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The following is essentially a compilation of all that I say about Rarity 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.
What Rarity wants most is to be associated with beauty. She cherishes beauty in all its forms, though in her mind it is most likely to be found in the context of sophistication, and therefore for most her life she has sought to be a "fashionista" with aspirations for high society. So far, the moments in the series where she has appeared happiest are (1) being adored as the sun shines through her magical wings in Sonic Rainboom, (2) being asked to design the dresses for Princess Cadance and Shining Armor's royal wedding, and (3) discovering the glories of the Crystal Empire (and later being crystallized by the Crystal Heart).
Rarity's desire for beauty may cause others to see her as superficial, but it's not necessarily inferior to other main characters' desires to be thought well of, feel good about one's self, have fun, or avoid conflict and disappointment. All these desires give rise to both strengths and weaknesses in the ponies who possess them. In Rarity's case, her desire motivates her to enhance the beauty of the ponies around her through her generosity, the growth of her business, and her remarks about fashion, which she no doubt hopes will be educational for those who lack her sense of taste. However, that same desire can cause her to be territorial, jealous, or too focused on being the center of attention, thus blunting the reception and effectiveness of her generosity. This seeming contradiction creates a sort of duality in Rarity that makes her one of the show's most complex characters.
The Element held by Rarity is most commonly called that of Generosity, for which Princess Celestia substitutes the word Charity in Magical Mystery Cure. Here, charity refers to benevolent giving of one's self out of love for one's fellow ponies, particularly in times of need. Either word works; generosity is more familiar but charity is more specific in terms of motivation. And Generosity is distinct from Fluttershy's Element of Kindness in that Kindness/compassion focuses on the motive behind good deeds, while Generosity has to do with what giving involves: sacrifice of one's time, energy, talents, and possessions for the sake of another.
Rarity is one of the Element bearers whose Element has been challenged by some viewers, in light of her sometimes territorial nature and plenty of self-centered moments in the series. I understand the skepticism because of what the Elements of Harmony represent: As indicated on the show, the main characters already embody their Elements in the premiere, so their featured episodes are not about learning to be kind, loyal, honest, etc., but how to temper and balance those traits with other responsiblities (standing up for one's self, dealing with confrontation, openness to outsiders, what to do when you can't follow through on a commitment, etc.). I'd say Rarity would certainly not qualify to bear an Element of selflessness, empathy, or contentment. But generosity marks Rarity's approach to friendship and relationships in general, and while her weaknesses color her generous acts (much as Rainbow Dash's admiration issues color her loyalty to her friends), they really do nothing to inhibit or directly contradict Rarity's overall generous intentions.
Rarity's generosity shows up in both parts of Friendship Is Magic, as she drops everything to assist a frizzy-maned, style-impaired Twilight Sparkle and later gives up her tail to replace half the mustache of a sea serpent kindred spirit. In Winter Wrap Up, Rarity sets aside her nest-making responsibilities to spend hours trying to fix Twilight's nest, collapsing into tears over her effort to keep Twilight's contribution from going to waste. Suited for Success sees her volunteering to design dresses for each of her friends, and when her gifts are unappreciated, her response is to try to give more and better, even giving up her sense of taste and stressing herself out to submit to their demands.
One particularly heartwarming moment is in The Return of Harmony Part 1, where Rarity offers any help that doesn't involve her getting out from under her umbrella, but then gives her umbrella to Twilight Sparkle a minute or so later. This suggests that some of the selfish talk we hear from Rarity may just be keeping up appearances, masking her often wordless acts of generosity.
Even in Sweet and Elite, where Rarity neglects Twilight's dress in preference for high society, part of her motivation for attending the Canterlot ponies' events is that they beg her to and talk as though they really need her presence. And she always intends to finish Twilight's dress, at one point literally falling asleep from exhauston as she starts work on it.
Secret of My Excess showcases the flipside of Rarity's generosity, which is her appreciation for the generosity of others. When she sees Spike's fire ruby, she is obviously in love with the gem but actively tries not to ask for it and is deeply touched by his gift. Later, when she defends the gem from the rampaging dragon (whom she doesn't realize is Spike), she clings to it not because of its beauty or value, but because it was given to her. We also see Rarity's appreciation demonstrated by her choked-up thanks to Rainbow Dash for saving her in Sonic Rainboom.
One limitation on Rarity's generosity in the first 30 or so episodes is that she often gives what she herself would like to have rather than putting herself in her friend's horseshoes and considering what the other pony might actually want. This is the chief problem in Green Isn't Your Color, where she insists that Fluttershy accept Photo Finish's modeling offer. Recall Rarity's squeal when she thinks she herself is being chosen; that's how she assumes Fluttershy feels. Likewise, her generosity toward Sweetie Belle has to do with things that Rarity enjoys, so that she fails to acknowledge her sister's differing tastes.
In Myers-Briggs terms, Rarity is an ENTJ, the same temperament as Applejack. She's an extrovert; though her occupation requires her to spend much time alone designing and making clothes, she thrives on social events and is just as comfortable at a crowded party as she is spending time with a friend. She's intuitive, more in touch with herself than any other character and attentive to hunches and first impressions. She's a thinker, pondering and strategizing, talking out problems with herself, generally remaining in control of her feelings rather than letting her feelings control her. And she is more inclined toward judgment than perception, quick to make decisions and possessing strong opinions about proper appearance and behavior.
The radical differences between Rarity and Applejack, which fuel the conflict in Look Before You Sleep, are a matter of personal cultural differences. Applejack, having left the farm for Manehattan as a filly, ultimately rejected it in favor of her true home, and as an adult she shows contempt for high-society ponies on several occasions. Rarity was born in Ponyville to unsophisticated parents but still as an adult aspires to live in Canterlot, seeing glamour and sophistication as a beautiful way to live, practically a fairy tale come true (at least, prior to Sweet and Elite).
Our knowledge of Rarity's family and upbringing in "little ol' Ponyville," along with little hints like her enjoyment of pin-the-tail-on-the-pony in Griffon the Brush Off, reveal that Rarity's high-brow disposition is something she has consciously adopted for herself. By the time of Sweet and Elite, she has little trouble fitting in with the Canterlot herd. It may be deliberate and practiced, but it's become a part of her.
TV Tropes describes the contrast between Light Feminine and Dark Feminine characters in fiction. "Light" women tend to be innocent, traditional, bright-eyed, simple, and sincere, whereas "Dark" women are more worldly wise, modern, brooding, mysterious, and manipulative. Rarity falls toward the Dark end of the spectrum, given her social and business aspirations, her generally down-to-earth demeanor, her complexity as a character, and her occasional use of flattery and manipulation when dealing with male characters. (For examples of the last of these traits, see A Dog and Pony Show and Putting Your Hoof Down.) This, by the way, is one more difference between Rarity and Applejack, who would fall closer to the "Light" end despite her athletic and competitive characteristics.
While Rarity is refined and ladylike, and the most melodramatic of the main cast, she is strong-willed and quite capable of handling herself. She uses her quick wits and her abilities at manipulation to take control of the situation when she is kidnapped by Diamond Dogs. By the time her rescuers arrive, her captors are begging to hand her over. Likewise, she's willing to tell off a giant dragon in Secret of My Excess, and threaten to "rip to shreds" a group of teenage dragons who are twice her size in Dragon Quest in defense of Spike. She's also the first to attack the manticore in Friendship Is Magic part 2, responding to its first strike with a swift and powerful kick, which she seems to enjoy.
In The Return of Harmony, Rarity is corrupted by Discord into a greedy and possessive pony. But is Rarity normally greedy in a material sense? Her focus on sophistication and appearance sometimes have her projecting a superior and superficial attitude, she suffers from pride issues and a craving for attention, and in Sisterhooves Social she is self-centered in her behavior toward Sweetie Belle. She is unquestionably enamored with gems and other things of beauty. Thus the roots of greed are all there, but greed itself is not in evidence. However, my observation is that her generous spirit keeps her avarice at a minimum outside of Discord's influence.
The sequence of events that gave Rarity her cutie mark is unique among the Mane Six in its complexity. As she grew dissatisfied with costumes she had made for a school play, she set out to redesign them and worried that she wasn't meant to be a "fashionista." Just then her horn dragged her outside, unprecedented and unprompted, on an overnight journey to a rock. Rainbow Dash's sonic rainboom then split the rock, revealing gems inside, which Rarity then used to decorate the school costumes. That night at the performance, an approving look from the director was followed by the appearance of three diamonds on Rarity's haunches.
Rarity's cutie mark story illustrates her Element of Generosity in that the jewels she discovered were obviously both beautiful and valuable, but rather than keep them for herself, she donated them to the school's use by making them part of the costumes.
From the story, Rarity's cutie mark-related talent is magically locating gems, an ability she also demonstrates in A Dog and Pony Show, and this is what allows her to work gemstones into so many of her designs. (It should be noted that we see far more jewels in the dresses she offers for sale than in those she wears for herself.) She has therefore appropriated her cutie mark talent into her occupation of fashion design, even though a different pony might have put the same talent to use in some other way such as prospecting or archaeology.
Rarity's talent works on a second, perhaps symbolic level as well, as we see her finding or producing beauty in unlikely places: gems inside rocks and piles of dirt, the fabulousness of the sea serpent, and even the ability to make a hat out of three pieces of hay and a drinking straw. You could call it aesthetic creativity.
As for Rarity's design business, she begins the series as an unknown in Ponyville and is passed over by Photo Finish in Green Isn't Your Color. She has plenty of time to design dresses for her friends in Suited for Success until she earns the notice of Hoity Toity. Word spreads until she begins to be overwhelmed by work, as seen in Stare Master, and she even gets rave reviews in Clotheshorse Magazine, which attracts the attention of celebrity Sapphire Shores in A Dog and Pony Show. Business is hopping from then on, and she establishess connections in Canterlot through the good graces of Fancy Pants in Sweet and Elite.
(The main sticking point in Rarity's dream of opening a shop in Canterlot is the series' interest in keeping the Mane Six together. One could imagine Twilight relocating to Canterlot, and Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy aren't Ponyville natives. Pinkie's pretty flexible and could make friends anywhere. But it's much more difficult to picture Applejack ever leaving Sweet Apple Acres. If only for that reason alone, I expect the whole main cast will keep Ponyville as their home for the duration of the TV series.)
A look at Rarity's errors and apologies shows that she has an especially teachable attitude and takes caring correction to heart very gracefully, even by comparison with the rest of the Mane Six.
Rarity's first big solo episode, Suited for Success, sees her at her best as she takes the only gracious path open to her through most of the episode. But the rest of the Mane Six watching over her during her breakdown, even bringing her out of it, impresses upon her the depth of their devotion to her. The frequency with which she wears the dress they make for her, both before and after the gala (whereas she seldom repeats outfits otherwise) testifies to her appreciation for their friendship. Moreover, she's less likely to make disparaging remarks about her friends after this than she did in the first few episodes.
Sonic Rainboom is actually Rarity's episode. She starts off well, noticing Rainbow's stagefright and prodding Twilight to come up with a way for them to show their support in Cloudsdale. She even volunteers to be a guinea pig for the spell. But once there, her love of the spotlight gets the best of her. Her self-indulgent flittering about in the factory only makes Rainbow more nervous, she ends up competing against Dash in the contest (even at the same time), and finally she has an Icarus moment that almost costs her her life.
True to form, once Rarity comes to her senses, she's quick to confess, offering up several specific apologies: for losing her head, for thoughtlessness, for ruining the goal of Rainbow's hard work, and for not really being there for the friend she had come to support. In future episodes, she still loves being the center of attention, but she's careful to at least consider its effect on her friends before giving in.
Rarity is afflicted with jealousy in Green Isn't Your Color as Fluttershy unwittingly steals the spotlight Rarity so adores. But Rarity berates herself for her envy even in the midst of her frustration. Her attitude and her guilt over it are both totally unnecessary, as the real problem is a lack of communication: ponies talking about each other instead of to each other. Rarity and Fluttershy both fall into the trap of confiding in a third party (Twilight) truths which together would resolve the situation, only to swear Twilight to secrecy. They learn the importance of transparency, something difficult for a reputation-conscious pony. But after this, there are several occasions where Rarity gently approaches her friends with opinions and problems.
One example of this is her asking advice from Applejack in Sisterhooves Social, an act that also shows how far she's come since their antagonism in Look Before You Sleep. This is one of Rarity's most important episodes, both by the principle involved and by its consequence. AJ kindly shows Rarity the difference between giving what would come back to please her, and giving in to what her sister would actually appreciate. As stated above, failure to consider her recipients' differing tastes is one of Rarity's ongoing challenges. Not everypony receives happiness and love the same way, and this makes compromise largely the responsibility of the giver. As for the consequence, Rarity's relationship with her sister Sweetie Belle hangs in the balance here. By Sleepless in Ponyville a season later, she braves "nature" with her sister and revels in a race at Winsome Falls that shows her ability to set appearances aside and just have fun.
The central issue in Sweet and Elite is the temptation for Rarity to dissociate herself from Ponyville. She soon realizes she can't do that without disowning her friends. She starts out well enough, even interacting kindly with the awkward Hayseed Turnip Truck, but later lies about who Rainbow Dash is, puts off work on Twilight's birthday gift, and finally decides she must skip reuniting with her real friends in favor of a garden party. Granted, she agonizes over her predicament every step of the way but keeps digging herself deeper. Once her friends arrive, she's in cover-up mode until exposed and forced into decision. In the final scene, there's something about the fact that Rarity delivers her report to Princess Celestia face-to-face that drives home the fact that Rarity really learned her lesson here: Your past isn't just where you come from, it's part of who you are. When she says her home and friends are something to be proud of, I can't help thinking she's including her parents and her "low-brow" upbringing as well as the Mane Six. If she still has Canterlot aspirations after this episode, it's no longer as an escape from her common origins.
See Applejack's article for the development of Rarity's friendship with her. Rarity also has important moments with Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, and Twilight, and of course Spike. However, while there hasn't been a Rarity/Pinkie episode, the two have some significant scenes together in Dragonshy and The Last Roundup. And the first explicit declaration of love for another pony is Pinkie's acceptance of Rarity's apology in Sonic Rainboom: "We still love you."
|Sweet and Elite||849 seconds|
|Sisterhooves Social||725 seconds|
|Look Before You Sleep||716 seconds|
|Suited for Success||616 seconds|
|A Dog and Pony Show||518 seconds|
|Green Isn't Your Color||500 seconds|
|Hearth's Warming Eve||461 seconds|
|Friendship Is Magic, part 2||384 seconds|
|Sonic Rainboom||373 seconds|
|Swarm of the Century||339 seconds|
|Putting Your Hoof Down||323 seconds|
|Magical Mystery Cure||304 seconds|
|The Return of Harmony Part 1||300 seconds|
|The Return of Harmony Part 2||298 seconds|
|Bridle Gossip||288 seconds|
|A Canterlot Wedding—Part 1||271 seconds|
|Games Ponies Play||270 seconds|
|The Last Roundup||269 seconds|
|The Best Night Ever||266 seconds|
|Previous: Characters: Rainbow Dash||Characters: Rarity||Next: Characters: Twilight Sparkle|