Monday, April 27, 2009

Heroine Archetype - The Waif

One can't help but love the Waif. Always a damsel in distress, this character archetype is known for her innocence and purity. Naive, kind, gentle, and passive, we root for her knowing she is about to be taken advantage of. Think of the films Splash and Enchanted. Daryl Hannah and Amy Adams make perfect examples of the Waif, both victimized by the greedy.

Fairytale characters are all based on the Waif archetype - Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Cinderella. Waifs want to live happily ever after and will patiently wait for Mr. Right to come along. Maid in Manhattan with Jennifer Lopez is another example, along with Pretty Woman. Julia Roberts' character said it best, "I want the fairy tale."

Waifs bend to those around them, doing what others expect, and think nothing of it. This character doesn't realize her own potential. It's all about "him," and getting swept off her feet. And, don’t worry, she’ll wait him out. Because that’s what the Waif is best at, waiting for someone to come to her rescue.

But, let's not forget we are in the modern world. Our Waif character has evolved. Why? Because the Waif's dependent, submissive nature conflicts with today's modern woman. Screenwriters know viewers love the Waif and so they have tweaked her a bit. In Cold Mountain, Nicole Kidman's character is content to starve to death, awaiting the return of her love interest from the war, until she is pushed to take matters into her own hands.

Legally Blonde and Bridget Jones’s Diary are further examples. Both Elle and Bridget focused on their man, with nothing else in sight, until provoked to live a life independent of a fairy tale romance. Geena Davis in Thelma & Louise portrays a modern Waif archetype. Thelma portrays an obedient housewife rebelling in her opinion by taking a simple fishing trip with a friend. When unfortunate events sideline their excursion, she evolves into a free spirit with a pistol. Case in point, a modern Waif.

Who are your favorite waifs? And do you think the Waif is outdated in today's society?

Posted by: Sloan Seymour


Teresa Reasor said...

Hey Sloan:
Excellent Blog. I'll be posting it to all my email loops as soon as I get home from school.
When i think of the Waif i think of Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina. Though she's been away to school she returns to set her heart on the one man she's had a crush on her entire life, only to discover he's not man enough for her. But the big brother is. Sounds like a romance novel doesn't it?
I'm glad the Waif is evolving. I think of her as kind of whimp and then she surprises you by growing. Do you think she's one archetype who has to grow the most?
Just wondering.

Devon Matthews said...

Hi Sloan! Terrific post! I think waifs will always be around. But the modern waif must become proactive and take charge at some point, or else she's just a victim. Today's society, as well as today's readers and movie viewers, are not as tolerant of victims as they once were when women had fewer choices.

Mary Ricksen said...

Interesting blog! Classically, there's Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Then there are the more modern ones you have used for examples. I don't think they are outdated. People will just have to come up with more novel characters.

Sloan Seymour said...

Hey guys ---
Glad you are likeing today's blog. The Waif can for sure be a victim by today's standards. I think that's why we love her so much. We watch her and want to slap the ya-know-whatee out of her, making her come alive! Thelma and Louise is one of my favorites. I love to see Thelma break out her gun!

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Sloan,
Great article. No, I certainly don't think the waif is outdated. I always have a "waif" in my stories.

Carole St-Laurent said...

Good blog Teresa! I enjoyed it!

Anonymous said...

thanks for share...

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