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Mother Gothel is Not Just Another Disney Villain, She’s Someone You May Know

One of my favorite animated Disney films is Tangled, and yes, it is a thousand times better than Frozen. But what about it intrigues me so much? Is it the music, the story-telling, or the voice-acting? While the answer would be yes to all of that, as I re-watched it the other day something new caught my attention. It was the movie’s main antagonist, Mother Gothel.

With most Disney villains, they either possess magic powers (Mother Gothel does use a magic flower, but does not possess any magic beyond that) or unrealistic, evil tactics to reach their goal. But Mother Gothel deploys different tactics, ones that show up in many people’s everyday life. I’m talking about gaslighting.

In a Psychology Today article entitled “11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting”, it describes gaslighting as “A tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality”. Gaslighting is a terrible thing that many people have to go through on a daily basis and may not even be aware of. Gaslighting can also be done in any type of relationship (family, friends, significant others, boss, etc.). As the title suggests, the article lists 11 warning signs of gaslighting – all of which Mother Gothel does to the main protagonist, Rapunzel.

Now while I won’t go over every single point, I will go over a few. In the story, Mother Gothel gaslights Rapunzel because she is the source of her immortality. One of Mother Gothel’s tactics and first warning sign is lying. She does this constantly throughout the film, such as pretending the lanterns are just stars or telling Rapunzel that she wouldn’t last outside of the tower because of all the terrible people and creatures. Unfortunately for Rapunzel, she has no one else to talk to and has to believe what Mother Gothel is saying.

Another point I’d like to talk about is warning sign number three, which is where a person uses what is near and dear to you as ammunition. In the song “Mother knows best”, she begins attacking Rapunzel’s looks and personality, telling her she could never go outside because she’s too stupid and weak. Another point that could also be seen here is warning sign number eight, where the person projects. Many of the things she points out as “negative” about Rapunzel are what she really feels insecure about (specifically her looks).

The last two points that I want to touch on are warning signs five and six, where the person’s actions do not match their words and they throw in positive reinforcement to confuse you. Something I noticed is that there are many viewers who believe that Mother Gothel actually cared for Rapunzel, because she would say nice things to Rapunzel, even saying that she loved her. But if you believe that, then Mother Gothel has successfully gaslit you and other viewers. When Mother Gothel shows Rapunzel “love”, she is doing it to manipulate and confuse Rapunzel (and even some viewers). Mother Gothel is often putting Rapunzel down, but she makes sure to throw just enough “love” at Rapunzel to make her think she really cares about her. But something even more disturbing is what Mother Gothel does during the scenes where she “compliments” and “loves” Rapunzel. Mother Gothel is always either brushing Rapunzel’s hair, talking to her hair, touching/kissing it, or referring to Rapunzel as “flower”. While Mother Gothel is saying these things to Rapunzel, her actions aren’t matching her words. She does all those things because she only cares about the magic powers Rapunzel’s hair possesses and not her as a person.

Mother Gothel does not present herself like other Disney villains. She doesn’t use magic or outlandish tactics that most people would never fall for. Instead, she uses her words to gaslight and make Rapunzel question her own reality. Mother Gothel is the real life villain that many people have to deal with on a daily basis and I think it’s important that we recognize that. There are many people who don’t understand gaslighting or even know what it is. And because of this, many people don’t always recognize when they or loved ones are going through it. But Tangled offers a perfect example that can help us see and know the warning signs. 

I recommend everyone watches or re-watches Tangled and pay close attention to Mother Gothel’s behavior. Watching her behavior and understanding that everything she does is gaslighting can help you recognize these warning signs in your own relationships and in loved ones as well.

Mandy Wardrop is a sophomore studying Creative Advertising, Video Games & Interactive Media, and Political Science. In her free time, she enjoys playing video games, doing her makeup, and watching Youtube. She hopes in the future to become a narrative writer for a video game studio.
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