Before I delve into this topic, let me briefly introduce myself. My name is Jill, and I’m a 21 year old pre-med college student who rediscovered Hey Arnold! in August 2010. Since then I’ve fallen back in love with the show and have realized how much more I appreciate it as an adult! I’m thrilled to be able to critically analyze it here as it is so complex and rich with story and development. My goal is to update this at least once a week, but it may be more or less so bear with me! My other major fandom is Harry Potter which I also write for on occasion. If you want to know anything else, just ask! Okay on to the topic of this post!

Motifs of Helga and Arnold

April Fool Tango

To begin, let’s first define motif for those of you who don’t know. A motif is a recurring subject, theme, idea, etc. It is clear to see that the show has quite a few motifs surrounding the explosive relationship of Helga and Arnold. Whether or not you believe they are soul mates which you totally should because it’s true is totally up to you. However, allow me to shed some light on the motifs used for them.

1. Arnold Hears Helga

Tendra has already discussed this one in a prior post, however it is clearly a big motif within the show. First started in the first episode on Nickelodeon, “Downtown as Fruits”, it has remained a quintessential gag. The first one went like this:

Helga: Hey! Where are the fruits?!

Phoebe: They’re not here Helga. They never showed up.

Helga: What? *blinks* Arnoooooold!!

*cut to wide city view then to bus*

Arnold to Gerald: Did you hear something just now?

Gerald: No.

This gag continues throughout the series, most notably in “Helga Blabs it All” and “Buses, Bikes, and Subways” where Arnold is the only one to notice that Helga is missing from the school bus. While many people seem to find this to just be a gag or just meaning that Arnold is possibly so fearful of Helga that he can sense her anger, there is a camp of people who believe that it is a sign of Helga and Arnold being meant for each other. It’s a common cliche in romantic films for the male to sense when his female companion is in danger, so it is logical to conclude that the purpose of Arnold being the only one to hear Helga scream his name, or just scream, is to show that they are meant for each other. Furthermore, while some may argue the fear of bullying end, think of this. In an episode of How I Met Your Mother, soul mates Lily and Marshall discuss how connected they are to the point where if Lily eats ice cream, Marshall gets ill because he is lactose intolerant. So why else would the writers make this gag except to push the idea forward that Helga and Arnold are soul mates? Furthermore, in the episode “Magic Show” where Helga experiences a dream world where she no longer exists and is not missed a la It’s a Wonderful Life, whenever Helga screams in her dream world, Arnold does not hear her as she doesn’t exist and therefore cannot be his soul mate. I don’t know if I’m going to far with that bit, but eh I’ll note it.

2. Disguises

Throughout the show, Helga dons a variety of disguises around Arnold. The only time he doesn’t know that it’s her though is when she is disguised as Cecile in “Arnold’s Valentine”. Through her disguises, pivotal moments occur and important lessons are learned. The first time that Helga dons a disguise around Arnold is in the aforementioned episode. Initially, the disguise fails as Helga nearly reverts to her bullying mechanism and abrasiveness when Arnold notes that Helga really bugs him. Furthermore, Helga is so fearful initially that Arnold will figure out its her that she is unable to relax and let her true personality shine through. The initial disguise also isn’t very good as it is quite, erm, gah there were no words. However, after she vomits her cervelles braisees avec les oeufs brouilles, which she was kindly informed was calves’ brains and eggs, she relaxes, allows her soft side to shine through, and even cheers Arnold up after he realized how vapid Ruth really was. Her disguise even becomes more feminine and softer and she does somewhat confess to liking Arnold. Through this disguise, Helga was able to show Arnold the side of her that only Phoebe ever saw and gains confidence in their compatibility as he really likes what he sees. Here’s a listing of her various other disguises through out the show’s run and their pivotal moments and lessons.

“Arnold’s Halloween”: Alien


Arnold's Halloween

Arnold basically saves Helga's life, or at least from great bodily injury, as he runs up and attempts to persuade her father that he is not holding an alien, but his own daughter.


“Helga’s Boyfriend”: Stinky’s Girlfriend


Helga's Boyfriend

Helga disguises herself as Stinky's girlfriend in a failed attempt to get Arnold jealous. She believes it has worked when Arnold tells her that a friend has something important to say to her, however the friend turns out to be Stinky. Lesson learned through this episode is that deceit will not get you what you want and someone will get hurt.


“School Play”: Juliet


School Play

After manipulating Rhonda, Sheena, and Phoebe into dropping out of the role of Juliet, Helga confesses her secret to Lila in order to score the part. The major pivotal event that occurs is that Helga gets her deepest desire; a kiss with Arnold. She later attributes the kiss's length to good acting.


“Dinner for Four”: Sophisticated Helga


Dinner for Four

In order to impress Arnold, Helga holds a dinner with her friends at Chez Paris to show that she is sophisticated. There is a moment after Helga says, "Lovely little bistro, n'est-ce pas?" where Arnold has a stunned look on his face, as though he realized something. Arguably, he may have flashed back to Cecile. Another important thing of note, Arnold shows that he is impressed with Helga when she does the right thing and acts like herself.


“It Girl”: Model


It Girl

As a model, Helga learns that having everything doesn't necessarily mean happiness. Furthermore, it's shown that her abrasiveness is as much a personality as her soft side.


“Helga’s Masquerade”: Lila


Helga's Masquerade

Seeing how Arnold reacts to Lila's innocent and sickly sweet personality, she emulates her during a costume party. Thus she and Arnold hang out and have a great time during the party, until he accidentally calls her Lila. Once she reverts to her normal appearance, Arnold becomes disinterested. Helga learns that it is better to be herself than to act like someone else. Furthermore, she learns that Arnold does like her, and in her eyes that means she's halfway there to him liking her liking her.


“Summer Love”: Babewatch Lifeguard


Summer Love

As a Babewatch lifeguard, Helga seizes her opportunity at a second kiss with Arnold by shoving aside the other actress and saying, "Move over Barbie, I've got this one."


“Hey Arnold!: The Movie”: Deep Voice

Hey Arnold!: The Movie
As Deep Voice, Helga sacrifices great personal gain in order to secretly help Arnold save the neighborhood. She also confesses her secret to Arnold, albeit in a crazed manner. Lesson learned? Happily ever after in romance doesn’t always happen as she takes back the confession and returns to normal.

3. Storms

Whenever something major happens between Helga and Arnold, it always seems to happen during a storm. It’s almost as though the storm is a metaphor for their relationship. Storms are unpredictable, wild, and exciting. They also provide what is needed for life to grow and the eye of the storm is extremely calm. Thus as I see it, if Helga and Arnold were to indeed become a couple at some point, their relationship would be filled with their highs and lows, however they would balance each other out and provide the other with what they need.

One notable moment that occurs during a storm is their first meeting during the flashback in “Helga on the Couch”. After Helga has walked by herself in the storm to school, it’s Arnold who shades her from the storm with his umbrella. This moment is then repeated outside of Helga’s home in “Beaned”, where Arnold again shades her from the storm and even takes her arm to walk her to school. In fact, the episode actually starts with a storm where Helga watches as he assists Rhonda from the bus while she ends up having to get soaked in the rain.

4. Crash into Each Other

It always seems that when one of them is rounding a corner, the other is rounding it at the same time leading them to crash right into each other. This is continually done throughout ย the show. One fan fiction, entitled “Arnold on the Couch” brought the light the idea that this continuous literal crashing into each other could be the universe’s way of pushing them together. It’s not an illogical idea and certainly one under consideration. Another sign that they’re soul mates? I believe it is.

Before Crash
Whenever Arnold and Helga are rounding a corner at the same time…
After Crash
…they crash into each other, as though the universe is pushing them together.

5. Arnold Nearly Hearing Helga’s Secret

On quite a few episodes, Arnold surprises Helga by showing up near her during one of her soliloquies about him. She always manages to recover her cool and cover up her moment with some excuse to which Arnold generally responds to with “Whatever you say, Helga.” Now while it’s not really that major of a motif, it’s something worth noting as it’s quite amazing that Arnold has never heard or realized Helga’s secret during these intrusions. Odd, but then again he didn’t figure out that Cecile was Helga, even though it was fairly obvious.

6. Moral Dilemmas

Whenever one of them has a dilemma of some sort, the other tends to step up and help the other. This happens more with Arnold helping Helga out rather than the other way around. For instance, in “Olga gets Engaged”, Arnold points out that Helga taking pleasure in her sister’s probable bleak future is wrong, leading Helga to scare off her sister’s horrid fiance. Arnold does have his dilemmas too. In “Deconstructing Arnold”, it’s Helga who shows Arnold that even though they sometimes find his helping them solve their problems to be annoying, it’s something they need and something he does better than her. Overall, without each other, they may have gone down very dark paths, especially Helga.

7. Connection

It is rare that Arnold and Helga connect over something, but when they do it’s a very beautiful thing. The biggest example of this is “Arnold’s Thanksgiving”, where they spend the day with each other venting about their dysfunctional families and the fact that neither have had a normal Thanksgiving. Also of note, while Arnold is standing outside Helga’s home watching her happily sit at the table surrounded by her family, he says, “Happy Thanksgiving, Helga” in almost the same tone as Helga said, “Merry Christmas, Arnold” in “Arnold’s Christmas”.

8. Subconscious

Via daydreams, dreams, and nightmares, the psyches of Arnold and Helga are explored and reveal many interesting things. Helga often daydreams of futures with Arnold, such as their wedding, him seeing her as sophisticated, etc. Her dreams and daydreams are typical girl stuff, with her personality thrust into it such as her dream in “Married”. For Arnold though, the motif of the subconscious reveals some interesting things about him. For instance, in “Arnold visits Arnie”, Arnold has a dream/nightmare about visiting his cousin Arnie where everyone in the town is the exact opposite of the person he knows at home. The only exception to this is Hilda, the country version of Helga. Arnold believes that he is seeing Helga’s opposite, however Hilda’s personality is very similar to Helga’s when she is not being a bully. He in fact falls for Hilda, and thus this episode is considered strong evidence of a future for the two. Furthermore, at the end of his nightmare in “Married”, dream Helga confesses her love for him just as his alarm rings, suggesting that deep down he understands her and cares for her. The only other notable dreams are the ones they have during Carmen in “What’s Opera, Arnold?”.




In "Arnold Visits Arnie", Arnold dreams of everyone in Hillwood as their opposite. He falls for Hilda, whom he believes is the opposite of Helga. However her personality is basically what Helga's is when she's not in bully mode.


9. Helga’s Trinkets

An interesting motif is the one where something of Helga’s that could reveal her love for Arnold ends up in his home. Helga thus goes to great lengths to retrieve these items and keep her secret safe. Items that she had to retrieve include her little pink book of Arnold poems with her name in it, a confessional voice message, a parrot that had memorized an Arnold poem with her name in it, and her locket with an inscription of love. Each time Arnold gets very close to learning the secret before Helga successfully retrieves the object. It’s a wonder as to why Helga never learns her lesson to not put her name on these items!

10. Sacrifice

The final motif that I could think of is the multiple times that Helga and Arnold sacrifice something in order to make the other happy. While this is done more on Helga’s part, there are several instances where Arnold sacrifices too. Helga’s sacrifices tend to be huge too. An excellent example of this is in “Arnold’s Christmas” where she gives up the one thing she wanted for Christmas, the difficult to find Nancy Spumoni snow boots, in order to find Mr. Hyunh’s daughter and preserve Arnold’s belief in miracles. Through doing this, Helga learns the true meaning of Christmas and preserves Arnold’s good heart and positive outlook. Arnold has sacrificed things too in order to make Helga happy.




By sacrificing her brand new snow boots, Helga preserves Arnold's positive world view. Also notice that she is wearing the Cecile dress.


In “Beaned” when he thought that Helga still had amnesia, he sacrificed his reputation and time with his friends in order to make sure Helga was safe and to help Helga regain her memory. He was even going to miss out on a big baseball game in order to make sure Helga got home safely. There are many more examples of sacrifice, but to go into them all would require another post entirely.

Closing Remarks

Overall, the running gags and motifs of this wild pair drives home the idea that they are meant for each other, and that Arnold will one day figure it out. If only The Jungle Movie had been made! *shakes fist* Gah!



Whether or not you believe they are meant for each other, they still have one of the most complex relationships on the show.