We all know of a child savior figure that is important in Western religion. Who is it? [After the class identifies Jesus Christ as a child savior, comment that there are child saviors in other religions, and many more child saviors in our stories.]

If we understand archetypes, we can better understand the people around us and ourselves. We can also make more sense of the stories that we read or watch on the screen.

2. Introduce the film clip.

The class need only know that in the movie an American named Creasy is employed as a bodyguard to protect the young daughter of a wealthy Mexican businessman from being kidnapped. As the snippet opens, Creasy is suffering from remorse for actions taken while working on counterinsurgency for the Special Forces. Ask the class to look for aspects of the child savior shown in the clip.

3. Show the snippet.

Beginning at DVD scene 7 and running until Creasy reaches for the bottle, uncaps it, recaps it, puts it down, and picks up the Bible. The snippet is about 22 minutes.

4. Conduct further class discussion based on the following prompts. 

Ask students to support their ideas through direct reference to occurrences in the snippet.

  • Describe three scenes in the snippet that show that Creasy is beginning to change.
  • Explain what happens to Creasy in terms of how he is beginning to see life.
  • What were the attributes of Pita, the girl Creasy was hired to protect, that helped him to heal?
  • What finally shows us that Creasy has healed?

5. Present the Supplemental Materials through direct instruction or by having the class read the handout.

An alternative method for organizing the lesson is to present the information from the handout before the class sees the snippet. The snippet then becomes a dramatic way of having the lesson come to life.


The Child Savior Myth: An Example of a Literary Archetype

People respond at a visceral level to images of children. Every Christmas, statues of the baby Jesus can be found in manger scenes in Christian communities throughout the world. Lisa from The Simpsons and many other youthful characters populate mass media. Tires, breakfast cereal, cleaning solution, politicians, and even ideas for the conduct of society, can be sold by showing pictures of children.

The desire to protect the innocence of childhood motivates most people, in real life as well as in fiction. Photographs of suffering children, such as a starving African baby with its stomach swollen and flies landing on its mouth and eyes, imprint themselves on the minds of those who see them. The photograph of the young Vietnamese girl running toward safety, screaming, her clothing burned off by napalm, raised the consciousness of a generation. These profound images are from photojournalism, but their power comes from the human desire to see that youth survives and that life continues.

Being a child, in most cultures, means much the same thing. Early childhood is a time of playful innocence, a period of hope and trust and of open-minded acceptance of the world. For young children, the moral complications and social pressures that come with adolescence and adulthood are absent. These characteristics of childhood are structural, that is they come from the situation of being new to life, dependent on others, and growing in body and mind.

The fact that children have their futures before them is one of the most important features of childhood. Children are creatures who are becoming something new. The characteristic of becoming is especially true of infants and young children. The photographs of the starving baby and the napalm-burned girl have a strong effect on people because the future of these children is under grave threat or has perhaps already been lost.

Children are seen as pure, close to the instinctive emotional roots that enable them to see the truth unclouded by cynicism and doubt. They are honest; unfettered truth comes “out of the mouths of babes.” People are taught to protect young children, to, as the Bible dictates, “suffer the little children,” a notion made clear once we accept that the word “suffer” means allow. In other words, children must be allowed to be children; they must be protected and nourished so that they can grow and mature.

Human beings are a species whose offspring are helpless and in need of constant care for many years. It makes sense for people to be programmed to love and care for young children. An older person can teach a child, act as a protector, be an all nurturing mother figure, the stern father figure, or the loving grandparent. These ways of relating to children are easily recognized, in real life. They are also celebrated in religious tradition, myth, and fiction developed by cultures throughout the world.

There are other, less helpful, but equally well-established roles that older people play in the lives of young children. There is the overly strict disciplinarian or the wicked step-mother who, as in the story of Cinderella, tries to destroy the potential of the child in favor of her own children.

In most interactions between a young child and an adult or even a teenager, the child is influenced by the older person. There are, however, situations in which the influence flows the other way. These can occur when an adult or a teenager has been battered by misfortune, is sick at heart over past mistakes, despairs of finding the right path in life, or feels sullied by the compromises he or she has made. In these situations, a young child’s innocence and purity and the child’s state of becoming often inspires the older person. Transformed, the older person may try again, forgive him or herself for what has happened in the past, or find the right path for the future. This does not occur because the young child knows the answer to the problems confronting the other person. It occurs because the adult or the teenager finds wisdom within, inspired by what he or she sees in the young child

When influence flows from a child to an older person, the child acts as the medium through which change becomes possible; the child has become a savior. This type of relationship is so important that most religious traditions include a child god who is a savior and the concept has found expression in innumerable works of literature and in film.

Literary Archetypes


Since they are a part of the common human experience, certain characters and relationships resonate clearly with readers and audiences. These characters and relationships, such as the child and the child savior, cross cultural boundaries and are timeless. The original models which people, events, or actions seem to follow are called archetypes.

The student body in ejvery school contains archetypes, such as the bully, the leader, the nerd, the class clown, and the teacher’s pet. Centuries ago, the bully pattern of personality must have been evident in the powerful hunter or warrior who used his strength to hurt others. They contrast with the leader who uses the power of his personality or his physical prowess to take care of his people. And although math or science as disciplines are rather new in the long history of mankind, certainly there were members of ancient societies who involved themselves with numbers and were devoted to the accuracy of exchange, the measurement of distances and even the passage of time. There have always been court jesters and comedians. And, of course, the person favored by a teacher or authority figure, the teacher’s pet.

The characters of the mother (the nurturer), the father, the evil step-parent, the hero, and the wise old man or woman are also types of characters with their own constellation of attributes which most people easily recognize. As with the other archetypes, the characters and our reactions to them arise from the nature of the relationships in the family or the community. Like other archetypes, these characters and relationships occur again and again in myths, books and film.

The character of the child is one of the primary archetypes. The relationship between children and older people in which the child is the medium for a solution to the older person’s problems is derived from the archetype of the child and is a natural result of the structure of relationships between children and older persons. The latter is referred to, somewhat imprecisely, as the child savior myth. However, it is much more than a myth, being the expression of an important relationship that occurs repeatedly in real life and is often used in fiction.

The use of archetypes in telling a story builds the empathic reaction as each reader sees something familiar in characters that populate the story. There is universal appeal in carefully chosen protagonists, antagonists and ancillary characters that fill the pages of novels or populate the screen in movies and, more recently, video games. When archetypes are repeatedly found in works of fiction, they are called literary archetypes.

The concept of literary archetypes fits easily into the discoveries of Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, who theorized that people share a psychic inheritance, a collective unconscious. According to Jung, the psychic inheritance is knowledge that all people are born with and which affects all of human experience. Jung believed that this knowledge is sourced beneath our consciousness and can only be accessed indirectly through dreams, myths, forms of religious belief, and the arts, such as fiction, visual arts, music, and dance.

Whether we are born with a knowledge of archetypes or whether this knowledge is acquired because there are certain ways that human beings in family and in society relate to each other, the concept of archetype helps people understand and organize their common experience. As such, archetypes are an important part of telling a story, whether in written form or presented on a screen.


This assessment also includes elements of independent practice in that students will be asked to apply what they have learned to new situations.

Students can be assigned the following projects either in class or as homework. Specify the length and complexity of the assignment depending on available time, skill levels of the students and how this lesson fits into the curriculum.

  • Look for print advertising or advertising on the Internet that uses images of children and bring at least three examples to share with the class. Have volunteers share their examples with the class and describe why they think the advertiser used the image of a child to assist in selling the product. In the discussion stress the attributes of childhood: innocence, purity, inexperience, vulnerability, the promise of a future, etc. This exercise should not take more than ten minutes.
  • Write an essay describing the use of the child savior myth in the “Man on Fire” snippet, including a description of the attributes of Pita that helped Creasy to heal. The essay should refer to action, dialogue and imagery.
  • Write an essay describing the use of the child savior myth in a movie that you have seen or a book that you have read. The essay should refer to action, dialogue and imagery.
  • Write a persuasive essay describing what you believe to be the reason that child saviors are important in stories: spoken, written or filmed. Argue your point.


This Snippet Lesson Plan was written by Mary RedClay and James Frieden.