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Category Archives: Character Reflections Series

Characters Series: Heroines in the Worst of Times

When I was a kid, I wished that I could do something really BIG and dramatic that would save the day.  I think that I still do have this desire, and I think it is a common one.  We humans want to know that our lives have a purpose and meaning.  It’s all very well to talk about character when things in life are going so nicely.  Of course, character is needed in everyday life.  But it’s so much harder when you’re in the midst of scary events. 

We’re usually not aware of these kinds of heroines until we put them in the context of history.  The real-life heroines are the most admirable, for they show us that it is possible to have integrity for real and that it’s not just for fiction.  One of my personal favorites ever since I was little has been Queen Esther—Persian queen (Jewish commoner) in disguise!  Even though she was in the prime of life and could easily talk herself out of it, she felt a duty to go to the king on behalf of her people because she could do something. 

One our favorite Lord of the Rings quotes goes something like this: 

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. 

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”  

Thinking of history not that long past, there are the character role models of Diet Eman and Corrie ten Boom.  They were also both women in the prime of life who did what they could while their country was occupied by the Nazi regime.  I cannot think of anything more terrifying than facing a concentration camp, yet that is what they risked experiencing (and did experience) because of their belief that all people matter.  What heart, what courage these women modeled!  Come to think of it, why else do heroes do what they do, other than because of their value for human life and freedom?  In the moment of their action, they put aside their safety and sometimes very lives for the treasuring of another. 

I have never read the book, but I recently watched the movie The Help for the first time.  This story is full of women in a particular place (deep Southern America) in a particular time (violently racial 1960’s).  Some did what was popular and easy in the community—letting others bully them as to their personal decisions and relationships.  Others saw their neighbors as human beings with souls.  And still others decided to take a stand, to say ‘enough is enough’, and try to help each other in the middle of what was impossible conditions.  They were scared; they were hesitant at first or said no at the beginning, because they were risking so much.  But each decided that their friends and family were more important than their present fear and took the step forward that eventually became fruitful.  No longer ‘Strange Fruit.’ 

Sometimes heroines will never see the fruit of their labors.  In Tangled Ashes (Michele Phoenix), Marie is a seventeen-year-old girl living in an obscure village in France during WWII.  She is just an ordinary teenager, but living in extraordinary times.  She is forced to serve in a nearby manor house where strange and secretive things are taking place under the German occupation.  She “hears nothing, she sees nothing”– until she is forced to face the facts that her best friend is pregnant with an enemy soldier.  Suddenly, she cannot live for her preservation alone.  She has a tiny, innocent life to look after and it ends up costing her dearly.  But her love puts others first, and she has to trust that her courageous actions are more important in the long run. 

What becomes of the people we have influence over?  Maybe we will never know.  Or maybe their lives will touch others in a great, wide ripple effect that never stops.  All we can do is strive to pass on a heritage that will be life-giving and honoring for others.  And maybe this idea is not relegated to the big, grandiose acts of queens, but starts with the everyday little yeses and considerations in this world. 

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2: 3,4) 

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Characters Series: Heroines with Names

What’s in a name? Really, I mean it. I recently heard accomplished professional say that the only thing you really own in life is your name. Our pastor preached a sermon on Sunday in which he told us he would give us two names to see how we would respond to each. The first was: Adolph Hitler. After a few seconds of gag reflex, he then gave us the name of our beloved pastor emeritus who is battling cancer. Immediately, a warm feeling and smile came to our minds. This is because name is actually made up of reputation. Reputation is made up of actions taken, or not taken. And our actions come from what we believe deep down. Jesus said that the one who hears His words and puts them into practice would be a Wise Man, and the one who hears and does nothing is a Foolish Man. Two names, two different reputations because of their choices in life.

It seems that many are flippant about the value of their name in this day and age. It used to be that a woman’s honor and reputation was a very precious thing to be protected at all cost. This can be easily observed among the ladies of Jane Austen’s fictional worlds. Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters do not have very much money to entice worthy gentlemen to marry them. However, they still have their dignity if they so choose. The youngest sisters (Lydia, in particular) flaunt themselves in public and behave in totally juvenile and inappropriate ways. Elizabeth is worried about what this communicates to others.  But we are only responsible for our own actions, and as Elizabeth’s father tells her, “Wherever you and Jane are known you must be respected and valued; and you will not appear to less advantage for having a couple of—or I may say, three—very silly sisters.”  When Lydia runs away with Wickham, it does cast an unfortunate shadow across the entire family.  It takes men of excellent character- Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy- to look past that and recognize the treasure to be found in the two oldest Bennet girls.

Another Jane Austen character is also not so careful. In “Northanger Abbey,” Catherine’s friend Isabella Thorpe goes out of her way to attract male losers in Bath. Once she has sullied her reputation, she no longer has the respect of others. Her story is a sad one with no happy ending. Incidentally, Austen draws a connection here between a girl’s reading material and the lifestyle she chooses to emulate. Thank goodness our heroine Catherine finds better friends to hang around with before it’s too late!

Does this mean that a person’s good name once lost is lost forever? We certainly don’t have to live or die by others’ opinions of us, but it is very difficult to gain one’s integrity back again. That is why it is so valuable. Proverbs tells us that a good name is more desirable than great riches, to be esteemed better than silver or gold (21:1). And Proverbs 3:4 says, “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.”

Unfortunately, it is popular in this #metoo culture to be found guilty based solely on the seriousness of the charge. A lot of good reputations have been shot down where there was plenty of accusation in the absence of crime. A heroine named Hero [don’t ask me how she got that name] finds this to be the case in Shakespeare’s famous play “Much Ado About Nothing.” Hero is engaged to Claudio, but an enemy spreads lies about her virginity and she is horribly accused at the altar. A state of mayhem ensues and Hero suffers miserably. We cannot always control what others think of us, and we are only responsible for our own actions before God. But Hero is lucky to have one who challenges her accuser to a duel to defend her honor. (This was obviously back in the day when gentlemen did such things). Because a good name is worth fighting for.

In real life, Billy Graham knew this well. I do not know of a more devoted couple than he and his wife, Ruth. Mrs. Graham asserted that even though her husband was often away on evangelistic duties, the times when he was home was worth more to her than if she had left him for someone else. And the Rev. Graham always maintained his marital loyalty by living by what is now called “the Billy Graham rule” (never being alone with another woman). Many may not follow this lifestyle for different reasons, but the risks do increase. How refreshing to know of two faithful souls who loved God and each other and modeled grace to us!

Another respectable real-life person that has recently passed away is First Lady Barbara Bush. Even if a person doesn’t care for Bush politics, I think deep down most would have to agree that she exemplified good character with good humor. Another Proverb says that “a kindhearted woman gains respect…”

Now more than ever, we need role models whose names inspire us to live similar lives of integrity. We need to be people who value our reputations, so that others will see God reflected through us and praise Him. We need the next generation to know what a good character looks like, amidst a world that says one thing and lives another. What is your name worth?

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2018 in Character Reflections Series

 

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Character Reflections Series: Resourceful Heroines

I haven’t done one of these posts for a long, long time and I think it’s about time to resurrect them, don’t you think?

One of the traits I admire in heroines (real or fictional) are the ones who are clever, –as in innovative or resourceful.  Not everyone has a lot of money, and maybe the ones who do are the ones who have been clever and resourceful as well.  More great ideas have been bred out of need than luxury.  It gives me inspiration to hear of how somone survives an ordeal by using what they have in a pickle.  Businesses have been born, lives saved, and frontiers won by many a hero/heroine who has thought up a great strategy for surviving and thriving.

Who are some literary heroines we can think of who fit this bill?  The first ones that come to mind are experiencing a resurgence in popularity lately (due to the new movie Little Women): Jo March and her sisters!  The March family had once upon a time been a fairly wealthy one, but have fallen upon hard times in the years during the war.  As the young girls find out, it’s not a lot of fun to be strapped. Especially when all your friends can afford beautiful ball gowns and limes.  But it doesn’t prevent them from living fully in any case.  They invent their own ways to amuse and entertain themselves– putting on plays, writing stories, making gifts.  Their stage props are made out of curtains and houseplants, but they make do with imagination.

“Being still too young to go often to the theater, and not rich enough to afford any great outlay for private performances, the girls put their wits to work, and– necessity being the mother of invetion– made whatever they needed.  Very clever were some of their productions– pasteboard guitars, antique lamps made out of old-fashioned butter boats covered with silver paper, gorgeous robes of old cotton, glittering with tin spangles from a pickle factory, and armor covered with the same useful diamond-shaped bits, left in sheets when the lids of tin preserve pots were cut out.  The furniture was used to being turned topsy-turvy, and the big chamber was the scene of many innocent revels.”

~”Little Women,” by Louisa May Alcott

In fact, a large portion of a chapter details their theater inventions.  I remember reading Little Women when I was about 12 years old and this Christmas play of theirs was one of my favorite parts.  My sister and I used to mimic the March girls and come up with all sorts of ingenious substitutes for swords, costumes and props out of anything we could find in the house.  We turned “Ivanhoe” by Sir Walter Scott into a 75 page play (which we memorized) and veggie platters became our knights’ shields, ski masks our helmets, and swaths of solid polyester material that were left over from grandma’s quilt backings were our costumes held together with safety pins.  I think the only thing we bought for the entire thing was a red lightbulb for the dungeon scene.  Homemade makes better memories!

Learning to be inventive from an early age serves well in later life.  For one thing, you can think faster on your feet.  Now, this I can’t personally claim, but I did get an idea from our next heroines that aided me in a cause just today.  I recently finished the mystery novel, “Strong Poison” by Dorothy L. Sayers, where Lord Peter Wimsey (aristocratic sleuth) is determined to find a young woman innocent of a crime he knows she didn’t commit.  Of course, Lord Peter has connections that many others don’t and has an entire “Cattery” of female workers in his employ when he needs someone to infiltrate a place for info.  This is where Miss Climpson and Miss Murchison enter the picture.  These two ladies aren’t exactly what one would usually picture as heroines.  They are beyond the prime of life, spinsters, and lacking sex appeal.  That makes them perfect “spies” whom nobody suspects as having ulterior motives.  However, there is a moment when Miss Murchison is almost found out.  Her supervisor happens across her just at the moment when she is about to discover something!  Her quick thinking saves the scheme and herself, but she has to play timid and dumb.  Then there is the older Miss Climpson.  If ever there was an award for ingenuity, she would get the prize.  By her quick wits, she weedles her way into a complete stranger’s house and makes out with a person’s will!  All in the name of attaining justice, of course.  It gave me an idea today; not in stealing or anything else illegal of course, but in attaining access to a place at a time when I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.  Thanks, Miss Climpson!

So what if you’re not a plainclothes detective?  What if you’re just an ordinary person in everyday life?  Maybe life feels dull, but how to spruce it up without the dramatics?  Let us turn to Jerusha “Judy” Abbott, one of my favorite heroines from one of my favorite novels, “Daddy Long Legs” (Jean Webster).  Judy is at college, surrounded by friends who come from impressive backgrounds.  Judy doesn’t have all of the perks their families provide.  She has to make her own way in the world.  This means making her own way when it comes to everyday things, as well.  As she tells her benefactor:

“Do you care you care to know how I’ve furnished my room?  It’s a symphony in brown and yellow.  The walls were tinted buff, and I’ve bought yellow denim curtains and cushions and a mahogany desk (secondhand for three dollars) and a rattan chair and a brown rug with an ink spot in the middle.  I stand the chair over the spot.
“The windows are high up; you can’t look out from an ordinary seat.  But I unscrewed the looking glass from the back of the bureau, upholstered the top, and moved it up against the window.  It’s just the right height for a window seat.  You pull out the drawers like steps and walk up.  Very comfortable!”

I’ve certainly had experience with decorating on a budget.  A few years ago I was dead set on decorating my bedroom in 1970’s pink and purple, like Rhoda’s apartment on the Mary Tyler Moore show.  But paint is expensive and I really couldn’t afford much.  Then I saw a sale in my local hardware store flyer for sample paint $2 a can (limit 2).  Guess what?  Since my bedroom is small, I was able to paint it in 2 pint sized cans of pink and purple paint alternating walls, with an old kitchen baster for a paintbrush.  I don’t think there was a drop of paint left by the end of it all, but I have a colorful bedroom to say the least.  A few thrift finds and a quilt made by my mom and grandma and I live in pink bliss!

So how about you?  Are there ways you find to be inventive in your life?  Are there any heroines you look to for inspiration?  Share below!

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2018 in Character Reflections Series

 

Character Reflections Series: Heroines Who Explore

372c66a171300933e6dd929f738cb84eIt’s been a while since I’ve written a Character Reflections Post (mainly centering on heroines, rather than heroes), so I think it’s high time I added another article to this subject!

I enjoy many different genres, and yet just about any of the books I read have a common theme connecting them together.  The books I love appeal to my sense of adventure.  Which might seem sort of strange if you knew me in person because I don’t really strike anyone as a LIVE OUT LOUD kind of girl.  What is adventure exactly?  We know it contains an element of risk, but why risk?  Because it’s the exploring of the unknown.  We don’t really know what will happen, and it will either take courage or foolishness (depending on the endeavor) to follow through with the adventure.

Today I want to focus on the exploration aspect of adventure.  There are many kinds of exploration, not necessarily the kinds that will take a character through the secret passageways of ancient pyramid in Egypt.  Are you an explorer?  Every human starts out life as an explorer.  As babies, we first discover our fingers, then our toes.  Once we can focus on objects and distinguish mommy and daddy, we move on to crawling, then walking and getting into all sorts of trouble!  As we grow older, some of us lose that childlike sense of wonder and awe of the world.  That’s when grown-ups get old and stuffy and why I never wanted to grow up when I was a kid.  But I’ve since learned that adulthood doesn’t have to be that way.  We can still be mindful to look at God’s world with new eyes every day, and that is the essence of childhood.  I love this quote by J . R. Tolkien:

“Children are meant to grow up, and not to become Peter Pans. Not to lose innocence and wonder, but to proceed on the appointed journey…”

39fc26dbc95d073b4e5c2b6133c9bf51Some of us will admit we still love to read childrens’ stories.  The best childrens’ literature speak to adults just as much, if not more so, than to children.  They include timeless truths that weedle their way into our hearts better than most non fiction does.  Think of some of your favorite childrens’ stories; I’ll bet they include exploration of some sort.  The Giver, by Lois Lowry is a dystopian/sci-fi novel about children who explore the world they never knew surrounded them—a world of color and emotion.  Edith Nesbits’ stories are about children who explore their own world with the added element of magic.  And who doesn’t love exploring the magical world of Narnia with the Pevensies?  It all starts with the youngest of the siblings: a little heroine named Lucy who explores a wardrobe and then a new world because she has a childlike heart of faith and adventure.  Then there is Susan.  Susan is always the kill-joy of the group.  It’s understandable.  She’s the oldest sister with a mother-hen personality.  She experiences human fear, but don’t we all?  It takes courage to embark on adventure, coupled with a healthy dose of discernment and wisdom.  But in Prince Caspian, Susan worries to the point that it hinders her capacity for doing what needs to be done.  She wants to abandon the adventure in lieu of safety back home.  It’s easier to be that kind of character.  But it is Lucy who is remembered as the series’ heroine.

It doesn’t take magic to explore.  Another great children’s novel is the 1957 classic, “Gone-Away Lake,” by Elizabeth Enright.  In this book, Portia and her cousin Julian explore the local woods surrounding her aunt and uncle’s house.  They observe butterflies, birds, mineral rocks, moss, and other natural specimens.  But then they discover their biggest find of all: an abandoned vacation lake town and the elderly couple who lives there.  What have you discovered while stepping out your comfort zone?  Exploring adds mystery and color to life and keeps us young.

6f1bdc5a752501c5cc6ff2a9f52b65c7It can also humble us.  Sometimes I think some of the hardest people to get along with are the people who “know it all already” and never grow, change, or learn.  They stay in the same spiritual, emotional, mental rut that they were in 20 years ago and refuse to consider that someone else’s viewpoint could be valid.  I’m sure we all know someone like that, and maybe we act like that a time or two!  A heroine who discovers that perhaps she doesn’t hold all the answers to the world’s problems is Margaret Hale from North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell.  Her world is turned upside down when her family moves to a place she never wanted to go to and she now has to adjust to new culture and ideas.  As she learns from those around her, she realizes that there isn’t just one perfect way to do life.  And she grows as a person because she has explored other ways of thinking instead of being comfortable with her own opinions.

“…to search out a matter is the glory of kings,” the Bible says (Provebs. 25:2).  It also tells us in Psalm 4:4, “search your hearts and be silent.”  A quality of character growth includes exploring our own lives to see if something needs dealt with, confessed, or healed.  This might take the biggest courage of all.  Some people explore the world and all it has to offer just to avoid this vital kind of exploration.  But their personal problems sooner or later catch up with them.  Hayley finds this out in The Trophy Wives Club, by Kristin Billerbeck.  Divorced at 28, she has to do some deep soul-searching so she can move on with her life and not repeat the same mistakes she made in the past.  How did she get to where she was in the present?  What was her personal responsibility and what wasn’t?  Who is she now?  What does she want to be and where does she want to go?  These questions aren’t answered at just one time in our lives, but over and over throughout our lifelong journey.

Heroines are capable of exploration and adventure.  Let’s not forget real-life heroines, like Sacajawea who played an important part of the Lewis and Clark expedition.  Or Mary Kingsley, the 1800’s British explorer of Africa.  Amelia Earhart: pioneer of aeronautics.  And Marie Curie, physicist, chemist, and researcher of radioactivity.  We can read about these inspiring females and the roles they played in history and explore the world from an armchair!

What are some of your favorite heroines who explore, whether famous, fictional, family member or friend?

 

 
 

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Character Reflections Series: Heroines Who Struggle Well

78982c33e1ba86434ee23410b15361e5When I’m going through something (whether it’s a good or bad life event), I often look to fictional heroines’ lives in books to see how they handled whatever it was they were going through.  It gives me some sort of comfort, makes me feel less lonely.  I think it also gives me hope that if I’m faithful to live out what I’ve been called to, good things will come out of the situation.  It also helps lift my head a little higher, knowing that a stressful situation can be an opportunity to live out a heroine’s life (for as we all know, there are no heroes without conflict).

At the same time, comparing myself to some fictional characters can make me hang my head with guilt and shame that I’m not living up to what I think should be.  At this point, I guess it’s important to remember that they are only fictional characters in a book.  They’re not living in my shoes, and no one is perfect.  But still, fictional characters can always teach us something.

Have you ever read a book that you absolutely loved because you identified with the realistic heroine, only to read a one star review about it online where it was criticized because the main character was ‘too whiney’?  That just irks me.  I happen not to like stories where the characters are perfect, never have anything to learn, always respond graciously to all circumstances (it makes me feel as though she’s in denial), and are greatly rewarded for all their good behavior in the end.  Basically they are unchanged by the end of the story.  I dislike these ‘good girls’ mainly because I know I can never be that, and so I can’t identify.  Humans are more complex than just all good or all bad.

But there are many heroines who are so in the true sense of the word.  They start out with character flaws.  They end with character flaws (hopefully fewer).  But somewhere in the middle, they struggle and fail and journey and are refined because of it all.

1365690574f9d030318870dd82ede0edI think this is why we enjoy Jane Austen’s characters so much (particularly Emma and Lizzie).  I heard someone once say they didn’t like “Sense and Sensibility” because they didn’t like Marianne Dashwood.  She probably wouldn’t look so bad to us if she didn’t have such a glaring contrast to be compared with in her sister Elinor.  I always kind of felt a kinship with Marianne, partly because she’s probably the one Jane Austen character I’m most like.  It’s true she has much to learn.  She is all about romance and emotions and is so easily led by them.  Consequently, she cares little for the feelings of others.  But she learns the hard way and does learn to be more self-restrained in the end.  She learns to value people by their virtue, as opposed to their words and passions.  Only then does she enter into a happiness that she might have otherwise missed: a future with the honorable Colonel Brandon, who has also suffered through much.

Having recently finished Elizabeth Gaskell’s “North and South,” I am struck by such a wonderful heroine as we find in Margaret Hale.  She could have easily been written as a ‘goodie-goodie’, and I think that would have completely ruined the story.  But instead, she is human.  She has very strong, prejudiced opinions, treats those whom she disagrees with in a disdainful manner, and even lies to the authorities out of fear.  Margaret finds it isn’t so easy to be a heroine:

“…she remembered promising to herself to live s brave and noble a life as any heroine she ever read or heard of in romance, a life peur et sans reproche; it had seemed to her then that she had only to will, and such a life would be accomplished.  And now she had learnt that not only to will, but also to pray, was a necessary condition in the truly heroic.  Trusting to herself, she had fallen.”

Throughout the course of the story, Margaret undergoes a lot of fiery trials.  I don’t think I could have had the courage to endure it.  At one point, she is so overwhelmed that she has a breakdown and needs time to process and heal.  But by the end of the novel, we see a strong, shining heroine with much different views than the ones she held at the beginning.

I guess it isn’t so much how perfectly a person endures, –it’s the ones who are willing to learn and be changed for the better that makes a hero or heroine.  Not everyone comes through tough circumstances the same way.  Some take the easy road into bitterness and negativity.  But we don’t call those people heroes.

a6d7335af5d8a429289f7c8f843de31dI think of Fanny in “An Old Fashioned Girl,” by Louisa May Alcott.  No, she is not the main character the title is talking about.  In fact, in three quarters of the book, she is the contrast to the ‘good’  old-fashioned girl, Polly.  If you’ve ever read this story and you’re like me, you probably saw Fanny as an annoying girl you’d like to slap.  But something happens in a sort of climax of the tale.  Her previously well-to-do father loses all his money, and although this is devastating to the family, it forces Fanny to brush up on some qualities she didn’t know she had.  She becomes more compassionate, less selfish, more creative, and her loyalty and hard work shines through.  Other people of like-noble characters are attracted to her and want to be around her.  Who would have thought at the start of the book that annoying Fanny could be such a heroine!

I guess that means there’s hope for me.

What are some of your favorite imperfect heroines?

 
 

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Character Reflections Series – On Self-Possession W/ Dignity

statue of liberty

“The kind of beau I want most Is the hard-to-get kind that comes from within– strength, courage, dignity.” ~Ruby Dee

*This is my first post in this series, and already I’m changing it around a bit!  I changed the title to Character Reflections.  Probably more experimenting in the months to follow…

Something that has really been catching my attention in the books I read and movies I watch lately are characters (in particular female) who seem to be so self-possessed.  I think this has been on my mind of late because it is an important character trait I’ve discovered I was totally lacking in, and have been studying and growing this area the last several months.  I often find that when I’m learning something new, whether it be a new word, a new topic, etc., I keep running into it.  Maybe it’s because I’m more aware of it now than I used to be!

By self-possession, I’m talking about a person who knows who they are, knows their own mind, stands their ground and doesn’t waver on their convictions.  Someone who knows how and where to set boundaries.  This is a strong, admirable trait to have.  You know what defines you, what you like and don’t like, what interests you and what doesn’t, or at least you’re in the process of learning and exploring!  You decide what you can compromise on or not, what you will accept from others, what you won’t.   You also decide what your values are, and you don’t turn into a mushy chameleon when you come across a situation that threatens to redefine you.  It’s called having convictions.  What is the point of having convictions if we let go of them in the face of some opposition?

She is clothed with strength and dignity;      she can laugh at the days to come.In the Book of Proverbs 31, we read of an admirable lady described as being clothed with ‘strength and dignity.’  I like that phrase.  What do you picture in your mind’s eye when you think of a woman clothed in strength and dignity?  I see a woman shining with internal beauty, with a self-controlled, calm and satisfied smile on her face.  She is comfortable with herself and able to respond in healthy ways to others.

I particularly want to zero in on the word dignity.  A good definition for dignity is: bearing, conduct, or speech indicative of self-respect.  Self-respect- that’s key here.  You have to know yourself, like yourself, appreciate yourself, esteem yourself, and ultimately respect yourself.  All of which results in a character of dignity. Why am I choosing female characters in particular who model self-possession and dignity?  Don’t I think men can act with dignity?  Of course.  But I’m leaning female here probably because A)- I’m a woman and read many books where the lead character is female.  But B)- also because I think women tend to naturally sell themselves short.

There are lots of good quality heroines out there who exhibit this strong character trait.  And believe me, it does take strength to stand by yourself!  There’s a world out there full of people and circumstances that will tempt us to abandon ourselves, leading us to believe lies that if we’re different, we’re somehow not worth it.  Or that if you stand by what’s important to you, you’re selfish (another lie).  When we refuse to abandon ourselves, we won’t be so easily manipulated by others.  Persuasion (2007)Like Anne in “Persuasion,” by Jane Austen.  When the story begins, we soon learn that Anne is miserable over a decision she made years ago to be persuaded by a mother-figure to abandon her heart.  This aunt or family friend (I can’t remember which) was not an enemy, but a well-intending friend.  Well-meaning people in our lives are the hardest to say no to and set boundaries with.  We care about them and they care about us!  But we need to know ourselves and take care of what’s our responsibility or else we will always be unhappy, wondering why no one takes us seriously, why we feel like the juvenile who needs to be babysat, why people think we need them to make our decisions for us, why we feel inferior.  The word codependent comes to mind.  Anne’s decision could have never had a second chance, but fortunately for our heroine there was later an opportunity to right it.  Not everyone has that chance.  How much happiness are we giving up, potentially life altering happiness, because we are being driven along by someone else’s definition of who we are and what we need?

Pollyanna comes to mind.  In “Pollyanna Grows Up by Eleanor H. Porter” (sequel to “Pollyanna”), our heroine is in the middle of a love triangle.  The one she truly loves has just proposed, but she knows there are potentially two other men who love her.  One is a previously jilted lover, the other lacks the use of his legs.  Pollyanna has such a compassionate heart for those who are hurting and less fortunate, but this tenderness goes overboard when she comes dangerously close to forfeiting her life’s happiness away!  Although humorous, Pollyanna tells her true love that before promising to marry him, she will wait to see if the jilted lover will propose because she feels so sorry for him she will have to say yes!  It’s a good thing her Mr. Right is so ridiculously patient!

One of the things I’ve been noticing in myself is that the more I learn to respect myself, the more certain things become anathema to me.  Things like negative self-talk (calling myself stupid or ding-dong or fat); certain behaviors like juvenile arguments over petty things; or wearing certain clothes (stuff that makes me feel frumpy and ugly, or clothes that reveal too much).  I learn to care for myself better.

“Nothing is more impressive than a person who is secure in the unique way God made her.” ~Unknown

I believe a person of self-respect means being a very secure individual as well.  Being secure doesn’t drive you to be desperate or compulsive or to sell your soul or body to something or someone.  We can think in small or extreme instances.   It could be a girl giving all she has to her boyfriend because she thinks no one else will have her.  This is often a sad occurrence.  I wish so much that girl could learn to value herself, and realize she doesn’t need someone else to define her.  It’s a type of slavery! I’m not talking Women’s Lib here, I’m talking about not giving what’s important to you away because you don’t think you’re worth better.  Or it could be you’re afraid of another person’s anger.  Fear of anger controls a person and soon you are going against your own grain and putting yourself under their rule of thumb.  That is a type of slavery, too.  Something I’m definitely working on.  It’s hard work!!

When you recognize yourself as having great value, you begin to treat yourself as such.  Soon others will see a difference, whether or not they can put a finger on it or accept it.  Being a person of dignity means there will be conflict.  But what’s a good story without conflict? That’s how heroines are made!  A person of self-respect recognizes what hurts them and takes measures to protect themselves.  Sometimes you need to walk away & acknowledge your own worthIn the book, “Fatal Deduction,” by Gayle Roper, single mother Libby has learned to set a lot of boundaries to protect herself and her daughter from the negative influences of her family and ex-boyfriend Eddie.  I can’t imagine how difficult and lonely this must be for someone going it alone!  It definitely takes a lot of courage, esp. when you’re dealing with unhealthy family relationships.  When she realizes that the poisonous attitudes of her mother and grandmother, the wounding ulterior motives of her sister, and the selfish actions of Eddie are not healthy for them, Libby limits time with them (and in the case of Eddie, totally breaks off contact).  Instead, she makes new, healthy relationships with caring neighbors.

Although this is the toughest of all tough situations, a person who sticks by their God-given convictions will be willing to die for them, such as in the timid yet tried and true character of Hadassah in “A Voice in the Wind,” by Francine Rivers.  This young slave girl had many opportunities to take the easy road.  In the thick of debauched Rome, handsome Marcus is tempting her in the matter of sexuality, and the hostile attitude of those against Christianity makes her feel afraid to admit her faith.  Yet she takes a stand for her love for God, and decides to remain faithful to what she knows in her heart she has been called toward- purity and devotion to her Savior.

Most books are written about young and beautiful heroines.  But dignity can make a heroine out of anyone (unless you’re a guy, of course!  Ha ha).  In the book I am currently reading, “The Amethyst Heart,” by Penelope Stokes we have the admirable character of Amethyst Noble, a woman of dignity and self-possession at 93 years of age.  Though an old lady, this woman knows her own mind and what her life stands for, and won’t back down even to her irresponsible son, Conrad.  This legacy of strength was passed on down to her from her grandparents, and throughout the course of the story Amethyst gets the opportunity to pass it in turn to her great-granddaughter.  What a wonderful inheritance to receive and what an everlasting treasure that will remain when all else fades!

Image detail for -Beautiful sad and lonely woman with umbrella walking in wheat field ...  www.123rt.comSometimes staying true to yourself is rough and hard.  It’s something to learn and practice, and I am learning to accept my attempts to progress even when not perfect.  But I know how utterly miserable it can be when you abandoned you own desires, feelings, and convictions.  You begin to not know who you are, what you want, what you feel anymore.  No matter how hard it is, there is more freedom in staying true to yourself and your convictions than there is in selling out to every whim of doctrine, every pushy person, every hip trend, or every decision handed out by the Supreme Court.

Nothing maddens me more than when I recognize a character in a situation where they are giving away their freedom to someone else.  I don’t get mad at the character themselves really, it’s just I’m angry at the situation they aren’t able to see themselves in.  Or maybe they can see it, but are unable to help themselves.  This could be in the fictional realm, or in the real world.  You see it in the news all the time.

I used to be there myself.  Sometimes I still relapse and go back to my old habits.  But I am getting more free everyday, and that’s what counts!

What are your favorite heroines who exhibit self-possession with dignity?

Other fine reading on related subjects:

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Posted by on August 7, 2013 in Character Reflections Series

 

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