print this page

Papers and Essays

Romantic Themes in "My So-Called Life"

by Nicole Pristash - added November, 7th 2005.

About the author

Nicole Pristash is currently (2005) a graduate student at Pace University in NYC. She wrote this essay for her Romantic Movement class at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

Want to talk about this article? Use our forum.

The Romantic Movement was an intellectual and artistic movement that occurred in the late 18th century to the early 19th century. Out of this period emerged philosophical ideas, art, music and literature that changed the way people looked at their lives and the world around them. The same could be said for the show, “My So-Called Life.” This show was the first of its kind. It presented the life of a 15-year-old girl in a realistic perspective and affected the lives of many young women through its language and detail. Because the Romantic period has influenced every art form that we experience today, “My So-Called Life,” includes many themes from that period. They are expressed through the plotlines and the characters. In these episodes, the romantic themes introduce and represent the complicated psychological issues that the characters face throughout the show.

The Romantic Movement was one of the most important periods in art, literature and music. The movement refers to a time where there was an extreme emphasis on ideas that had never been expressed or done before. Some of these ideas included an interest in human consciousness, sexuality and freedom of thought. Romantics explored the notion of imagination over reason, emotion over logic and content over form, a reaction to the preceding Enlightenment period. Artists, writers and musicians emphasized the fight against oppression and the breaking away from the structure that they were used to. It was a very radical period that has proved to be more influential than any other period in history.

This movement influenced every medium that we experience today. Television is one of those mediums. Almost every episode of “My So-Called Life” includes Romantic ideas that help viewers to understand what each character is going through.

“My So-Called Life was a short-run television show that aired on ABC between August 1994 and January of 1995. The creators of the highly successful show, “Thirtysomething,” developed a show that centered on the life of a 15 year-old girl, named Angela Chase.

Angela experiences the traumas that most girls face at that age: disillusionment with school, problems with friends and not being able to relate to her parents. Angela is a very introspective young woman. Angela’s personality is the epitome of what the Romantic period was about. The romantics focused on individualism and the examination of one’s self. Angela analyzes what people say to her, what she says to other people and what happens around her. The show centers on her perspective of what is going on in her life, although there are secondary characters that are portrayed as well.

The show takes place in suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The main settings for the episodes are her home and school, the two main places a typical teenager spends the most time.

This show focused on issues such as sex, peer pressure, drugs and alcohol and ordinary life but what made it different from any other show is that the language that the characters used and the way they were portrayed were more realistic than any other television show. Young girls could immediately identify with Angela. Many felt that Angela thought about the same exact things that they did and in the same way.

“My So-Called Life” earned rave reviews from critics and viewers too. Almost every review stated that it was the best new show on television and young people must watch it. The critics encouraged parents to watch it too. They believed that parents could learn more about their children. This show was accepted by so many because it was a realistic portrayal of teenage life, unlike other shows such as “Beverly Hills 90210, which only focused on rich kids from California. Young girls around the country could relate to Angela and the other characters because the writing was so realistic and believable.

Despite the loyal fan base it created, the ratings weren’t high enough and the network put the show on hiatus after only 19 episodes. Fans of the show created a grassroots organization called “Operation Life Support.” This group wrote to the network, newspapers and magazines and petitioned to save the show from being canceled but unfortunately, it was too late. ABC had made its decision and “My So-Called Life” never created any new episodes. MTV and other cable stations have run the series since 1995 but it will never be the same. The fans are left with only the original 19 episodes of one of the greatest shows ever made.

In the pilot episode, the characters, settings and themes are introduced. We learn basic information about the main character, Angela Chase. We learn that Angela has made two new friends, Rayanne and Rickie, but left behind her old friend, Sharon. Rayanne is the wilder of the two.

We meet the rest of the Chase family, which includes: Patty (the mother), Graham (the father) and Danielle (Angela’s younger sister). Angela and Patty have a difficult relationship. Studies show that many girls get along with their father better than their mother and Angela fits into that category. The difficulties of this relationship are a strong plotline in the show.

Angela is a sophomore at Liberty High, a typical suburban high school. She has a crush on Jordan Catalano, a brooding and longhaired musician. It seems as though Angela’s life is pretty normal.

The major points in the plot of the first episode are that Angela sneaks off with Rayanne and Rickie to try to get into a club, but get left out in the parking lot instead. After returning home and as she walks down the street with her nerdy childhood friend, Brian Krakow, Angela catches her Dad talking to another woman. Her world suddenly comes to a halt. Her relationship with her father will change from that point on, along with many other aspects of her life.

The main themes of the show are all introduced, along with one of the strongest Romantic themes: rebellion. Writers and artists expressed the need for rebellion against structure and rules. Angela rebels against conformity. In the first few minutes of the show, Angela expresses this rebellion by dying her light brown hair to “crimson glow,” an extremely bright-red color. The catalyst for the act is that her new friend, Rayanne, told her that her hair was holding her back:

School is a battlefield for your heart; so when Rayanne Graf told me

my hair was holding me back, I had to listen. Because she wasn’t just

talking about my hair; she was talking about my life. (Pilot)

We can assume that Rayanne suggested the color too. Bright red is the most dramatic change from brown and is most likely to cause uproar, although Angela wasn’t forced. She dyes her own hair while Rayanne and Rickie hang out in the background.

When Patty sees her hair for the first time, she has a rather calm reaction. We can see Patty wants to get upset but because Angela’s friends are present, she holds it back. Angela seems a little disappointed by her mother’s quick and painless response. Perhaps she wanted to upset her mother more. The mother/daughter relationship is complicated. One tactic girls will do to make their mother upset is drastically change their appearance. In this case, it didn’t completely work.

Later in the episode, Angela leaves the house to go with Rayanne after Patty tells her she can’t go. Every parent has experienced this at one point. Patty tells her no until she finally relents, pretending she doesn’t care anymore. This type of encounter sets the tone for their relationship for the rest of the show: Angela wants to upset her mother and Patty only wants what is best for her daughter. It also introduces another strong theme of the Romantic period: childhood vs. adulthood.

Patty represents Angela’s childhood and Rayanne represents her adulthood. Her new friendship with Rayanne and Rickie represents Angela’s transition from child to young adult. She is aware of how people perceive her, even how she perceives herself. Rayanne has a reputation for being wild and a partier. Angela knows this. She is not like that herself, but she decides to break away from her innocent friendship with Sharon for an exciting friendship with someone more “dangerous” and noticeable. Her new friendships will give her attention from other people in the school and perhaps she won’t feel invisible. Perhaps Jordan will notice her.

Brian Krakow is another symbol of Angela’s childhood. Angela and Brian grew up together on the same street. We get the feeling they used to be friends but Brian has turned into a dorky and annoying neighbor. Brian will always show up to symbolically remind Angela that she is not yet an adult. He is always there to be the angel on her shoulder when the devil shows up on the other.

Another scene in the pilot emphasizes Angela’s transition from a child. Angela walks down the hallway to her room and bumps into her father, who is visibly uncomfortable:

My Dad and I used to be pretty tight. The sad truth is, my breasts

have come between us. (Pilot)

Graham then asks Patty to tell Angela not to walk around in a towel, or get a bigger one. Like most fathers, Graham is having a hard time accepting the fact that his daughter is becoming a woman. Young girls have a hard enough time dealing with the physical changes their body is going through without feeling like they’re making someone else uncomfortable. This theme will make many appearances throughout the series.

Childhood vs. adulthood also fits into the category of opposites. Romantic writers wrote about light and dark, birth and death, innocence and experience. “My So-Called Life” focuses on the differences in personalities. Jordan Catalano, Angela’s crush, represents one of her opposite personalities and characters. Angela admits to Rayanne that, when it comes to Jordan, she wants sex or a conversation, or both. What she doesn’t know yet is that Jordan will never represent both of those aspects in her life. He will only represent sex. Brian Krakow will be the person who represents conversation in Angela’s life.

One feeling that every teenager experiences is one of the many subjects written about in the Romantic period: imprisonment. Angela feels imprisoned by her parents, by school, by what society expects her to be and how people perceive her. Angela has reached the age where she is aware of how others look at her. She is aware of her parents’ expectations of her and the pressure that she feels from her friends. She’s boxed in; however Angela has a firm grasp of what is going on around her. When asked why she quit the yearbook committee she replies:

It just seems like, you agree to have a certain personality or something.

For no reason. Just to make things easier for everyone. But when you think

about it, I mean, how do you know it’s even you? And, I mean, this whole

thing with yearbook, it’s like, everybody’s in this big hurry to make this

book, to supposedly remember what happened but it’s not even what really

happened, it’s what everyone thinks was supposed to happen. Because if

you made a book of what really happened, it’d be a really upsetting book. (Pilot)

Angela is discovering the realities that come along with high school, cliques and the truth about how she really feels. Most importantly, she’s discovering that she feels differently than other people, she’s comfortable with that fact and not afraid to express how and what she is feeling.

When Rayanne, Angela and Rickie go to the club, the boy that was supposed to get them in abandons them in the parking lot. They run into a couple of creeps and get a ride home from the cops. She witnesses her father talking to a younger woman as she walks down the street with Brian. Confused and saddened by what she has seen, Angela goes into her mother’s room and apologizes for her actions and for dying her hair. She drops into her mother’s arms and falls asleep. In a sense, Angela has gone from a child to an adult (trying to get into a club) back to a child, comforted by her mother. Perhaps she doesn’t completely want to become an adult yet.

Episode 3, which is entitled “Guns and Gossip,” confronts a major theme from the Romantic Period: a bleak view of humanity and of the future. Many writers and artists portrayed this feeling in their work. Writers and poets wrote about violence, death and the destruction of the societal frame that surrounded them. Many works of art during this period became bleaker. The colors that the artists used were darker. The subjects consisted of real-life people and places. Many artists focused on portraying the poor and downtrodden, instead of the usual portraits of the rich and famous; however this period shouldn’t be thought of as consumed with depressing works of art and literature. Writers and artists just became more focused on reality, which can be bleak.

“Guns and Gossip” confronts two important issues that young adults have to deal with: the possibility of violence in their lives and the rumor mill that exists in every high school. In this episode, a gun goes off in the school. No one is hurt but the parents are understandably worried while the students are relatively calm. Brian is the only witness to what really happened. A couple of guys were roughing up Rickie, who had a gun. It accidentally went off. Everyone in the school knows that Brian is a witness so the authorities pressure him into revealing who the perpetrators are. Meanwhile, a note is passed around school that starts a rumor that Angela and Jordan had sex. It is just a rumor; however Angela is extremely uncomfortable that people are talking about her. She is so distracted; she doesn’t even pay attention to what is going on in her school. The entire school is in frenzy. Guns aren’t something the students at Liberty High have had to deal with before.

Violence in schools is most common in urban areas of the country; however, studies show that violence is actually increasing in suburban neighborhoods. This is a fact that kids are facing each and every day. The kids and their parents in “My So-Called Life” face this frightening fact in this episode.

While Angela is dealing with her personal problems, Patty is shaken. She wants to know how it happened and what will be done. The school holds a meeting with the students’ parents to discuss the measures that they are taking to make sure that the incident doesn’t happen again. Patty attends the meeting but she isn’t satisfied. Like any parent, she is extremely worried. She considers sending Angela and Danielle to a private school, dropping them off and picking them up every day and other steps that any scared parent would consider. Graham, however, sets her straight. He tells her that she cannot be there every second to protect them. She just has to trust the school with that task. So, metal detectors are placed at the entrances to Liberty High, changing the way they look at their school, and possibly the world, forever.

Perception is another Romantic theme in this episode. Writers and artists focused on the audience’s perception of their work. Artists focused on new colors or made their subjects less obvious. Writers concentrated on making their audiences truly think about the work. In a sense, people could take away different things from what they saw or read. One might not have the same reaction or interpretation as another. Many artists and writers also left their work open to change, making the audience’s perception different each time. The school’s perception of Angela changes as a result of the note and the rumor.

This is the first time that Angela has received this type of attention. She knew she would get noticed when she started hanging out with Rayanne Graf and this is exactly the type of attention that Rayanne would experience. To Rayanne, it’s exciting. Angela, on the other hand, doesn’t enjoy the rumors. The rumor isn’t true and she doesn’t want to be perceived as someone she isn’t. Angela doesn’t care that Rayanne is promiscuous but she doesn’t want to be perceived in the same way.

Angela and Rayanne are opposites. They differ the most when it comes to men. Rayanne isn’t personal with guys. She gets what she wants and then walks away. She isn’t ashamed about it both because she does exactly what she wants to do and there’s no hassle and no commitment. Angela, on the other hand, wants a real relationship and everything that goes along with that. She does want a commitment. Most of all, she wants to fall in love. The rumor goes against everything she stands for and that’s why it bothers her so much. Angela is also upset when she finds out that the person who wrote the note was Brian, who is struggling with his own problem.

Brian Krakow does something completely against character in this episode. He rebels against authority. Unlike other characters in this show, Brian usually does everything by the book. He gets straight A’s and follows the rules, however when it comes to someone he cares about, that all changes.

Brian is the only witness to the gun incident. The principal and the police question him repeatedly on what happened but more importantly, who was there. Brian knows that a few guys were harassing Rickie and that the gun went off. He also knows that Rickie is one of Angela’s closest friends. Brian is in love with Angela. We realize this important fact early in the series; however Brian will struggle with it for the entire 19 episodes, including this one. He doesn’t want to hurt Angela so he lies and says he didn’t see who was involved. That raises a very important question. Why would he start a rumor if he didn’t want to hurt Angela?

In a previous episode, Angela uses Brian’s house as a meeting point for her and Jordan. This apparently hurt Brian’s feelings so that is why he started the rumor that they had sex that night at his house. Perhaps he thought that he could get away with it and not get caught. Unfortunately he did. Angela confronts him but she doesn’t understand that he did it because he was angry and hurt. Brian won’t tell Angela how he feels about her but he redeems himself by not letting Angela’s friend get in trouble.

“Guns and Gossip” explores a few romantic themes such as perception, rebellion and a darker view of the world. These topics help explain the seriousness of the gun incident and the motivation behind Brian’s actions.

Rebellion is a large theme in episode 6, called “The Substitute.” Angela, Brian and Jordan get a new substitute teacher for their English class, Vic Racine. Vic is an eccentric man who doesn’t like to follow the rules or use typical teaching methods.

When he first enters the class, he announces that the students don’t have to be there if they don’t want to, although the class will then talk about the people who do leave. This statement gets the kids’ attention.

Brian explains to Vic that they are in the process of writing poems for the annual Liberty Literature Magazine. Vic reads the poems and then throws them out of the window, calling them the worst writing he’s ever read. This act shocks the students. They’ve never witnessed a teacher do something like that. Teachers are supposed to praise the students’ work, not disrespect it. Angela confronts Vic and asks him why he did it. He explains:

I did it to clear the slate. I did it to wake you up. I did it to

do something. To find you. And now, guess what, here you

are. Wide awake. Right in front of me. (Substitute, The)

His plan works. The students do wake up.

Vic teaches the students using some unusual methods. He lets the students call him Vic. They read in the classroom by candlelight. He talks to the students as if he is their friend and not their teacher. Vic becomes extremely popular because of his honest and down-to-earth attitude. Rayanne comes to class even though she’s not enrolled in it. They all walk and talk in the halls together. The students have never had a teacher that they can relate to.

This is a new and exciting experience for Angela. She’s happy to have an adult role model to look up to. Angela feels he treats her like an adult and not like a child. This upsets her parents because they want to be a role model for her. They tell her to be careful. They don’t want her to get caught up in anything that could get her in trouble. The battle between childhood and adulthood is never ending in Angela’s life. She is just happy to have a respectable teacher.

Vic encourages the students to think for themselves. He wants them to write what they feel and forget about the structure that they have learned in every other English class that they’ve had. As a result of this new thinking, the students write some very personal poems to be published in the literary magazine, including one that describes a sexual encounter. The principal of the school refuses to let the students have the literary magazine because he thinks it’s indecent. He also confronts Vic with a subpoena for Vic to pay child support to a family that he deserted. He resigns but doesn’t get away so easily.

Angela confronts her role model once again but this time he doesn’t impress her like before. He basically tells her to quit school and run for her life. He’s angry that his demons caught up with him so he gives his student bad advice; however instead of taking his word for scripture like she did the entire episode, Angela does think for herself and tells Vic that what he did and what he just said was wrong. Then, Angela rebels herself.

Angela goes back to school and passes out the literary magazine, until the principal finds out. She gets in trouble but avoids suspension because the principal feels that Angela and the other students were brainwashed by Mr. Racine. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Angela, in particular, learns the lessons that Vic was trying to instill in his students. She learns that she can think for herself and not depend on others to tell her what to think, including the one person she looked up to the most. Her rebellious role model turned out to be a regular human being just like everyone else but she learned some very important lessons, such as individualism, one of the most important aspects of the Romantic Movement.

Another theme of the Romantic period is the idea that drugs and alcohol can lead to a higher state of consciousness. Drugs and alcohol were used before this time, but it was one of the first periods where writers explored the reasoning behind their use as well as the psychological benefits.

Some writers also explored the idea of the sublime, or transcending the limits of the human condition. This was often achieved through experimentation with drugs and alcohol. In “Other People’s Daughters,” Rayanne tries to achieve this state of transcendence. What she doesn’t realize at first is that she is doing it as a way to escape the problems in her life.

In this episode, we get some insight into Rayanne’s home life. She lives with her mother, Amber. Amber is the exact opposite of Patty. She’s a free spirit. She drinks and she gossips with the children. Their home is decorated with bright colors, love beads and mystical crystals hanging from the ceiling.

We learn that there’s not much stability in their lives. Amber and Rayanne mainly eat appetizers, dessert or any frozen food that doesn’t require much preparation. Amber loves Rayanne but we get a sense that she’s more of a friend to her daughter than a mother.

Rayanne receives a birthday card from her absent father. It contains some money and a short and unemotional wish. Upset by the letdown, Rayanne gets drunk and decides to throw a party on the weekend. She wants to be remembered for throwing the biggest and best party that her school has ever seen. She prepares by inviting everyone that she knows and getting as much alcohol and drugs as possible. Rayanne wants every person who attends her party to achieve that higher level of consciousness that she feels when she drinks or does drugs:

…like infinity. Where so much is going on at every second that

there's no possibility for uh…for your mind to wander and you

become this prisoner of like, happiness! (Other People’s Daughters)

This statement describes what is going on in Rayanne’s mind in terms of her life, why she drinks and why she uses drugs. Rayanne likes to keep things going. She doesn’t like to be still because when she is, her mind wanders. She starts to think about the problems in her life, such as her absent father and her unstable home life with her mother. Drinking and drugs are a way for her to escape that; however Rayanne believes that while using those substances, she is achieving happiness, or another level of consciousness. This proves to be a dangerous mistake.

Rayanne overdoses at her party. Luckily, Angela is there to call for help. She calls Patty, who ends up saving Rayanne’s life, not her own mother, Amber. Amber’s neglect almost destroys her daughter but Amber’s opposite personality, Patty, is there to take care of her.

Rayanne is then forced into an outpatient drug and alcohol recovery program where she begins to realize the extent of her problems. Her way of escape almost killed her but she realizes that she has an addiction and that the level of happiness that she was trying to achieve never existed. Trying to get there only hurt her.

Religion and the presence of the Divine is an important aspect of the Romantic period as well. The Romantics focused on finding middle ground between the strict Christianity of the previous period and the emergence of science as a way to explain human existence. In “So-Called Angels,” Patty’s faith is tested and she experiences a struggle of what to believe in: God, Angela, herself, or all three.

The episode begins with a young woman looking on as Rickie is beaten up while on the street at night. He is obviously homeless at the moment. The girl does nothing so it leaves the question of why she didn’t do anything to stop it.

In the Chase home, Christmas is in the air. The family is decorating the house. Angela looks contemplative as she plays the piano, one note at a time.

Angela asks her parents why the family has never attended church and if they believe in God. Patty and Graham are uncomfortable with this question so they try to dodge a reasonable answer by using the excuse that Angela and Danielle never showed any interest in going. This is the first instance where Patty questions her faith, but not the last.

While in school, Angela meets the mysterious young woman. She is playing her guitar in the music room. Angela thinks she’s a new student but realizes that she’s dirty and her clothes are disheveled. The girl doesn’t reveal much about herself, only that she used to go to school, even though she looks Angela’s age. She does reveal that she knows where Rickie is but disappears before Angela has a chance to ask her. Jordan takes Angela there instead.

Rickie is living in an abandoned warehouse, along with many other homeless teenagers. Angela can’t believe her best friend has been living there, as well as the fact that so many people her age don’t have a place to live. She finds Rickie sleeping on a mat with no blankets. She confronts him and demands that he come home with her. Rickie refuses. He doesn’t want to be a burden on her family. He gets upset and tells her to leave him alone. Heartbroken and confused, Angela walks away. As she leaves the warehouse, she sees the young woman sleeping on the cold floor. Angela trades her warm boots with the girl’s. If she can’t help Rickie, she’ll help someone. Besides, the girl reminds Angela of herself.

Patty is then faced with another test of her faith. Angela returns home from the warehouse. She tells Brian what she saw and her parents overhear their conversation. They are shocked that their daughter would go to such a dangerous place where she could get hurt. They go to the police and tell them about the warehouse, telling themselves that they are doing the right thing but Patty is still unsure. She looks on the wall and sees the missing children posters. Is she truly doing the right thing by letting someone else deal with it?

When they return, Angela asks her mother if Rickie and the girl can come over for Christmas Eve dinner. Patty says no. She doesn’t believe that it’s their responsibility; the girl has serious problems. Angela answers by telling her that they could be the same person. Angela could be the girl and vice versa. She leaves the house and Patty knows exactly where she’s going so she follows her.

Patty ends up in front of a church. She asks for directions to the warehouse. Suddenly, Patty spots a girl wearing Angela’s boots and she calls out Angela’s name. It’s the young girl instead. Patty excuses herself for making a mistake but the girl tells her it’s ok because her and Angela could be the same person. This upsets Patty. She doesn’t want to accept the fact that Angela is vulnerable; Angela could have the same experiences that led to the girl becoming homeless. The girl left home after having a fight with her mother, the kind of fights that Angela and Patty have. Did something lead her to this church for a reason?

During the conversation, Patty realizes that the girl is dead. Patty asks her how she died and the girl tells her she froze. Realizing that this girl and her daughter are so similar and that she doesn’t know where Angela is, Patty asks God for help. She knows that she believes in God because of what she just experienced.

When she opens her eyes, the girl is gone but her influence is not. Patty knows what she must do now. She walks into the church to find Rickie lighting a candle. Angela walks in, then the rest of the family. They all go home together, including Rickie. As they walk out of the church, the young girl looks down on them and as she turns and walks away, wings are on her back. Religious imagery became a fixture in Romantic art and writing. In this episode, the presence of an angel helps several characters renew their faith in God, themselves and each other. Divine intervention helps Patty realize her faith. She is confronted with a question that makes her cast doubt on her faith, then a few experiences that have the same effect. At first, Patty felt that it wasn’t their responsibility to take care of Rickie and the girl; people don’t help strangers. However, after realizing that Angela could be in their shoes, she begins to realize her beliefs in God and herself. It is her responsibility because they have no one else. Everything happens for a reason.

Another significant theme during the Romantic period was sexuality. This subject was explored in a much deeper way than any other previous period. Authors were more open in their writings. Subjects included the ways in which people could let go of their inhibitions, the benefits of being so free and also the negative aspects of that freedom. These subjects were never written about in such detail. In doing so, many writers received negative criticism. Sexuality had been looked at as something destructive. The romantic writers, however, celebrated it. Episode 17, entitled “Betrayal,” focuses on teen sexuality.

In a previous episode, Angela and Jordan broke up because she wasn’t ready to have sex with him. Jordan pressured her to sleep with him and she came close to doing so, however she was smart enough to know that she wasn’t ready and that Jordan wasn’t worth compromising how she feels. This type of situation occurs a lot in reality. Young girls are pressured at early ages to become sexual beings. Luckily, Angela was taught that she shouldn’t do something she is uncomfortable doing. Jordan eventually understood her position and they remained friends. Angela helped Jordan with his homework and they frequently hung out together, but not for long.

In this episode, Rayanne, who is now off the wagon, and a drunk Jordan have sex in his car outside a club. Brian has the proof on tape. He was assigned to film places where high school students hang out, for a video yearbook, and this club was one of those places. Instead of telling Angela right away, he shows the tape to Sharon, who also works on the yearbook. Angela ends up hearing a conversation between Sharon and a friend in the bathroom and she finds out what happened. She is crushed. She says she wants to kill the both of them, with her hands.

Sex and death were frequently compared and contrasted during the Romantic period. While some writers described sex as a beginning and death as an ending, other writers described them as the same means to an end. In Angela’s case, it’s the latter. Both acts represent an ending in Angela’s world. The act of sex, in this situation, is the end of two friendships. Killing them, or wanting to, is an end as well. We are left to wonder, however, if she would have this strong of a reaction if Rayanne and Jordan’s encounter only reached the kissing stage. Is it the act of sex that makes her feel that betrayed and that angry?

As a result of that anger, Angela disowns Rayanne and Jordan, vowing never to speak to them again. Rayanne, however, is unable to fully understand the serious consequences of her actions. She wants Angela’s support for the only good thing that is happening in her life: the school play.

Rayanne tries out for the school play, “Our Town.” She auditions for the lead role of Emily and gets it. She wants to express her excitement to Angela when she sees her in the hallway but Angela ignores her, reminding Rayanne what she has done. Later at rehearsal, Angela fills in for someone who isn’t there, forcing Rayanne and Angela to “talk” to each other. When rehearsing, the director tells Rayanne to stop acting:

Emily is dead. The life she had is over. That’s a pretty big deal.

I mean…she is just now realizing how precious every moment

of that life really was, and that she never fully appreciated

what she had. Now just imagine what that must feel like

Rayanne. (Betrayal)

Rayanne doesn’t have to imagine. She understands because she didn’t appreciate her friendship with Angela and now it’s over. She reads her lines beautifully and her and Angela exit the stage in opposite directions, symbolizing the two of them going their separate ways.

The expression of sexuality had negative effects on the characters in this episode. Angela’s best friend betrays her. Their friendship is ruined. Jordan betrayed Angela as well. He broke her trust and their relationship will never be the same. Brian and Sharon were caught in the middle, forced to decide whether they should tell Angela.

Angela’s decision not to sleep with Jordan ends up causing more problems but in the end, she knows she still has her integrity. In a sense, she does celebrate her sexuality by sticking to her beliefs. She knows she isn’t ready and doesn’t let anyone change her mind. That is definitely something to be celebrated.

In the final episode, “In Dreams Begins Responsibilities,” many of the themes from previous episodes appear to wrap up the series. Perception is one of them. Angela’s perception of both Jordan and Brian will completely change.

In this episode, Jordan is feeling guilty about betraying Angela’s trust. He talks to Brian about it at their tutoring session. Brian suggests that he write a letter to her. Jordan has a reading disability, making it hard for him to write and express how he really feels. He asks Brian to write it for him and he reluctantly does.

Angela reads the letter and loves it. To her, it explains everything. A question arises though: knowing Jordan can’t read or write very well, why does she believe it’s really from him?

Angela wants to believe that Jordan is capable of feeling the way the letter expresses how he feels. She wants to believe that he’s truly sorry for what he did as well. She talks to him and he doesn’t deny writing it, of course. Jordan accomplished his goal. Angela forgives him for sleeping with Rayanne, although now he must deal with the guilt of having not written the letter himself.

Brian is also dealing with the guilt of deceiving Angela. He is also dealing with the fact that the letter expresses how Brian truly feels about Angela. He finally told her what he has been holding inside for so long; only she believes the words belong to someone else.

Angela finds out from Rickie that Brian wrote the letter. Confused and shocked, she confronts Brian on the street, which is reminiscent of the pilot episode. Brian denies it. He can’t own up to the fact that he deceived the girl he’s in love with. Angela can’t understand why Brian and Jordan would do such a thing. Brian slips up and tells her he meant every word, and then tries to take it back by saying the person who wrote it meant every word. Angela realizes what is really going on. She tries to say something but Brian won’t let her talk but she knows that the words in the letter were Brian’s. She knows that he loves her. This whole time, Brian was just an annoying neighbor but now she realizes that he has loved her since they were children. Her perception of him changes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t amount to much.

Jordan appears and Angela gets into his car. They drive away together. As she looks behind her, she sees Brian on his bike. This image symbolizes Angela’s transition from childhood to adulthood, just like in the pilot episode. Angela is leaving her childhood friend behind for her boyfriend. She’s growing up.

Angela’s character experienced a lot in the short amount of time that “My So-Called Life” was on the air. This show influenced and affected so many lives, including mine. There has been no other show that has portrayed the life of a young girl so affectively. The Romantic Movement achieved the same influence as well. The show focused on the same issues as the movement, including perception, sexuality, rebellion and introspection. The Romantic period will continue to influence every medium that we experience today and many incredible works will be created out of the same ideas that the romantics pursued.

Works Cited

“Betrayal.” My So-Called Life. Dir. Scott Winant. DVD. BMG Special Products, 2002.

“Other People’s Daughters.” My So-Called Life. Dir. Claudia Weill. DVD. BMG Special Products, 2002.

“Pilot.” My So-Called Life. Dir. Scott Winant. DVD. BMG Special Products, 2002.

“Substitute, The.” My So-Called Life. Dir. Mark Piznarski. DVD. BMG Special Products, 2002.

up Papers and Essays | next

“And, you know, with your hair like that? It hurts to look at you.”

Rayanne Graff, Episode 1: "My So-Called Life (Pilot)"