From the press releases, you’d think Katniss Everdeen, the unwilling action hero of The Hunger Games, is one of the greatest power icons of literature.
Maybe…we’ll see. Time will thresh out the staying-power of the character. I’d rather look at women who’ve endured the test of high-school reading assignments and snoozer college classes. This is not a comprehensive list…not even a top 10. They’re powerful to watch. And most importantly, have influenced the characters and stories that came after them.
Women who kick-butt without using fists or arrows.
Elizabeth Bennett: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. You can put Elinor Dashwood on the list, too. They use their smarts, weaving through the frustrating conventions of the time to get what they want. Awww, heck…..Bronte’s women should be here, too, but Austen published several decades before Bronte, and had the spine to use her real name, so she gets first billing.
Paulina: Winter Tales. If you Spark-noted your way through English Lit, you may have missed Shakespeare’s fierce woman. She defends the queen, unrelentingly condemns the king (after the queen’s death), and is the agent of the queen’s resurrection. (Now that’s butt-kicking payback that heals). Actually most of the Bard’s heroines have more chutzpah than their male counterparts.
Celie: The Color Purple. (by Alice Walker) Oppressed by men her whole life, this character learns to grow into her own power.
Nancy Drew: Snort if you want. This curious, titian-haired gal proved to generations of girls that the Hardy Boys weren’t the only ones empowered with deductive reasoning.
Dorothy Gale: Not the one in the movie. Frank Baum’s Dorothy, in the Wizard of Oz series (1900-1920), didn’t croon “Over the Rainbow.” She wore silver shoes, eventually lived in the Emerald City, and taught millions of children to value themselves when facing adversity. For years The Wizard of Oz wasn’t even on children’s reading lists, and it was banned from Detroit, Michigan’s libraries (1957).
Scheherazade: One Thousand and One Nights. The King listened with awe as she told her first story, stopping at the breaking of the day—before the tale was finished. So, of course, he spared her life for one more day to hear the rest of the story. After 1,000 nights, he’d fallen in love with her.
Isn’t that what all stories should do? Resonate long after the last page?
Of course, everyone has their favorites…which fictional female of literature influenced you? (Yes, guys, we’d like to hear from you, too.)