Article: Heroines in Fiction

By Sherri Wilson Johnson, author of To Dance Once More and Song of the Meadowlark, both published by Oak Tara. To find out more about Sherri, visit www.sherriwilsonjohnson.com.

There are many great heroines in fiction…too many to list here. But one thing is for sure: You’ve got to have a great heroine to make a story worth reading. The last thing you want is for your heroine to park herself there on the page like a limp piece of lettuce when she is faced with a trial. Yes, there has to be hardship. She has to be up against a villain which seems almost too great to conquer.

anne of green gablesOne of my favorite fictional heroines is Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery. She is the melodramatic orphan who makes much out of nothing most of the time and gets into more trouble than most of the folks in town think she is worth. She is misunderstood and bumbles her way through most of her encounters with people. Her arch nemesis is Gilbert, who teases her, calls her carrot, and makes life miserable for her. She refuses to believe that her heart could fall for such a young man. But it does. Eventually, she rises to the top and conquers her villains and goes on to win the hearts of many.

It doesn’t take much to remember Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and how she fought a host of metaphorical cyclones before being able to reach her main goal. At first she wants to run away from home to protect her best friend and dog, Toto. A cyclone picks up her house and Dorothy is dropped in Munchkin land. Of course what is really going on is some sort of unconscious state and while in it, she battles a witch. The funny thing is: her goal is to go home when before she wanted nothing more than to run away. Along the way she picks up some misfits and they experience a mutually symbiotic relationship. Dorothy encourages each one to conquer fears and setbacks and they provide her with the support she needs. She’s the heroine but couldn’t have accomplished her goal without their help.

Belle from Beauty and the Beast is another favorite heroine of mine because she takes her imprisonment and turns it into a learning and growing experience. She selflessly helps the beast (out of fear at first) become less beastly. Even though she worries about her father who is searching for her, she knows she has to make the best of her situation. Of course, she falls in love with the beast, which is the second brute she has encountered on her journey. Belle brings light to an otherwise dark place.

Hopefully, you all know Elizabeth Bennet from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. If not, you must read the book or watch the movie! Elizabeth (Lizzy) seems on the outside to be untouched by her circumstances in life, which happen to involve being the daughter of a farmer and a meddling, over-the-top, matchmaking mother. Her younger sisters are all about coming out in society. Her eldest sister wants love but is shy and has a hard time conveying her feelings to the man who adores her. Lizzy pretends to be fine without the love of a man but when she meets Mr. Darcy, her heart betrays her when it flutters for the first time. Of course, wanting love and not wanting to admit it does not make Elizabeth a heroine. There are many other women in Pride and Prejudice who want those same things.

As it turns out, Mr. Darcy considers Elizabeth hardly worthy of his valuable time and pays her little mind. Elizabeth has much more to do other than fall in love so she dismisses any thoughts of Darcy from her mind. She spends much of her time trying to protect her younger sisters from the wolves of men out there who only want to use them. She tries desperately to protect her family’s good name. With very little money, none of Mr. Bennet’s daughters have much of a chance of marrying into society although Mrs. Bennet embarrassingly tries to find wealthy husbands for them. Lizzy becomes a true heroine when she battles multiple adversaries in an effort to bring happiness to her entire family. Her biggest adversary turns out to be Mr. Darcy’s aunt who hates Elizabeth and her entire family and who forbids her to come near Darcy. Of course by this time, they have fallen madly in love with each other and are too stubborn to admit it. Elizabeth plays a huge role in saving the family farm and name but I won’t spoil it for you (just in case you haven’t read the book or seen one of the productions of it.)

Have you ever noticed that the heroine of a story is usually the underdog? Whatever it is that she wants to accomplish or needs to accomplish seems to be too big for her. She’s an average Jane trying to defeat an insurmountable foe. That is what makes you want her to win so badly. It’s what keeps you reading the story or watching the movie. A heroine usually has a flaw according to the world. She is overweight or has a big nose or is socially awkward. Maybe she comes from the wrong side of the tracks. These are the likely heroines. Sometimes the heroine is the richest girl in town who has let money blind her. Sometimes she’s just plain old selfish. These heroines are usually someone’s villain and we may not like them in the beginning.

johnson-to dance once more 9.29.13This is the type of woman Lydia, my heroine in To Dance Once More, is. She is a debutante who desires to leave behind the traditional role of a woman. She wants to travel the world and do exactly what she wants when she wants to do it. Then when love begins to blossom in her heart, she discovers a horrible secret that will change her life forever. She refuses to accept her fate even though it means destroying her family. She is up against many foes and it is not until she surrenders her will that she can find true happiness.

I am reminded of the many Biblical heroines we’ve read about for generations. Although not fictional, they are heroines just the same. Esther became Queen despite the odds. Although God ordained her to be Queen, she had to do her part to be noticed by Xerxes. She had to swallow her fear in order to save her people. Ruth had to leave behind everything she knew, follow her mother-in-law Naomi, and place herself in Boaz’s field in order to save Naomi’s life and secure her own future. Deborah had to turn in the spies that were in her town in order to save her family. And the greatest heroine of all…Mary, the mother of Jesus. She risked her reputation to carry the Savior! What more of an example do we need to have courage and faith to conquer our fears and our villains?

The heroine is someone we root for despite her imperfections. Although we hope she can get away from her predicament, most of the time she conquers it, changes it, and makes it better. And she becomes a better person. Why do we love the heroine so much? A heroine makes us believe that our trials are not so bad and she helps us solve our problems. She gives us faith that a brighter day beams in the future.

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