MLP:FiM Episode Reviews: Character and Story Analysis by Half the Battle

  Characters: Applejack Next: Characters: Fluttershy

Character Analysis: Applejack

The following is essentially a compilation of all that I say about Applejack in these reviews. They are my own conclusions based on watching the episodes, and may not necessarily line up with creators' statements or other source material.

Chief Desire and Core Traits

What Applejack wants most is the personal assurance that she fulfills her commitments and obligations. From this arises her sense of determination, which I regard as the root of both her strengths and weaknesses. Also arising from that desire is a strong sense of pride when she has followed through, and it is pride that sometimes steers her determination and cherishing of truth in the wrong directions. The close alignment between her core desire and her Element of Harmony makes her one of the show's simpler characters.

Element of Harmony

The Element held by Applejack is most commonly called that of Honesty, for which Princess Celestia substitutes the word Integrity in Magical Mystery Cure. I believe integrity is a better word to describe what Applejack demonstrates on the show, though the best word is probably faithfulness. The Japanese dub speaks of the Element of Trust (or trustworthiness), which also works for what we see in Applejack. One can be true in the sense of being factual, true in the sense of being genuine or authentic, or true in the sense of being faithful to one's commitments. The last of these gets the most attention on the series and is the most relevant to friendship/harmony. The concept is actually very similar to Loyalty, one of the other elements. I'll discuss the distinction between the two in the Rainbow Dash article.

Applejack's scene with Twilight Sparkle on the cliff in Friendship Is Magic part 2 is easier to relate to her Element with this understanding. She insists Twilight believe her not because she never tells a fib, but because by extending friendship to Twilight, she's taken on a commitment to protect her, and she must be true to that commitment. Applejack also demonstrates this kind of integrity when she helps the catatonic Fluttershy up the mountain in Dragonshy, and in Spike at Your Service, where life-saving is "just what friends do for each other" rather than a favor that needs to be repaid.

However, factual honesty is important to Applejack as a derivative of her commitment. In Party of One, she is deeply uncomfortable lying to Pinkie Pie and is scared out of her wits to be caught in deception. Likewise, she does everything she can in The Crystal Empire—Part 2 to avoid telling a direct lie while keeping crystal ponies away from the fake crystal heart, and her ineptitude at lying also appears in Spike at Your Service. As a result of a cut scene, she is also the only potential suspect in MMMystery on the Friendship Express not to have stolen a bite of the cake, even though she was the most expressive in her desire for it. In One Bad Apple, her first concern when the Cutie Mark Crusaders confess their misdeeds is that they were not forthcoming with her about their problems with Babs. Generally, whenever Appejack so much as acts sneaky, she looks away and holds her breath until she knows she hasn't been caught. It's also worth noting that Applejack's corruption in The Return of Harmony begins with her inability to accept a difficult truth for herself, and discorded Applejack can only tell lies. Even then, she's usually uncomfortable with her own words.

One fascinating moment showcasing Applejack's valuing of honesty appears in The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000, where even with the family farm at stake in the episode's contest, she can say, "There's no point in winning if we cheat."

The Last Roundup features Applejack unable to reveal the truth to her friends, and after some very general excuses, rather than casually give a cover story, she outright tells them she doesn't want to discuss her leaving and cannot tell them the truth. It's later revealed that the whole situation is the result of her devotion to a promise she made to bring back prize money upon returning home from the rodeo. She therefore finds herself unable to return to Ponyville until she has earned the money she failed to win in the competition, and she is deeply ashamed of her failure to keep her promise as intended.

Personality Profile

In Myers-Briggs terms, Applejack is an ENTJ. She's an extrovert, drawing her energy from work and time spent with others. She is rarely seen alone. She's intuitive, willing to act on a hunch and more in touch with herself than with those around her. She wants to know for herself that she's doing the right thing and is often embarrassed at public recogniton and/or oblivious to other ponies' reactions. She's a thinker, preferring to take a reasonable course of action rather than act on feelings. This is why we often see her holding back Rainbow Dash from rash action. AJ is also more inclined toward judgment than perception; she has strong convictions and likes to see matters settled rather than remain in indecision. The independence, outspokenness, and occasional control issues we see in Applejack are in line with this personality type.

In addition to Applejack's inborn temperament, she has been profoundly influenced by her family and place in society. The closeness and affection within the Apple family and Applejack's protective attitude toward her sister Apple Bloom are frequently in the foreground throughout the series. We first see her at a family reunion, and her way of making friends with Twilight is to declare her "already part of the family." Her concern for Apple Bloom drives her actions in Bridle Gossip. Sisterhooves Social indicates that the Apple family hosts an annual event that extends their valuing of family to the rest of Ponyville. That episode also shows that Applejack and her sister are uncomfortable hearing Sweetie Belle's unkind remarks about her own sister.

In the absence of parents, and given Granny Smith's age and Big McIntosh's softspoken personality, Applejack acts as the de facto head of the Sweet Apple Acres household. She's also prominent in the community by virtue of the Apples being one of the founding families of Ponyville. These facts and her inborn personality have made Applejack naturally inclined to take the lead in many situations. She acts as the Team Mom for the Mane Six (especially in Twilight's absence) as early as the second episode and is a team leader in Winter Wrap Up.

Also an outgrowth of her family's closeness is Applejack's softer side. She frequently displays a warm and caring disposition. Note that her characteristic term of endearment "sugar cube" is primarily used to comfort somepony in distress or to soften a correction. She uses this term primarily with Apple Bloom but also often with Twilight and at least once with Pinkie Pie. Applejack is the first pony Twilight Sparkle approaches to befriend Princess Luna in Luna Eclipsed. It's Applejack who tries most caringly to address Twilight's apparent jealousy issues in A Canterlot Wedding—Part 1, and though she later leads the friends' abandonment of Twilight in favor of Cadance (probably fed up with the family conflict), she's the one who apologizes in Part 2. Applejack is also very sensitive in her handling of Spike in Spike at Your Service. And of course, AJ's warmth extends to pets, as she and Twilight discuss in May the Best Pet Win!

Appejack's farm upbringing also enters into her personality, distinguishing her sharply from Rarity, who has the same inborn temperament but a very different life experience. In The Cutie Mark Chronicles, we learn that AJ as a youth spent several months in Manehattan attempting a Pygmalion-style transformation. She soon found the farm to be her home and became thoroughly invested in the country culture, most obviously in her willingness to get her hooves dirty and enjoy hard work. Barnyard chores and other farm work are the primary way she bonds with family. Her vision of the Grand Galloping Gala resembles a state fair, perhaps the Ponyville Fair at which she received her hat. When the gala attendees snub her apple wares, she responds with loudly voiced contempt for their snooty attitudes. Her literal gardening at a Canterlot garden party in Sweet and Elite could be interpreted either as an innocent assumption that partying involves farm-type work, or as a further dig at Canterlot society. While I still maintain that Applejack's combativeness, juvenile behavior, and lack of real apology in Look Before You Sleep are all contrary to the maturity Applejack typically displays, her frustration with Rarity's "frou-frou" priorities and high society aspirations accords well with AJ's cultural experience. Knowing that Rarity was born in Ponyville and (at that point) is a complete unknown by Canterlot standards, Applejack no doubt sees in Rarity the pretentiousness that AJ herself gave up as a filly.

Cutie Mark Significance and Occupation

The three apples on Applejack's haunches appeared when she was welcomed home to Sweet Apple Acres by her brother and grandmother. As she says, "In that moment, it all became clear. I knew right then just who I was supposed to be... I've been happily workin' the farm ever since." AJ's cutie mark thus represents two things at once: her orientation toward home and family, and her talent for bucking apples. Working on the apple farm is therefore both her talent and her occupation. One implication of her talent for apple bucking is rear leg strength, which makes her a formidable fighter and a powerful athlete.

Applejack's cutie mark is obtained through a demonstration of her Element, as her homecoming represents the second aspect of truth mentioned above, being authentic, as well as the third, in the form of devotion to her family at Sweet Apple Acres.

Development and Lessons Learned

Applejack's first focused lesson has to do with stubbornness, which is the dark form of her determination. Her self-imposed obligation, made out of pride in her dependability, to do all the work of harvest herself keeps her from accepting the help she so freely gives to her friends. After Applebuck Season, we no longer see her making rash promises, and she's now willing to accept or request help from others as long as both parties act as equals. She's also able to advise Rarity in Sisterhooves Social on "giving in" as a necessary aspect of generosity.

In both Look Before You Sleep and Fall Weather Friends, Applejack's moral indignation at a friend's perceived failings ends up ruining a social event. The first receives a rebuke from Twilight, and the second prompts an apology to Princess Celestia. Again pride is the culprit, but Applejack deals with the lessons as a matter of priority: the need to put differences aside for the sake of something more important (both of which happen to involve trees). Devotion to defending the Appleloosan members of her family drives Applejack to escalate their conflict with the buffalo in Over a Barrel. Unfortunately, she's inexplicably absent from the latter portions of the episode, so we don't see her learn a lesson from the predicament. Hopefully she learns what the others do, about the need to consider both sides of a disagreement, something perhaps difficult for her to remember due to the "Judgment" aspect of her personality. The common thread in all three of these episodes is Applejack's need to give others the benefit of the doubt (something also lacking in Bridle Gossip). She begins doing so in the second season.

In The Last Roundup, Applejack's concern strikes me as less a matter of pride and more a matter of concern for others and her compulsion to be faithful. The lesson here is her need to confide in her friends, and we see her willing to depend on them more as early as the next episode.

But pride rears its head again in Apple Family Reunion, where she obligates herself to host the best reunion ever. She does so with her friends' help, so it's not a recurrence of Applebuck Season, but her activity-driven, hard-working personality blinds her to the sufficiency of just spending time together. When it comes to bonding, quantity actually is more important than "quality" in terms of things accomplished. At the end of the day, she signs her letter "your humble servant, Applejack" (a fair sight better than her last letter) and hasn't shown signs of pride since then. She'll still have a tendency to overcommit and overdo, but I believe she'll be less likely to impose that on anypony else from here on.

Other Notes

We see Applejack at odds with Rainbow Dash early on, competing not-too-friendly-like in The Ticket Master and Fall Weather Friends, and on opposite sides of the Fluttershy issue in Dragonshy. Aside from some squabbling in Hearth's Warming Eve, they get along quite well afterwards, including working together in Lesson Zero when Twilight erroneously assumes they're having problems.

Following Look Before You Sleep, Applejack and Rarity have quite a few moments where it's obvious they've come to accept each other's differences. In Suited for Success, Applejack has her own ideas about a gala dress and is the first to realize Rarity's tastes were better suited to the occasion. She and Rainbow Dash are also at the forefront of the group apology in that episode. We see Rarity and Applejack working side by side in It's About Time, with Rarity silently picking leaves out of Applejack's mane. We see some good-natured teasing between the two as they first enter the Crystal Empire, and again as they leave. There's another tender moment in Magic Duel, when Applejack transports Rarity away from the crowd after her humiliation by Trixie.

Prominent Episodes

Look Before You Sleep692 seconds
Fall Weather Friends680 seconds
Spike at Your Service658 seconds
Applebuck Season622 seconds
Apple Family Reunion580 seconds
The Last Roundup554 seconds
Games Ponies Play426 seconds
Hearth's Warming Eve394 seconds
Friendship Is Magic, part 2383 seconds
The Return of Harmony Part 1376 seconds
The Return of Harmony Part 2363 seconds
Dragonshy332 seconds
The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000293 seconds
A Canterlot Wedding—Part 1279 seconds
Magical Mystery Cure278 seconds
Bridle Gossip273 seconds
Sisterhooves Social253 seconds
Over a Barrel245 seconds
The Ticket Master243 seconds
Keep Calm and Flutter On240 seconds

  Characters: Applejack Next: Characters: Fluttershy