The Strong Female Character in Modern Fiction – short essay

In modern fiction there is an erroneous notion of what a strong female character is: that a strong female character implies that the character be strong and female, to be aggressive or otherwise capable at enduring and inflicting violence. Strength is not the same thing as force: and a strong female character is like a strong male character: they have realistic motivations, an inner life, hopes, fears, all of the characteristics of an actual person. A female character like Katniss from Suzanne Collins YA series The Hunger Games, for example, is strength depicted as the capability to inflict violence. This is a misunderstanding of what makes characters strong: it is not their physical strength, though physical strength is an attribute of strong female characters, however it is not their strength that makes them strong, it is their humanity and realism.

A poor female characterization could be a caricature of the masculine notion of strength as the capability to inflict violence and outperform others in feats of physical strength. Strong in this definition refers to level of character, rather than relative measures of physical strength. Again, this has been used to great effect with strong female characters in many works of literature, but a modern misinterpretation of this is the portrayal of women as simply violent, aggressive, as a poor means of conveying strength of characterization. To use physical strength as a character trait must work within the overall character arc, male or female, and it would be foolish to conclude that without being traditionally strong or physically able, a male character would be weak because of this inability to project physical force. If we limited strong characters to those most capable of successfully beating up their foes, it would be a poor definition of strength.

There are different types of strength, moral, emotional, and psychological. The criticism for the lack of strong female characters is not that there are not female characters who can kick ass, though traditionally casting women as helpless and without agency has been a problem, but that there are poorly written characters whose motivations, fears and hopes don’t strike the audience as genuine or engaging. Character strength based poorly on violence is a weak character, whether they’re Hercules or Athena. This is not a criticism of depicting women as strong fighters, but of making the point that it is poor character writing to rely on physical strength as the hinge of a strong character.

 

The Oracle’s Advisor – 2nd draft

1
Inside the Convent, in a cage,
slept an oracle and sage,
A candle guttered as she muttered,
praying, the visions came.
Wave after wave,
in multiform —
Deluge of fire and of storm
And of clouds which took the form
Of horses braying, gnashing teeth,
a crown of thorns worn by the Beast
On a dead star, far off, then,
A djinn with a crown in a cape and a shroud,
with apostles kneeling gathered round,
Prostrated with their hands raised,
gesturing,
To Heaven high with gleaming rings;
A greater heaven,
for it to come,
The world below must be undone.
2
The oracle wondered, wandering round
The stonewalled corridors in her gown
What could this djinn, this demon, be?
Of what heaven did he seek?
One of glory and of peace,
Or one of horrors, gnashing teeth,
of silent eons, trapped beneath
Where slept the sinners in the rain
a pawn at play in Shaitan’s game
swaddled like a newborn in their sickly neon flames
Everything burns, they say, why bother;
But the oracle knew one truth:
not water.
3
She passed at last beside the stream
To read the scrolls of the Sibylline;
the chronicle of their order, of portents and of dreams,
and looking down into the pool,
at the reflection of a fool,
she saw the coming of a storm,
of Hannibal’s columns of ruin and Rome
Of Goths who sacked the forum twice
And Gauls who came with ax and knife
Deluge of fire, gnashing teeth,
a river red ran through the streets
The waters shifted and she saw
The king of djinns upon the star
Of Araffaya from afar
Poised beneath the seventh heaven
an army there which had declared
a war to wage on God.
4
To build temples to chaos and cults to reason
Bewitch the tides, unbalance seasons
Til darkness comes in daytime
and stretches on for years
Until the angels and their host
Were submerged and forced below
To live as demons did upon that star long dead
With envy in one’s heart, to live for all in dread
Desire, that pernicious flame
that pushes one towards fortune, fame,
With this vision, she recoiled,
and strolled back to her cage
God, for whom one has to wait–
the devil however is never late.
5
With a page of the ancient scrolls,
she lit a candle and foretold
Apollo, Adonai, Allah, Jehovah, speak!
Of the Hell they flee and Heaven they seek!
And how in seeking one they find,
The other always, please remind.
The fight for heaven makes it hell,
It drains the lands, the soldiers, wells,
And leaves them in the trench, do tell;
Of how in seeking heaven everyone finds Hell
6
The oracle thought about this for a time,
Recited a prayer and calmed her mind
And left her cage neat as she came,
walked from the compound out the gate,
Across the city, pass the lake,
Beneath a moon of alabaster gleaming in a cloudless sky
Where children ran and played their games
where newborns laughed and cried
Through the forests, to the woods,
to the cabin of Apollo where she stood,
and she waited by the tree,
with the paper and her and her pen,
she wrote the question in the wind;
and with a match she struck the flame,
burned it all and sat to wait
To wait on God outside the Gate
7
A timeless voice stirred in the air
ran down her back and through her hair
It spake; above on Araffaya
The king of djinns baptized by fire
As it has been through all time,
They have waged war within our minds
and now they wait outside the gate,
to threaten those inside
To fight for heaven, they divide;
To fight for peace, they make their hell
And remake it in their sight,
to make of darkness their own light
On the long dead star of Araffaya,
the kingdom of demons and fountains of fire
Will find heaven only when
The joy of others hits the wind.
8
The voice died out, Apollo ceased,
and vanished through a tempest of leaves
And as she made her way back home,
the oracle thought hard and long;
and at the convent, in a bath,
scented and sweet, she had a laugh;
and thought it might be fair, to greet,
the devil himself, to invite him to speak
To hear the side of those who strived
To pay the price for Heaven
even if it was their life.
9
Always on time, the devil, she thought,
While Apollo kept one on hold;
Punctual Shaitan waited in line,
Outside the cavern with his pipe
In a suit of silk in a pin-striped tie
He bid her good morning with a courteous nod,
And took off his shoes when invited inside,
sat by the windowsill smiling and quiet;
He said, “Pain is an essential part of your life,
You know”
The devil sipped his tea.
10
“For those who were born in bliss enthralled,
think all who fight are doomed to fall;
And because of that we must remain,
On that dead star in the rain,
Below the haven in the waste,
Always knowing, face to face,
With what we cannot have, our place
was made for us to be below,
to be trampled on by those who, blessed,
by providence, and nothing less,
Think that what they took was theirs for free,
Their slice of heaven, as it is,
must exclude, it’s always been,
a place unwelcome for a djinn.
11
For it to be a holy place,
we must be kept outside, to waste,
And yet it’s wrong for us to fight–
To risk eons in the dark for a spot in the hall of light.
And with a nod and solemn bow,
the oracle said goodbye and escorted Shatan out
And returned to her own cage,
where slept this mistress, and this sage,
Who took a vow to wisdom,
in the hope that it might free,
her from envy, and of shame
but the cost of freedom was the chain
to the scrolls both new and old
By the calm stream in the cold.
12
Returning the book she passed it again
and looked down in the stream, and then,
Saw a legion of demons rise
Pass through a wall of light and fire
Into the hall of light and there
The holy host broke off their song
and wailing filled the halls of stone
As the djinn with the cape and shroud
Took the throne and, sitting proud,
Cast the holy host of angels out
And Apollo who had spake,
Cast out of his own hall to wait,
Now on the dead star in the rain,
through the water, through the pain
the price of freedom was the chain.

the Oracle’s Advisor – new poem

The Oracle’s Advisor

In the dark of night beneath the cage
Where slept the mistress of the age
A candle guttered as she muttered
As she prayed, the visions came
Wave after wave
Deluge of fire and of storms
And of clouds which took the form
Of horses braying, gnashing teeth
A crown of thorns and golden beams
A sonic boom of jackass screams
A dead star and thereon men
And women slave to demons, then
A djinn with a crown and a cape and a shroud
With apostles gathered round gestures up
A greater heaven, more terrible to come
The oracle wondered, wandering round
The corridors of stone walls in her gown
What could this djinn or demon be?
Of what heaven did he speak?
Of one he wished for, one to seek?
Or one of horrors, gnashing teeth
Of silent eons trapped in sheets
Of ice and rain and devil’s games
Who wrap you like a chicken in their sickly neon flames
Everything burns, so why bother?
The oracle thought, not water.

She sought the secrets of the sybilline
An order that chronicled portents and dreams
And warned the people of coming storms
Of Hannibal’s columns of Ruin in Rome
Of the Goths who sacked the forum Twice
Of Gauls who came with ax and knife
What would they say if they had seen
A deluge of fire and gnashing teeth
Sonic booms of jackass screams
Would the djinn upon the star
Of Araffaya, take it from god,
unleash the braying horses shod
To trample on the tomb of god
Build temples to chaos and cults to reason
unsettle the tides and confuse the seasons
Til darkness comes in daytime and sometimes lasts for years
Until one lives as demons did
upon the star long dead
And look above at heavens better
with envy in one’s heart
Desire as one’s flaming that pushes one towards fortune,
To fame
to wrap the world in fingers of flame.
The acolyte crawled back in her cage

With a page of the Sybilline scrolls
Relit her candle and foretold
Apollo, Adonai, Deus, speak!
Of the hell they flee and Heaven they seek
And how in seeking one they find
The other always, please remind
To fight for heaven invites hell
It drains the land and soldiers wells
And leaves them in the trench, do tell
of how in seeking heaven everyone finds Hell

The oracle thought of this for a time,
She recited a prayer and calmed her mind
And left her cage as neat as she came
Walked from her compound out her gate
Across the city, pass the lake
Frozen alabaster under moonless skies
Where children between houses laughed and cried
Through the forests, to the woods
To the cabin, where she stood,
and waited there before a tree,
with a paper and styli
she wrote her question on the page
and with a match she lit struck the flame
and burned it, sat down, now we wait
To see if Zarathustra spake

A voice entered into the air
it lifted her clothes and lifted her hair
It said that things above were fine
But below, as through all time
Men waged the war outside their minds
That should be more enjoyably waged inside
To fight for heaven, they buy their hell
And create it trying to keep those out
Of long dead stars, and demons there
Will find in heaven only their
Hopes betrayed and pains uneased
No comfort for one whose heaven
requires a hell for demons in need
The voice abated, Apollo ceased
The air turned call, and, time to leave,
the oracle drifted through the leaves
back to the convent and she eased
into a bath both scented, sweet,
and decided to invite the devil to speak
To hear the side of those who strived
to take heaven if it cost them their lives

Always on time, the devil, she thought,
while god took time to reply,
Punctual Shaitan waited in line
Outside on the mountain side smoking his pipe
In a suit of silk and wearing a tie
He bid her good-morning with a courteous nod
And sat by the windowsill smiling and quiet
Pain is a necessary part of our life,
You know,
The devil sipped his tea
Those who were not born with it all
Think each demon that fought had to fall
And because of that we must remain
On the dead star in the rain
Below the best place in the waste
Always knowing, always, face to face,
With what we don’t deserve, our place
Was to be made to be below
To be trampled on by those who were blessed
By providence or whatever it is
To think that what they took was free
To take away a piece of heaven divides it inevitably
And for their to be such a holy place
Some must be kept outside
And is it wrong for us to want to fight
Some will risk the darkness for a chance to be in the light