A Theoretical Analysis of The Little Mermaid’s Ariel
This paper will analyze the behavior of the central character of The Little Mermaid, Ariel, using Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory and Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory.
The Little Mermaid, released in 1989, became a blockbuster hit during its time. The little character, Ariel, is a head-strong teenager living under the sea. She is the daughter of Triton, King of the Sea, and considered as one of the prettiest princess under the sea. Ariel is known for her being an adventurous girl.
Against her father’s orders, Ariel journeyed beyond her own world to the surface of the sea. There, she met and fell in love with Prince Eric, a handsome young man. Foolishly, the little mermaid entered into an agreement with the evil sea witch, Ursula, in order to become human. Ursula asked Ariel for her voice in exchange of having legs just like humans do. She was so fooled by the idea that she easily gave in.
The analysis of the behavior of the main character, Ariel, will be done through the use of Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory and Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory. Through the use of both theories, we will try to find out why this certain character, Ariel, acts the way she does. What makes her do certain things which she loves to do and what are the possible influences which resulted to her very unique personality. In order for us to be able to understand this study well, we should first familiarize ourselves with the theories which we are going to use.
Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory. This theory, introduced by Erik Erikson, was developed as an improvement to Sigmund Freud’s Psychosexual Stages. Erikson described eight vital stages in this theory through which a healthy developing individual should pass from infancy to adulthood. In each stage, the individual in confronted by different kinds of challenges, but eventually, as Erikson believed, would be surpassed by the person if each stage is handled well. Erikson accepted many of Freud’s theories (including the id, ego, and superego, and Freud’s infantile sexuality represented in psychosexual development), but rejected Freud’s attempt to describe personality solely on the basis of sexuality. Similar to Freud, Erikson believed that personality develops in a series of stages. Unlike Freud’s theory of psychosexual stages, Erikson’s theory describes the impact of social experience across the whole lifespan. The main focus of Erikson’s psychosocial stages is the development of the ego identity. This refers to the conscious sense of self that we develop through social interaction. As Erikson believed, this identity constantly changes because of new information and experience which we acquire through our daily interactions with other people. Erikson believed that each stage in this psychosocial theory in concerned with becoming competent in an area of life. If a certain stage is handled well, which means that it was performed well, the person will feel a sense of mastery. However, if the stage is poorly managed, the person will emerge with a sense of inadequacy.
Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory. The social cognitive theory explains how people acquire and maintain certain behavioral patterns, while also providing the basis for intervention strategies (Bandura, 1997). The theory basically deals with cognitive, emotional aspects and aspects of behavior for understanding behavioral change. This theory, also believed that environment and situation provide the framework for understanding behavior (Parraga, 1990). Social cognitive theory distinguishes among three modes of agency: direct personal agency, proxy agency that relies on others to act on one’s behest to secure desired outcomes, and collective agency exercised through socially coordinative and interdependent effort. Growing transnational embeddedness and interdependence are placing a premium on collective efficacy to exercise control over personal destinies and national life. (Bandura, 2001, p. 1). In Bandura’s theory, the concept of learning what is happening around you is also a main factor. This is called the Observational learning. Observational learning occurs when a person watches the actions of another person and the reinforcements that the person receives (Bandura, 1997). This means that it is really possible that a person may act in accordance to how the people within his surroundings also act. We should also note that there are three factors; environment, people and behavior. These constantly influence each other. Behavior is not simply the result of the environment and the person, just as the environment is not simply the result of the person and behavior (Glanz et al, 2002)
Little Mermaid’s Ariel, as the main character of the film, was easily loved by her viewers. We can say that there are probably things about her which makes her lovable. However, if we will try to study her character closely, we will find out that she is not really lovable. As a matter of fact, she is a hard-headed, stubborn, little princess. She does not abide by the rules. Arial can be the perfect example of the ultimate non-conformist. Ariel, as the daughter of the famous, King Triton, is very much under pressure. She is pressured because of the fact that she is the daughter of the king. And as his daughter, she is expected to act in accordance to what is right and what the kingdom accepts. Pleasing everyone is not an easy task. However, Ariel has to do so because she is expected to be the model of how a princess should act. Ariel is very much pressured trying to meet the expectations of others. However, as the story goes on, we have observed that Ariel is not able to live by her “princess title”. As I have said earlier, she is the perfect example of a non-conformist.
Let us now try to find out why Arial acts this way. According to Erikson’s psychosocial theory, in order for a person to live emotionally healthy, he/she should successfully surpass the eight stages of development which starts from infancy and ends with adulthood. Ariel’s actions might have been affected based on how she handled the said stages of development. Let us now see how she could have possibly handled these said stages.
In this analysis, we will only discuss certain stages which can be considered to have had significance in Ariel’s life.
Psychosocial Stage 1 – Trust vs. Mistrust. This stage occurs between birth and one year of age and is the most fundamental stage in life. According to Erikson, once a child develops trust, he/she will feel secure in the world throughout his/her life.
Let us now try to trace Ariel’s infancy stage. Was she able to develop trust within the people who took care of her? Ariel, as we all know, grew up with her family under the care of their king father. As the daughter of the king of the sea, Ariel experienced being spoiled by the people around her. She could also probably have had other people aside from her family take care of her. If this is so, we can say that Ariel could probably have the trust towards other. Because of the fact the she was taken care properly and was supplied with all her needs, it is just possible that the people around her could have gained her trust already.
After the Trust vs. Mistrust stage, another stages of course follows, however, we will jump to the third stage which has more significance in Ariel’s life.
Psychosocial Stage 5 – Initiative vs. Guilt. In this stage, children begin to assert their power and control over the world through directing play and other social interaction. Children who are successful at this stage feel capable and able to lead others. Those who fail to acquire these skills are left with a sense of guilt, self-doubt, and lack of initiative.
As a kid, Ariel, of course, socialized with other people. She got to have playmates. However, it is not that easy for her to achieve having friends. This is primarily because of the fact that she is the daughter of the king. All her life, the title of being the “king’s daughter” is tied to her name. She had a hard time finding friends of her same kind who would not look at her as someone important or someone to be respect and look upon to just because of her title. She therefore resorts in to making friends with a fish (Flounder), and her father’s follower, Sebastian the crab. With these two characters, Ariel feels safe. She handles the social interaction stage pretty well. And because of this fact, she then was able to feel capable of being the leader of their group. She handled her relationship with these two characters pretty well that they ended up following whatever she wants to do. There wasn’t any feeling of doubt or guilt in the part of Ariel. All that she felt was that she was superior among the two other characters. We can therefore say that Ariel was able to handle this stage pretty well that it resulted to confidence when it comes to socialization in her part. Let us again skip the next stage and go on with the firth.
Psychosocial Stage 5 – Identity vs. Confusion. During adolescence, children are exploring their independence and developing a sense of self. Those who receive proper encouragement and reinforcement through personal exploration will emerge from this stage with a strong sense of self and a feeling of independence and control. Those who remain unsure of their beliefs and desires will insecure and confused about themselves and the future.
Ariel, as a growing girl in her teens, of course, experiences struggles with regards to her identity. Everyone passes through this stage of life. This is the stage when Ariel was not sure whether she has her own name or was she just carrying the name of her father. In other words, Ariel struggled about her identity. She felt that people look at her as her father’s daughter and not as herself. Because of this, she seeks to have an identity of her own. This is the part where we can say that she somewhat became rebellious. She disobeyed her father’s orders. She tried to live according to what she wanted and not according to what is asked of her. The part where she collected “human stuffs” or the “thingamabobs” gave proof to this stage. Ariel believed that by collecting those, she is being able to establish who she really was and what she really wanted. She didn’t care even if many disagreed with her collection. For her, it is important because it established her real identity.
The last stage that we will discuss would be the 6th which is the Intimacy vs. Isolation Stage. This stage covers the period of early adulthood when people are exploring personal relationships. We will stop with here because this is where Ariel’s character is currently at.
The romance part between Ariel and Eric will fall on this stage. In the film, we will observe that Ariel did everything just to be with the person she wanted, and that is Prince Eric. Ariel believed that she needed to have a personal relationship. She believed in love. She believed that intimacy is a vital factor in living. So what she did was that she traded her voice for a pair of legs just to be with Prince Eric. This act by Ariel can really be considered as a foolish one, however, just as the 6th theory stated, intimacy is a vital factor in ones own development.
With the use of Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory, let us now try to analyze Ariel’s character in a different perspective as that of the Psychosocial Theory.
As stated earlier, the environment and situation plays a big role in deciphering the behavior of a certain individual. In Ariel’s case, we can therefore say that the pressures around her influenced her character a lot. Having a king for a father entailed too much pressure on her. According to Bandura’s theory, Ariel acted the way she did because of these given situations. If we are going to analyze Ariel’s hobby of collecting human stuffs in this aspect, we might probably come up with a different conclusion as that of the psychosocial theory. In the psychosocial theory, I stated that this hobby of Ariel could probably be the result of her establishment of her own identity. However, in Bandura’s theory, this could probably be a result of her environment’s influence. Her environment persuaded her to do this stuff. Because of her occasional visits in the surface of the sea, she is then tempted by “this” environment to break her curiosity which led her to collecting those stuffs. The environment which played a big role in this part is not the environment which she got used to under the sea but the environment on the surface of the sea: the environment of the “other world”, which is the land.
Through the use of two different theories in this analysis, we came up with two different interpretations of Ariel’s behavior. Now, the big question would be: Which theory is more appropriate? Which theory could have probably given more reliable data? No matter how hard I tried to answer these questions, I ended up repeating the questions in my head over and over. No theory is more appropriate that the other. Both theories have their beliefs and strategies. Both theories, as they believe, provide efficient data with regard to understanding ones behavior. Therefore, all we can do is respect both and just choose the right theory for ourselves.
Through the use of Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory and Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory, we were able to analyze Ariel’s behavior. Through the Psychosocial theory, we learned that Ariel’s behavior depended upon how well she handled the psychosocial stages. We learned that certain abilities like leadership can be an effect of a how a person interacted with his/her playmates during childhood. We also learned that some people try to establish their own identity through doing things which are not expected of them, this can be considered as a form of rebellion, however, it is still a way or establishing ones identity. This was depicted by Ariel as we have associated earlier. On the other hand, we learned through Bandura’s theory that a person’s behavior can greatly affected by his/her environment. Certain patterns of behavior depend upon how a person perceives his/her surrounding. This also depends on how he/she will let her surroundings affect his/her own behavior. As stated earlier, this was also depicted through Ariel’s behavior.
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