9 of the most empowering female literary characters

I’m the first to admit that I have a love affair with books. When I was younger you could always find me with my nose in a good novel. However, the last few years at uni have meant I’ve swapped novels for text books, but with graduation in a few short weeks, I plan to fill my summer with sun, rivers, a sneaky road trip and a whole lot of reading (with a splash of job-searching on the side).  I can never go past a book with a strong female protagonist and below I’ve rounded up my nine favourites.

NOTE: My número uno will forever be Eliza Bennett, discussed in great detail here. And Hermione from the HP series also gets an honourable mention here.

1. Rosie Dunne, Where Rainbows End

I simply had to include Rosie in this list because she is the protagonist in my favourite book of all time. I was 13 when I first met Rosie and her best friend Alex, and was instantly captivated by their epistolary love story. Rosie faces so many challenges over the 45 years this novel is set, but she manages to overcome these and make the best out of her situation.

Also, the movie adaptation comes out next month and I’m basically a teenage girl because I can’t even deal.

2. Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games Trilogy

If the above scene isn’t the most fearless thing you’ve ever seen then please leave. Katniss volunteers herself (in her sister’s place) to participate in a tournament that’s almost guaranteed certain death. Oh, and she did this not once, but TWICE. Throughout the novels, we see Katniss transform from an already strong-minded woman, to a woman who doesn’t doubt herself and stands up for what she believes in. Also, she shoots an arrow like a boss.

3. Lisbeth Salander, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trilogy

Yep, Lisbeth is basically the definition of badass.

Already a world class computer hacker with a photographic memory, she’s also the survivor of an abusive childhood, which makes her a fierce heroine with a violent streak. Characterized by many as a “feminist avenging angel,” Lisbeth’s brutality is nothing to aspire to — but she sure gets the job done.

4. Hester Prynne, The Scarlett Letter

Though Hester Prynne, who is condemned by her Puritan neighbors for having a child out of wedlock, is sometimes seen as a victim, she manages to survive with dignity and faith throughout, which we think makes her pretty darn powerful. NPR has described her as being “among the first and most important female protagonists in American literature. She’s the embodiment of deep contradictions: bad and beautiful, holy and sinful, conventional and radical… [she] can be seen as Hawthorne’s literary contemplation of what happens when women break cultural bounds and gain personal power.”

5. Elphalba, Wicked: The Life and Times of  The Wicked Witch of the West.

Confession: I saw Wicked the musical for the first time two weeks ago and fell madly in love. Elphalba is such an important character in literary history because she is such a strong female character, she stands up for what she believe in, is opinionated and uses her diversity to her advantage.

6. Jane Eyre, Jane Eyre

“Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you, – and full as much heart!”

Jane Eyre was written in the patriarchal society of the 19th Century. This was a time when women were expected to be passive and submissive with their ultimate goal being marriage.  Keeping this in mind, we see Jane’s growth throughout the novel and see her self value heighten exponentially.

“Are you shocked?” “Very.”

7. Jo March, Little Women

“It’s bad enough to be a girl anyway, when I like boys’ games and work and manners! I can’t get over my disappointment in not being a boy; and it’s worse than ever now, for I’m dying to go and fight with Papa, and I can only stay at home and knit, like a poky old woman.”

That quote speaks for itself really.


8. Scarlett O’Hara, Gone With the Wind

Scarlett is the definition of a proto-feminist: a term used to define women in a philosophical tradition that anticipated modern feminist concepts, yet lived in a time when the term “feminist” was unknown, usually before the 20th Century. As this novel is set in Southern US before,during and after the American Civil War, Scarlett emerges as the unexpected feminist before feminists were a thing. Her growth throughout the novel was astonishing. At the beginning he was obsessed with marriage and completely self-centred but she transforms into this independent, strong-minded woman who took responsibility for her survival and the survival of her family.

9. Celie, The Colour Purple

No one should ever have to go through what Celie went through. She suffered emotional and physical abuse both during her childhood and within her marriage. But with the support of her friends, Celie summmed up the courage to leave Mister, her abusive husband (she put a curse on him!) and made a new life for herself. Also, the ending of this book is the greatest thing ever.

L x

Like this? Try:

6 Childhood Literary Heroines You Didn’t Realise Were Feminists

The 8 Most Empowering Female Characters on TV


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