Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Strength: Part I

First of a three-part series, examining three different pieces of literature which feature dual female protagonists, and exploring how their strengths and weaknesses complement each other by following archetypal patterns.

Recently, Mara and I were discussing Antigone, since I just read it in class, and was caught up in the amazing wondrousness of that play. 
We compared it to Pride and Prejudice, but as I revisited this blog post, I realized that all three of these pieces of literature have heroines that follow the same archetypes. Thus, this post.

Last summer, I re-read the Lord of the Rings trilogy. 
One of the chief themes that struck me this time around was the relationship-- the differences, similarities, and connections--between the two main female protagonists, Arwen and Éowyn. 
Although, tangent: I suppose that in the Trilogy movies, Galadriel is more prominent female protagonist than Arwen. Galadriel definitely embodies female strength as well--she's the Wisdom figure.
Galadriel has a similar strength to Arwen's. She is wisdom and light. She is the Athena-like character in the story. Slightly removed from normal human emotions and passions. Goddess-like, tender and jovial, yet powerful and stern. In the Wisdom books of the Bible, Wisdom is often characterized as female or feminine.
Galadriel is the archetypal Wisdom figure in the trilogy.

So many young women I know find Eowyn the most attractive heroine.
Of all the woman role models in the Lord of the Rings, she appears to be the most active and dynamic. 

Éowyn is a Joan of Arc type heroine.
She gets out there with the men and gets the job done.
Éowyn, however, sacrifices a bit of her vulnerability in doing so.
Aragorn describes her as an iron maiden; she has steeled herself to endure the fate that faces Rohan. She's frozen her heart, for fear of being hurt. 
In the Houses of Healing, Éowyn fully recovers.
Not only does she recover from her physical battle wounds, but her heart unthaws. The love of Faramir nourishes and heals her-warms her heart once more. 
The love story between Faramir and Éowyn is so fragile and tender. Faramir not about to tame her--he simply pulls her over to his side. He sees this fierce warrior who, like any good mother-bear, will fight tooth and claw to protect her loved ones. If he can win her heart, he knows that her loyalty will be forever his. And Faramir's care and respect for her melts Éowyn. Her heart, hardened in preparation for battle, opens up under the gentle sunlight of Faramir's love. Sunlight that melts the stone-cold statuesque exterior and discovers the tender maiden hidden underneath.

Éowyn is an example of the female archetype of the woman warrior. In times of great hardship and peril, a woman takes it upon herself to save her people; to protect her family; to challenge evil. 
Joan of Arc is a real-life historical example of this. 
A literary example is Antigone, the heroine of Sophocles's tragedy.


Here's one main point that hit me when re-reading the trilogy: both women get what they want. 
That may seem unimportant, but it's not. It's highly unusual. 
Many characters never get what they want in books. Half the characters in Lord of the Rings don't get exactly what they want. 
All that Sam wants, for example, is to be with Frodo. But the saga ends with the two of them being sundered by a sea. 
Éowyn desires honor and valor. She sees her house falling into ruins, and it cuts her to the core. She longs for romance, for love, for brave deeds, a dire fight, fell adventures that will be remembered forever in song, and a life full to the brim.


Arwen wants one thing: Aragorn. To be with the man she loves. And her fight for him is one of endurance and patience. Like swans, women excel at hunkering down and enduring hardships for long stretches. During the migration season, swans travel 3000+ miles. 
The average women endures through 2.5+ childbirths. The power of women is the power to outlast adversity, to live through horrors, trials and tribulations, and endure it all with calm, equanimity and boundless courage. 
Calm and quiet, mystery and secrecy-these are at the core of classic feminine strength. 

Instead of striking out and winning glory and honor for herself, Arwen uses all her power to assist Aragorn on his mission. She is generous enough to desire his success, because even his success lies her happiness. Even though the price of this happiness is her death.

In the world of movers-and-shakers, Arwen's the brains, not the brawn. And that's a crucial theme running through Lord of the Rings-mind over matter. 
The strength of her will is often remarked on. There's little said about her, but one feels her power and her strength when she is mentioned. Hers and Aragorn's story is one of two individuals standing the tests of time. They have loved each other for so long. Arwen is willing to face death in order to be with him. Like Éowyn, this woman has no fear of death. She would rather spend a lifetime with the man she loves than an eternity without him. That takes incredible quiet strength. She is willing to give her life for him. That is a truly immeasurable love.

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