It comes as something of a surprise that Applejack represents the spirit of Honesty within "Friendship is Magic". Although one would scarcely dare to call Applejack a liar, Honesty is perhaps not her greatest virtue. Nevertheless, Applejack has so many positive attributes honesty included that her representation in the Pilot as this particular embodiment of the Elements of Harmony makes sense, even if it seems a little odd at first. After all, what else would Applejack represent? Her character within the show is synonymous with both a maturity beyond her years and an unmatched compassion for her peers, to the extent that she becomes, to this viewer, the unofficial leader of the group.
Although it is well-established that Twilight Sparkle is the 'main' member of the core six, Applejack has more qualities that could be associated to a lead protagonist. Her behaviour is almost always optimistic; rarely do we see an example where she succumbs to defeat or negativity, even when she's literally working herself into an early grave, as can be seen in "Applebuck Season". It would be accurate to suggest that Applejack receives a lot of focus near the beginning of the season, with episodes focusing less on her in the latter half. Of course, she is an ever-prevalent character in almost every episode, but the Applejack-focused episodes seem to be intentionally directed towards the beginning of the show. This instantly strikes a chord with an audience; Applejack is there to capture the hearts of the viewer with her conscientious work ethic and her family-orientated nature.
The Apple Family are significant in establishing Applejack's character. We learn in the Pilot that Applejack is from a large family; in comparison, few other characters are given this level of domestic exploration. Whereas we, as an audience, learn next to nothing throughout the series about the families of Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy and Rarity, and only receive a brief glimpse into the home-life of Twilight Sparkle and Pinkie Pie during "The Cutie Mark Chronicles", we are reminded frequently about Applejack's position at Sweet Apple Acres: Big Macintosh is the tough and protective older brother, Granny Smith is the elderly stalwart owner of the farm, and Apple Bloom is the adventurous little filly who both relies upon her sister's advice and often subsequently ignores it. Meanwhile in Appleloosa we learn of her cousin, Braeburn, of which her interaction with him and the settler ponies forms the basis of the entire episode.
Indeed, swearing by her family is one of the strongest facets of Applejack's personality. When the Parasprites are attacking, Applejack, alongside her family, are at Sweet Apple Acres ready to defend the family business. In "The Ticket Master", Applejack wishes to attend the Grand Galloping Gala in order to make money for her family and, among other things, restore the barn. Her behaviour is almost entirely altruistic; compare this to the otherwise self-motivated reasons for attending the Gala that the other ponies have, and it becomes clear that Applejack is the most selfless pony. It is no great coincidence that she offers her hoof in helping the Cutie Mark Crusaders explore their special talents by giving them her old club house, even if it is a bit derelict; the significance of this action is once again to prove the generosity of Applejack towards not only Apple Bloom, but the tenacious Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle.
The fact that Applejack is from a family that is vital to the plot on multiple levels acts as a solid foundation for why she is such a caring pony. She's not caring in the Fluttershy sense articulately helping ducklings cross a road; gently waking up the sleepy-headed critters during "Winter Wrap Up" but she is caring in the sense that she always has the feelings of other ponies at heart. In "Dragonshy" she is more than happy to volunteer to take Fluttershy up the mountain the safe way, because her friend is too nervous to go up the steep, dangerous path. At the top of the mountain, she takes the time to explain to Fluttershy why they are all afraid of the dragon causing the smog above Ponyville, and that Fluttershy must do her best to overcome her fears. In comparison to the callousness of Rainbow Dash, Applejack seems to have a more productive and nurturing behaviour, wishing for every pony to contribute. Exclusion, to Applejack, is not an option.
Certainly, Applejack and Rainbow Dash are different, and yet they are perhaps the most similar ponies within the mane cast. They are both incredibly competitive towards one another, perhaps to a fault, most evident in "Fall Weather Friends" where they engage in competitions to establish who is the Iron Pony. Their contest drives them to race against one another during the Running of the Leaves, during which time they deceive one another frequently in order to gain the upper hand. Although not every episode focuses on their competition, it is clear throughout the entire season that they are both very confident in their abilities and must, by nature, compete. Thus we see them bobbing for apples in "Party of One" to try and best the other, watch them hoof-wrestle in "The Ticket Master" and even take political matters into their own hands in "Over a Barrel"; Rainbow Dash siding with the native buffalo and Applejack remaining on the side of the settler ponies. What should be a struggle between two nations for a brief period of time becomes a battle of wills between Rainbow Dash and Applejack.
Although she doesn't compete with the other ponies in the same way as with Rainbow Dash, Applejack does have established relationships with the rest of the mane cast. The character that she seems to dislike the most, at least initially, is Rarity, as seen during "Look Before You Sleep". This episode is a great example of both Applejack's virtues and her somewhat less desirable behaviour. Whereas Rarity is pristine and regal, Applejack is very much the country-girl; not afraid to get dirty, or to eat with her mouth open, or even to belch in public and be proud of it. The episode also demonstrates Applejack's stubbornness, which is a point of contention for an audience. Although being stubborn is hardly an asset, it's not a trait that we dislike about Applejack. Indeed, her stubborn demeanour often works in her favour, because often-times she is in the right.
Rarity may be right, to an extent, in criticising Applejack's behaviour at times, but as an audience we are almost guided to side with Applejack; after-all, Rarity's attention to detail and insistence on nit-picking every detail is a greater grievance than Applejack's refusal to wash her mane before entering Twilight's home. This stubbornness, however, is something of a mixed blessing; in "Applebuck Season" we feel sorry for Applejack as she gets more and more swept up in her work. It's almost tragic to watch her attempt to juggle being an incredibly likeable and dependable pony with bucking all of the apples on Sweet Apple Acres without the aid of Big Macintosh. Although the episode establishes that Applejack is Equestria's number one athlete, we have to watch her deterioration, from cooking 'baked bads' with Pinkie Pie to causing all of the new baby bunnies under Fluttershy's care to raid Ponyville. But these accidents are not a result of Applejack's incompetence; they are the actions of a pony trying to achieve too much by herself. All members of the audience will know someone like Applejack; those hard-workers who sometimes let their work get the better of them and isolate them from their peers, and it makes her a character that we can relate to, arguably more than any other pony within the show.
After all, no other pony appears to have a consistent job in the way that Applejack does, save for Rarity who also finds herself biting off more than she can chew with her dress-making business. In many ways, these two characters, although very different in behaviour and mannerisms, are also rather similar. They both care passionately about their work, and sometimes struggle to see outside of their employment. Thus, just as when Rarity is disgraced during her fashion show by Hoity Toity's criticisms and subsequently shuns herself from society, so does Applejack struggle to accept help, potentially growing aggressive towards those that offer aid by perceiving the need to rely on others as a sign of weakness.
Nevertheless, the negative behaviour that Applejack displays makes her a more believable character. The show is masterful in the way that it shows the audience how flawless Applejack almost is Pinkie Pie suggests she is the best baker in Equestria; her herding skills are unparalleled; she can stop a stampede with nothing more than her faithful dog, Winona but then allows the cracks to show just enough to make her realistic. Although Applejack does have many great qualities, we are still led to believe that she has her faults that she must overcome, and thus she can be greatly admired when she triumphs.
The further we delve into Applejack's personality, the more appealing she becomes to an audience and the wider display of emotional states that she has become clearer. For an intelligent, hard-working and mature pony, she has her adorable moments, especially when treating Bloomberg the apple tree like her very own baby. Her appearance as a cowgirl, complete with little freckles on her face, gives her a sweet little quirk in every expression that she makes. That she almost always wears a hat also gives her a little flair of personality; so much so that when she's without it, something seems out of place. She also has her more fashion-orientated side, posing during Rarity's second fashion show with a sensual grace, and revealing that although her appearance is not her greatest concern, she is more than happy to dress when the occasion calls for it.
When we see her as a little filly in "The Cutie Mark Chronicles", we see another side to her character as well; that of a courageous youngster who wishes to prove herself. It's interesting that Applejack, as a filly, did not wish to initially work at Sweet Apple Acres, but instead had aspirations to become an aristocratic type. Seeing Applejack surrounded by posh-talking nobles is farcical, especially as it is the sort of situation that we would expect Rarity to be in instead. It's testament to the earnestness of Applejack that, although she adopts a lady-like, pompous voice when with her Uncle and Aunt Orange in Manehatten and changes her hair and clothes, she longs to return to her family, finding the greatest nostalgic reference point to be the significant rooster that used to wake her back home. No matter what front she puts on, deep-down she retains her loveable country accent and her fixation with her true family.
And this is why, perhaps above any other pony, Applejack represents the importance of heritage, of upbringing and of familial ties. She's a source of inspiration for other ponies when the Diamond Dogs attack in "A Dog and Pony Show", she's there to help the others shake off the eponymous attackers. In the same episode, when Spike is daydreaming about kissing Rarity and almost plants one on Applejack, she charmingly jokes about his behaviour without being immature. Her position in the show is almost always as a voice of reason and strength, and both her and Twilight Sparkle could be perceived as the oldest, or at least most adult, members of the group as a result of this. And speaking of that voice, her accent is arguably one of the most recognisable in the show, especially during her singing performances.
Needless to say, whether it's her independent verse in "Winter Wrap-up", or her contributions to great orchestrations such as "At the Gala", Applejack's singing voice stands up to close inspection as one of the best in the series. It's a shame that she doesn't have any song to herself in the way that Rarity does in "Art of the Dress" or Pinkie Pie does in "Giggle at the Ghosties", but this will hopefully be remedied in future seasons of the show. What is more exciting, however, is what the future has in store of Applejack; whether her personality will undergo any great level of change in the second season, or if she will remain relatively similar to how she is currently. Although nobody would ever want Applejack to change, seeing different elements of her personality shine through will be fascinating. She's proven herself to be just as capable as Pinkie Pie in breaking down the fourth wall responding to Rarity's concerns about Spike seeing the ponies without their dresses on that, being ponies, they don't normally wear clothes but she still has much to learn; she is educated about tolerance when it comes to both Zecora and the native buffalo of Equestria, showing that even a character as resolute as Applejack can always be learning to be a better pony.
Ultimately, Applejack is the sort of multi-layered character that makes "Friendship is Magic" the excellent show that it is. She is a loyal friend, a hard-worker and a courageous adventurer, but she is also hot-headed, stubborn and bold. Nevertheless, whether Honesty is her greatest feature, or this award instead goes to her enormous love for her friends and family or her kind heart, Applejack is a natural leader, and the sort of mature, inspirational character that we can all aspire to be like; her cheeky wink during the opening credits to the show says it all.