I know, you're thinking: "What connection?"
Well, I could have made this essay into an exploration of how Helen and Daria are similar (actually there's one I've been mulling over, in which I prove that Daria is Helen's daughter and Quinn is Jake's), but that is for another time and place. Instead, I've decided to focus on the people who influence Daria, and to prove (sort of) that they are all really different sides of the same coin.
On the surface, they each seem pretty different. Helen is the pushy, semi-demanding, always-on-the-go mother who tries to make Daria do things she doesn't want to do. Jodie is the calm, self-demanding, always-on-the-go school mate who occasionally urges Daria to do something she doesn't want to do, such as join the yearbook staff. (Okay, so she and Helen aren't that different.) Jane, of course, is Daria's supremely laid-back best friend and a fellow cynic.
But underneath the surface, the similarities between these three are startling. Sometimes you wonder if they are all the same person.
Let's start by looking at their Ease With Transformation . By "transformation," I mean change in one's appearance or situation. Helen and Jodie believe whole-heartedly in change for the sake of becoming a better person. In "Gifted," we see Jodie show Daria her book How to Win Friends and Influence People , a how-to guide on maximizing success with a good attitude. We also see that hardly an episode goes by when Helen doesn't urge Daria to be more open to new challenges. "Try not to be too negative, Daria," she tells Our Heroine before she sets out on her fun-filled day with Val in "The Lost Girls." What's surprising, though, is that Jane tends to share these beliefs. One of the things she does most often is attempt to loosen Daria up, whether by urging her to spend more time with Trent, or by seeking her help on an art project ("Arts 'N Crass"). At times, she makes statements that sound eerily similar to those of Helen. For example:
Helen to Daria in "Monster": It's just that sometimes you judge people's behavior by a pretty rigid set of standards. Not everyone can live up to them.... Not even you live up to them all the time.
Jane to Daria in "Through a Lens Darkly": Jodie knows what it's like... to have standards too high to live up to.
In fact, in "Through a Lens Darkly," Jane, Helen, and Jodie all seem to be of the same mind when it comes to urging Daria out of her shell.
Helen: You can't possibly have some ethical issue with wearing contacts.
Jane: For God's sake, Daria, who told you you had to be a martyr to principle? You're a teenage girl, not Nelson Mandela.
Jodie: Daria, what's wrong with admitting to a little vanity? You're not Mother Theresa, you know.
Yet beyond the common goal of getting Daria to expand her horizons, all three share a number of personality traits. In particular, each tends to have a Stiff Upper Lip . By that, I mean that they are fairly unflappable and difficult to get to know. I've already discussed that at length with regard to Jane (see "The Unflappable Jane Lane"), so I'll focus mainly on Jodie and Helen here.
For someone who talks a lot, Helen rarely forces people to focus on her needs; her conversation is limited to work and to her family's problems. Thus, except for the occasional wish that there was more "spice" in her marriage, we never learn from Helen what she really wants, or why she has such a need to drive herself and to guide everyone else's life, or how she feels when she gets rejected. I've tried to remedy that somewhat in my fanfics ("That Thing You Say," "None in the Family," "Breaking the Mold"), but in the real episodes, she definitely seems to be in denial. As for Jodie, she, too, tends to put on a good front. Most of the time, when we see her onscreen, she is exuding positive attitude; only in occasional, subtle ways does she reveal dissatisfaction with her lot in life.
But there is a distinction between Jodie and Helen: Jodie, at least, has shown she is aware that she is not completely happy. She also knows why, as her monologue in "Gifted" reveals. Because Jodie seems much more in touch with her feelings than does Helen, she also seems more likely to know how to solve her problems. If ever she reaches the point when she is thoroughly sick of being Miss Perfect, I could see her calmly saying, "Screw this," and walking away. Many have predicted that Jodie will blow up or break down at some point, and that may happen. But if I had to wager which person is more likely to break down, I would go with Helen -- the one who so completely buries her feelings that when they rise up, she won't be prepared for them and will get overwhelmed.
Ironically, in this respect, Helen resembles Jane more than Jodie. As I noted in "The Unflappable Jane Lane," we have never seen Jane reveal any uncertainty or dissatisfaction with her life. That could be because, like Helen, she has been thrust into the role of the family "rock." Her common sense more than offsets Trent's flakiness, and in "Lane Miserables," we see just how much he depends on her. Similarly, Helen's hyper-alertness makes her the true head of the Morgendorffer household (much to the chagrin of Jake-ophiles). It will be interesting to see if Jane ever suffers from her version of a breakdown.
In addition to Helen, Jane, and Jodie sharing the Stiff Upper Lip persona, they also have Social Consciousness . Here, Helen has more in common with Jodie than she does with Jane. Both she and Jodie are highly conscious of who they are and their place in the world -- Helen as a middle-aged working mother, Jodie as a black female. They understand that because of who they are, society has issued strikes against them, and both do their best to overcome these obstacles. As for Jane, she seems far less concerned than they about her place as a woman, yet she is definitely conscious of the fact that she is an outcast. With the help of Daria, she often finds ways around the limits imposed on her by the popular and "upbeat," and even mocks them. For instance, in "Arts 'N Crass," Jane's poster challenges accepted social knowledge: that pretty people are happy. Although her concerns set her a little apart from Helen and Jodie, Jane is still closer to them in her awareness of social hypocrisy than, say, to Brittany or Sandi.
Now what does it mean for Daria that her mother, her best friend, and school mate have so much in common? Well... hard to say, exactly. Since they are her primary influences (apart from Quinn), they could really shine a light on who Daria is and how she could grow as a person. For instance, Daria shares their tendency to keep a stiff upper lip (have we ever seen her shed a tear?) and to be socially conscious. Yet because she is more rigid than they, that could mean Daria still has room to expand her perceptions. The fact that Helen, Jane, and Jodie are so similar could also point to the "Daria" writers' desire for Our Heroine to become a more flexible person; if three of the most sensible people in Daria's life are that way, then so should she. Or... maybe... it's all just a lucky coincidence. ; >
January 16, 2000