Is Helga the True Protagonist of Hey Arnold?

Hey Arnold! is one of the most iconic Nicktoons from the 90s. It followed the adventures of a nine-year-old football-headed boy who goes out of his way to help the people in his life with their daily problems. It was always fun to see what lessons he could teach other characters and the audience. However, there’s a theory online that the series is actually about another character, Helga. 

Helga is Arnold’s bully who is also in love with him. She’s definitely a complex character, but is she more of a protagonist than the titular role? Let’s look at the evidence that’s typically cited online. 

The show may be titled “Hey Arnold!,” but it’s Helga who’s the one shouting it throughout the intro theme. In fact, she’s the only one who speaks during the intro other than the final “Hey Arnold!” that’s sung by a chorus of characters. The series is titled after Helga’s exclamation. 

Arnold is smart, caring, and basically an all-around perfect character. Helga, however, is much more complex and is a genuinely flawed character. She typically presents herself as cynical, violent, and tough, but we see that she does have a much softer side that she feels she needs to hide. She causes a lot of conflicts for herself and those around her because of her aggression. Flawed characters are often more interesting to watch. If they’re too perfect, they can feel pretty stale, but seeing a flawed character attempt to overcome obstacles is usually more entertaining. Therefore, Helga would often be more entertaining and interesting to the viewer. 

Speaking of being more interesting, Arnold may not know what happened to his parents, but he lives a good life with his grandparents, has great friends, and does well in school. Helga’s personal life is pretty terrible. Her mom is an alcoholic, and her dad treats her horribly. He forgets her name, her birthday, and her age and constantly scolds her just for existing. Both of Helga’s parents neglect her and give her perfect older sister all of their love and attention. Helga has much more to overcome than Arnold does. Even though she’s often cruel to those around her, the audience still roots for her. We see and understand why she’s so mean to everyone and want her to succeed.

Helga having to overcome some of the biggest obstacles in the show leads to having a fantastic arc that includes her growing as a person and even has her opening up to a therapist about her troubles. Since Arnold is basically perfect, he doesn’t need to develop. Helga, however, easily receives the most development out of any character in the series. 

Many who believe in this theory that Helga is Hey Arnold!’s true protagonist have pointed out that the reason Arnold is so perfect and that he’s able to better the life of everyone he meets is because that’s actually just how Helga sees him. We’re seeing Arnold, and thus the rest of the series, through Helga’s eyes. She thinks of him as perfect, so we see him as such. Some even speculate that Arnold is everything she wants to be. His life is ideal, but his parents are missing from the picture. She wants his fancy bedroom, awesome friends, and a life without her parents. If we do see the show from her point of view, she must be the protagonist, right? 

She’s also in almost as many episodes as Arnold and even has her own monologue in most of them. She’s practically in the spotlight just as much as Arnold is. With her amount of screen time, she might as well be the main character. 

To top it all off, at the time of me writing this article, Helga is used as the representative for Hey Arnold! in the Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl video game, and Arnold isn’t playable whatsoever. It’s not necessarily an official confirmation, but it certainly helps these theorists’ argument. 

Do you think this theory has some weight to it, or do you think it’s pure crazy talk? 

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