What makes a strong female protagonist? Many favorite female protagonists throughout the history of literature have been considered feminists. Are feminist protagonists in literature the female characters that endure? And what makes a female character a feminist if the story was written long before women were even allowed to vote?
Jane Eyre, written by Charlotte Bronte and published in 1847 during an extremely exist and oppressive climate, presented the world with a steel strong female character. Jane’s life is a constant struggle but despite it all she continues to fight against the rigid Victorian class structure and her so-called place in society. Jane pursues her independence and stays strong as she continues to makes her own decisions without letting anyone mess with her mind or get in her way. As much as Jane’s focus is on Mr. Rochester and her love for him, she is extremely focused on herself. It is important to her that she manages to take care of herself and not be dependent on anyone else for money or support. Jane is not willing to make compromises and settle for less. She even turns down what would have been considered perfectly reasonable marriage proposals simply because she is not interested in marrying for security. Surely this was not a common occurrence in Jane’s world. A woman’s feelings were not seriously considered.
The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne was published in 1850, nearly 100 years after the American Revolution yet the story takes place in the middle of the 17th century in Massachusetts. The Puritans label Hester Prynne with the “A” to humiliate and punish her. Hester proves to be stronger than the male characters around her. Her husband returns to town under a fake name and lurks around trying to sniff out the father of her child while Arthur Dimmesdale, for the bulk of the book, is too afraid to confess. Arthur, of course, finally admits to his guilt and is killed for it, but throughout the entire length of the book Hester is consistently unapologetic and “owns” the scarlet letter “A,” even carrying it to her grave.
Part of what makes both of these female protagonists feminist characters is the fact that they do not curl up in fetal and expect some guy to come and save them. They continue to stand strong. Despite the challenges they face they push and fight for what is important to them. Hester is a working single mother who raises Pearl by herself and manages to fight off any authorities that try and take her away. She even ends up winning the respect of many other women in Boston. Jane doesn’t want to rely on a man to take care of her and she wants to be true to herself, so she simply doesn’t accept less. Even once Jane gets what she wants: Mr. Rochester, she remains in touch with her feministic side. She will continue to work and not leave her role as governess. Though up for the role of wife, she wants to be self-sufficient and maintain her independence. Both women stand out because of their persistence in pursuing what they believe in, their strengths, and self-respect. Are these the qualities that have made them characters we love to read about again and again?