A damsel in distress archetype refers to characters of young and beautiful ladies experiencing depression and disappointment after losing their ways in some forest or becoming captive of some monster. However, the element of attraction lies in the word ‘damsel.’ Therefore, it seems that such a damsel is facing some threat and needs rescuing. Such damsels have existed in the old myths and have always been a central point of storylines.
Character Traits of a Damsel in Distress Archetype
A damsel in distress archetype has certain character traits. Such a woman or lady is always beautiful and attractive and holds an aura of magic around her. She seems to be under some magic or some spell of some other creature. These women or ladies first appear very naïve, innocent, and harmless. However, with the passage of time, when they are rescued, it seems that they have melted into the air. It also happens that they do not disappear and rather marry the princes or their rescuers, who are often knights.
Religious Figures as Damsel in Distress Archetype
The earliest myths from Greece present archetypes such as Princess Andromeda. Her mother used to claim that she was more beautiful than all the nymphs joined together. However, the nymphs got angry and sent a serpent to terrorize them, at which the King had to consult the gods to appease them. The gods asked him to sacrifice his daughter, Andromeda. Such stories existed in other cultures and folk tales, too.
Common Aspects of Damsel in Distress Archetype
There are three major aspects of this type of archetype. The first aspect is that although the damsel is beautiful and attractive, she is living in the captivity of some other creature which could be a monster or a supernatural creature. A hero often comes to rescue the damsel and she is always a female character who either loves that hero or leaves him. These three aspects are integral to the damsel in distress archetype.
Examples from Literature and Movies
Belle Beauty and the Beast, directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise
The story of Belle and the Beast, who is actually a prince, has been presented in this movie. The Beast imprisons Belle in his castle to love her and earn his love to come out of this magic spell. The very imprisonment of Belle shows the use of this femme fatale or damsel in distress though the situation is somewhat complex as the hero needs her to come out of this magic spell.
Lady in The Spanish Lady
This traditional British song is later sung by various artists, and has an unknown origin like the anonymity of its writer. It is also an Irish folk song in which an English captain falls in love with the lady and appeals to the captor that he should set her free. He begs the captor that he is in love with the lady and intends to take her with him to England. The captain then calls the lady who is in distress and tells her that he is going to win her release. That is why the lady in distress is actually an archetype of a damsel in distress.
Clarissa in Clarissa by Samuel Richardson
Published way back in 1748, this novel by Richardson presents the character of Clarissa, who becomes captive of the seduction of Lovelace. He makes her realize that she is living in an ugly marriage and that he will take her to the high society of London where he has claimed he lives. In this way, although he rescues her from Slomes, he actually traps her. Therefore, this damsel in distress seems a complex type of archetype, yet it demonstrates the use of the damsel in distress archetype.
Isabelle and Mathilda in The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
Although the story of Isabella has several twists and turns, the death of her would-be husband, the alluring eyes and threatening situation that Manfred has created with his proposal to marry her by force if necessary, ensuing fights of the knights with her father and the vision that he sees to save her show that she is a damsel in distress archetype. Although he tries to kill her, he comes to know the mistaken death of his daughter, Mathilda, who also proves another damsel in distress archetype.