Elle Woods

By: Nina Sullivan
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Elle Woods, the lead protagonist in the movie “Legally Blonde,” is a California sorority girl who, according to Entertainment Weekly is, “Blonde, bubbly, and carries a tiny Chihuahua.” Elle majored in Fashion Merchandizing, was the president of her sorority’s chapter, a Hawaiian Tropic Girl, Miss June in her campus calendar, and most importantly, naturally blonde. She was considered a friend to all at her university and was never seen without her favorite four-legged friend Bruiser. She was deeply in love with the most attractive boy on campus, Warner Huntington, until Warner calls it quits on their relationship, saying he needed someone more established and that Elle was “too blonde.” Elle then applied to Harvard Law School in hopes of rekindling their romance and winning Warner back. In the beginning of the film, Elle is portrayed as a stereotypical, ditzy rich girl who believes that her happiness is dependent on marrying the man that she loves. However, after gaining admission into Harvard, Elle finds a true passion for law and develops many friendships with people she would have never met living in California tanning a partying the days away.
Showing up in her always eccentric and “just in” outfits to her first day of classes, Elle is judged by many of her classmates and for the first time ever, finds it extremely difficult to fit in. Frustrated and overwhelmed, Elle comes under the impression that law school isn’t for her until a new acquaintance at the local salon, Paulette, convinced her to stick with it and make it her priority to make Warner realize what he had given up. After deciding to continue on in her pursuit of a law degree, Elle becomes much more comfortable in her new environment and gains acceptance from both her teachers and peers when they realize the potential and passion she comes to possess. She also meets a fellow student of one of her professors, Emmett, who clearly takes a liking to her after their initial encounter. After a variety of personal, emotional, and situational obstacles, Elle develops into a confident law student realizing that her happiness is dependent solely on the development of her own abilities. She was able to win a case for the defense whose client happened to be an alumni member of her old sorority, establish herself, and discover new love with Emmett while leaving Warner by the wayside. She graduated from Harvard with honors, a few potential job offers, and the love, support, and confidence of everyone she already knew and met while in school.
Neo-Analytic and Ego Aspects Perspective:
Through Elle’s endeavors upon discovering herself, she was both greatly influenced and affected by the social influences in her new environment while at Harvard. According to Carl Jung, every individual has a best fit to one typology relating to human functions and attitudes. Elle was very extroverted before adventuring off to Harvard where for a short while, she became somewhat introverted when she wasn’t able to adapt to her new surroundings as easily as she would have hoped. However, she was able to return to her old extroverted self after realizing the skills she inherently possessed and gaining the acceptance of her colleagues. During her personal struggle with identity at Harvard, she also utilized both the thinking and feeling functions of the mind by realizing she shouldn’t be there just for Warner as well as realizing the potential worth of committing herself to and completing law school. These two particular functions involve judgment and reasoning, which Elle was able to improve and develop while attending Harvard. Jung also developed certain archetypes that were intrinsic to certain individuals. One of these archetypes includes the persona and the shadow. The persona is defined as the socially acceptable front of a person while the shadow is the dark and unacceptable side of one’s personality. Shortly after arriving to Harvard, Elle’s personality is perceived very harshly by her new peers and is considered somewhat unacceptable for law school. However, as Elle gains control of the situation as well as herself, she begins to adjust her eccentric quirks and lifestyle in order to gain acceptance in her new environment. In doing this, Jung’s idea of one’s persona is shown by Elle maturing and developing a newly found socially acceptable front.
Another concept of this perspective that can be explored pertaining to Elle Woods would be the social issues and tasks founded by Alfred Adler. Adler believed in three main social tasks that would help in describing the “self.” These included occupational, societal, and love tasks. Elle exhibits all three of these tasks in the film, especially societal and occupational. It may not have been intended initially, but by attending Harvard, she was able to explore and pursue a career that made her feel legitimate and worthwhile. As far as societal tasks are concerned, Elle was able to develop many new and even ever lasting friendships/relationships while at Harvard, and establishing new social networks that helped her thrive in the new city. Last but certainly not least, at the end of one chapter in her life, she also found a suitable appreciative life partner in Emmett who proposed to her the night after her graduation. Adler stated that all three tasks affected one another which is obvious in this particular theatric situation. Adler also had a theory relating to birth order in terms of independence, ambition, and future success. Elle was the first born and only daughter in her immediate family. In accordance with this theory, Adler deemed that first-borns would be most likely to strive for independence as well as obtain certain leadership qualities as well as initiative in adulthood. Elle exhibits all of these characteristics by leaving her bubble and establishing herself in a new location and taking the initiative to apply to law school. First-borns were also said to be more likely to go to college and achieve academically which is easily exhibited in Elle graduating Harvard with honors.
Also related is Karen Horney’s idea of the self. Karen believed that the self was made up of three sub-selves that encompassed everything within a person. Once enrolled, Elle had a great amount of trouble dealing with the expectations of law school and society around her. During this time, she struggled with her real self because she was too focused on her ideal self. Elle found herself consumed with all these new views of perfection within her new setting which made her feel inadequate and restricted. As she found herself though, she realized those notions of perfection were unrealistic, and who she thought she should be turned out to be exactly who she was. She was then able to identify with her real self once again in a healthy manner and fully accepted the person she came to be. This development would be a meeting point for both the Moving-Toward and Moving-Against strategies. While she did strive for power and recognition she didn’t do so in an over exaggerated way by over identifying with her ideal self. She also strived to make others happy and gain approval without over identifying with her despised self, because she had it for herself all along she just wanted to prove it to others.
Traits and Skills Perspective:
The Traits and Skills perspective involves multiple facets such as traits were mostly consistent over time, varied among individuals, and influenced behavior. It also stated that certain skills and abilities could be developed in order to make leadership effective for those who might not acquire those traits inherently. Through this perspective, Gordon Allport instituted the Big Five which included five different traits that were said to be helpful in predicting life outcomes. These traits include extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness scaled from high to low. In Elle’s case, she would be very high on the extroversion scale, seeing how sociable and assertive she was. She would also rate very highly on both agreeableness and conscientiousness with her friendly and trustful nature as well as her persistent and dependable disposition. Neuroticism would constitute for the only trait she would rate low on seeing as how she never expressed emotional instability or very much vulnerability. Once again she would rate very highly on the openness scale seeing as how open to new experiences, settings, and intelligence she was throughout the film. In accordance to Eysenck’s Big Three model, Elle’s traits would definitely have derived from the underlying extroverted biological system supported by how outgoing, sociable, and assertive she was and ended up being.
Another concept heavily associated with this approach is interpersonal perception relating to accuracy and meta-accuracy. Accuracy deals with if we have accurate perceptions of others. Throughout her journey Elle maintained accurate perceptions of certain people, while other ones were a bit skewed. Even from the first time she met him, Elle always had a very positive opinion about Emmett and certain adults she met in her classes. She was even able to uphold a positive outlook towards Warner’s fiancé Vivian, which worked out to her advantage as they became very close friends by graduation. Professor Callahan however, the one professor who Elle believed took her seriously, through her for a loop when he attempted to hit on her during a meeting he had called. However her judgment and accuracy were USUALLY right on point which makes sense since people high in extroversion and conscientiousness are said to have the highest agreement. In regards to meta-accuracy and dealing with how others view us, Elle’s perceptions became much clearer as she developed meaningful relationships during her journey. For example after their introduction to one another, Elle was convinced Vivian hated her with a fiery passion and was somewhat intimidated by her. However, as the girls got to know and learn more about each other, they became very close and created a mutual liking between one another. Elle also started toning down her eccentric style and accepted a more sophisticated look for herself, which helped in people taking her more seriously and looking passed her blonde roots.
Henry Murray also developed a theory related to motivation and how certain individuals have different needs in order to exert the motivation. The first need is the need for achievement in which a person finds the need to succeed in tasks that are set out by society. Elle clearly demonstrates this need by attending law school and graduating with a bright future. This especially helped diminish many of the stereotypes society had/has about blondes. I would say the only other need she inherited would be the need for exhibition simply because no one believed she could handle the requirements of law school, but she shocked everyone when she did and was one of the most prestigious students in her class to graduate.
Furthermore, by applying these two perspectives to Elle Woods in particular, we can see that she is overall a very extroverted person with a high sense and need for achievement. By taking the initiative, being persistent, and independent, it is no wonder why Elle was able to succeed as much as she did. She never fully conformed to what others expectations were, but instead maintained her individuality while considering the differences she faced at Harvard. With her strong efforts and resiliency, Elle was able to make something of herself in a place no one ever expected a girl like her to succeed. Overall she was able to balance the needs of herself as well as the expectations of society to create a name and allow people to see the talent and skills she possessed to thrive in anything she wanted to do.

Gaskins, J. (2011, February 8). Chapter 4: Neo-Analytic and Ego Aspects of Personality:
Identity [PDF Document]. Retrieved from Lecture Notes Online Website:

Gaskins, J. (2011, March 22). Chapter 8: Trait and Skill Aspects of Personality. [PDF
Document]. Retrieved from Lecture Notes Online Website:

“Elle Woods” (2001) Retrieved From: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0250494/