By Trisha Gupta:
Whenever there is a list of strong female characters in literature, a few of the recurring names are Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Eyre, and the unforgettable Hermione Granger, who no doubt are indispensable when it comes to being an inspiration for women of all ages. However, there are many other thought provoking female characters that have been overshadowed and to some extent, ignored. Here I present a list of such characters that are just as captivating and intriguing.
1. Jo March: Josephine (Jo) March is one of the four sisters in the classic Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. She is a true rebel who strives to make her voice heard in a world that only listens to men. She refuses to succumb to gender stereotypes, going to the extent of cutting off her hair (and letting go of her femininity) to provide for her family. Her initial rejection of the idea of romance and marriage is a matter of concern for her family, and when she does get married, it is not out of compulsion or societal pressure.
2. Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web: Remember the novel we read as a child that made us fall in love with a cute and lonesome pig named Wilbur? That amazing novel, written by E.B. White, had one of the most loyal characters, i.e. Charlotte. Charlotte, the ‘bloodthirsty’ spider, turns out to be one of his best and most loyal friends. She is an unseen presence throughout the book, helping Wilbur in unimaginable ways and always sticking by him. She fends for herself and is kind in her own way.
3. Dominique Francon: Miss Francon is the heroine of the highly controversial novel, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. To put it simply, she is a complex and conflicting character. But she lives by her own philosophy, and believes that true greatness, such as that of the male protagonist, Howard Roark, is destined to be doomed and ruined by the collectivist masses. Despite her self-destructive behaviour, she has a strong sense of who she is and what she wants. She does not feel the need to give an explanation to anyone about her actions. No doubt, both Francon and Roark in this novel are exaggerations of individuality, but there is something about her that nags the reader. Not for one minute does she compromise with what she believes in.
4. The female characters penned down by Sidney Sheldon: In a word, they are unapologetic. They are ambitious and seductive, know what they want and how to get it. True femme fatales, they are often the character shaping the entire plot of the novel. Whether it is the seductive Noelle Page from The Other Side of Midnight or evil Eve Blackwell and manipulative Kate Blackwell from Master of the Game, they were Damsels but definitely not in distress. These strong female characters see no need to justify their actions, however ‘wrong’ they might be, to the society.
5. Professor Minerva McGonagall from the Harry Potter Series: While everyone speaks about how badass Hermione was and how she never simmered down her intelligence for boys, Professor McGonagall does not get her due share of attention. She was the queen of sass. The perfect role model, she was strict when required but never left the side of her students. Unimaginably just and fair, she never hesitated to punish the students of her own house. She did not submit to the rule of Dolores Umbridge; no Potterhead can ever forget the legendary “It unscrews the other way”.
6. Lisbeth Salander from The Millennium Trilogy: The heroine of The Millenium Trilogy written by Stieg Larsson, Salander, is in a word, a survivor. A victim of a truly traumatic childhood, she goes on to apply her own notions of right and wrong and does not feel the need to justify them, whether those actions include tattooing “I am a sadistic pig, a pervert and a rapist” on the abdomen of her legal guardian, or hitting her birth father with an axe. Due to her appearance, awkward mannerisms and sexual orientation, she is a social pariah. But that does not mean that she needs to be rescued. A world class computer hacker, she, in her own way, rescues herself and even the male protagonist, Mikhael Blomkvist, more than once.
7. Matilda from Matilda: This classic tale of a girl who loved to read, by Roald Dahl, gave consolation to many budding bookworms (including me) that no matter what the society says, it is alright to spend your time reading. She is misunderstood by her parents and ill-treated by her evil principal. But does she submit to her misery? No. She fights back! And boy, she gives them the fight of their lives!
8. Draupadi, Gandhari and Kunti from the Mahabharata: While the Kauravas and Pandavas fought in the Battle of Kurushetra, these women fought their own battles. Gandhari blindfolded herself in protest to being forced to marry a blind man, Kunti fought for the rightful inheritance of her sons and Draupadi brought about doom to the entire Kaurava clan, vowing to wash her hair with Kaurava blood. She even questioned Yudhistira, her husband on how he, after betting himself away, had the authority to put her at stake. Although a narrative of men and their power, the women make themselves heard, loud and clear.