comic book characters

The Psychology of Harley Quinn: A character analysis

psychology harley quinn character analysis

Last post of 2014 is going to a character analysis of the crazy and lovable Harley Quinn. Now one of the most popular DC characters, lets get into the psychology of Harley Quinn, and who she really is.

Harley Quinn, real name Harleen Quinzel, originated from Batman: The Animated Series, and from there ventured off into comics, video games and now live-action. I know a lot of people have issues with the new 52 Harley Quinn, I personally love her and will mainly basing this discussion off the new 52, because that is the current continuity (and is what the movie universe will most likely be basing off).

Harley Quinn is called many different things by many different people: from crazy and lovable to slut and bimbo. Her comic is DC’s best-selling comic behind Batman and she has one of the biggest fan bases, even though she has yet to be really featured in live-action movies or television.

First I want to say before we really get into this Harley Quinn character analysis is that, Harley Quinn is not stupid (crazy, but not stupid), in fact she is a genius. In her new 52 origin she was the only one in her family to graduate from college, and she also got herself a Masters then Doctorate in Criminal Psychology (Amanda Waller herself has called Harley a genius). She graduated on top of her class and was able to get any job she wanted. So then why does she pretend to be stupid?

crazy harley quinn

We’ll get back to this. As I said earlier Harley Quinn has a huge fan base, with many of her fan base being females. Now I wouldn’t call Harley some kind of feminist icon, but she does have a sense of empowerment about her. Harley is the type of character who always pursues what she wants in life. Although she often pursues her objectives relentlessly, but the point is that she’s always pushing herself to achieve more. However she is no Wonder Woman, she’s incredibly fractured, which is what makes her such an interesting character.

Even though she’s always seemingly pursuing something, she doesn’t exactly know what for. She’s constantly seeking a sense of identity but doesn’t know how. In her new 52 origin she talks about how she has to push herself to love order because her home life was so chaotic. So she pushed herself to get into college and learn psychology to help create order in the lives of people who are quite chaotic themselves. But she wanted more of a challenge. So she goes to Arkham Asylum, a real challenge, how will she help them? She thinks she really needs to get into their minds, so she creates a new persona, she ditches Harleen Quinzel and becomes Harley Quinn because she met the Joker.

When looking at the psychology of Harley Quinn you can see she is a character full of conflicting personas. She creates the first Harley Quinn persona for the Joker. It was easier to create this persona of herself because as she says “I loved flushing away the control. The goals. The regiment way of life I’d had. I was finally free. Free to forget. To play for fun. To play crazy”. And the great thing about the new 52 Harley Quinn was that she was able to break away from the persona she had built just for the Joker.

harley quinn character analysis

She lived a life of going around and just randomly blowing up children because the Joker told her to. She lived a life of being abused by him, knowing that he didn’t really care for her. But Harley is a character full of conflicting personas, and another one of her personas is her rational, Harleen Quinzel side. Sometimes Harleen comes out, “The downside of this is that I’ve started to feel numb. In school they had a name for it: dissociation. My rational mind can recognize pain when I see it. But my rational mind is in a pretty small box”.

But without the Joker instructing her how she should be and act, she is once again conflicted about her identity. So how does Harley deal with her constant identity crisis? Through obsession. She uses her obsessions to help define herself. We know that most Batman related characters represent a certain aspect of Batman’s psychology, Harley represents obsession. Batman is obsessed about fighting injustice. He doesn’t fight injustice like Superman or other heroes do, there is a sense of obsession there. If he can’t solve a crime he will spend all day and night obsessed with the case, not able to think about anything else. Harley may not be obsessed about fighting injustice, but she likes to cling onto things to help create some sense of self in her mind. Whether that’s an obsession with the Joker or puppies, the things she likes, she tends to be obsessed about.

To further this Harley Quinn character analysis let’s look at what’s recently been going in the comics, Harley Quinn became obsessed with none other than Power Girl! For those that aren’t reading the Harley Quinn comics, basically Harley finds Power Girl with amnesia. So Harley thinks this is the perfect time to make Power Girl believe that her and Harley are actually best friends, and a duo. So through her new-found obsession (and infatuation) with Power Girl she builds a new persona of herself, a superhero persona! Power Girl and Harley Quinn go off and beat bad guys (including a parody of Thanos) until Power Girl finally gets her memory back.

harley quinn psychology

Harley builds these personas, forms these obsessions, and uses other people and objects to help define herself. We all do it sometimes. Not a comic book reference (but kinda because this guy played the Hulk? Err I’m stretching), but in Fight Club, Edward Norton’s character talks about how he had defined himself through the items he owned “I had it all. I had a stereo that was very decent, a wardrobe that was getting very respectable. I was close to being complete”. So lets just say if Tyler Durden were to ever meet Harley Quinn he would say something along the lines of “You’re not your boyfriend. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the giant hammer you hold. You’re not the contents of your apartment. You’re not your fucking red and black tights. You’re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world”. 

harley quinn hammer

Ultimately Harley is a character of passion. Instead of allowing societal constraints and accepted norms dictate her action, she feels she is only free when she is allowed to do absolutely anything she wants. And she does so, out of passion for life.

Which is what confuses me when many people write her off as the female Joker, but that is simply not true. She’s not nihilistic like the Joker, even though her actions ensue chaos. She’s always trying to figure out who she is, and what her role is in the world (she talks about how there is a side of her that craves purpose). Through her obsessions she hopes they can define those questions for her, but soon she realises, or is forced to realise that they can’t give you that answer, only you yourself can. And she doesn’t hate people like the Joker, she loves people. Harley has a strong sense of compassion and loyalty towards the people in her life whether that be Poison Ivy or her creepy neighbour.

In the recent Harley Quinn Holiday Special comic (they make Harley Quinn issues for practically every holiday because she sells so well) she even helped bring a broken family together. So no, I wouldn’t say she is some female Joker.

harley quinn psychology character analysisThere’s no one psychological profile that fits Harley Quinn. She is a woman obsessed with life and freedom but doesn’t know how to achieve her idea of a fulfilled life. She’s confused and tries to find the answer through other people. She’s trying to figure out the world just like you and me, but just has a very extreme way of doing so. I wouldn’t call her a villain or a hero, she is just Harley Quinn.

Anyways what do you think about this Harley Quinn character analysis? Are you a fan of hers or not? Let me know!

Other character analysis:

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31 replies »

  1. It’s DOCTOR Quinzel to you, I hear her say as she reads through this. I like the entire post in general, though I may have to disagree with the whole multiple personas thing because the Harley Quinn in the self-titled new 52 series is not the Harley Quinn I know from the Animated series (her origin). I best appreciated her in Injustice and cameos in the Scott Snyder Batman. Because, she is sane at the most basic level, and her mental illness is more of an acting out against things keeping her from doing what she wants. The rest of your post, spot on though. And I’d like to read more of your posts more often too.

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    • Thanks for the read! And fair enough, I love the Harley Quinn from Batman The Animated Series, I just prefer this Harley because I don’t like the idea of her staying with her abusive and terrible boyf Joker, I like that she was able to break from that in the new 52.

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      • Harley and Ivy, January 18, 1993. Harlequinade, May 23, 1994. Harley’s Holiday, October 15, 1994. Girl’s Night Out, October 17, 1998. Gotham Girls web series, July 27, 2000 – November 19, 2002. 25 Static Shock: Hard as Nails, January 25, 2003. B:TAS and the DCAU invented Harley Quinn breaking away from the Joker.

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  2. I really hope, after seeing the Suicide Squad movie, you write a piece about how Harley’s portrayal. Did they get it right (yay) or did they give us a dullified version (boo).

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  3. I was going to do something similar to this on Harley Quinn! This is great!! Thanks for the like btw…can’t wait for another batman graphic novel to come to life…

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  4. There are a few contentious points here. I’ve never actually understood where this idea came from that people thought Harley was stupid. Goofy, wacky, in her own world, but never stupid. Having said that, she’s no a genius either. It’s clearly shown in the comics that she slept her way to her doctorate, and she didn’t go to Arkham for a challenge, but to write a tell-all book about the Joker which would make her famous. By the time she became Harley Quinn, psychology had nothing to do with it. It was all for Mistah J. And she never does what she wants – she doesn’t even know what she wants anymore. She does what people tell her. And if you think her relationship with Ivy was any more healthy, you’re kidding yourself. But I am glad you stopped short of calling her a feminist icon. http://www.dailynewsservice.co.uk/harley-quinn-became-comic-face-feminism/

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    • Well I mean, my basis for her character comes from the New 52, and her origin isn’t what you just described. Obviously the Joker had a lot to do with her evolving, but her newer origin isn’t as connected to him which I like.

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    • However that’s just it her obsession for the Joker drives her loyalty for him. Whoever told you loyalty was a healthy behavior has never experienced the extent it can push someone to. Just cause she’s loyal or compassionate to ivy or joker does not mean it’s healthy no one claimed that. She does things out of impulse because in the moment she wants to, not knowing what she really wants in the long run because there is no long run or future as far as she’s concerned. There’s no restrictions on her being she’s ruled by impulse and obsession.

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  5. Met Harley on Suicide squad (forgive me but in my country we don’t have much of the comics the superheroes we know are from movies proud Kenyan) I just had to try and understand her and your post has answered my many questions. Nice read

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