Character analysis

Hey readers! I’m terribly sorry that I haven’t updated here since November, but basically my final semester of college usurped my life and up until this past week it was just nonstop studying and papers! However I am FINALLY done and have thus completed my degree. Now I have plenty of time to write for the things I love, more presently Hey Arnold! On to today’s topic!

Arnold’s Christmas

Season 1 Episode 20

Arnold's Christmas Title Screen

I understand that I’m jumping ahead and not following the original plan of going episode by episode in order of air date. However it is the holidays and this seems like the perfect episode to critique at this time. This episode aired on December 14, 1996 and was the first and only Christmas themed episode produced for Hey Arnold. While many cartoon and children’s shows took the easy route for their Christmas episode plots, such as having the main characters assist Santa and/or attempt to save Christmas, Hey Arnold does something completely out of the ordinary. Instead of taking the easy way out, Hey Arnold faces real world issues and forces its characters to learn some difficult lessons regarding reality and themselves. The episode is notable as it never really mentions Santa and the only Christmas carol we hear sung is part of the chorus of Jingle Bells as sung by Olga, Miriam, and Bob Pataki. This episode is a classic holiday cartoon and one that continues to cause even the most stoic of us to shed a few tears at its beauty, heart, and love.

Episode Synopsis

The episode opens up on Phoebe and Helga sharing a conversation as they walk through Hillwood. This conversation enlightens us to their personal views of the Christmas holiday. Helga believes it’s all about material possessions and getting the flashiest thing possible while Phoebe believes its all about giving and sharing. Helga shoots Phoebe down and expresses her strong desire for Nancy Spumoni snow boots, the must have Christmas gift that is sold out in the entire city.

Helga stares at some Nancy Spumoni snow boots.

Helga's desire for the Nancy Spumoni snow boots is almost matched by her desire for a certain someone...

Meanwhile Arnold is out with Gerald, who is finishing some last minute Christmas present shopping for his family. After Arnold learns that Gerald got everyone in his family a tie, including his little sister Timberly, Arnold tells Gerald that Christmas is about showing your loved ones how much you care about them and that a gift should be unique for the person. Gerald understands and changes up his gift giving plans, to include getting a toy for Timberly instead of the tie. They each go their own way for the day and after Arnold passes by Helga, she launches into one of her personal soliloquies about him, deciding that she must find a big flashy gift for him so that he will fall for her. Notably, Brainy does not show up during this.

Rather than Brainy showing up, Helga just gets splashed with mud. Maybe he was on vacation?

The scene then cuts to Mr. Hyunh arriving back to the Sunset Arms, but before he enters he turns around thinking he heard a female voice call out for him. Inside Secret Santa assignments are taking place and after an initial corruption of the drawing where everyone gets Oskar, Arnold ends up with Mr. Hyunh. He expresses his lack of knowledge about Mr. Hyunh to Gerald the next day, who advises him to go and talk to Mr. Hyunh to see what he would like for Christmas.

Through this visit, Arnold learns that Mr. Hyunh has a daughter, Mai, that is currently missing. Back when he was younger, he lived in a country that was being torn apart by a war. Fearing for his daughter’s safety, he fled to the US embassy and attempted to get him and his daughter on one of the helicopters departing the area. When he was informed that there was only room for one more on the helicopter, he gave his daughter up to the soldier who yelled to him that he would bring Mai to Hillwood. Mr. Hyunh eventually was able to get to Hillwood and has spent over twenty years searching for his daughter in vain. This story causes Arnold to decide to attempt to find Mr. Hyunh’s daughter for Christmas.

Mr. Hyunh decides to give his daughter, Mai, up in order to secure her safety from the war.

Arnold and Gerald go the next day to visit Mr. Bailey at the Federal Office of Information. Initially, Mr. Bailey refuses to help them find Mai, but after they offer to do his last minute Christmas shopping for him, he agrees to help as long as they get everything on the list.

Helga is doing some last minute shopping herself as she is trying to find Arnold a fantastic Christmas present. She finally finds one that may just do a trick, a flashy new computer game. However after she runs into Arnold and Gerald and shows them the item, they comment on how it just seems like she’s trying to impress the recipient with how expensive it is. This run in leads to Helga discovering Mr. Bailey’s Christmas shopping list and she sees Nancy Spumoni snow boots listed. Intrigued, she secretly follows the boys for the rest of the day in their failed quest to retrieve the snow boots.

After searching nearly every store in the city, Arnold and Gerald return to Mr. Bailey without the snow boots in hand. Even though they got everything else on his list, Mr. Bailey refuses to help them as they did not get the snow boots his daughter wanted. Dejected, Arnold and Gerald leave and sit on a bench, where Arnold expresses his sadness over the fact that he failed to reunite Mr. Hyunh and Mai all because he couldn’t find a pair of Nancy Spumoni snow boots. Helga overhears this and realizes exactly what Arnold wants. This leaves her downtrodden as well as she doesn’t believe she can give him what he wants.

Once she arrives home, her mother, Miriam, notices Helga’s sadness and decides to let her open a Christmas present early. Helga opens the gift and finds that they are Nancy Spumoni snow boots. Exhilirated by the fact that her mother actually got her the one thing she wanted, Helga hugs her mother, yanks the snow boots on, and dashes outside where she dances joyfully in the snow. It is during this dance that Mr. Bailey’s Christmas list flies out of her jacket pocket, reminding her that now she has the ability to give Arnold his Christmas miracle and posing a moral dilemma. After several minutes of mulling over her options, Helga reaches her decision.

Helga experiences a moral dilemma when she receives the one thing that she needs to get Arnold what he wants.

As Mr. Bailey leaves his office for the night, Helga races up to him and shoves the snow boots in his arms while yelling about how they need to go back inside and find Mai. Mr. Bailey refuses, stating that he is tired and wants to go home to spend Christmas Eve with his family. Seeing this, Helga appeals to him explaining that he can either leave now and kill Arnold’s belief in miracles or go back into the office with her to search for Mai.

The next morning at Sunset Arms, Gerald arrives to a still depressed Arnold watching the boarders and his grandparents celebrate Christmas. Arnold didn’t even both getting Mr. Hyunh a different gift. After all the gifts have been opened, the doorbell rings which Grandpa Phil goes to answer. He returns with Mai who sees Mr. Hyunh by the fire and calls to him with the same voice heard earlier in the episode. He turns and is stunned to find her there. They reunite in a hug as everyone else looks on stunned, but happy. No one is more stunned however than Arnold, who tries to figure out how the reuniting was possible. Gerald tells him to leave it as a miracle and notes that Arnold may have a Christmas angel looking out for him. It is then shown that Helga is standing outside the Sunset Arms with a peaceful smile. The episode closes as Helga whispers, “Merry Christmas, Arnold.”

Mr. Hyunh and Mai end up getting reunited, leading to a happy Christmas for all.

Reality Strikes

The first main thing that really stands out in this episode is just how much real life is thrown in. Mr. Hyunh’s experiences with the war is something that many people experienced in real life. It is presumed that Mr. Hyunh was talking about the Vietnam War, based on his story and the fact that he says he is from Vietnam in the episode, “Snow”. Furthermore, the event that occurs where he gives up Mai can logically be assumed to be happening during the Fall of Saigon around 1975. In the Fall of Saigon, many South Vietnamese civilians vied for limited spaces on the helicopters that were evacuating people as they feared that once the North Vietnamese took over the city, they would be considered traitors and possibly killed. These helicopters were even evacuated from the US Embassy, which is where Mr. Hyunh got through at as seen by the US flag as he runs through to the building.

Mr. Hyunh manages to get Mai out of Vietnam by helicopter at the US Embassy during the Fall of Saigon.

Showing this war in a cartoon meant for kids and exposing them to the fact that war tears families apart was a brave and stunning move. Children watching the show had to learn the harsh reality that war is not pretty and is in fact something that we have dealt and continue to deal with today.

The other major thing that is shown that is very real is the fact that Arnold fails in his quest to reunite Mai and Mr. Hyunh. Children are taught to believe that anything is possible with hard work. What they fail to understand and what isn’t mentioned as much as it should be is that there will be times where you fail in what you attempt. However that is okay and the world does move on. Arnold was lucky to have his Christmas angel.

Finally, although a minor correlation it is worth noting that the fact that Nancy Spumoni snow boots were the must have gift was a direct play on our society’s yearly obsession with a certain toy and/or item. That particular year it was Tickle Me Elmo, which went for much money on auctions and private sales due to the fact that it was nearly impossible to find. Parents went to extremes to secure the toy for their child, just like Miriam waited 18 hours in line to get Helga the Nancy Spumoni snow boots. Helga at the beginning of the episode is a perfect image of the commercialism that has degraded Christmas to a mere sport for many people. Too many people have forgotten the true meaning of the holiday, and this episode puts that back into perspective.

Breaking Points

This episode also marked key breaking points for Helga and Arnold. If Mr. Hyunh and Mai had not been reunited for Christmas, Arnold would have lost his belief in miracles and would have probably experienced a major personality shift. He probably would have lost his optimism and this loss of belief in miracles could have caused a downward spiral for him.

Helga giving her snow boots up in order to get Arnold his miracle saved his world view.

In the sense of Helga, this episode marked a major shift in her beliefs. At the start of the episode Helga was shown as very materialistic, believing that the way to Arnold’s heart was through a flashy present. However through the course of the episode she learns the true meaning of the holidays, and through that the true meaning of love. She learns that love is caring for someone else more than yourself and that the holidays are an important time to give to someone and show them how much you care.

Helga learns the true meaning of Christmas and love by giving Arnold his miracle.

Boss Quotes Regarding Christmas Meaning

“Christmas is about giving and cheer, family and friends, holiday spirit!” -Phoebe

“Christmas is about presents! It’s about getting as much stuff as you can possibly get! It’s about money and flash! It’s about shopping like a barbarian! It’s about getting your’s before the other guy gets his!” -Helga

“‘Cause Christmas is special. It’s about showing the people you’re close to that you really care about them. When you give somebody a present, it should be unique.”     -Arnold

“At night I used to dream about our future together. To watch Mai grow up and go to school. To see her be happy.” -Mr. Hyunh

“Then I had to make the most difficult decision of my life. I had to do the best thing for Mai. I knew that if I gave Mai to the soldier he would take care of her. He would find a home for her and then as soon as I could I would get out of the country and find her again.” -Mr. Hyunh

“Maybe, but what better time for a miracle than Christmas?! Isn’t that what Christmas is really about?” -Arnold

“Arnold will be overwhelmed. On Christmas morn he will unwrap my gift. Hiis little heart will fill with joy! His little eyes will find the attached tag “To Arnold. From Helga.” and his uniquely football shaped head will fill with thoughts about me, Helga Pataki! And perhaps, then those same thoughts will lead him to feel the same admiration and-dare I say it?- love for me that I have so longed and secretly harbored for him! This truly must be the meaning of Christmas.” -Helga

“I needed a miracle I guess. Just couldn’t get one.” -Arnold

“Can’t you see?! It’s not about snow boots! It’s not about flashy, expensive presents or getting yours before the other guy gets his. It’s about showing people you really care about them and most of all it’s about a funny little football headed kid with a good heart, but no sense of reality whose entire world view is at stake!” -Helga

“But if you leave now, that little football headed kid will never believe in miracles again.” -Helga

“Don’t try to make sense of it, Arnold. A miracle’s a miracle, and that’s all there is to it. Maybe you’ve got a Christmas angel looking out for you or something.” -Gerald

“Merry Christmas, Arnold.” -Helga

Closing Remarks

This holiday episode is a classic that will continue to pull at heart strings of young and old alike for years to come. With its timeless lessons, family values, and dash of real life issues, it’s definitely a must watch during the holiday season. Happy holidays everyone!

Image credit: tabbyandy at deviantART


Downtown as Fruits

Season 1 Episode 1

Downtown as Fruits Title

On October 7, 1996 Hey Arnold! premiered on Nickelodeon as one of their brand new Nicktoons. The episode Downtown as Fruits is the official pilot episode for the Nickelodeon debut, and it has remained a classic Hey Arnold! episode since then. In this episode we get introduced to the students of PS 118 in the midst of their preparation for the school play on the food groups, as put on by the one and only Helga Pataki. While this episode does show a good number of the characters, it mainly focuses on introducing the viewers to the main three, namely Arnold, Gerald, and Helga. A wise move as the rest of the show’s episodes tended to be focused in some form on these three characters.

Episode Synopsis

The episode opens with Arnold surfing an awesome wave on what seems to be a very pleasant day out at the beach. He is immediately snapped back to reality by Helga who is obnoxiously yelling at him to get off the stage. The students of PS 118 are preparing for a play on the food groups, to premiere that night, and Director Helga isn’t happy about their progress. She bosses and bullies the students around, clearly taking pleasure in her position of authority. None of the students make any attempt to stand against her, showing that they are all quite fearful of her threats. That night, Arnold dressed as a banana and Gerald dressed as a strawberry board the city bus to get to the school. It’s during this ride, where they are given many weird looks, that Gerald has the brilliant idea to *miss* the stop for the school and a few stops after that in order to get out of performing in the play put on by Helga. After a brief internal moral dilemma, Arnold decides to go along with it. At the school, Helga is informed by Phoebe that Arnold and Gerald are missing, thus causing her to yell Arnold’s name and Arnold to hear her angry cry all the way on the bus across town. They quickly reach the end of the bus line in downtown and are forced to get off. With no money and a disconnected pay phone, they begin to realize how serious their situation is.


Downtown as Fruits

We're fruits.

That is, until a mysterious person tosses them a bag full of cash, telling them to take it as they know what it is. They gladly take it commenting on the kindness of downtown people and rush off to purchase some actual clothing. The viewer sees after Arnold and Gerald that two goons dressed as the same fruits were supposed to have received the money, showing that Arnold and Gerald just got mixed up in a case of mistaken identity. With the newly gained cash, Arnold and Gerald purchase some funky rags, eat some delicious street food, and dance and play pool at a downtown bar.

Meanwhile back at PS 118, Helga’s play is beginning to fall apart. It seems that Helga is about to go into an angry tirade about Arnold not being there, however her tirade quickly turns into a beautiful speech regarding her beloved. The classic back and forth of “I love you’s” and “I hate you’s” is said by Helga and Brainy is punched for the first time on the show.

Arnold and Gerald’s fortune takes a quick spiral downward when they are discovered by the goons and are chased out of the bar. They land in a fortune teller’s den who asks them if there is someone they have wronged. Gerald thinks back to Helga and answers no, but Arnold becomes horrified at the fact that they have wronged Helga and he yanks Gerald away while yelling that they have to make everything right again.

Things seem to be getting dire at the play and Helga goes on stage to announce a change of program as the fruits are absent. At this Arnold and Gerald leap on stage fully costumed and sing an adorable song about fruits. They are joined by the rest of the class in song as Helga watches from the side with an adoring look at Arnold. The audience gives the students a roaring ovation and the episode ends with Helga knocked down by the falling curtain with a bouquet of roses thrown at her face as she happily sighs, knowing that her play was a success and that Arnold had indeed shown up.


We're Fruits

It's fruits! It's fruits that really make us toots!

Characters, Traits, Etc.

Seeing as how this episode is the start of everything for the show’s Nickelodeon run, we learn A LOT. We first learn that Helga isn’t at all who she appears to be on the outside. She is seen by the other students as a condescending bully who is to be feared and tread carefully around when in actuality she can be quite poetic and secretly harbors a crush on Arnold. We do not actually see the depth of this crush and initially regard it as a regular school girl crush. Arnold is shown to be a boy with good moral character as he initially does not want to skip the play and ends up being the one to decide that they have to return to the school when they do end up skipping. Gerald is introduced as Arnold’s best friend who is willing to break the rules and doesn’t mind wronging the school bully at all. We also get a brief glimpse at Phoebe’s character, who is displayed as more of an assistant to Helga at this point in the show. Phoebe also looks up to Helga as when Helga cries due to her play being ruined, Phoebe begins crying too.

Other students briefly introduced and seen include Harold, Sheena, Eugene, Curly, Pea Pod Kid (who gets his name from his pea pod costume in this episode), Stinky, Rhonda, Nadine, Iggy, and Park.

Two last things to note. First, how awesome were Arnold and Gerald’s funky rags?! I totally agree with Gerald, too. Arnold’s banana shoes totally pulled his outfit together. Secondly…why did we have to see Helga’s underwear? This is the only time we ever see them, but it’s pretty random that we do. Oh the random things that go on with this show.


Funky Rags

Two suave looking nine year olds, ready to hit downtown!


There are the start of so many recurring gags and minor characters in this episode because, well doi! It’s the pilot episode! Recurring gags are a major component of Hey Arnold! and are part of what make it such a memorable show. Noteworthy gags that get their start in this episode include Monkeyman, the animals running out the Sunset Arms door as Arnold opens it, Arnold being the only one to hear Helga angrily yell his name across town, Brainy punches, Eugene’s clumsiness, and Helga’s confessions of love to the locket photo of Arnold. Love all the gags!


First Brainy Punch

The first ever punch from Helga that Brainy receives on the show!

Lessons Learned

We learn several important lessons in this episode. Firstly, treat your peers with respect. Helga abuses her position of power as director and writer of the food groups play, thus leading to Arnold and Gerald skipping out. If she had treated her peers with respect and directed them kindly, she probably wouldn’t have found herself in the compromising position of watching her play fall apart right before her eyes.


Love Hate

If only Helga could be her kind self all the time, but then we'd miss her awesome temper!

A minor thing we learn is a new word! We are basically told by Helga that legumes means beans, which personally, I didn’t know when I was watching the show as a precocious nine year old. Oh Helga and Arnold, you guys taught us so much vocabulary it’s ridiculous.



"Legumes? I thought we were beans!"

Another lesson learned is to always do the right thing. Arnold opts to miss the stop for the school, even though he knows it’s not the right thing to do. Even though he and Gerald end up having a great time downtown initially, the night nearly ends in disaster as they are almost caught by the gang. If Arnold had pulled the rope and gotten off at the correct stop, he might not have had the best time, but he would have stopped a whole lot of grief from happening.


Moral Dilemma

Even the most morally upstanding of us are susceptible to immoral behavior.

Finally, two wrongs don’t make a right. The main drive behind Arnold and Gerald deciding to skip out on the play was because they were really ticked off with the fact that they were doing this play for Helga, a big school bully. By deciding to tick her off by skipping, Arnold and Gerald end up nearly having a disastrous night of their own. This is summed up when they go visit the fortune teller who asks if they have wronged anyone as they have disrupted their karmic energy field. Gerald is fine with having wronged Helga, but Arnold realizes that disappointing Helga was not the solution to their problem and finally mans up and returns just in time to complete the play.


Are you kidding?!

Gerald you gotta be kidding! Think of Helga, and her play, and all the kids back at school who we're letting down!

Overall this is a wonderful episode and is an instant classic. No fan can resist this episode, especially with that adorable “It’s Fruits!” song at the end!

Really Boss Quotes

“Do vegetables have souls?” -Curly

“Slow down! This strawberry really chafes!” -Gerald

Helga: “First the legumes.” Pea Pod Kid: “Legumes? I thought we were beans.” Helga: “You are, genius!” -Helga and Pea Pod Kid

Gerald: “The journey is the destination man.” Arnold: “What’s that mean?”      Gerald: “I don’t know, I heard it in a hippy movie.” -Arnold and Gerald

“Wow, people downtown are really nice!” -Arnold

Helga: “If I ever get my hands on that Arnold I’ll…I’ll…soothe his fevered brow. Oh my poor lost sweetheart. How I love you, and yet I hate you! And yet I love you! And yet I hate you!” Brainy: “Breathe breathe breathe.” Helga: *punch* -Helga and Brainy

“Come on, we’ve got a karmic energy field to fix.” -Arnold

It’s fruits, it’s fruits, that really makes us toots;
It’s fruits, it’s fruits, that give us all a hoot!
It’s not like other food gorups aren’t important;
In fact, you need us all to make your fingernails and eyes and organs-
Fruits, it’s fruits, you gotta have your fruits;
That’s what the folks with scurvy say;
‘Cause it’s fruits, us fruits, that really makes us sing;
This is the end of our play! -Students of PS 118

“Wait till I get my hands on you Arnold, you…beautiful creature.” -Helga

Before I get into the various themes of Hey Arnold, I just want to say that I’m planning an article series. This article series would be an analysis of each episode of Hey Arnold to be hopefully updated at least once a week. I’m even thinking about doing a vlog to go along with it, time permitting of course! So keep your eyes out for that! Pretty psyched to do it! Now on to the topic of this posting.

Themes of Hey Arnold!

Hey Arnold!

Throughout the show’s run, there have been a multitude of life lessons and morals imparted to the viewers. These have been learned through the mistakes of various characters or simply through different life experiences. In thinking over these lessons learned, several themes appear that show that while the lessons themselves were individual, the overall ideas of Hey Arnold were quite broad and powerful.


This is arguably the biggest theme of the show as we are exposed to all kinds of love during the various episodes and it is practically present in some form in all the episodes. These kinds of love include unrequited, first love, familial love, platonic love, and unwanted love.

In the category of unrequited love, it is fairly obvious that Helga is the main character that is demonstrative of this theme. Throughout the six years of her crush/obsession over Arnold, he has never once returned the same sentiments of love to her. She has had to deal with the pain of unrequited love for the majority of her life and has to live with the wonder of whether or not it will ever be fulfilled or if she will ultimately be rejected. It’s a fear that many of us share, naively as children and more so as teens and adults. Even though she finally does reveal her feelings to Arnold, she never does receive an answer from him on where he stands regarding his feelings about her. Arnold manages to avoid the answer of how he feels by wisely giving the Helga the opportunity to take her confession back, which she quickly does so. Too bad The Jungle Movie never got made, or else we could have seen the resolution of this conversation and seen Helga’s unrequited love be fulfilled much to our gleeful little hearts. Others on the show with unrequited love include Brainy, who clearly has a thing for Helga even though she has never returned his sentiments, Curly and his psychotic crush on Rhonda, and even Arnold for a time when he was dealing with his feelings for Lila, who constantly rejected him on the basis that she only liked him platonically. The show makes it clear though that unrequited love can drive one crazy and that the best way to figure out how the object of your desire feels is to just lay it all on the table, even if it may lead to a painful discovery and a chick flick marathon with a tub of espresso flavored ice cream.


Helga's Unrequited Love

Unrequited love can be painful, as demonstrated by Helga.

First love is another major theme on this show, also viewable through the various actions of Helga as Arnold is her first and only love of her thus short life. However, in order to not sound repetitive and too focused on Helga (as much as I’d like to be because she is amazing), we’ll look at this theme through other characters. Most notably is Arnold’s crush on Ruth. This can be considered the first serious crush of Arnold’s childhood as he goes all goofy whenever he sees her and is unable to formulate a cohesive sentence. Another example of first love is Phoebe and Gerald. While Gerald has been known to check out other girls and did go out with Connie to a school dance (even though she was using him to make her boyfriend jealous), Gerald and Phoebe can be considered each other’s first loves. Definitely for Phoebe as it is never mentioned that she liked another person before. Through these characters actions we see that first love makes you feel silly, learn important life lessons, and more times than not will leave you with a broken heart. This is especially seen with Arnold when he learns how vapid Ruth really is and is broken up with by Lila. Poor guy has had to deal with enough heart break in his nine years! Other characters besides the aforementioned deal with their first love too, including Harold who seemingly falls for Patty, Stinky who becomes broken hearted over Helga for a brief time, and Curly with his wild obsession over Rhonda.

Operation Ruthless

First love on the show is generally depicted as inflicting feelings of goofiness, whimsy, and inability to speak coherently. While the majority ends in heart break, Gerald and Phoebe are able to avoid a painful end entirely.

Familial love and platonic love falls into two coming categories of themes that I’ll later cover, so on to the last sublevel of love covered in the show, unwanted love. This is primarily shown by Brainy and Curly with their obsessions over Helga and Rhonda respectively. Neither of these two girls wants either of the guys, yet they  have to deal with it day in and day out. While Helga deals with Brainy through violence, Rhonda deals with Curly by exuding her disgust at the very idea of a relationship with him. In “Curly’s Girl” however, Rhonda unwillingly enters into a relationship with Curly for one week in exchange for him cleaning her mother’s new fur coat that she had just ruined. Even though Rhonda cannot wait to be free of this horrifying situation, Curly blurs the line between his own fantasy and reality by showers his beloved with gifts and love, believing that in some way she is returning his sentiments, or at least will soon. Once the week is up though, Rhonda breaks up with him, leaving him incredibly heart broken and morose. They end up getting back together so Rhonda can reclaim her popular status, but Curly breaks up with her in order to ensure that she doesn’t lose her status again. The main thing learned through this theme is to never lead someone on that you don’t feel anything for as it will only lead to major emotional pain for them.

Although much of the love seen in Hey Arnold leads to painful outcomes, there are joyous things seen of love such as Phil and Gertie’s happy and crazy marriage, Harold and Patty’s calmness and peace, and the fact that it can make one feel so many different amazing emotions that you feel as though you are floating on air. Furthermore it can be seen that love does indeed conquer all. It was nice to see though that Hey Arnold depicted the toughness and reality of love. Love isn’t all butterflies and rainbows, there’s work involved and unfortunately it doesn’t work out all the time. It’s a rough lesson for these kids to learn, but learn it they do and so do we right along with them.


One thing I mentioned in the area of love is familial love. This is a huge thing covered in the show. Firstly, we see that family isn’t necessarily who you are born with, but also the other people you love. Through Arnold, we see that he has quite a dysfunctional family comprising of his grandparents, wacky boarders, and of course, Gerald, his best friend. These are the people that Arnold loves the most and relies on during his difficult times and trials. In “The Journal”, it’s Gerald out of all of his friends who attempts to comfort Arnold on the anniversary of his parents’ disappearance. Even though Arnold’s parents are missing, they are still a part of his family even though they are not present. He keeps them close by constantly wearing the blue hat his father gave him as a baby. This shows that no matter where your family is, they’re still a part of you and who you are.


Family doesn't just include those you're born with, but also those that love, support, and care for you.

Another thing learned through the theme of family is that your family always loves you, even when it may not seem like they do. In “Arnold’s Thanksgiving”, tired of being constantly looked over and ignored by her own family, especially on the holiday, Helga disappears from the house and traipses about the city. She has a heart to heart with Arnold and ends up returning home, arriving to her parents and sister in a sheer panic over her disappearance. Seeing this, she’s able to realize that even though they may not always show it, they all do really care and love her and would do anything to ensure her safety. Through this we see that even the most dysfunctional family can and do have love for each other. We also learn that we should show our family that we love them more often before it’s too late. Sadly, Helga’s family never fully learns this lesson as they return to their routine of ignoring Helga in subsequent episodes.

Thanksgiving Patakis

After returning from her several hour disappearance, Helga sees how worried her parents and sister were about her safety and realizes that her family does indeed love her, even though they don't always show it.

This same theme is demonstrated in the more normal family of Gerald Johanssen. When Gerald moves to the Sunset Arms boarding house in order to be rid of his annoying family in “Gerald Moves Out”, he learns just how much he really loves all of them despite how much they can peeve him sometimes. He tries to hide this from his family when they come visit, but eventually breaks down, runs home, and requests to come back home. Through this his family expresses how much they love him and welcome him back with a giant family hug. Gerald learns in a painful way that your family is there for you when you need them and that they are a part of you. As his mother says in response to his question of if they even care about him, “We will always care about you.”

Family Hug

Gerald learns just how strong a family's love is after he returns from a brief stint of living on his own.

The best example of the strength of family has to be Mr. Hyunh in “Arnold’s Christmas”. In order to give his daughter, Mai, a better chance at life during the Vietnam War, he hands her off to an American soldier before the soldier helicopters off. Mr. Hyunh has spent over twenty years searching for his daughter in Hillwood, and becomes incandescently happy when she arrives in the living room of the boarding house on Christmas morning courtesy of Helga’s secret good deed. Mr. Hyunh’s and Mai’s emotional reuniting shows that the bond of family never dies and that it is just about the strongest bond out there. By giving her up to the soldier, Mr. Hyunh ensured Mai’s survival even though he suffered the loss for many years. That’s family right there, sacrificing a huge amount in order to ensure your family’s safety, happiness, and well being, especially in a time of danger.


The best example on the show of the strength of family love. The only thing that would have been better than this would have to be Arnold reunited with his parents in The Jungle Movie.

Family is an important part of life, but it doesn’t always have to necessarily comprise of those you were born with. Family is made up of the ones who care and love you for who you are and are the ones you can depend on when you’ve lost your way or are just feeling down. This is demonstrated repeatedly on the show and can be considered a core theme.


There are many friendships explored throughout the series. However the main ones focused on are Gerald/Arnold, Phoebe/Helga, Rhonda/Nadine, and Sid/Stinky/Harold. Through their friendships we see just how much friendship is worth fighting for. Each pair endures their own set of conflicts, reconcile, and become stronger and better friends.

Take for instance Gerald and Arnold. They’re best friends from day one in preschool with their super awesome thumb handshake and their love of music and funky things. Gerald’s a great wingman to Arnold and Arnold helps keep Gerald’s big ideas down to earth. Their biggest conflict was in “Part Time Friends” where they both worked together in Mrs. Vitello’s Flower Shop. Arnold is excellent with flower arrangements and Gerald is great with money handling and the business end of things. When Mrs. Vitello injures her back, she gives Gerald the responsibility of keeping the business running. This leads to an abuse of power by Gerald and pangs of jealousy within Arnold. The two end up having a huge argument, leading to several days of silent treatment between the two. Eventually, the two make up realizing how petty it is for them to end their friendship over a stupid argument.


Part Time Friends

Even though they have what can be considered their biggest argument ever, Arnold and Gerald make up and develop an even stronger bond of friendship.

Helga and Phoebe are another friendship the show tends to explore. While in the beginning of the show’s run, Phoebe was shown more as an assistant to Helga,  it was later revealed that the two truly do care for one another and regard each other as their best friend. This is especially seen in “Phoebe Skips”, where the two experience their own huge conflict. When Phoebe is promoted to the sixth grade as she is a super genius, Helga tries to warn her (in her own Helga manner) that she will probably be hurt by the other sixth graders. Helga is also fearful that she will be unable to replace Phoebe and tries unsuccessfully to do so. Phoebe on the other hand is taken advantage of by the sixth grade girls and ends up emotionally hurt. In the end, the two have an emotional heart to heart in the girls’ bathroom after a tearful Phoebe overhears Helga’s soliloquy about her regret over not supporting her best friend. Through this conversation, Helga finally admits that Phoebe is her best friend and Phoebe admits the same. It’s actually one of my all time favorite scenes of the show.


Phoebe Skips

Phoebe and Helga realize just how much their friendship means to them when Phoebe is emotionally hurt by the sixth grade girls and Helga has to learn how to go through daily life without Phoebe. Each admits that they consider the other to be their best friend in a rare heart to heart conversation.

While many of the friends on Hey Arnold experience their own turbulent times and personal differences, for the most part they are able to reconcile and realize just how important the other is to them. The show imparts the lesson that a great friendship is worth fighting for and does take work to maintain. There are both good and bad times, but if you’re willing to overcome the bad then your bond with your friend will become even stronger. As Arnold puts it when Gerald asks him if they’re still friends, “Friends ’till the very end.”

Bright Side

It’s no secret that Arnold constantly looks on the bright side of things. He’s always trying to find the good in people and the positive aspects of a seemingly terrible situation. In the film, Gerald asks Arnold, “Why do you always have to look on the bright side?” to which Arnold responds with, “Somebody has to.” That in itself is a huge theme and lesson the show imparts. Someone always needs to be able to look on the bright side of a situation, because if one is unable to find the bright side in anything, then the world can be quite dark and cold.

A great instance where Arnold tries to find the bright side in everything is when he converses with Helga in “Arnold’s Thanksgiving”. Helga is always looking at the negative in things as that is all she has ever known. It is especially difficult for her to see the good in the world when all she tends to see and experience is the bad. I find the following to really sum up how they each view the world:

Arnold: Maybe we should at least try to be optimistic. Maybe we should look on the bright side.

Helga: What bright side football head?

Arnold: We have this beautiful view. *cut to sewage filled harbor*

Helga: Keep trying Arnold.

Arnold: There’s no school today.

Helga: Skip on down.

Arnold: Hey look it’s the Mayflower! The symbol of the pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving! It…it must be some kind of sign Helga!

Helga: Maybe you’re right. *sits down and watches ship crash* Yea, it’s a sign all right. It’s a sign that this is possibly the worst Thanksgiving ever. Oh brother.


Arnold constantly tries to find the bright side of things while Helga tends to only see the bad. By the end of the episode, they are both able to see that Thanksgiving with their families isn't so bad after all.


This exchange between the two really demonstrates their differing world views. Although both of them have dysfunctional families and practically nonexistent parents (Arnold’s actually being nonexistent in his life and Helga’s being nonexistent emotionally), their world views are incredibly different. Helga is unable to look on the bright side, but eventually Arnold gets her to do so after they go to Mr. Simmons’ home and see how terrible his Thanksgiving is, realizing that if he can put up with his own selfish family, they can each put up with their crazy ones too.

Arnold constantly finds the good in people and brings out everyone’s optimism, whether it’s showing Stinky that he is actually good at something in “Stinky’s Pumpkin” or helping Harold achieve his goal of losing his excess weight in “Weighing Harold”. Sometimes though, even Arnold himself is unable to look on the bright side. In “The List”, after Arnold is unsuccessful in every task towards a perfect Saturday, he goes to the roof of the boarding house and looks out on the city in a depressed mood. Gertie then appears and successfully cheers him up with my favorite song of the entire show, “Look Up”. Honestly, if you ever need a pick me up, just listen to this song. It’ll seriously put the biggest smile on your face as it did with Arnold and will make you look up. The lyrics of the song basically sum up this entire theme of the bright side. The following are the lyrics to “Look Up”:


Look Up

When skies are gone gray, things gone astray, don't hide away! Look up!

When life gets you down, wearing a frown, don’t look away, look up,
‘Cause memories true come of the blue; you know the way – look up!
When skies are gone gray, things gone astray, don’t look away, look up;
Arnold: I had a bad day; nothing went right; I hate my dumb life; I’m down.
When you’re feeling under the weather, and the dark clouds are getting to you,
Keep your troubles light as a feather, and soon you’ll be seeing a bright patch of blue;
Gotta look up, you gotta be strong, you gotta take things as they come,
‘Cause everything new that happens to you is better when you…look up!

Now sing it with Gertie! 😀

The main things through this theme is that it is important to always look for the good in people and to look on the bright side of life. In doing so, one leads a happier, more fulfilling life. However, it’s all right to actually be down sometimes as it’s all part of life and growing up.


One thing can be said for certain about the show, and it’s that none of the characters are 100% perfect. They each have their own flaws. Helga is unable to show her true self, Gerald keeps falling for his own get rich quick schemes, Phoebe greatly fears failure, Arnold can sometimes go too far with trying to make wrongs right, and even little Ms. Perfect herself has flaws. Lila is way too perky and can actually be manipulative when she wants to. Although her manipulation is rarely demonstrated, it is seen pretty clearly in “School Play” as shown in Helga and Lila’s exchange below:

Helga: Look, Lila, I have to play Juliet.

Lila: Why, Helga?

Helga: Because I just do, okay?!

Lila: Well, if you don’t have a reason…

Helga: I have a reason, I just…can’t tell you what it is!

Lila: This isn’t by any chance because you like Arnold, is it?

Helga: *shocked then angrily* Are you crazy?!

Lila: *looking innocent* Oh because if that was the reason, if you wanted to play Juliet because you really like Arnold and you wanted to kiss him or something, well I sure could understand that! I guess I’d think it was ever so sweet and I wouldn’t mind giving up the part so you could do it.

Helga: Y-you mean if I said I liked Arnold, then you’d let me play Juliet?

Lila: Sure Helga, but you don’t…

Helga: W-w-wait a minute.

Lila: *slyly* Yes, Helga?

Helga: U-uh strictly hypothetically if I said I liked Arnold, *laughs nervously* talk about a crazy idea, would you swear never to tell a soul about it?

Lila: I suppose so if it was a secret or something.

Helga: And would you also understand that, and this is still hypothetical, that if I told you I liked Arnold and you spilled the beans to anybody that I would strangle you with my bare hands?

Lila: W-well I’m sure I would never tell.

Helga: *whispers* I like Arnold.

Lila: Pardon? I couldn’t hear you.

Helga: *quickly mumbling* I like Arnold.

Lila: I’m sorry Helga you’re mumbling.

Helga: I LIKE ARNOLD! I’m head over heels, hook line and sinker, over the moon, loop-de-loop, wa wa doot in love with the boy! Happy now?! Happy?!

Lila: *slyly* I kind of had a funny feeling you liked him.

School Play

Lila can be a sly, manipulative little girl when she wants to be. Clever Lila. Verrry clever.


So little Ms. Perfect isn’t perfect after all, she’s a sly little girl when she wants to be and manages to wrangle Helga into confessing her deepest secret to her. Skill. Now while this may not be considered a character flaw in all characters, it can be considered a flaw of Lila’s as she is always exuding perfection and innocence, and slyness and manipulation are typically not traits associated with the aforementioned.

It’s not just the kids who are flawed in the show, it’s the adults too! Oskar is a lazy bum, Miriam is an alcoholic, Bob is overly competitive, Olga is overly perfectionistic, Mr. Wartz is too rash in his decisions, and Mr. Potts has a quick temper. Through this show we learn that everyone is flawed and no one is perfect. However, it’s okay to be flawed because it’s what makes us “special”, as Mr. Simmons would so kindly put. You should embrace people for who they are, flaws and all, and learn to love your own flaws as they’re what set you apart from the crowd.


Sacrifice plays a huge role in the stories of Hey Arnold, and many characters learn the real meaning of it. As I mentioned before in this article, the biggest sacrifice of all was arguably Mr. Hyunh giving up Mai to the American soldier in order to guarantee her safety during the Vietnam War. Other characters make sacrifices on the show too, and through them learn what it means to care for someone more than yourself.

The other biggest sacrifice made on the show was Helga’s. Throughout the show’s course, she makes two large sacrifices which are when she gives up the one thing she wanted for Christmas, the Nancy Spumoni snow boots, in order to give Arnold a Christmas miracle, and when she goes against her father’s wishes behind his back and helps Arnold save the neighborhood, even though it means the loss of a massive amount of wealth for her family and success for her father. Through her first sacrifice, Helga learns what it truly means to love someone. She actually puts Arnold’s needs and wants before her own, and in doing so experiences a level of peace and calm that is never seen in her again except as Cecile in “Arnold’s Valentine”. Through the second sacrifice, she proves her love for Arnold even further by again putting him ahead of the wants and needs of her own family. She also proves that she’s a pretty amazing person, as she says so herself in retort to Arnold’s, “That’s a pretty amazing thing to do for someone you claim to hate.”



Arnold: That's a pretty amazing thing to do for someone you claim to hate. Helga: Yea well I'm a pretty amazing person!

Hey Arnold shows that in life, it is necessary for one to make sacrifices in order to keep on moving. It also shows that if someone loves another, they are able to do things for them at a great cost to themselves. If one is unable to sacrifice for the greater good of others, then how are they able to fully live and experience the humanity of the world?


The final major theme of the show is morality. Arnold walks a very tight moral line and upholds good morals for himself and all of his friends. Whenever he feels that something isn’t right, he tends to be the first to point it out. As much of a do gooder as Arnold is, he is susceptible to doing the wrong thing too.

In “Cool Jerk” Arnold becomes friends with a bad crowd of guys and begins to act immorally, including skipping school, disregarding his true friends, and sneaking out at night, because he likes being considered cool by the other kids. When he realizes that the guys only wanted him to help them with a break in, he tries to leave, but gets left behind when the guys disperse as a police siren approaches. Gerald ends up being the one behind the police siren sound, saving Arnold and being there for him, even when Arnold had disregarded his warnings about the guys earlier. Arnold realized that he did the wrong thing and almost suffered real life consequences for his actions. If it wasn’t for his best friend Gerald, he probably would have.


Cool Jerk

If Gerald hadn't come to Arnold's rescue, he probably would have faced some heavy consequences for his immoral deeds.

Another time when someone goes against good is when Curly takes the dodgeballs hostage in the principal’s office in “Curly Snaps”. Rather than giving up, he takes Arnold hostage when he brings him his requested food. This leads to a tense negotiation between Arnold, Mr. Simmons, and Sid leading to a peaceful conclusion. Curly thinks that he’s getting away with all of his demands and no consequences for his actions, however Mr. Wartz ends up giving him a load of detention for endangering the other students and insubordination. Curly went about the problem of not being ball monitor the wrong way and tried to solve it with violence. This ended up hurting him in the end, because even though he got what he wanted, he still ended up receiving a fair punishment for his wrongful actions.

Finally, when Sid tries to pass off Arnold’s room as his own in order to impress Lorenzo in “Arnold’s Room”, he eventually gets caught in his lie. Sid almost loses both Arnold and Lorenzo as friends, however both ultimately decide to forgive him for his ruse. In doing this, Sid learns that it’s better to be honest, as he almost loses two really good friends, and that if Lorenzo hadn’t been able to accept him for who he really is, then he wouldn’t have really been a worthwhile friend anyways.

Overall, a good moral center is an important thing to have. Without one, a person can lead a life of misery and major consequences. Traipsing away from good morality also leads to consequences. So lesson learned here? Always do the right thing, even when you don’t want to. You’ll be better off for it.

Closing Remarks

Hey Arnold imparts many different themes to it’s viewers that stay with them for a lifetime. I myself constantly try to look on the bright side, follow good morals, and support my friends and loved ones through everything. Other lesser themes not explored in this article include miracles being real, first impressions not always being right, the harshness of reality, and that without anything to live for, one can feel emotionless and alone. I feel that many people who grew up with Hey Arnold went on to apply these themes to their real life and grew into mature, wise, and caring individuals. This is definitely a show my future children will watch so as to impart its lessons to them. Continue living by the lessons of Hey Arnold, and you’re sure to live a fulfilling and amazing life.

Hey Arnold

One final note! If you like Arnold and Helga, be sure to check out Moira’s (aka HAFanForever) essay on the pair. It’s an incredibly well written, well researched, and insightful essay on the pair and should be a must read for any fan of the pairing. Heck any fan of the show should read it! You can find it here. Be forewarned, it is quite a long essay, but is well worth the read.

“Move it, Football Head!  I mean Arnold!  I mean Hir Boy!  I mean…”

Not sure what Helga should be calling Arnold when writing your dialogue?  The following is a guide on whether or not Helga should be calling Arnold “Arnold” or “Football Head, ect.”

Summer love

Helga Calls Arnold by his Normal Name When…

  • She is caught off guard by Arnold (i.e. when Arnold interrupts one of her soliloquies: “Helga?” “Arnold?!”)
  • She is trying to be sincere / serious with Arnold (e.g. when she was trying to tell Arnold that she thinks he is okay in “Monkey business”)
  • She is being non-aggressive
  • She is leading Arnold on (e.g. in “Arnold’s Thanksgiving” when Arnold was talking about how Thanksgiving could be perfect like their school’s Thanksgiving play, Helga replies, “You’re right, Arnold, except for just one thing…”)
  • She feels that she is in danger (e.g. when she fell in the water in “The Flood”)
  • She is trying to be nice to him (e.g. when she was acting like Lila in “Helga’s masquerade”
  • She is trying to comfort Arnold (e.g. in “Arnold and Lila”, Helga asks him, “You okay, Arnold?”)
  • She is in an act of desperation (e.g. “Arnold, wait!”)
  • She is in one of her soliloquies.  She may call him other common names (e.g. Arnold, what a boob!), but hardly, if ever, by the standard names she gives him (i.e. Football Head, Hair boy, ect.).  E.g. she may call Arnold a “stupid football-headed kid”, but never just “Football Head”.
  • Arnold is generally not around her.  No need to keep up an image when nobody is around… Her usage of Arnold’s name is similar to when she is in one of her soliloquies.
  • She is swooning

Monkey business

Helga Calls Arnold Names Like “Football Head”, “Hair Boy”, “Arnoldo”, ect. When…

  • She is trying to insult him
  • She is being sarcastic (e.g. “Gee, you think, Football Head?”)
  • She is mocking him
  • She is trying to regain her reputation as a mean bully after being nice / caught off guard by Arnold
  • She is being uncooperative with Arnold
  • She is venting her anger (e.g. such as when she is upset and telling her problems to Arnold)
  • She is angry with him
  • She is being pessimistic (e.g. in her conversation with Arnold in “Arnold’s Thanksgiving’, she says, “What bright side, Football Head?”)
  • She is generally around Arnold

Egg story

Overall, when Helga is with Arnold, she will use a mixture of both names.

An age of exploration: that’s what childhood is all about.  But it isn’t all about exploring the mysteries of the world, such as why the sky is blue or where do babies come from; it’s also about exploring who you are.  This is where general personality profiles, such as horoscopes, become a fun, handy, and great way to learn about yourself.

The most agreed upon birth date for Arnold is October 7 which is, coincidentally, also the first day “Hey Arnold!” aired on television.  This makes him a Libra (September 23 – October 22).  However, it does not mean that Arnold might be a “true Libran”, in which all Libran characteristics apply to him.  The following will evaluate how well common Libran characteristics apply to Arnold.


Runaway float

Libras are Sociable People

Libras are sociable people and great to hang out with: they’re great listeners, charming, empathetic, and tactful.  And these characteristics suit them well, for they generally like attention and dislike being snubbed by others.  Also, they work best in groups.  In terms of friends, Libras will be happy and settled as long as they have one close friend (they tend to feel lost and upset if they don’t).  However, the downside of their curiosity and love for people is that they can become prone to gossip.

Indeed, Arnold is a very sociable person.  He’s a great listener, empathetic, and tactful – and that’s good because that’s the traits he needs if wants to help other people.  And in terms of charming…

Arnold's Valentine

…yeah, he’s pretty charming.  (Helga especially thinks so!) 

However, Arnold isn’t exactly what we would call an attention-hog.  He usually doesn’t do stuff in order to impress other people; he just does it for the pleasure of doing it.  For example, Arnold doesn’t give advice to people just because he hopes to gain some sort of recognition (e.g. an award) for it someday.  He just helps people because he wants to and he can.  He’s a very altruistic person and, in fact, he takes it pretty well when other people don’t listen to him or even insult him.  For example, in the episode “Deconstructing Arnold”, he was relatively calm (albeit a little depressed) when everyone started to ignore his advice and put him down. 

As a sociable person, Arnold actually does work best in groups.  Helga did once say he’s the type of guy who would say something like, “C’mon guys, if we all pull together and pool our resources, I just know we can achieve our goals” (in the episode “Helga’s show”).  He frequently tends to work in groups for projects such as talent shows, soapbox derbies, or even projects to break a world record.

World records

 And in terms of friends, Arnold does seem happiest whenever he’s with someone close, such as Grampa Phil or Gerald.  We have seen him fighting with Gerald before (e.g. in the episode “Part time friends”) and, of course, he isn’t happy without him. 

Finally, Arnold’s curiosity and love for people hasn’t dragged him deeply into the world of gossip yet.  He’s usually on the receiving end (i.e. hearing gossip/stories) instead of the giving end (i.e. telling gossip).  Good for him!


Libras Have an Eye for Beauty

Libras are one of the most stylish people out there!  When shopping, they tend to avoid shoddy products, going for the high-quality stuff instead; hence they can have expensive tastes (which you can tell by their possessions).  Their image can become something of great value, which is why they may fight to do everything in style.  However, their desire for extravagance can lead them to overspend their money and, when combined with their sociable nature, even be promiscuous.  One of the most interesting things about Libras is that their environment can greatly influence their mood: they prefer and work best in clean, light, and airy places.  Dirty and ugly places can really put them down.  However, their eye for beauty can also make them really artistic and creative.  They tend to excel in the fine arts such as art, music, drama, floristry, design and architecture.  Plus, they can be real romantics!

Like Rhonda said, Arnold does have a unique sense of style (like that weird little skirt thingy he always wears!)  And if you don’t believe he’s stylish or has expensive tastes, I’ve got two words for you: his room.

The little pink book

He has a sunroof, a sweet stereo system, and even a potato alarm clock!  C’mon, how is that not stylish?  However, Arnold doesn’t really buy stylish things just to maintain his image; again, he just buys things simply because he thinks they’re cool.  After all, he doesn’t give into peer pressure easily (e.g. in “Deconstructing Arnold”, he didn’t participate in pranks just because he was called a “wet blanket” and in “Hey Arnold! The Movie” he didn’t give up on rescuing the neighbourhood when everyone else did).  We have yet to see the negative impacts of Arnold’s desire for extravagance (such as going broke or being promiscuous), probably because he’s too young for these kinds of problems.  There were times where Arnold was low on cash to buy what he wanted (such as tickets to Mickey Kaline’s last baseball game), but it wasn’t clear whether it was because he spent too much money on other things, or simply because he doesn’t earn a lot of money as a kid.  And in terms of promiscuity, we’ll just have to wait until the hormones kick in full gear, don’t we?  We’ll just assume that he’ll become a responsible adult and not become some sort of pimp.  (However, if you read the essay “An Arnold Visits Arnie Essay” by Anomynous, there’s some evidence that, by choosing Hilda over Lulu, he’ll live an honest love-life.) 

Arnold does always seem to be the little bright light in the dark room.  Circumstances don’t really hold him down.  Even in the face of large adversity (such as a glooming corporation threatening to tear down his neighbourhood), Arnold is always willing to put a fight to achieve his goals.  So the Libran characteristic of being heavily influenced by the environment doesn’t really apply to him.

His eye for beauty does give him an artistic and creative side.  Arnold has artistic skills in some areas: when working for Mrs. Vitello, he was chosen to be the floral designer for his terrific floral arrangements, and his float design won the Award for Best Float in the City Day Parade.  However, he there are other areas where he is not the greatest, such as sculpturing and acting.

Girl trouble

“You call that blob a buffalo?” – Helga, “Girl trouble”

School play

“So let me get this straight: I’m the last guy on your list [to be Romeo]?” – Arnold, “School play”

Although Arnold was last on the list to play Romeo in the school play, he is, in fact, quite the lover-boy!  He had several crushes in the fourth grade (e.g. Ruth, Miss Felter, Lila, Summer) and had many other girls once/still hold the torch for him (e.g. Helga, Lila, Siobhan, Timberly).  And when he’s crushing, he can get really daydreamy, sentimental and gushy.  Unless you want to hear him spout love poems like crazy, get that book of Shakespeare poems away from him!  Geez, Arnold, most guys gotta wait for the 7th grade to have this kind of girl trouble!


Libras Make Great Diplomats

There’s a reason why the symbol for Libras is a scale: it represents how they tend to seek balance and serenity in their lives.  For you see, they like everything in their lives to be peaceful and harmonious.  They dislike arguments and roughness of any sort and, because they are highly idealistic about human nature, will strive to solve these problems.  But the good thing is that they have the traits of an excellent diplomat – they have a strong sense of right and wrong, are able to give impartial advice, and are always willing to compromise.  However, their desire to please people can become a problem, as they can eventually ignore their own needs.  Plus, their tendency to study every aspect of a situation before making a decision can make them indecisive.  Nonetheless, they still make excellent diplomats.

Yes, yes, and yes.  Arnold has all the traits of an excellent diplomat.  In fact, when he took an aptitude test, it turned out that he would a wonderful ambassador to a foreign land!  He’s always there to help other people and give advice.  It’s just in his nature to do so.  However, his highly optimistic and idealistic view of people can get him hurt.  He’ll have to learn that not all people can be changed (such as Wolfgang) and that he can’t keep making sacrifices in order to please people.  The latter is especially true if he is going to be Helga’s soulmate.  Helga needs to learn that Arnold can’t always bend over backwards to please her, and Arnold needs to learn that he can’t always be pushed around to please others.  And although Arnold is relatively quick in doing the right thing, he can be indecisive at times, especially when it comes to his relationship with Helga.  After all, he has to make the right choice.  So after all the events that have occurred in “Hey Arnold! The Movie”,  it would be normal for Arnold to put a lot of thought in how to think about and respond to Helga’s confession.  Let’s hope he does the right thing!

Field trip


Those who are taking psychology may have noticed that Helga is a prime example of a person who uses defence mechanisms (techniques used to help you reduce anxiety).  Sure, she may be mature for her age, but she still has a lot to learn when it comes to coping with situations that don’t go your way.  The following is a list of some common defence mechanisms that Helga uses.  (You didn’t think “Hey Arnold!” wasn’t applicable to the real world, did you?)


Let’s start off easy, shall we?  Denial is the simple refusal to acknowledge an event as stressful.  For example, a smoker who refuses to believe that smoking is harmful to their lungs is undergoing denial.  Now, because there are many ways to refute an unfriendly fact, the word “denial” is a relatively broad term, which makes it so easy to relate to.  And to only skim the surface, some methods of avoiding a fact can include:

  • Lying (e.g. saying that you’re fine when in fact you are not)
  • Blaming others to avoid responsibility (e.g. a student with poor study habits blaming his/her teacher for making tests that are too hard)
  • Understating a fact (e.g. a person with a large gash across their body calling their injury only a small scratch)
  • Outright refusal to believe a fact (e.g. refusing to believe your doctor when he says you have a cold)

Some examples of Helga demonstrating denial:

  • Helga refusing to believe that she is jealous of Olga and Lila’s relationship in “Big sis”.
  • In “Phoebe takes the fall”, Arnold compliments Helga that she did the right thing in letting Phoebe compete in an all-city tournament.  Helga replies, “I don’t know what you’re talking about”.


Similar to denial, rationalization occurs when you distort reality to justify an unpleasant emotion or behaviour.  In this case, reasoning, or logic, becomes your best friend.  For example, a high school student that doesn’t get accepted into the university that he applied to reasons to himself that “he didn’t want to go into that university anyways, since it’s in a bad city”. 

A good example of Helga using rationalization was in “Helga and the nanny”, where she attempts to justify framing her nanny, Inga, for stealing since she was “ruining her life”.  In addition to that, she also uses arguments such as “I got away with framing Inga” and “Inga probably has a new job by now”.


When you watch situations from an emotionally detached point of view, you are exhibiting intellectualization.  For example, a person who is concentrating on the details of a background in a sad scene of a movie as opposed to the emotions of the characters would be demonstrating intellectualization.

The best example of Helga watching the world from an emotionally detached point of view was in the episode “Helga’s love potion”, where she decides to not love Arnold (or care about anything else for that matter) after drinking an “out-of-love potion”.


Have you ever faced a problem that you couldn’t deal with maturely?  Instead of dealing with it in a professional manner, you did something relatively immature, like crying, throwing a tantrum, or calling names?  If you have, then you have demonstrated something known as regression.  Regression is when you resort to a less mature method of coping when under severe pressure, where your commonly used (and more mature) methods do not work.

If you remember any scenes where Helga has had a sudden burst of emotion (like screaming, “We’re all gonna die!” in episodes such as “Haunted train”) or violently crying (such as in the episode “Ms. Perfect”), then you have seen her demonstrate regression.  And, of course, there’s Helga’s everyday name-calling and bullying.


This defence mechanism might be a little harder to understand, depending on how you define it.  One of the common definitions of projection is that it occurs when “unacceptable feelings are believed to be coming from the environment, and not yourself”.  In other words, it’s simply the blame-game: unpleasant feelings/events are not because of you, but because of someone else.  Losing an argument?  Don’t worry, you’re not stupid, the other side is.

The most prominent example of Helga demonstrating projection is when it comes to her family.  As you already know, Helga has many family problems.  However, she tends to blame her parents and sister for her family problems (such as them not paying enough attention to her), and by doing so, avoids responsibility to her family.  Helga’s actions do in fact have an impact on her family relationships, and when she is uncooperative (e.g. refusing to give thanks during Thanksgiving), she can damage those bonds.  But in some cases as far as Helga is concerned, her relationship with her parents and sister are poor because of them, not her.


I’m sure many of you have heard of the psychological reason why Helga puts so much emotional energy into Arnold.  It’s even posted in Wikipedia!  Perhaps I’ll reiterate it.  Displacement (also called transference) occurs when you transfer an unacceptable desire/feelings to another, less threatening object.  So, in Helga’s case, her unacceptable feelings are those of love towards her family.  These feelings are seen as unacceptable as they are often unrequited and therefore painful.  As a result, she transfers these feelings of affection towards something less threatening: Arnold. 

Reaction Formation

Reaction formation is the replacing of unacceptable feelings/urges with its opposite, which is mainly used to cover up one’s true feelings.  Sound familiar and very applicable to Helga?  It should be.  That’s what we call Helga’s love-hate feelings towards Arnold.  She loves him dearly, but when the matter is brought up face-to-face, she’d rather stick feathers to his butt than to give him a subtle and nice compliment.

Two main reasons why Helga kept her love for Arnold a secret:

Reason #1: Fear of rejection by Arnold

 In the episode “Monkey business”, Helga has a dream that Arnold rejects monkey-Helga after she confesses her love to him.  This scene was part of Helga’s nightmare, meaning rejection is a bad thing for Helga.

Monkey business

– The advice you give is often reflects the beliefs that you hold, and that’s no exception with Helga.  Helga dishes out her advice to some of the gang’s problems in “Deconstructing Arnold”, and that allows us to give us some insight into her personality.  Helga’s advice to Rhonda on how to get rid of her admirer, Curly, was to have Rhonda confess to him, which should “repulse” him and therefore get Curly off her back.  This advice is a parallel to Helga’s view of her relationship with Arnold.  She thinks that by confessing her love for Arnold (and putting him “on the spot”), Arnold, too, will be repulsed and as a result, Helga will lose Arnold forever. 

Helga has to be perfect in order for Arnold to love him; believes Arnold will not love her for who she is

– In “Monkey business”, Arnold’s rejection line to Helga was: “But you’re not Helga.  You’re a monkey!  A monkey-girl!”  Helga believes that Arnold will not love her whole-heartedly, or completely.  She believes she has to be perfect in order for him to love him.  In other words, humans are more perfect than monkeys.

– Remember how Helga is always competing with Lila for Arnold’s love?  It got so bad to the point where Helga tried to act/look like Lila in “Helga’s masquerade”.  Helga thought that by being like Lila, who is practically the personification of perfection, she can win Arnold’s affection.  (Helga’s line of thought during “Helga’s masquerade” was: be more like Lila = be more perfect = win Arnold’s love).  Luckily, Helga had learned her lesson by the end of this episode: that Arnold should love the one who’s perfect for him (i.e. Helga), not one who seems perfect (i.e. Lila).  Helga demonstrates that she has learned this lesson in the episode “Married”, with her soliloquy behind the dumpster.

Helga's masquerade

Therefore, with the last point being said, the Helga after her masquerade is different from the Helga before said masquerade.  She will now try to win Arnold’s affection by getting her to love her for who she is, as opposed to getting him to love a superficially-perfect Helga.

Reason #2: Fear of humiliation by others

– Helga’s soliloquys are always a goldmine to help you understand the characters and themes of “Hey Arnold”.  Taken from her soliloquy in “Monkey business”, she hopes that she will not have to confess her love for Arnold in the near future, as that would be “embarrasing and humiliating”.

– Where did this fear of humiliation come from?  Let’s jump back to Helga’s preschool years in the episode “Helga on the couch”, where she first develops her love for Arnold.  The moment Helga showed public signs of liking Arnold (i.e. swooning after Arnold gave her his cookies), her preschool peers laughed at her.  She immediately decided to stop this barrage of laughter via violence, thus beginning her reign as the school bully.


Given her reputation as a tough school bully, it is now even harder for Helga to overcome her fear of humiliation and fully accept her contrasting, tender feelings for Arnold.  After “Hey Arnold! The Movie”, this fear of humilation will now be her greatest obstacle to overcome in order to  face her feelings for Arnold.