Best Literary Female Characters

Women are as diverse and individual as books themselves, and this has been reflected (sometimes) very well by literature – in fact arguably more so than in any other medium. Anyone can write books; the same cannot be said for TV and film. Yes, there is a lot of popular fiction that isn’t as representative as it could be, and like much else the mainstream is dominated by men, but the scope of authors that have existed through the ages have given us some fantastic examples of how characters should be written, particularly how women need to be presented as more than a damsel in distress or some other lazy stereotype. So here are my current literary heroines who I think deserve some real attention.

1. Lady Macbeth, Macbeth: Most people are in agreement that Shakespeare was a pretty good playwright, and Macbeth is no exception. This is my favourite text that I have done for GCSE, and for one reason – Lady Macbeth. She’s horrible, she’s manipulative, she’s ruthless and power-hungry. But not only that, she acts on it. She is willing to actually kill (and have her husband kill) for what she wants. Whilst these are not exactly qualities that make for a good person, when you put into context the period and the way women were often portrayed, she’s superb. Entirely her own person, with genuine and varied qualities, I love how 3D she is, in a more real and raw way than an upsetting portion of characters, female or otherwise.
2. Celie, The Color Purple: The Color Purple as a narrative is deeply harrowing and thought-provoking, told through the eyes of a black woman (Celie) living in South America in the time between the wars. The depth and growth of Celie throughout the novel is amazing to see. The reader grows with her over the course of her lifetime; through her struggles as she’s beaten and broken, finds then loses love. It’s a magnificent development to see, and by the end of the book Celie feels like an old friend.
3. The March Sisters, Little Women: The warmth and love between the sisters, despite their differences and individuality, is a perfect example of how families and, more specifically, young women, bond together and the support they lend each other. The group is as wholesome and intriguing as they come, and they bring to the table not only their admirable individual qualities but also their dynamic and realistic relationships with one another.
4. Cersei Lannister, Game of Thrones: There are innumerable female characters in Game of Thrones I could have gone for (Daenerys, Arya, Brienne, Margaery, the list goes on), but I’ve gone with Cersei because I love her for many of the same reasons I love Lady Macbeth. She has that same ruthlessness and strength, but interestingly her love for her children is almost entirely redeeming. She acts pragmatically and without hesitation for her children, a quality easily admired even when it involves the murder of hundreds. She’s clever and conniving; I love it.
5. Esther Greenwood, The Bell Jar: Sylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel features more than one spectacular insight into mental illness and human nature, and Esther is the tip of a beautiful and well-sculpted iceberg. Of course her solidity most likely lays a great deal in her shared qualities with the author, and she is an interesting and full character, who provides an acute view into the mind of a woman descending into mental illness.