Character Archetypes: The Damsel in Distress

Ah, the Damsel in Distress Archetype. Well known, common, but I like to think, in this day and age, we’re getting a little more creative in our application of it. Like the Mother Archetype, at times it seems like the Damsel in Distress is more of an idea than an actual person, though this varies.

Common Aspects of the Damsel in Distress Archetype

  • Needs rescuing
  • By the Hero
  • Often female

The Damsel in Distress exists to be rescued by the Hero. The archetype is so named because characters of this type are often women, but they do not need to be. Damsels in Distress can be an end goal, a trap set by the Villain, or even a Threshold Guardian, in some cases. With character development, a Damsel in Distress can morph into a different archetype.

This archetype is common across many genres, including fairy tales, fantasy, mythology, science fiction, thrillers, and adventure stories. In some cases, a Damsel in Distress, once rescued, may have to then go rescue her Hero (ala Rapunzel).

Some examples of male Damsels in Distress (since I’m sure we can all name a ton of women: Zelda, Princess Peach, any princess in a Grimm Brothers fairy tale, etc.) include classic examples like Osiris, Santa Claus (so whomever can save Christmas), Hansel (saved by his sister), Han Solo (beginning of Return of the Jedi), and Robin from Batman. There is nothing that says a Damsel in Distress must be the opposite gender of the Hero, or that they need to be a love interest, though both of these are common.

What are your thoughts on the Damsel in Distress archetype, squiders? Does it seem to be on its way out, or at least mixed up a little more recently?

Next: The Temptress Archetype

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Saving someone is a great story, or a story item. Today the damsel must be a more complete character with hopes, dreams, and flaws. She isn’t a trophy to be won anymore.

    Reply

    • I do think the depth of a Damsel varies by media and the perceived audience (action movies are inherently bad at bothering to add any depths to their damsels, in most cases). But I do think, in general, we’re moving in the right direction.

      Reply

      • Is it the Bechdel test that involves females in movies? I’m sure I spelled that wrong. Writers would do well to heed it too.

      • The Bechdel test was originally made up for movies, but it certainly can be used for other forms of media as well. It’s really a bare minimum, though–two women could have a vapid conversation about shoes and it would technically pass the Bechdel test.

      • I love it! I never really thought of it that way. I was looking for a deeper lesson I suppose.

  2. […] Damsel in Distress archetype is another one that sees a lot of criticism for lack of characterization. Damsels in distress tend […]

    Reply

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