Having been a voracious reader all my life (which is saying a lot considering my age!), I took time to reflect on which characters have been most memorable and/or have exerted the most influence over the years. The first three weren’t difficult to come up with:
Jane Eyre Jane is a young woman who has come up from an abusive childhood, first at the hands of her aunt and then within the walls of the institution to which she was committed. Bitter at her undeserved treatment, she has nevertheless grown into an accomplished young woman with the courage to make a place for herself in the world.
Unfortunately she finds herself at Thornfield in Edward Rochester’s world of deception and deceit. When she falls in love with him, she’s prepared to take him on “as is”--until, of course, she learns the secret he’s been hiding from her and from the world. Though she takes flight from her predicament, she has the strength of character to return and make things right.
Traits: Will to survive, refusal to compromise her conscience
Beth March (Little Women) Beth is the meek, always-eager-to-please sister and everyone’s favorite. She died early, so what she might have become is left unchronicled. She reinforced my conviction (instilled in me by family) that “giving in and giving over” was the way to go in order to be loved and appreciated. For me, that spiraled into being a doormat until I wised up--late but not too late. I don’t want to lose sight of the benefits of being a Beth, but she might have taken a lesson from her sister Jo.
Traits: Sweet spirit, patience, compassion
Atticus Finch In light of new revelations about Atticus coming from Go Set a Watchman, I almost hesitate to include him. But the Atticus of To Kill a Mockingbird is someone I’ll never forget. He was a good lawyer, a good father, a good friend, and a good citizen, a true model for men in his time and ours.
Traits: Courage of his convictions, belief in justice for all
The next characters were more difficult to come up with, but I settled on:
Scarlett O’Hara I didn’t and don’t like Scarlett. She’s vain, spoiled, self-centered, and thoroughly nasty in too many ways to count. Her one saving grace is, like Jane Eyre, she’s a survivor. She wants to be nice (like Melanie), but she doesn’t want to give up anything personally satisfying to herself.
Traits: Iron will, ability to keep going in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds
Sherlock Holmes What’s not to like about Sherlock? Despite his odd, off-putting personal habits, he takes care of business and gets the job done. His keen mind leads him into situations in which he must surely believe are the end, yet he always manages to live to fight another day.
Traits: Self-confidence, risk-taker
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And just for fun, here is my childhood copy of Little Women along with my “Beth” doll (Madame Alexander “Little Women Series” circa 1955)