"Son, I'm Captain Jack Sparrow. Savvy?"
Casey Duffy

In 2003, director Gore Verbinski introduced the world to Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and its infamous main character, Captain Jack Sparrow. The movie was so well-liked and popular that sequels, Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End were quickly made to follow. A fourth movie, On Stranger Tides, is due to open summer of 2011. As the first film opens, viewers immediately feel as though they have been placed into a long withstanding history of conflict involving Jack Sparrow and practically any other party he has ever been in contact with. To name a few of his debacles, Commodore Norrington mentions that Jack has had a “brush with the East India Trading company,” (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, 2003) in Tortuga we notice that he gets slapped by three different women, and he has previously been marooned on a desolate island by his fellow pirates. Despite his many problems and losing his place as captain aboard the Black Pearl, Jack never fails to correct people on his title as captain and feels proud when people have heard of his name. Because he always seems to meander aimlessly through all of his pursuits, characters such as Norrington describe him as “without doubt the worst pirate they have ever seen.” (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, 2003) In reality, however, Jack is impressively witty and is never brought down easily; using his cunning personality, Jack finds it easy to manipulate others for his own benefit. An in-depth view of the character allows one to notice that Jack never fails to contradict himself. For example, he has an undying love of rum and always seems to be drunk, but he is somehow nimble, quick and even acrobatic. Contradictions consistently show up within Jack Sparrow’s personality from the trait and skill and neo-analytic perspective. His eccentric and unique nature makes him a character to truly capture your interest.

Trait and Skill Approach

The history of the trait approach explains that Charles Darwin placed an emphasis on studying the individual differences in people as they arise through evolutionary processes. Gordon Allport further explains that due to our biological heritage and shared culture, there are some common traits across peoples (Huntington, 2011). We can certainly note some similarities in the personalities of the pirates in the movie; all are obsessed with treasure and rum and they always preoccupied with violence. However, what is more important to trait and skill psychologists are the unique qualities at the core of their personality (or proprium) (Huntington, 2011). Jack Sparrow is observably unique, not only amongst his fellow pirates, but also compared to all other known characters.

The Pirates of the Caribbean movies seem to make it a point to play on all psychological aspects of The Big Five (Huntington, 2011) through the character of Jack Sparrow. The Big Five are character traits in which a person can represent at different levels. Jack is extremely extroverted in his constant desire to be the ruling captain on the Black Pearl or any other ship. He is always calling commands over others and taking matters into his own hands. For example, when Elizabeth fails to shoot the gun powder barrel in order to destroy the Kracken, Jack takes the gun and makes a prompt shot. While Jack is certainly agreeable in the aspect of being friendly, one can never be certain if he can be trusted. Due to his ability to manipulate others, Elizabeth and Will are always struggling to determine whose side Jack is really on. Jack makes a very truthful (and thus contradictory) statement: “Me? I'm dishonest, and a dishonest man you can always trust to be dishonest. Honestly. It's the honest ones you want to watch out for, because you can never predict when they're going to do something incredibly... stupid.” (IMDb) Though he will eventually come to help his friends, his intentions are never altruistic. Jack seems to be high in conscientiousness because he is thoroughly persistent in all of his tasks and adventures. He also seems to be the most competent of all the characters in his ability to survive and flourish in any given situation. His dependability, on the other hand, is questionable because his ever-changing intentions are difficult to follow. Though one might understand him to be impulsive due to the way in which he behaves, Jack always does things with a set plan, as seen in his arrangement with Will to commandeer a ship. Though Jack always prefers a fight with no physical violence, he can be marked as neurotic through his constant worry to save his ship and be the best pirate the world has ever known. As mentioned before, Jack is a careful planner, but he never fails to show the anxiety on his face while carrying through with his plans. Lastly, Jack is very high in openness. Always eager to experience and adventure, Jack finds himself is some truly odd situations. For example, on one island he is treated like a God due to the culture of the island’s natives. His imagination has the tendency to run wild as noted while he is in Davey Jones’ locker in the third move. Jack makes an interesting comment to Elizabeth about curiosity which she later turns back on him: “One word love: curiosity. You long for freedom. You long to do what you want to do because you want it. To act on selfish impulse. You want to see what it's like. One day you won't be able to resist.” (IMDb)

Jack can also be analyzed through Murray’s needs (Huntington, 2011) since he seems to epitomize each one of them. Jack’s need for achievement and also for power can both be seen in his constant desire and obsession to be captain of the black pearl. We see his need for affiliation through his relationships with some of his deckhands, especially Mr. Gibbs. He draws close to others mostly because he knows that he needs their help in order to accomplish his lavish goals. Lastly, and perhaps most characteristic of Jack Sparrow, is his need for exhibition. Almost everything he does is with the intention to get a rise out of others. He makes grand exits and escapes from his enemies just to seem invincible. He also makes a point to say things very complexly: (to Gibbs) “the man who did the waking buys the man who was sleeping a drink; the man who was sleeping drinks it while listening to a proposition from the man who did the waking.” (IMDb) Due to the fact that the trait and skill approach places much emphasis on an individual’s unique characteristics, it is a great way to analyze such a one-of-a-kind man.


Many theorists after Freud thought that he placed too much emphasis on sexuality and the unconscious and not enough on the ego. These theorists belong to the neoanalytic perspective in which the ego is seen as an important part of the mind (Huntington, 2011). In the third movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, we find Jack in Davy Jones’ locker struggling mentally. After being alone in such a remote place for so long, he seems to have lost his sanity (if it was ever fully there in the first place) and has started to entertain different versions of himself in his mind. The film itself goes so far as to show us miniature Jacks conversing with the real Jack. This can be seen as a representation of Jack’s personal and collective unconscious (Huntington, 2011). From the smaller Jacks doing things such as removing and licking their own brain, it is understood that Jack’s personal unconscious is preoccupied with disgusting, unacceptable thoughts. We can also see from his collective unconscious a couple of archetypes reigning in Jack. The persona vs. shadow (Huntington, 2011) archetype seems to be characteristic of all the pirates throughout the movie; they are technically rejects of traditional society and thus follow the darker side of themselves. They no longer feel the force of proper social norms because they are most often surrounded by sinister personalities similar to their own. For example, we can see Jack’s and all the pirates’ shadows shining through in their love of rum, which allows them to be even more socially unacceptable. Elizabeth Swan, who was clearly brought up in high society, voices her disapproval of rum when she describes it as “a vile drink that turns even the most respectable men into complete scoundrels.” Another archetype that can be seen in Jack is demon vs. hero (Huntington, 2011). He shows a force for good in his general dislike for physical combat as well as in the aid he gives Will in finding Elizabeth. However, it is never seems that Jack is capable of helping out his friends in a truly altruistic way, rather there needs to be some benefit in it for himself. He only agrees to help Will find Elizabeth, who has been captured by the cursed pirates, after finding out that it is only Will’s blood that can lift the curse and thus allow Jack to finally kill his worst enemy, Barbosa.

Alfred Adler furthered Freud’s approach to stress the impact society and social relations on one’s personality. Adler mentions three fundamental social issues (Huntington, 2011), all of which we can see through Jack’s behavior. He has the occupational task of being captain of the Black Pearl, the societal task of being an out-casted pirate and a menace to the East India Trading Company, and the task of his love for the ocean. Adler would argue that all of Jack’s behavior is towards striving for superiority; Jack is constantly pointing out to others his own greatness, he always says, “I’m Jack Sparrow. Savvy?” He expects his name to resonate in every being across the world. Jack also represents Adler’s masculine protest (Huntington, 2011) in that he is always doing things his own way to show his competence and independence. Though he often needs the help of a crew, Jack is often alone and is very capable of handling situations successfully.


It is often difficult to pick out sole characteristic about individuals that make them unique and Captain Jack Sparrow is no different. Being one of his greatest fans and having watched each of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies multiple times, I have been able to distinguish the reason why I, and all audiences, find him to be such an intriguing character. Jack is a living contradiction: he is a pirate, which by definition would make him most detestable, but on the contrary, he is loved by nearly everyone who knows him. The aforementioned psychological approaches stress aspects of Jack’s personality which make him so unique, but what’s more is that they highlight the ways in which Jack is perpetually inconsistent. He seems to only remain the same in the regard that he never pretends to be any different than who he truly is. This stability is seen in juxtaposition with characters such as Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan who tend to have difficulty in defining their identities. Jack’s random but carefully planned, crazy but never violent, helpful but not dependable, and smooth yet ever-clumsy self makes him a character to be analyzed with much effort, but never labeled.


Huntington, A. (2011). Chapter 4, Part 1: Neo-Analytic and Ego Aspects of Personality [4, 5, 6]. Retrieved from http://lms.uconn.edu/webct/

Huntington, A. (2011). Chapter 2, Day 2: Neo-Analytic and Ego Aspects of Personality [2, 3, 4]. Retrieved from http://lms.uconn.edu/webct/

Huntington, A. (2011). Chapter 8: Trait and Skill Aspects of Personality [4, 7, 8, 10, 20, 21]. Retrieved from http://lms.uconn.edu/webct/
IMDb: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0325980/

Verbinski, G. (Director). (2003). Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl [Film]. Burbank, CA: Walt Disney Pictures.

Verbinski, G. (Director). (2006). Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest [Film]. Burbank, CA: Walt Disney Pictures.

Verbinski, G. (Director). (2007). Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End [Film]. Burbank, CA: Walt Disney Pictures.