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The Rebellious Daughter Archetype in Movies Report

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Updated: Sep 2nd, 2020

Introduction to the Archetype

The “rebellious daughter” character is a sub-category of “the rebel” archetype, which is an archetype whose defining trait lies in a confrontation with the existing political, societal, race, and gender systems. As the name of the archetype suggests, the “rebellious daughter” is typically a young female character, whose rebellion is usually defined by her relationship with a parent, who represents an authority figure in a position to enforce his or her views upon the daughter character (Rodowick, 2014). Typically, the character is depicted as brash, young, yet somewhat naïve to the realities of the world due to having little experience in it. Gender expression and sexuality often serve as points of contention between the parent character and the rebellious daughter, but, unless the entire story is based around exploring these concepts, they rarely serve as the main driving points behind the “rebellion,” and usually serve to enhance the image. The purpose of this paper is to analyze three examples of the “rebellious daughter” archetype: Veda from “Mildred Pierce” (1945), Barbara Gordon from “Batman” (1966), and Elizabeth Swan from “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl” (2003).


Veda is the oldest daughter of Mildred Pierce, who serves as an antagonist to her mother both physically and morally, as her purpose is to provide a selfish and self-serving personality to oppose that of a dutiful mother represented by Mildred. She is a two-faced character, adopting various masks when needed, and putting personal wealth and accommodation above all else. This is exemplified in the scene, where she complains about the dress her mother bought her, after not batting an eyelash upon hearing the news about her mother’s impending divorce (Curtiz, 1945, 00:27:00-00:28:16). This character defines the typical standards of “rebellious daughter,” as her confrontation with her mother is not morally justifiable. Her character was influenced by the Great Depression, as poverty and the need to force the worst qualities of people into the light.

Barbara Gordon is a classic example of a “rebellious daughter.” Her purpose in Batman is to serve as an action girl and a sidekick to Batman while appealing to the female audience. Her “rebellion” is not so much against her father, Commissioner Gordon, but rather against the stereotype of a helpless damsel in distress. When she is captured by Penguin, who wants to force her to marry him, she manages to escape (Martinson, 1966, 00:10:59-00:11:50) and even fights the villain, becoming Batgirl. Barbara’s proactive position in the movie signifies changes in the society that happened during 1966 when women started taking a more active role both in society and cinematography alike (Rodowick, 2014).

Elizabeth Swan has a similar role to Barbara in terms of her purpose in the movie – her role is being a sidekick to the leading male characters, serving as an enabler, but not as the main character in her own right. She rebels against the corrupt practices of her father and helps the main heroes escape by faking to have fainted (Verbinsky, 2003, 02:06:23-02:08:46) to stall the guards and buy some time for Will Turner to rescue Jack Sparrow. Later on, she denounces her pre-arranged marriage and escapes with Will. Her rebellion is against society and its predetermined roles for women as subservient creatures. The movie itself was filmed in 2003 when the existing political conjuncture towards women was only resurfacing. As such, she was cast into the role of a supporting character and an obligatory love interest for the leading male hero. As time passed and new movies came out, Elizabeth’s character transformed from a sidekick into an independent character, eventually becoming the new Pirate Queen.


What the three examples presented above have in common is that in every scenario the “rebellious daughter” takes a proactive position to try to change her future for what she perceives to be better. However, these examples also differ in very significant ways. In all three cases, the rebellion is largely defined by the character’s relationship with the authority figure – in “Mildred Pierce,” the daughter plays a negative role and confronts her mother, while in “Batman,” Barbara does not necessarily confront her father, instead of wanting to show him that she can take care of herself. In “Pirates of the Caribbean,” Elizabeth confronts her father, who serves as a physical representation of the unjust society. In all three cases, however, the characters feel righteous about their decisions. Even Veda, who does morally reprehensive and questionable deeds throughout the movie, justifies her struggle by not wanting to live in poverty.

The message delivered by the “rebellious daughter” often depends on the intent the authors have for the character. As it was demonstrated in the following three examples, while the archetype is usually treated as a minor protagonist, it can also be used to antagonize the main hero, especially in cases where the rebellion is motivated by selfish and self-serving purposes. In some ways, the “rebellious daughter” was a stepping stone from a damsel in distress towards a self-sufficient and independent female character. The emergence and popularity of the archetype coincide with the more active position women have taken up in society (Rodowick, 2014). While in many cases they are still subservient and supporting characters to the leading male cast, the motive of rebellion against the existing laws and rules of the society managed to transform cinematography into a more equal and inclusive industry, where all genders are allowed to shine.


Curtiz, M. (Director). (1945). Mildred Pierce [Video file]. Web.

Martinson, L. H. (Director). (1966). Enter Batgirl, exit Penguin [Video file]. Web.

Rodowick, D. (2014). The difficulty of difference: Psychoanalysis, sexual difference, & film theory. New York, NY: Routledge.

Verbinsky, G. (Director). (2003). Pirates of the Caribbean: The curse of the Black Pearl [Video file]. Web.

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