A take on fictional pairings in literature through a feminist lens
What is feminism?
If you look it up on the internet, you will find several articles either defending it or calling it the worst thing to have happened to our generation.
This article will do neither.
Instead, it will take you on a journey through some of the best published works of fiction, relive the most heartfelt romantic moments in literature, and make you rethink some of those cherished pairings through a feminist lens.
Sounds fascinating? Hop on and enjoy the ride!
A sojourn through literature is incomplete without a glimpse at the classics — those old fables that keep growing better as they age. In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen shows us the flavour of feminism in those days with the bold and independent heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, who artfully challenges gender inequality.
She does this with panache while the rest of the women in the novel conform to the socially imposed gender norms of nineteenth-century England.
Instead of adapting her views to increase her chances of marriage, Elizabeth persistently refuses to relent. She defies traditional gender norms by subtly moulding Mr Darcy’s moral character to match her own. She also inspires Mr Darcy to set aside the pride he has in his high station in society before asking for her hand in marriage.
In a world where women like Caroline are accustomed to telling men what they would like to hear, Elizabeth is unabashed to stay true to her beliefs. A brilliant example of this is when Mr Darcy asks her for a dance at Netherfield, and she refuses by saying —
You wanted me, I know, to say ‘Yes,’ that you might have the pleasure of despising my taste; but I always delight in overthrowing those kinds of schemes, and cheating a person of their premeditated contempt. I have, therefore, made up my mind to tell you, that I do not want to dance a reel at all — and now despise me if you dare.
Mr Darcy’s reaction to her refusal reveals his love for women who speak their mind. Not only did he not object, but it was also stated that her refusal to dance with a male of the higher class made it clear how unapologetic she is in asserting her own mind.
This streak of independence in Elizabeth was what drew Mr Darcy to her instead of Caroline.
Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, Gone With The Wind examines feminism in the American Civil War and Reconstruction era. Her heroine, Scarlett O’Hara, is portrayed as a contrast to what was believed to be “proper” for women in that era.
Instead of adjusting her life to accommodate the requests of others around her, Scarlett is clear-headed and self-centred. She marries her first husband to spite her ex-lover Ashley, then marries her second husband to become financially stable, and finally marries Rhett Butler because the drab life of a widow was not up to her taste.
While talking about this novel, it is imperative to look upon a scene that has been the subject of many controversies over the years — one where Rhett discovers that Scarlett still has feelings for Ashley. He takes her by force to make it clear that because he is her husband, he can have her body and soul whether or not she wants it.
While this article does not intend to dwell on whether what Rhett did was ‘right’, the fact remains that Scarlett was smiling the morning after, revelling in the afterglow of whatever had transpired. This is disturbing, and yet, raises an important question: when a woman schemes and plots to marry a rich man, is giving in to his wishes a fair bargain?
Fiercely Independent Yennefer
This debate reminds me of another character in a show that has recently taken the world of web-series watchers by storm: The Witcher. Based on a series of novels of the same name written by Andrzej Sapkowski in 1992, The Witcher revolves around Geralt of Rivia — a monster-hunter who believes in living life large — one adventure at a time.
Though Geralt is the protagonist, one of the most memorable characters in the series is Yennefer of Vengerberg — a powerful sorceress believed to be Geralt’s soulmate. She is smart, passionate, resourceful and very, very beautiful. While everyone in The Witcher universe is awed by Geralt’s powers, Yennefer isn’t afraid to take him head-on and stand up to him when he says something that goes against her principles.
Over the course of the story, she develops romantic feelings for him. Even then, she is strong enough to rise above her emotions and part ways with Geralt when he assumes she will give up her life’s ambition just because she found “love” in him.
As the audience, we must thank Sapkowski for introducing us to such a badass female character so unapologetic in her feminity, and yet, unafraid to stand up to men if need be.
After all, how can we not love a woman who quotes,
The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.
The Strong-Willed Women of the Potterverse
Since one is talking about fantasy, can Harry Potter be left far behind? Rowling has written some strong female characters who leave their mark on the minds of the readers.
Among the Potterheads (especially the ones who haven’t read the books), there is a common grievance about why Hermione — the female lead of the series ended up with Ron and not Harry.
A careful read through the books makes it clear how balanced and well-keeled Ron and Hermione’s relationship is: she is ambitious, ruthless, hard-working and has a controlling streak that is difficult to ignore. After all, she was the one who prepared detailed homework charts for Harry and Ron that practically yelled at them when they were neglecting their work.
Ron, on the other hand, is laid-back, and yet, doesn’t hesitate to bring Hermione’s shortcomings to notice.
“HAVE YOU GONE MAD?” Ron bellowed. “ARE YOU A WITCH OR NOT?”
Hermione takes pride in her adherence to cool, clear logic while Ron is consumed with hot-headed passion splashed with insecurity. She tempers his rashness. He draws her out of the grave world of pure logic. Together, their pairing provides a yin-yang balance Hermione would never have achieved without Ron.
Harry, on the other hand, hates being controlled, and Ginny gives him the space he desires. She is mature, emotionally stable (she accepted it very well when Harry broke up with her), and not clingy (unlike Cho who expected Harry to “fix” her). She and Harry have a history of trauma and a penchant for dark self-deprecating humour that draws them to each other.
Ginny knows when to tell Harry off. She is the only one who has had the experience of being possessed by Voldemort — something that makes Harry’s connection to her stronger. She brings the kind of stability and security into Harry’s life that he has longed for throughout his childhood days spent at the Dursleys’.
In literature, as in real life, feminism reflected in relationships is all about women being assertive and independent. It is about them working for their own happiness and not depending on men to make their lives alright.
It is about each partner helping the other see their flaws and work on them. It does not concern with blindly agreeing to whatever a partner says because that is how “true love” is supposed to be.
After all, what good is “true love” without compatibility and the space to grow?
Feminism is more about balance than equality.
Without balance, can there ever be happiness in love?
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