On the topic of Genealogy and Daria
As everybody knows, Daria Morgendorffer is the star of the “Daria” show as well as a member of the Barksdale-Morgendorffer family, which includes on her mother’s side her sister Quinn, as well as two aunts, a cousin, and a grandmother. On her father’s side, on the other hand, we have just a grandmother and a grandfather, who’s deceased as well.
So what’s this all about, you may ask? What does this brief intrusion into family history got to do with our loveable heroine?
I daresay that chuckles will probably appear as soon as I wrote ‘loveable’. Daria may be liked, respected, sometimes even befriended (if you’re Jane Lane), but loved? I'm not sure. Her family is shown as semi-functional at best, and her boys account to two so far: Trent Lane, with whom Daria didn’t even reach first base, and Tom Sloane, who’s seemingly her match in wits at least.
Okay, still, so what? – you may ask. Daria is a good guy, the hero of the series, for crying outloud! Ah, but there’s the rub. The star of the show – even a cartoon show – cannot be a villain, right? He or she may not be a hero in the beginning, but will become one in the end.
But does Daria show such signs? We-ll, she has ‘mellowed’, so to speak. Her getting and temporarily wearing contact lenses and becoming more civil to Quinn certainly are the signs of this. But isn't this just too short for a five-season show? (Plus the movie “Is It Fall Yet?”) That can certainly be argued.
But on the other hand, Daria seems to have many qualities that determine a hero. She’s faced with hardships at home (her semi-functional family), fights evildoers stronger than her (the semi-corrupt, semi-incompetent legal system), and stands alone, but for her sidekick Jane Lane and her boyfriend Tom Sloane.
Ah, but these alone don’t make Daria a true-blue hero. Take Jane Lane. No offence to you Daria fans, but the Lanes is the real non-functional family here. In “Lane Miserables”, we're shown the full extent of that fact. Jane and Trent have three older siblings and both parents, and yet none of them are ever present. Furthermore, each and everyone of them cares only about himself or herself – not a good sign in a family. Take Amanda Lane, for example. As Jane may point out, the most parenting she does is with her hippy-beatnik patent sayings. And since her husband Vincent doesn't even do that, that is obvious insufficient to run a family. No wonder the Lanes of Jane and Trent’s family are so unpopular at the reunions! Theirs not a real family at all. Parents, who basically left the kids to fend on their own since they could walk; Summer, who has two kids and no husband at the age of twenty or so; Wind, who’s about the same age and has two or three divorces already – I wonder why? Not because of his whining, I mean – winning – personality, now is it? Then there’s Penny whose American citizenship may be in question and yet who seems to be the normal-est Lane in the bunch, sans Jane, and Trent, who has a disgust towards any sort of work, and who wants to just play awful music, eat and sleep. No, Jane and possibly Penny are the most normal people in this bunch.
As for Tom Sloane, too little is known about him, save for the fact that he’s also from a two-parent two-child family and is a match for Daria in brains as well as a personality. His family is also rich. One shouldn’t forget that.
Now let’s turn to the names. Jane’s name is obviously a part of her two part joke of a name, Jane Lane. Tom is a pretty ordinary name, while his last name, Sloane, seems to be derived from the word “loan”, “financial loan”. And Daria?
Well, for starters, what kind of a last name is Morgendorffer? Her mother’s last name, Barksdale, is clearly English. Meanwhile, Morgendorffer seems to be sounding somewhat Germany-Scottish, or something like that.
That’s the last name, now for the first. Daria isn’t a corrupted version of Darla, if anyone’s interested. No, it’s a female version of Darius, a name borne by no less than three kings of the ancient Persian Empire. Coupled with the strange sounded Morgendorffer, this makes Daria odd in words no less than actions. And speaking of odd, who many of you knew the name Daria before the appearance of the show, hmm?
And now we return to Daria’s family proper. It is led by her mother, Helen – anyone can see that she’s the main breadwinner here. The father – Jake is a self-employed consultant and not that stable-est card in deck, either. As we are taught throughout the series, he blames his late father for that. And in “Jake of Hearts” we learn that Jake’s mother blames her husband for a lot too. Also, Jake somewhat looks after his mother; not quite an Oedipus complex but close enough. Coupling with Helen’s ambitious and powerful personality, and we’ve got a wife-dominated household.
And now comes the next generation. Daria and Quinn. Both of them are odd. Yes, both. Quinn’s red hair is no less out-of-picture than Daria’s attitude. I mean, look at this. Both Jake and Helen have brown hair. Amy, Helen’s sister, also has brown hair, just like Daria. Rita and her daughter are blond. Of course, there are always the grandmothers, whose hairs have turned grey from age, so there’s no identification, but this doesn't appear very probable to me. Much more alluring is another possibility: all of the oddities of Quinn and Daria come from their paternal grandfather, “Mad Dog” Morgendorffer.
Think about it. Thanks to Jake’s rumblings, we get the picture that “Mad Dog”, though unpleasant, wasn't your ordinary family tyrant; he was in the army at least, and part of Jake’s resentment towards his father comes from the fact that he and his father never agreed on anything. But can you can imagine a WWII veteran and a 60s hippie agree on anything? Also, “Mad Dog” seemed to have a knack of making Jake do what he didn't like – but is this inhumane? Not really – otherwise no one would go to school, for example! So, what we have here is a case of long-term resentment and following vilification.
So what is my point? Simple. Both Daria’s personality and Quinn’s red hair (and possibly personality as well, just to a lesser extent than Daria’s) come from Jake’s father; Daria is “Mad Dog” II, in other words. And given Jake’s attitude towards his father, “Mad Dog” Morgendorffer was certainly not a hero.
And neither is Daria, mayhaps. This whole show is about her life and her point of view. If the show was made from Helen’s point of view, say, or even Jane’s – we may’ve seen everybody else – including Daria in a totally different light. I mean, would a good person be reading “Sick Sad World” magazine at a wedding?
Come to think of it – what had Daria made that’s so heroic? Why, nothing. So far, she seems to be content just to be going to school, passing classes exclusively with her wits – but if anybody challenges her, then she starts to think of a revenge. Not a heroic thing to do now, is it?
So all right, so she’s assisted – recently by Tom Sloane, a boy who’s more of her soul-mate than the slacker Trent ever was, and by Jane Lane, a product of a really dysfunctional family, who has been a pariah in Lawndale High way before Daria’s family came to Lawndale. In “The Esteemers”, we learn that Jane went to the self-esteem class for seven times – “just for fun”, but on an assembly, when she tried to tell the class that she was cured – she didn’t. Obviously, she wasn't as self-assured as she said and maybe half-believed herself. Daria, on the other hand, who is the most, if not sane, then the most logical and rational person not only in real life, but in the TV world as well. So, Jane may need Daria for self-assurance, as she used her self-assurance classes before her. After all, anyone has probably more self-assurance than Mr. O’Neal.
But then again, this seems to be working both ways. In “See Jane Run”, we witness how Jane could’ve become independent from Daria and the two could’ve parted ways after that – but they didn’t. With minimum spurring from Daria, Jane left the runners’ team, returning to her outcast status with Daria.
So what do we have in the end? Two outcasts, Daria and Jane. Jane is a loner due to her personality, and so’s Daria. But Jane’s lack of social skills comes from social conditions – her family’s not the best environment to learn normal social interactions – while Daria’s stem from her personality. In Morgendorffers’ family portrait, done by Lillian Greener, we see both Quinn’s similar to Helen, and that Daria continuously looks on the world in such a way, that if she was a man, people would take really long detours around her. Can such a look go with a nickname “Mad Dog?” If not, why?
Basically, the episode “Jake of Hearts” shows the viewers excellently how the Morgendorffer family works. Jake is clearly like his mother, Ruth. Quinn takes after Helen, this is hinted subtly through their similar reactions to Ruth’s actions and comments, And Daria?
In their talks, it is revealed that both Jake and Ruth, both son and mother, were controlled by their father and husband. This is partially because their own personalities make them the perfect control-ees. And now we have Daria.
If Quinn’s attuned to her mother Helen, then does this make Daria attuned to Jake? Doubtful. True, Daria seems to love her dad in her own Dariesque way, but this is more like condescence than true love; Jake is the child here, Daria is the adult. Furthermore, on one hand we have the semi-tyrannical though deceased head of the old Morgendorffer household, “Mad Dog”, while on the other hand we have Daria, who seems to be handling her grandmother Ruth with ease, like getting rid of her in the end, and who, in the episode “Substitute Teacher”, is seems to be the most aware (if not the smartest) Morgendorffer in the family, she, like, knows her mother’s actions before Quinn does. Come to think of it, Quinn’s not totally clueless herself; in the episode “Lawndale Files” Quinn, in a brief dialogue, shows that after Daria, Quinn the next most aware person in the “new” Morgendorffer household. So it seems that Quinn isn’t dumb, Daria’s just smarter.
In the episode “I don’t”, we get to see the Barksdale family system. Basically, there are three adult women: Helen, Rita, and Amy. And there are three girls: Quinn, Daria, and Erin. Erin is Rita’s daughter, but while both Quinn and Daria are Helen’s, Daria shows more characteristics similar to Amy’s. Thus the family pattern is going to continue.
And so, let’s draw this thing to a close. Whom do we have in the end? We have Daria Morgendorffer, who’s not a good guy or a hero. Rather, she’s a protagonist of the series, pretty much like Dragonlance’s Lord Toede from the book with the same name. In fact, the two are more like than one may think. Both of them have sidekicks (Daria Jane, Toede Groag), and both strive against odds that seem to be impossible to beat. (Toede to get what’s “rightfully” his, Daria seemingly to make things right.) And when Toede succeeds, he does not become a good guy. And Daria?
In “Boxing Daria” we learn of her conflicted childhood. It seems Jane’s not the only one with the sociological problems after all. However, Daria could’ve asked for help, but she didn’t, opting to seethe in her resentment instead. Does this look heroic? No. In fact, and Daria admits it herself, Daria’s attitude was going down. She was just anti-social and not a perfect person at all. For all we know, Jake’s father has experienced a bad childhood himself – I mean, what do we know about him? What kind of a childhood a “Mad Dog” had to become so “crazy”?
And so, it seems, Daria just started to become a different person. However, it seems unlikely that she will become a hero as we perceive one. Her and Jane’s tour to the junior high school’s kids proved that. It’s more probable that Daria found some sort of equilibrium between her sarcastic self and the rest of the humanity. This doesn't mean that she has changed, for Toede in that Dragonlance novel, though he changed, he didn't become good or heroic, rather he became eviller than before. Though Daria isn't evil, she’s still not a real hero either, whatever one says. For all we know, if she gets married, (and her aunt Amy, with whom Daria is really close, is single) – to Tom, most likely – she still may be the next “Mad Dog” Morgendorffer in the family tree. And so for Jane, she’ll probably remain Daria’s “loveable sidekick”, but will she find happiness and content in her adult life?
I don’t think so.