Whoosh! Issue 21 - June 1998

IAXS project #487
A Member Opinion
By Roger A. Duarte
Copyright © 1998 held by author
3189 words

Introduction (01-02)
Popular Notions of Pacifism (03)
Three Degrees of Pacifism (04-07)
Placing the Bard (08)
     SINS OF THE PAST (09)
     Other Episodes (16-17)
The Conundrum (18-21)
Friendly Persuasion (22-24)
Violence and Martyrdom (25-26)
The Changing Gabrielle (27-30)

Gabrielle And Pacifism


Er, Xena, you can put your clothes back on now, really you can.

Gabrielle (far right) in her 'green' days of SINS OF THE PAST.

[1] What is a pacifist? Is Gabrielle a pacifist? If so, why does she fight? Do not pacifists believe in peace? How do we, as the audience, perceive Gabrielle for her efforts and actions? These are difficult questions to answer, given the Xenastaff's current presentation of the one-time peasant girl from Poteidaia. However, I delve forth undaunted and seek to find the answers in the mythology that is Xena: Warrior Princess (XWP).

[2] First, allow me to clarify what this essay will and will not attempt to reveal. First, we can only judge the fictional character of Gabrielle by what we have seen of her through the lens of XWP. Additionally, I grant that another factor which may come into play is that different writers approach and present the character of Gabrielle in contrasting, sometimes conflicting, ways. Finally, the third season has severely distorted and/or challenged the perception of Gabrielle, as it has been presented in seasons past. People may grow, change and mature, but they rarely suffer such marked shifts in personality and ideals, even under duress. It would seem that Gabrielle has changed as a result of the Rift story arc. In my humble opinion, the third season unfortunately departs from (rather than builds upon) the character profile that we were originally presented at the start of the series.

Popular Notions of Pacifism

[3] What is pacifism, anyway? Popular culture and belief has painted the pacifist as one who is completely opposed to violence of any kind. The contemporary perception of a pacifist is a person who will turn the other cheek, one who will not fight or kill in any fashion, for any cause. They are idealists who need to be protected from the cruel, violent world by their polar opposites. Is this Gabrielle?

Three Degrees of Pacifism

[4] I personally utilize the tiered approach to understanding the nature of Pacifism, which can be found in several pieces of literature from Steve Jackson Games. In these works, there are three "levels" of pacifism, and each is a distinctly different type of opposition to violence.

[5] Level One: self defense only. Someone in this category will fight only to protect themselves or those under their care. They are likely to utilize the minimum amount of force necessary to fend off the assault(s). They will do their best to discourage others from fighting, relying on wisdom and diplomacy before violence.

[6] Level Two: cannot kill. This relates to the fact that though you may fight freely, and even start a fight, you will never kill an opponent or leave them to die. People in this category may, from time to time, give life to their belief through words. They may discourage others from taking a life, but usually will not discourage conflict as a solution to a problem.

[7] Level Three: total non-violence. This form of pacifism is exactly what it says: the person will not lift a hand (or weapon) against another intelligent creature, for any reason. This is usually limited to human beings, as one would probably defend themselves against attacks from animals or insects, etc. People in this category try to discourage violent behavior in others and stress non-violent forms of conflict resolution. This may be what others consider to be abject pacifism.

Placing the Bard

What do you mean I talk a lot? Hey, I can keep my mouth shut, just
watch me.

Perdicas was one reson to skip town.

[8] Where does our beloved bard fit? Let's look at some episodes that help shed light on the subject. Several first season episodes give us the necessary insight into what kind of person Gabrielle is.


[9] Beginning with SINS OF THE PAST (01/101), we see that Gabrielle is an idealist. She offers herself to Hector so that the lives of the other villagers may be spared. But Gabrielle is not adverse to using physical force to show contempt and to protect herself. When Hector pushes Gabrielle away from him, she actually hits him back in a gesture of defiance. Xena joins the scene, and during the ensuing fight, we see Gabrielle use physical force to strike a would-be abductor. Later, when Gabrielle is explaining to her sister Lila why she must leave Poteidaia, she says "I'm going to be a warrior, like [Xena]."


[10] At the beginning of CHARIOTS OF WAR (02/102), Gabrielle tells Xena that she is "not waiting around while you have all the fun." At this point, it is all just living out a fantasy for Gabrielle. However, we begin to see her mature side as she explores the concept of making choices through her dialogue with the warlord's son, Sphaerus. Near the end of the episode, Sphaerus, spurred on by Gabrielle's words, renounces the ways of war: "I'm not going to fight anymore... my brother died for peace." I believe this moment is significant in the evolution of Gabrielle's moral code (the way she perceives the world) in relation to pacifism.


[11] By DREAMWORKER (03/103), we see that Gabrielle is becoming Xena's pupil. When Gabrielle asks Xena to teach her how to fight, Xena replies, "Don't confuse defending yourself with using a weapon." Gabrielle answers with, "I don't want to learn how to kill, I want to learn how to survive." It is at this point that Xena recites the now infamous rules or survival- "wisdom before weapons," she warns Gabrielle. This episode is also a pivotal, defining moment for Gabrielle. This is where she begins to accept as her own the idea that one can fight without killing; that one should use all means necessary before using a weapon or engaging in combat. Toward the end of the episode, we again see Gabrielle use physical force when she pommel-bashes her would-be killer to distract him (so Xena could get in position to attack) and when she knocks out Morpheus' priest with a punch.


[12] The single episode, however, that has the most significant ideology-defining effect on Gabrielle would most certainly have to be HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110). This is where Gabrielle learns to fight with a staff, and learns to accept that her traveling with Xena is not just something one does for kicks and enjoyment. Gabrielle begins to mature far beyond the wide-eyed village girl she was when she left Poteidaia. She simultaneously accepts and shoulders the responsibility of being an Amazon Princess and Xena's companion. This episode completes the base definition of Gabrielle's character until she begins to change -- or is changed -- in season three.

[13] The episode opens with Gabrielle using a walking stick to crush and kill "critters." It would appear that her emphasis on not killing is reserved for human beings only. Later, Eponin instructs Gabrielle in the use of the staff. This was Gabrielle's choice for a weapon, further signifying her belief in not killing. Even though a staff can kill, it is viewed as less lethal than, for instance, a sword. Gabrielle chose the staff because she, perhaps naively, believed that fighting with one would not result in a person's death.

[14] When Ephiny inquires about Gabrielle's progress, Gabrielle replies that "it's fun." Ephiny's demonstration of the effectiveness of the staff in combat re-orients Gabrielle's views and allows her to take the responsibility of using a weapon more seriously. Indeed, when Gabrielle is faced with the duty of using Terreis' sword to execute Phantes, she looks to Queen Melosa and affirms, "I can't kill someone."


Guys, how long do I have to hold this pose? Scott's getting heavy.

Perdicas' pacifism got him killed in RETURN OF CALLISTO.

[15] While talking to Perdicus, Gabrielle states that she may not be what he thinks she is: "I fight." Still, one is hard pressed to find a better example of Gabrielle's pacifism than when Callisto kills her defenseless husband, Perdicus. Even though Gabrielle is furious and demands that Xena teach her to kill, she still cannot bring herself to kill Callisto when she has the chance. "I won't take a life, not even yours. I'd rather die." In fact, by the end of the episode, Gabrielle forgives Callisto.

Other Episodes

[16] Each time Gabrielle fights, she demonstrates that she does not object to the use of force to secure peace. Also, she only objects to another killing someone occasionally, even if it might have been avoided. In THE PRODIGAL (18/118), Gabrielle did not object to Meleager killing as many of the attacking force as necessary to fight them off and save Poteidaia. In THE GREATER GOOD (21/121), Gabrielle fought for the same ideal the episode's name celebrates.

[17] In GIANT KILLER (27/203) and HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110), Gabrielle demonstrates that she is willing to forfeit her life to uphold her reverence for life. In THE PRICE (44/220), Gabrielle is unwilling to surrender her humanity and resort to an "any means necessary" approach even in the face of her own potential demise.

The Conundrum

[18] Now, once all the research is done, and Gabrielle's character has been firmly entrenched in our consciousnesses, we seem to be presented with a problem. In the real world, pacifism is not the most popular form of settling differences. In fact, our history and society glorifies the violent and militaristic solutions we have come to. XWP was originally presented as a beacon of hope, a show which (among other things) dared to demonstrate how to break the cycle of revenge and hatred. However, the Xenastaff has painted itself into the proverbial corner through their use of convenient, traditional stereotypes. They gave us an idea contrary to popular opinion and our bloody history and (most likely inadvertently) made the vehicle for that ideal Gabrielle, the sidekick of the warrior hero. The Xenastaff now finds itself in a conundrum of its own making.

[19] Gabrielle is a necessary component to the series. She is Xena's conscience, the savior of her soul, the constant reminder of what she is destined to become, and of what she was. Yet the third season has presented us with contradictory characterization for Gabrielle. Instead of a companion and soul-saver, we get the cliched, nagging conscience: a self-righteous tag-along that gets in the hero's way. We are left wondering whether or not Gabrielle's actions were right or wrong, because we assume the hero is always right. This method of storytelling leaves the decisions about the moral correctness of actions up to the audience, who can be unforgiving and/or deceived. The Xenastaff has made some serious mistakes in trying to break out of that "corner" in the third season, as evidenced below.

[20] Gabrielle's decisions, regardless of what her motivations may have been, have been shown to have disastrous consequences:

  1. Her inadvertent killing of Meridian in THE DELIVERER (50/304) led to the loss of her sacred blood innocence and, ultimately, to her rape and impregnation by Dahak.

  2. Her decision to save her daughter's life in GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305) ultimately led to the death of Solan in MATERNAL INSTINCTS (57/311). Of course, we must also accept that Xena's attempted infanticide in GABRIELLE'S HOPE was the correct course of action. In this case, not only has the Xenastaff violated Gabrielle's character, they have violated Xena's as well, for she would never kill a child, especially on such flimsy evidence. She went out of her way to ensure one did not die in THE GAUNTLET [H12/112]).

  3. Gabrielle's betrayal of Xena in Chin led to Xena's imprisonment and near-execution in THE DEBT, parts 1 and 2 (52-53/306-307). And then the Xenastaff had the audacity to suggest that petty jealousy was the reason for Gabrielle's betrayal in FORGET ME NOT (63/317).

[21] Of course, we also have the inept, dare I say dumb, Gabrielle in KING OF ASSASSINS (54/308) and THE QUILL IS MIGHTIER (56/310). She is presented as a 'know-it-all' who screws everything up and has to be saved by Xena. With the advent of season three, we have, on almost a weekly basis, heard or witnessed Gabrielle blaming herself for nearly every bad turn of events and confessing to self-hatred, both for her motivations and for her decisions. Gabrielle lies to Xena, or betrays Xena, or "hurts Xena's feelings," etc. The Xenastaff chose to sacrifice their unwitting creation in order to contain the proverbial genie they let loose from the bottle, the crowning achievement in a line of erroneous choices. Had they decided to go with the flow of what they had wrought and work with it, the results would have been much more believable.

Friendly Persuasion

I told you, subtext is a good thing, look what it did for my career.

Gary Cooper, 1901 - 1961.

[22] A great example of how to utilize pacifism in a story can be found in the 1956 film Friendly Persuasion (William Wyler), starring Gary Cooper. The film was nominated for 6 Oscars and won the Best Picture Award at the Cannes Film Festival. The story centers around the members of a Quaker family in Indiana whose pacifism is tested when Morgan's Raiders attack the surrounding countryside. Each member of the family has to deal with their individual moment of crisis -- that point at which their faith and beliefs are tested. The supporting actor, Robert Middleton, who plays the best (and non-Quaker) friend of the male lead (Gary Cooper) holds to different belief systems and takes an opposing stand regarding armed resistance. However, the two men still have tremendous respect for each other. Without giving too much away, suffice to say that the love these two men have for one another should be familiar to fans of XWP.

[23] It is interesting to note that in the crucial scene where Gary Cooper's character decides not to kill, the actor and the writer had a disagreement about that scene. Cooper considered himself an action hero, and thought the character should have killed the rebel. The author disagreed, saying the message was about a good man who did not kill rather a strong one who did. The author won out in the end.

[24] This film shows that there are ways to present a powerful story about pacifism and choices, about having one's ideals and belief systems tested, while still maintaining the integrity and human dignity of the characters. A lesson that the Xenastaff would be wise to learn.

Violence and Martyrdom

[25] Violence is seductive because it appeals to our darker nature. It is an adrenaline rush to which we as a species seem hopelessly addicted. The flood of violent heroes and anti-heroes in literature and film affords us a harmless outlet for feeling good about being bad. And we are quick to condemn those who would remind us that we should feel bad for doing bad.

[26] As a friend once told me during an email conversation:

We claim violence as our manifest destiny. And as history would prove, we kill those who would get in our way -- be they Christ, Gandhi, [Martin Luther] King or the lone man who placed himself in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square. We will follow the warriors of the world, but revere the pacifists only after we've martyred them.

The Changing Gabrielle

A touch of arsenic, a bit of henbane, I'm really getting good at this

Gabrielle, already adept at adding poison to waterskins in MATERNAL INSTINCTS, drugs Crassus' water in WHEN IN ROME....

[27] With the advent of season three and the "deconstruction of the hero," we have seen that all Gabrielle was has been called into question. What is she destined to become? The path one takes to journey from an ordinary person to a hero is a long one. Will she remain true to her values and morals? Will she remain faithful to her reverence for the sanctity of life? If the events of WHEN IN ROME... (62/316) are any indication, the answer is, sadly, no.

[28] Gabrielle's blood innocence and her commitment not to kill were key themes in the first two seasons. The character, as presented in those two seasons, would not have killed Meridian, even in that grave situation [THE DELIVERER (50/304)]. She did exactly what the script told her to do: the choice was made and we are now left with the fallout. There were many options available to Gabrielle in THE DELIVERER, but the Xenastaff opted for the only choice that would change Gabrielle forever: killing.

[29] Of course, it was all set up just for the Rift, a convenient manipulation for a plot device that was not necessary. There were a number of ways the Rift could have been validated without violating Gabrielle's character. There were several different ways that Gabrielle could have lost her blood innocence without destroying her core being. In the end, all we have is the deconstruction of the hero-- Gabrielle.

[30] Whether or not you or I agree with Gabrielle's code is irrelevant. Is Gabrielle a pacifist? Yes, but not in the pop cultural or traditional sense. Gabrielle has redefined everything we expect a pacifist to be. She possesses elements of all three levels of pacifism, as described earlier. What significance does this hold for her place in the Xenaverse? That is a question only the Xenastaff can answer, and one I hope they will approach with the forethought, intelligence and wisdom they utilized so well in the first two seasons of Xena: Warrior Princess.


The writings of Claude Levi-Strauss and John Campbell's Hero With A Thousand Faces are recommended reading for those who wish to further pursue the issue of heroism and its cultural meaning.


Roger A. Duarte Roger A. Duarte
I was born in Providence, RI in 1970 and have lived in the New Bedford, Massachusetts area most of my life. I graduated with honors from high school and entered the US Air Force at the age of 17 (1987-1992) as an Electronic Warfare Technician (among other duties). A Gulf War veteran who was stationed in England for four years, I came home after being discharged under honorable conditions and decided to further my education. I worked the overnight shift and multiple jobs for 60+ hours a week to put myself through a full-time course load (no, Uncle Sam didn't pay for it)! In 1997 I graduated cum laude from Bridgewater State College with a BA in Sociology (concentrating in Criminology) and a minor in Political Science. My previously published works include articles in Anime U.K. magazine and on The ROCzone!, my website dedicated to Renee O'Connor. I'm currently working as an undercover asset protection investigator for a private firm and someday hope to move to New Hampshire for good. I currently reside in Massachusetts with my wife of 9 months, Sarah (who hates XWP, especially Gabrielle/Renee!), her two cats and my two ferrets. My interests include firearms, politics, computers Japanese animation, science fiction/fantasy, reading, Italian and Mexican food, driving fast, rock n' roll/heavy metal music (no, I'm not into alternative!), and, of course, XWP (specifically Renee/Gabrielle!)
Favorite episode: THE QUEST (37/213)
Favorite line: Talmadeus (about Gabrielle): "I like her spirit." THE GREATER GOOD (21/121)
First episode seen: THE WARRIOR PRINCESS (H09/109)
Least favorite episode: Too hard to pick between all the Joxer and/or slapstick comedy episodes.

Return to Top Return to Index