You’re pretty astute for a fourth grader.
One of the MANY MANY MANY heart-breaking details about Helga is that she’s smart. Heck, she’s BRILLIANT! She’s well versed in the arts (like in the photoset above), she reads WELL beyond the fourth grade level and writes volumes and volumes of poetry. She could have won the spelling bee if she didn’t take a dive to spite her dad and do Arnold a solid. Her anonymous poem won the school-wide poetry contest. She’s remarkably intelligent and talented!
…But how many times do we hear her compare herself to Olga or Lila as “Okay so maybe I’m not smart, pretty, funny, popular or nice like Lila/Olga?” Despite the fact that she IS just as smart if not smarter than both of them? How many times do we hear her compare herself to her best friend Phoebe - who, if we’re honest, will admit is more STUDIOUS than intelligent. And how many times do we hear her say “Maybe if I was prettier/nicer/smarter Arnold would like-like me back?”
Helga was raised being constantly compared to her older sister. She’s been told so many times, directly and indirectly that she’ll never be as good or worthy of attention and affection as Olga. And there’s a part of her that believes this. She’s a 9 year old girl - and she believes she’s never going to be smart enough to be noticed. That’s why she resorts to bullying, because negative attention is better than no attention at all.
Helga may be one of my favorite characters ever. She’s not abused…at least not directly. She’s just overlooked and never noticed, and in the end she becomes outwardly bitter and mean cause shes been hardened by the fact her parents just shrug her off like a itch.
I’m still convinced Helga Patacki was the real protagonist of that show.
Well actually Helga was abused. It may not have been physical but emotional and verbal abuse is still abuse, and child neglect is also still abuse. But otherwise yes to all of the commentary above.
There’s also sly hints throughout the show that Helga’s mother is a depressed alcoholic (it was apparently even going to be a major plot point in The Patakis spin off series), in part caused by Miriam marrying Bob and having to give up her dreams, which she clearly regrets and makes plain to her family in the “Olga Gets Married” episode. There is a lot of abuse and trauma we don’t see in the show, but it’s clear that Helga is in an abusive family and the creators intended it to be clear to the more astute audience members.
Seeing her mother, who is a briliant woman (or from Helga’s POV was a briliant woman) who made ignorant choices for the sake of love, completely disengage from life and her family while being openly resentful clearly affects her relationship with Arnold. She sees her mother everyday just laying around, sleeping, hardly doing any housework, paying the bare minimum of attention to her and drinking her life away with her “smoothies”. Why even bother with love if that’s what it reduces you to? Why bother with school when, if you’re not literally perfect like Olga, you’ll just end up in a boring dead-end job like dad or a depressed alcoholic like mom? She has to push Arnold away, she has to bully those she cares about because this is all she’s ever experienced of affection, she has no idea what a healthy relationship is so of course a harmless crush on a boy in school would develop into an unhealthy obsession that she doesn’t know how to handle, let alone understand.
There is so much complexity and angst going on in Helga’s story arc which explains perfectly how she is what she is, and frankly it’s incredible that a kid’s cartoon series managed to pull this off better than a lot of adult shows today.