Move over, Katniss. Literature's unexpected heroines

Megan Kaesshaefer  //  Mar 13, 2014

Move over, Katniss. Literature's unexpected heroines

Move over, Katniss. Step aside, Hermione. Take a seat, Jo March. There's a new crop of heroines in town. (Though you may not recognize their names right way.)

It seems like every year during Women's History Month, the articles about all the strong, powerful females in literature start to make the rounds online. They're wonderful, but they're also so...obvious. Now I love Elizabeth Bennet, Hester Prynne, and Scout Finch as much as anyone, but I can't help but wonder how many female characters there are who are often marginalized due to the hype around the aforementioned leading ladies.

That said, I asked our blog team to come up with their picks for underappreciated female characters who are just as deserving of the title "heroine." 

My picks:

Becky (A Little Princess). Sara Crewe is lauded as the brave, audacious, and exceedingly creative newest addition to Miss Minchin's Boarding School for Girls, but I'd argue Becky, the scullery maid, is the real heroine in this book. She saves Sara time and time again through her friendship and kindness.

Mrs. Bennet (Pride & Prejudice).  Elizabeth's mother is often seen as annoying and overbearing, but she's pretty hilarious in her eagerness to play matchmaker for her five daughters, and in her honesty around money and status.

Jordan Baker (The Great Gatsby). Everyone fixates on Daisy but Jordan is so mysterious and interesting, and she's the one who facilitates the introduction between Gatsby and Nick in the first place.

Aibileen Clark (The Help). One of my favorite female characters ever. As a nanny she is a much better mother to the children she's raised over her career. And she's raised 17 of them. Her line "You is kind, you is smart, you is important." gets me every time. Every. Time.

Morgan's picks:

Luna Lovegood (Harry Potter series). Hermione often (and rightly) takes up a lot of oxygen in Harry Potter discussions, but Luna is crucial to the plotline, and is a heck of an interesting character to boot! 

Cokie Mason (The Baby-sitter's Club series). Especially in the earlier Baby-sitters Club books, Cokie plays a big part — she's the nemesis of the entire BSC. For a character to be disliked by that many people (who are quite different from each other!), she's gotta be intriguing. I'd love to see a book from Cokie's perspective! 

Johanna Mason (The Hunger Games). Yes, Katniss is awesome. But Johanna has layers that are nowhere near being uncovered, like her seriously smart strategy during the Games. 

Suzanne's picks:

Dilsey (The Sound and the Fury). As Faulkner writes of the long-suffering Dilsey and her family: “They endured.” If you remember Dilsey’s employer, the Compsons, you know that’s saying a lot. 

Ole Golly (Harriet the Spy). Ole Golly takes care of people uncomplainingly (which is why she needs sensible shoes) and doesn’t meddle in their affairs. She also gives good advice to the young spy, like “find out everything you can cause life is hard enough even if you know a lot.”

Rosacoke Mustian (A Long and Happy Life). I’m not sure if Rosacoke is underappreciated, but this first novel by Reynolds Price deserves more recognition for its lovely evocation of the rural South. Rosacoke, who pursues a man she is too good for, is the type of child who, when setting off into the woods with a picnic dinner, “will walk till we come to an open field where somebody is growing something."

Emma's pick:

Helen Burns (Jane Eyre). Helen is Jane Eyre’s best friend at the Lowood School. I think that Helen’s influence on Jane is often understated. Helen’s kindness, faith, and unadulterated love shape Jane’s coming-of-age greatly. Also, it’s worth noting that this character has deep meaning to author Charlotte Bronte, as it is based on her beloved sister who died young.

What about you? Who are your favorite unexpected female heroines?