How many times have we heard about evil family members in fairytales? For there’s the Evil Queen, Maleficent, Scar, Lady Tremaine, and many more. And the way they spit distaste among members of their family, their evilness is quite visible to the audience. But what about Gothel from Tangled? Unlike many stories where villains become jealous of the protagonist, Gothel embraces Rapunzel. And for the longest time, as a child, I thought she was a wonderful mother because of that (except for the kidnapping and isolating Rapunzel parts).
But of course, Gothel doesn’t embrace Rapunzel for her character, rather it’s her magical hair that Gothel cherishes. Desiring eternal youth, Gothel does whatever she can to keep Rapunzel to herself. When I first watched Gothel singing “Mother Knows Best” to Rapunzel, I remember partially agreeing with the song because aren’t mother’s always right?
However, Tangled slightly switched my perspective, as a child, because, to me, it illustrated a kind mother, but in disguise. Yet by looking back, Gothel has clearly emotionally abused Rapunzel all her life. There was no healthy love between Gothel and Rapunzel. Gothel had controlled Rapunzel since birth, feeding Rapunzel lies about the world. In fact, the song she sings to Rapunzel proves how much power she’s placed over her:
You want to go outside? Why, Rapunzel
Look at you, as fragile as a flower
Still a little sapling, just a sprout
You know why we stay up in this tower
That’s right, to keep you safe and sound, dear.“Mother knows best” by Dona Murphy
As Gothel sings how Rapunzel is ‘fragile as a flower,’ she tries to make Rapunzel believe she’s not capable of handling herself in the outside world. Gothel does this to make Rapunzel not trust herself and to instead believe in Gothel’s words. The seeds of doubt Gothel constantly plants in Rapunzel’s mind is is referred to as gaslighting.
Additionally, the fragility Gothel describes isn’t Rapunzel she’s referring to, rather Gothel’s own insecurity for having Rapunzel leave her after finding freedom. For the benefits Rapunzel has been providing Gothel all her life, will be taken away. In fact, the title of the song, “Mother Knows Best” that Gothel repeats throughout the song further proves how Gothel asserts dominance over Rapunzel’s life.
Depriving Rapunzel from the real world and being forced to believe Gothel is someone who loves her, is all manipulation at its finest. And when Rapunzel secretly decides to disobey her ‘mother’ by leaving the tower, she’s filled with a whole array of emotions. Which may all seem funny as she dances with joy and then suddenly switches to despair, the reality of it is actually quite upsetting.
From screaming ‘This is sooo fun!’ to ‘I’m a horrible daughter…I’m going back’ really goes to show how every decision in Rapunzel’s life was made by Gothel. So much controlling was done that it haunts Rapunzel to follow her own free will.
Luckily, the more time Rapunzel stays away from her abuser, the more time Rapunzel is able to explore and reflect her life in a beautiful way. She learns what it means to be true to herself. And by doing so, she’s able to pursue her dreams that were, otherwise, locked up from her controlling ‘mother.’
And this truly showcases how problematic Gothel was. The scary part is Gothel could be our family members, friends, lover, etc. Because complete domination starts from stealing the mind, which Gothel was clearly able to do with Rapunzel.