This is an excellent character study and contrast on behavior. Jane Eyre is a meek woman who slowly pulls herself out of a bleak existence she did not willingly enter. To the outside world she comes across as mild and unassuming, but she possess a sharp intelligence and a drive to be independent. She also does not pursue relationships or opportunities that devalue her and would cause her misery. But she is also willing to wait and not rush into things without fully considering the consequences of her actions. As a heroine she is an ideal character. She listens to advice but is confident enough in her own mind to form her own opinions. This is contrasted with some of the other female characters in the novel who seek instant gratification and are unwilling to put up with some unpleasantries in order to achieve a goal. And the main foil to Jane is Rochester, the “hero”. He is a conflicted soul who has scarified his own fulfillment in order to bring wealth to his family. He married a woman he should not have and has spent the rest of his life paying for that action. Also, he is bored and unwilling to wait. Whereas Jane is unwavering and consistent in her actions, Rochester is wild and unpredictable. The main difference is Jane refused to allow society to dictate her actions and Rochester was a product of societal expectations. I prefer the 2011 movie adaptation, which I previously reviewed.
Jane Eyre, Penguin, 2003, 9780142437209
A modern example of strong women in literature. In this book, Stockett explores the indignities of the Jim Crowe laws and southern culture in the 1960s. Eugenia “Skeeter” is a disappointment to her mother because she has yet to marry. After graduating college, Eugenia decided that she wanted more out of life than the Junior League and housekeeping. Instead, she longs to write but lacks inspiration. Until she decides to document the lives and stories of the black female servants who are the backbone of upper class Mississippian life. This launches her on a path of self-discovery and determination to end the injustices she sees in society. None of the male characters come across well in this novel. All of Skeeter’s love interests are bigots who do not support her ambitions. Skeeter is an excellent literary heroine and roll model. She refused to give up on her ambition despite her family pushing her to conform. And she fought to end the perpetuation of the mistreatment of the black community, even though most of polite society shunned her for this action. What I like about Skeeter’s character development is that she is able to pursue her passions without sacrificing her beliefs. A lot of authors put their characters in the conundrum of having to sacrifice their morals for the sake of ambition. It is a refreshing change to see a modern novel with a heroin who is able to pursue her passion and maintain a strong moral code of conduct.
The Help, Amy Einhorn Books, 2009, 9780399155345
I have mentioned this book several times, in a review and Top 5 Time Travel Novels. Not only is the narrative well crafted, I think the characters are excellently developed. In this series Claire Randall, the heroine, is catapulted back in time 200 years. Claire is married to Frank Randall and they are in the process of reconnecting after the end of World War II. During the war he worked intelligence and she was a combat nurse. They decide to take a second honeymoon in Scotland. While taking a walk one day, Claire stumbles upon some fairy stones that transport her back in time. Now she has to rely upon her own wits and skills to keep alive in 1745 Scotland. One of her biggest hurdles is adjusting to the societal norms of the day, women were not allowed the same degree of independence. What I like about Claire is that she never apologies for being herself. She is fiery and deeply independent, though this gets her in trouble numerous times. However, she also realizes that survival necessitates a certain change in behavior. She is still independent but in a slightly different manner. And I appreciate that Gabaldon made Claire incredibly conflicted over her marriage vows to Frank. Claire is not unfaithful to her marriage vows and only remarries out of dire necessity. I appreciate that Claire stuck to her morals and did not allow others to dictate her behavior.
Outlander, Dell Publishing Company, 2005, 9780440242949
This novel is generally considered to be Rand’s magnum opus and the culmination of her moral arguments. Rand supported the concept of individual responsibility, entrepreneurship, liberty, individualism, and keeping the government out of business. Atlas Shrugged takes the welfare state and collectivism to the logical conclusion and explores the break down in society. In the world of the book, the government mandates equal success across all industries. So no one business can gain the competitive advantage over another, everyone must be equal. Anyone perceived to be more successful than the majority must be taken down. Dagny Taggart is a business woman whose sole goal is to keep her family’s railroad in business. She goes to any lengths necessary to secure the materials and reliable man power. However, she is thwarted by a materialistic society and the lack of work ethic amongst the general populace. As a heroine Dagny possess many fine traits. She is strong willed, determined, allows no one to define what she can or cannot do, driven, well developed work ethic, and the strength to stand up for what she believes in. However, Dagny has the morals of an alley cat, she sleeps with almost all of the main male characters. This is a reflection of Rand’s own atheistic views and lack of belief in monogamy. Personally, I think Dagny undervalues herself and sells herself short by sleeping with multiple men. I would have ranked her higher but I think her loose morals are a mark against her.
Atlas Shrugged, Plume, 1999, 9780452011878
This is Mitchell’s one and only published novel. She penned this epic after being waylaid by a broken leg. According to legend, her husband tired of constantly going to the library and told her to write a book instead of reading them. So she gave the world the contentious love story of Scarlet O’Hara and Rhett Butler. As a heroine, Scarlett is rather horrid and temperamental. She mistreats everyone, steals her sister’s suitor, leads people on, and pursues her own selfish desires without any thought of how her actions might cause harm to others. However, despite her numerous faults, Scarlett possess several admirable traits. She goes to extreme lengths to keep herself and her companions, she has as shred head for business, and she possesses an unbreakable will power to rise above the indignities of poverty. In the end her own stubbornness causes her to wreck the only genuine relationship she ever cultivated. Now Rhett Butler was certainly a smooth talking cad, but he was definitely Scarlett’s equal. They both looked out for themselves above all others. The main difference being Rhett was interested in modifying his behavior and pursuing a genuine relationship. But Scarlett allowed her infatuation with Ashely to cloud her judgement and she never accepted Rhett until it was too late to save the relationship. Scarlett is an example of how selfishness and stubbornness can lead to abject misery and wrecked relationships.The 1939 movie is excellent.
Gone with the Wind, Grand Central Publishing, 1999, 9780446675536