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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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