Classic literature can be mildly nauseating to its modern audience when it comes to its depiction of women’s roles. Whether it’s a woman who needs to be saved by the token male hero or a young girl forced to marry as a mere child – basically, really outdated and frustrating characteristics of past societies.

However, there are a few women in classic literature that fill me with pride for women that were far ahead of their respective times; Women that, at the time, defied traditions that once seemed impossible to overcome.


Josephine March – Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Jo March has a strong personality that defied the stereotype of the demure women in her time. She would much rather pursue a career as a writer and live out her days alongside her sisters than marry, as was expected of a young woman at the time. When Jo finally decided to marry, she wed a man she viewed as her equal, and married him out of her own free will.

Little Women by Louisa M. Alcott.

Jane Eyre – Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brönte
Jane longed for independence during the Victorian Era, a time when such a thing for a woman was all but unheard of. She didn’t consider marrying Mr. Rochester before obtaining her inheritance, meaning not until she was financially stable on her own, and refused to marry her cousin for how he treated her.


Hester Prynne – The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
A woman living in the unforgiving, strict Puritan times, Hester Prynne was the epitome of rebellion. Not only did she break the rules by having an affair, but she also refused to acknowledge the child’s father and refused to be ashamed in public as the other citizens implored her to.

Painting of Hester Prynne and Pearl from the Walters Art Museum.

Sofia – The Color Purple by Alice Walker
A direct and defiant contrast to Celie, Sofia refuses to be physically abused by a man.She fights back against her husband when he attacks her, and even hits the mayor in retaliation when he, too, hits her. Sofia is an example to readers of courage, and most importantly, a woman’s right to defend herself.


Elizabeth Bennet – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Lizzie Bennet. A character in a novel hailed by many as one or the greatest love stories in classic literature, but still a positive example for young women. She’s clever, witty, doesn’t hold her tongue, and exudes independence. She sticks to her morals and refuses to marry for any reason besides love, and even refuses the man she loved at first due to his offensive-at-best marriage proposal. She defied the times she lived in, and refused to forfeit her independence or compromise her identity for a man.

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