-HeyArnoldFan (AKA Christy)
DISCLAIMER: Hey Arnold! Belongs to Craig Bartlett, Viacom, and all the other individuals to took a great deal of time to help with the publication of this series.
THE GIRL OF HIS DREAMS A reflection on "Arnold Visits Arnie"
I would like to consider "Arnold Visits Arnie" in a literary critique. I think it deserves to stand as a serious work of art, and should be treated in a serious way. Of course, it's great fun, but it is also worthy of in-depth analysis.
My first reaction to this episode was, "What the Helen of Troy was that!" Once the initial shock had worn off, and I had time to reflect, I realized there was more to this episode than I first realized. Sure, it is great fun, and takes a big step forward in developing the relationship between Arnold and Helga, but there are deeper themes at work here. For the first time we are given real evidence as to Arnold's inner thoughts and feelings about the two most important girls in his life. We are given strong indications of how Arnold really feels deep down about Helga. Indeed, we are given evidence that he may already be aware, at some level, of her feelings for him, and may even be in love with her. I want in particular to examine Arnold's moral viewpoint, and the nature of his relationships with Helga and Lila.
First, a brief review of my interpretation of the most important plot developments in the episode. I know some events in the episode are ambiguous, and can be interpreted in different ways. But this is how I saw the episode, and my critique will be based on this view.
During the episode we are offered not one but two confessions of love. First, Arnold confesses his attraction to Hilda. Clearly, this is Arnold's sub-conscious showing he has fallen for Helga. The second confession is less obvious. During Arnold's dream Hilda (who we all know is Arnold's dream alter-ego of Helga) tells Arnold she is in love with Arnie. (Who is the dream alter-ego of Arnold.) All Arnie's supposed qualities (He's interesting, likable and attractive) fit Arnold like a glove. They are the same qualities Helga sees in Arnold. Hilda confesses her love to Arnold. Her love is Arnie. Arnie is Arnold's alter-ego. So Helga's alter-ego Hilda is telling Arnold she loves his alter-ego Arnie. Which means Helga loves Arnold. Follow? As this takes place in Arnold's sub-conscious, we can assume that at some level of his mind, Arnold knows Helga has feelings for him.
Of course, this all happens in a very rushed, confusing manner, and before Arnold (or us) have time to think about it, we rush to the end of the dream. But the important thing to remember is that this is Arnold's dream. So somewhere deeply buried in his sub-conscious, he already knows Helga is in love with him. Just as at some level he has already fallen in love with her. This is all very confused and jumbled up of course. It will take time for Arnold to sort all this out. But we know that eventually the realization will bubble to the surface of his conscious mind.
Now that we know what happened, we can interpret what it means.
Arnold's Moral World
I really loved this episode because it shows us what goes on inside Arnold. It showcases Arnold's values as no other episode has ever done. It takes us inside his head, into his sub-conscious, as he works out his problems. It puts Arnold to the test. He faces some tough moral challenges, and he must choose which path he will follow through life. Above all, it highlights Arnold's bed-rock decency. Some viewers might think Arnold is too good to be true, a robot who automatically does the right thing. This episode proves them wrong. Arnold lives in a moral universe where there is good and evil, virtue and vice. Life requires choices between right and wrong, between false and true love. When Arnold does the right thing, he does so because he consciously chooses to do right. He knows there are bad things and bad people out there, but he knows that only by doing the decent thing will he find happiness. He is not perfect, but he is brave, decent, honest and moral. This is one good guy. Our hero.
Like all heroes, he is on a quest. Like Odysseus in the Odyssey, who voyages to seek his home; like King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table who seek the Holy Grail; Arnold is seeking wholeness. He seeks love, as we all do. And one day we know that Arnold will go off in quest of his parents. Just as Odysseus seeks to reunite his family, just as King Arthur seeks to unite the kingdom, Arnold will have to venture forth to reunite his family, and make it whole again.
Heroes must prove they are worthy. Only the worthy deserve success. In the Odyssey, Odysseus is prevented from going home because he offended the gods. Not until he apologizes is he allowed to achieve his goal. All his legendary cunning and courage are useless to Odysseus until he makes things right with the gods. To win the Grail, it was not enough to be brave. In the Arthurian legends, only the knight who was pure of heart, as well as brave, had a chance to win the prize. The knight with a true love always fought better than a false knight who dallied with the wrong sort of lady. Arthur pays dearly for succumbing to Morgana. Lancelot's forbidden love for Guinivere causes the destruction of Camelot. Only Galahad, the pure of heart, achieves the Grail. As with any hero, Arnold must face his trial. Arnold's trial is his visit to Arnie. He is posed a moral challenge, and faces temptation. He must choose between good and evil, true and false. He must chose the path he will follow through life. At stake is his future happiness, his family, his soul.
It has to be remembered at all times that the visit takes place inside Arnold's dream. Lulu and Hilda are not "real" characters like Lila and Helga. Lulu and Hilda are creations of Arnold's sub-conscious. He doesn't realize it yet, but his sub-conscious is working out his relationship problems. Over time, he has accumulated all these feelings and emotions about Lila and Helga, but buried so deep inside he is not aware of them at a conscious level. The dream is how his sub-conscious tells Arnold it is time to come to terms with his heart. Only a hero with a good heart will win the quest, and find true love.
And it is only when we realize that it is a dream that we can then use it to see into the soul of our hero. (Until we know it is a dream, the story is just a bunch of weird, unsettling stuff that happens. Only when we realize it is a dream can we interpret what it means.) Everything in the dream is a clue to Arnold's state of mind. All his buried feelings about Lila and Helga are bubbling up from his sub-conscious, and eventually his conscious mind will realize what is going on. Everything that happens in the dream reflects Arnold's mind at work, showing us his values, and how he views life and love.
In the logic of Arnie's world, everything is a mirror image to Arnold's world. Arnie of course is what Arnold would be if he gave up on life. The anti-Arnold. Arnie just exists, while Arnold lives. Arnie is fatalistic, he accepts whatever comes his way. Arnold strives to change his life for the better. Arnold's pet pig Abner is cute and clean. Arnie's Abigail is nasty and dirty. All Arnold's friends have mirror images of themselves. Rhonda becomes the slob, Harold a natty dresser, Phoebe a yokel. Drawling Stinky becomes the dandy Stumpy. Cool Gerald and nervous Sid switch personalities with Gerard and Kid. The dream requires each of Arnold's friends be turned inside-out, in order for his sub-conscious to get to the heart of the matter, namely Lila and Helga. The dream forces him to face his unresolved feelings for the two girls.
Who Was That Girl?
It can't be stressed enough that Lulu is NOT Lila. This is confirmed the morning after the dream, when Arnold deliberately asks Lila what her feelings are for him. At first, he backs away from her, and puts his hands up in alarm, in obvious fear of another 'Lulu' attack. Only then does he ask her about her feelings for him. She confirms that everything is still the same as always; she just "likes him" and nothing more. Arnold is obviously relieved. He may no longer have a crush on Lila, but he still cares about her, as he cares for all his friends. He would be horrified if she really were Lulu. (I know this view will not be popular with those who have always seen Lila as evil and manipulative. But I think these people read too much into her. I see Lila as someone who chooses to see only the "nice" side of life. She chooses to ignore the nastier elements. We know she has lost her mother, lost her idyllic farm, lost her farm pets. She was forced to move to the big city, live in poverty, face problems in fitting in with her new schoolmates. It is reasonable to suppose she would use rose-colored glasses to view the world, and ignore unpleasant problems. It is no wonder she bonds so well with Olga in "Big Sis." Olga adopts a similar coping strategy to deal with the stresses in her life. Forced to live up to her parents' high expectations, Olga chooses to freeze out anything that might disrupt the perfect status she is expected to maintain. No wonder Olga ignores Helga, who is one huge bundle of problems.)
So who is Lulu? Lulu is not Lila. She is the creation of Arnold's sub-conscious, and represents the dark side of Arnold's nature. Arnold's sub-conscious chooses Lila as its model for wickedness. There is probably some element of revenge here. Arnold probably feels he has been strung along by Lila, though to be fair he was willing to go along with her treatment of him. The conscious mind of Arnold would never let his resentment show. Arnold may not be aware he resents Lila's treatment of him. But Arnold's sub-conscious takes revenge by making Lulu, the symbol of wickedness, look like Lila.
Lulu is brazen, crude and vulgar. She is temptation. She is every wicked thought and evil desire Arnold is capable of. There may even be an element of lust here. (Or at least as much as Arnold is capable of.) Remember, this is Arnold's sub-conscious at work. Lulu may be the dream symbol of his desire for Lila.
And we must assume Arnold is capable of desire. When he meets Hilda he is quite ready to spend time with her, being intimate by feeding her candy, offering her the daisy. He even tries to snuggle up with Hilda by offering to remove the straw. His actions with Hilda are all very mild and innocent, and he is still a few years away from full adolescence. But he is not a child. He is on the verge of becoming a teenager. And it may well be that Arnold's dream is the first onset of puberty. There is no direct evidence of this, but it may be inferred. Arnold has had his little crushes before, but nothing as intense or obvious as the dream. He has always been a good person, trying to do the right thing. From now on his moral decisions will be complicated by the onset of puberty. He will have to reckon with desire and passion. He will have to chose between casual lust and true love.
The Lulu of the dream is a moral choice, a possible path through life that Arnold could chose to follow. When Arnold grows up, he will likely be a handsome young man, very attractive to all sorts of girls. Good-looking, well-spoken, tons of charm. Arnold could use these advantages to become quite the ladies man, a sweet-talking heartbreaker who could hurt a lot of girls. In short, a male version of Lulu. Thankfully, at no time does he ever give in to Lulu's blandishments. Her way is not for him. Arnold's values are rock solid. He is decent to the core. He is not only good hearted, he has the courage to stand by his values. His is a brave heart.
Farewell My Lovely (Good-bye Lila)
So why does Lulu look like Lila? Does this mean Lila is evil? No. We know from the morning after scene that she is not. Lila is still the same sugary-nice, if one-dimensional girl she always was. Lulu looks like Lila because at some level, Arnold's mind knows Lila is not a real true love. He had a crush on Lila, but it was based on superficial reasons. Lila was pretty, pleasant, and easy to be with. (Such a nice contrast after years of being picked on by that crazy Helga!) But these are only shallow reasons for a relationship. (And remember the other girls Arnold has had crushes on, like Ruth or Summer. He fell for Ruth for the worst of reasons. Ruth looked good on the outside, but he knew nothing about her real inner nature, which was very shallow. Summer was simply deceitful.) Arnold's first crushes were very superficial, but he is slowly working towards something meaningful. He now understands that true love is based on more than mere external appearances.
There were other, deeper reasons why Arnold might have been attracted to Lila. Both are intelligent, good students, and have lost parents. If not outright poor, they seem to come from the same economic level. They both have a positive outlook on life. But they differ in their approach. Arnold tries to live life to the full, and accepts life's challenges as they come his way. But he knows there will be dark periods, and bad things will happen. And when bad things happen, he will face them head on. He may not always come up with the right solution, he may not always win, but he keeps fighting. He has no illusions that life is perfect. On the other hand, Lila seems to view the world through rose-colored glasses. Everything must be "ever so perfect." When it comes to emotions and feelings, she always strikes the same note. We never see Lila display the range of emotions that Helga shows. Lila uses "niceness" as her defense against the world. (Ironically, Lila and Helga are very similar in this regard. Both build emotional barriers to protect themselves. Helga uses hostility as her defense, while Lila uses niceness. Both girls use these barriers to protect themselves from being hurt. The main difference between the two is that Helga is forced to face harsh realities every day in a way Lila does not. This forces Helga to be self-reflective, which makes her a more complex person.) Lila's defense may work, but it makes her a rather bland person. Arnold and Lila are a mis-match. If Arnold and Lila got together, they would soon be bored with each other. They're just not compatible. Arnold is nice by nature, and Lila might be a suitable match in that department, but he has many sides to his character, and displays a much broader range of emotions. He is a complex person, and needs someone equal to the many facets of his personality.
Who Was That Masked Man?
As an alternative, Arnold could grow up to become like the Arnie of the dream, an amoral robot who has some unexplainable attraction for the opposite sex. (Curse that handsome devil!) But Arnie seems totally disengaged from life, with no observable feelings, and makes no moral decisions. Dream Arnie seems to just take whatever life has to offer. And why not? All the girls fall for him. He gets to count stuff. But he seems to find a sack of peanuts, or a candy machine, or a movie to be as equally attractive as a hayride with a pretty date. Note that Arnie makes no attempt to choose between Lulu and Hilda. He simply accepts their presence by his side. He does not choose between them. His real feelings about the two girls are hidden behind a mask of impassivity. We can only guess, but we suspect Arnie would show no concern for the feelings of either girl. They may come or go as they please, they may be hurt, but Arnie would always be indifferent to them. Because he is indifferent to life itself.
Knight Without Armor, For a Night Without Amour
Arnold is our hero, and we know he will choose another path. And that's the key point. Arnold CHOOSES. He knows the difference between good and bad behavior. Between virtue and sleaze. Lulu represents everything crude, vulgar and brazen. She also represents everything shallow and artificial, the cheap thrill and the easy conquest. But Arnold has other values, and he has the courage to stand by them. He is our knight in shining armor. He will seek another path through life. He will reject the false, empty allure of Lulu, and seek instead for true love.
Strangers in the Night
And so Arnold comes upon Hilda. Hilda is also a symbol created by Arnold's dream, and we all know what she represents. (Come on already, he first stumbles over her reciting love poems under the light of a full moon. He falls over Hilda. He literally 'falls' in love. This is one symbol that hits you over the head.) She is romance. She is also chaste, honest, decent, and good-natured. (Sure, she falls for Arnie, but that's just the crazy logic of the dream world. Hilda acts like she likes Arnold, but she doesn't love him. Helga acts like she hates Arnold, but she really does love him. The mirror again.) Hilda represents true love in Arnold's sub-conscious. A real, substantial, fulfilling, romantic relationship. And of course, she is not "easy". Unlike Lulu, Arnold has to work hard to win her, and Hilda proves elusive. True love will not be easy to win, but it will be worth the effort. Any really good relationship between a couple requires lots of work. Arnold still has a way to go to win Helga. He doesn't even realize yet that Helga is the one. But he is now on the right path.
Have We Met Before?
And of course, Hilda looks familiar. She looks like Helga. This is proof positive that somewhere deep in Arnold's sub-conscious he has already recognized Helga as someone worthy of love and affection. Arnold does not yet realize this on a conscious level, but his sub-conscious is beginning to nudge him in the right direction. It chose Helga as its model for Hilda, the symbol of true love. In his dream Arnold recognizes Hilda right away as the girl for him. He immediately recognizes in Hilda all the virtues that Helga hides from him. Hilda is bright, cheerful, open and honest. Compared to Lulu, Hilda is a proper lady. Everything that Helga could be if she had some confidence in herself.
Some Enchanted Evening, You May See a Stranger...
Arnold is attracted to Hilda from the first. He goes with her to the movie, not suspecting her real motive. He goes on the hayride with her. He even tries to snuggle close, using the old, "Let me get that straw out of your hair" routine. (Nice to know that, while he may be a good guy, Arnold is still a guy. That scene alone should lay to rest any notion Arnold is too much of a goody-goody.) He gives her a daisy. Then looks on in mortification as Hilda gives it to Arnie. (Could this be a sub-conscious memory of picking the flower for Helga during 'Beaned?' And the feeding of candy to Hilda during the movie, could that be a sub-conscious memory of his preparing the snack for Helga?) After the hayride, Arnold wastes no time in declaring his affection for her. His cornfield speech to Hilda is simple, direct and honest, like himself. But he has misunderstood Hilda's feelings. It is Arnie she has fallen for. Just as back in the real world Arnold has misunderstood Helga's feelings. However, being a dream, the situation is left unresolved, just as Arnold's relationship with Helga is unresolved back in the real world. Dreamer, Nothing But A Dreamer...
But the dream has shown him the way. We see Arnold's dilemma working itself out. The dream is where his sub-conscious sorts out all his mixed up feelings for Lila and Helga. The dream shows him the truth by holding up a mirror image to reality. The dream uses the alter-egos to show him (in reverse images) the truth about Lila and Helga. In the dream Lulu is not very nice, but acts like she 'likes him, likes him.' Arnold already knows Lila likes him, but does not 'like him, like him.' Hilda acts nice, but is not in love with him. Helga acts like she hates Arnold, but... Even someone as dense as Football-Head should be able to figure it out. Lila will never be the person who will make him happy, or give him true love. Lila is a 'nice' girl, but she will never be Arnold's girl. His relationship with Helga is left unresolved, but at least there is hope. Helga may yet be won. The dream tells Arnold what he must do. It has set him on a new course. And Arnold acts.
Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made Of
The next morning, Arnold begins to take action to resolve his mixed feelings. He will not be a blank zero like Arnie. He chooses to act. He has chosen the values by which he will live his life. And he will chose the girl he shares his life with. It will take time to sort out his feelings. And it will take time before Arnold becomes aware he has feelings for Helga. But he has passed the test. From now on, he will be his own man. The morning after, Arnold starts to act.
The morning after, Arnold confirms his status with Lila. But he also gives Helga a big hug. If asked why, Arnold could not have explained. It was obviously instinct. His sub-conscious gave him a shove towards Helga. That hug gives us hope that one day soon he will become aware of his feelings for her.
By choosing good over evil, virtue over vice, Arnold has passed the challenge that all heroes must face. He has made a moral choice. He chooses true love over lust. He chooses integrity over false values. He deliberately rejects Lulu; the symbol of all that is false, and chooses Hilda; the symbol of all that is romantic. And because he is a moral person, he will now be a stronger person. A true hero, ready to embark on the quest to seek his family. And ready to seek his true love.
By facing his dilemma in his dream, Arnold has rejected the false and the shallow, and at long last has chosen the path to true love. He is now looking for the real thing. He may not know it yet, (not at a conscious level), but he is now looking for Helga. It is only a matter of time before he recognizes her for who she really is. And when he does, he will finally have met the girl of his dreams.