Hiatus

I’ll be taking a short break from blogging due to personal reasons. The next post is still going to be about Clara from Doctor Who, and hopefully it’ll be up in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, feel free to leave any requests in the comments – I’ll consider any character that’s recommended to me!

Advertisements

Strong Female Characters: Belle

For those of you that don’t know, Belle is the main character of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Released in 1991, the film is an animated re-telling of the traditional French fairy tale, which tells the story of a young girl who agrees to be the prisoner of a beast in a castle in exchange for her father’s life. Disney’s version was a smash hit, winning a couple of Oscars, and Belle herself was hailed as a role model for young girls everywhere.

But does she live up to her reputation? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!

  1. Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?

When Belle is given a chance to take control of her own life, she takes it. She offers to take her father’s place as the Beast’s prisoner (with absolutely no coercion from any other characters), stops him from dying of hypothermia in that terrifying wolf scene, and braves a mob to go back to his castle and save him. What’s more, she actively resists any other characters’ attempts to take that control away from her: when both Gaston and the Beast try to force her to do something she doesn’t want to do, she won’t have any of it.

SCORE SO FAR: 1

 

  1. Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?

Belle’s hobbies are very well-established from the beginning of the film – it’s shown straight away that she enjoys reading, even though it ostracises her from the rest of the town. Her goals are a little more difficult to pin down. She sings a song about wanting more from her life and feeling trapped in her provincial hometown, but the song doesn’t go into any specific detail: she just wants “more”.

And presumably, not to turn into Nigel Thornberry. (image: giphy.com)
And presumably, not to turn into Nigel Thornberry. (image: giphy.com)

Her beliefs are much easier to identify. She believes in doing the right thing even when it’s difficult and not hiding her true self – but these are all fairly typical Disney princess credos. Crucially, one of her main beliefs is not judging a book by its cover, and this goes on to have a real impact on the way she interacts with other characters (namely, Gaston and the Beast). Two out of three ain’t bad – I’m giving her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 2

 

  1. Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?

Belle’s character is pretty consistent throughout the plot. She remains kind, curious and intelligent all throughout the film. Her skills are a little more difficult to account for – where she learned ballroom dancing in a French peasant village, I’ll never know – but it’s established early on that she doesn’t act like a typical French peasant, so I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 3

 

  1. Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?

A young woman who trades her freedom in exchange for her father’s life is compelled to break a powerful spell.

SCORE SO FAR: 4

 

  1. Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?

Beauty and the Beast is a love story, so it follows that the bulk of the main characters’ decisions are going to be influenced by their love lives. Belle is no exception – once she starts falling for the Beast, her feelings do influence a lot of her decisions.

However, they do not influence all of her decisions. In the first half of the film, she is actively avoiding having a love life at all, repeatedly turning down Gaston’s advances. Her two most important decisions – to stay with the Beast, and then to leave him – are influenced by her love for her father, and her concern for his well-being. With that in mind, I’m giving it a half-point.

SCORE SO FAR: 4.5

 

  1. Does she develop over the course of the story?

Actually, Belle doesn’t really develop over the course of the movie at all. At the beginning of the film, it’s established that she knows not to judge a book by its cover and that she’s not afraid to go against popular opinion: both of these beliefs are fully-formed by the time she rejects Gaston. While she teaches other characters a lot about themselves, she doesn’t really learn anything new at all.

It's hard work being that perfect. (image: giphy.com)
It’s hard work being that perfect. (image: giphy.com)

SCORE SO FAR: 4.5

 

  1. Does she have a weakness?

It’s pretty difficult to pin down weaknesses for any of the older Disney princesses, as so many of them were designed without flaws at all. It’s only in the more recent Disney movies that any real character flaws get established, and they are rarely ones that hold the character back for long.

Belle fits into this pattern pretty well. She’s basically perfect. She’s endlessly patient, never goes too far when she’s calling people out, and even the bad decisions she makes (such as snooping around the West Wing) rarely stem from a negative character trait – they are frequently the products of too much of a positive character trait, usually curiosity. You could make a case that she’s given to making impulsive decisions (such as running away, or showing the mob the Beast in the magic mirror) but once again, these rarely stem from a negative character trait: they are either the product of an instinctive response (such as fear) or a desire to protect her loved ones. Neither of these can really be called a flaw.

SCORE SO FAR: 4.5

 

  1. Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?

Belle’s decisions drive the plot forward, and actually end up providing the motivation for much of the supporting cast. She decides to reject Gaston, which makes pursuing her his primary goal. She decides to take her father’s place as the Beast’s prisoner, and he spends a large part of the film trying to rescue her. She decides to come back to the Beast’s castle, giving him the will to keep fighting. She drives the plot in almost every scene – and she doesn’t have to get captured or killed to do it.

SCORE SO FAR: 5.5

 

  1. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?

In some ways Belle resists a lot of gender stereotypes. She’s very intelligent, she wants to see the world, and at the start of the film, she doesn’t have any real desire to settle down and start a family – all traits that are rarely associated with young women.

But when you get down to it, she is one of the older Disney princesses, and she’s always going to be hemmed in by those limitations. She’s always graceful, she’s always ladylike, and what’s more, her entire storyline is geared around her love life. Her story ends when she marries her prince, and it’s clear that her previous desire to have adventures has long been forgotten. This ties into a lot of stereotypes about women – namely, that all women want is to find a good man. Furthermore, she’s pretty much responsible for the Beast’s personality transformation – through her love and patience, he goes from being aggressive and frightening to gentle and kind. This carries a whole bunch of unfortunate implications: namely, that women can “fix” a man just by loving him enough, giving them a degree of responsibility for their partner’s more aggressive behaviour. Obviously, this stereotype is hugely detrimental to everyone involved, as some people use beliefs like this to blame abusive relationships on the victim’s behaviour, rather than the abuser’s.

And that's without even touching on the weird 'Stockholm Syndrome' dynamic that these two have got going on. (image: feministfiction.com)
And that’s without even touching on the weird ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ dynamic that these two have got going on. (image: feministfiction.com)

This is a real shame, because in some ways she’s a very progressive character, but she’s trapped in a storyline with much more traditional values, and this has its roots in the original fairy tale. With that in mind, I’m giving her half the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 6

 

  1. How does she relate to other female characters?

Belle really only has any kind of relationship with two female characters, both of whom spend most of the film as pieces of furniture: Mrs Potts and the wardrobe. These are very generic relationships: the characters are there to comfort her when she is sad, and to shepherd her towards the Beast – there’s no real substance to them. The fact that one of these characters doesn’t even have a name should give you a clue: she’s not going to pass this round.

FINAL SCORE: 6/10

 

Beauty and the Beast is one of my favourite films, but Belle hasn’t passed my test. While she is firmly in control of her own destiny and is a pretty consistent character, she falls into the typical Disney princess pitfalls. She doesn’t have a weakness, she’s hemmed in by traditional gender roles in story-telling (and all the unfortunate implications about gender relations that accompany them), and she’s so perfect that she doesn’t learn a thing.

But I have to say, this doesn’t hamper my enjoyment of the movie. While I can’t honestly say that I stand behind everything this movie endorses – particularly some of the more Stockholm Syndrome-y elements – I still find it very engaging. I’m perfectly happy to say that I can still enjoy something while acknowledging its flaws.

Next week, I’ll be looking at Doctor Who. Clara Oswald, I’m coming for you.

Strong Female Characters: Hazel Grace Lancaster

For those of you that don’t know, Hazel Grace Lancaster is the main character of John Green’s wildly successful novel, The Fault in Our Stars. Hazel is a teenage girl with terminal cancer, and the story chronicles her budding relationship with another cancer patient, Augustus Waters, and the trip they make to Amsterdam. The story has been made into a very successful movie, described as ‘the love story of a generation’ and inspired swathes of merchandise with the word ‘okay’ on it. As for Hazel herself, she has been praised as a breath of fresh air in YA fiction, a relatable and realistic character, and a role model for young girls everywhere.

But does she live up to her reputation? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!

 

  1. Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?

This is actually a pretty tricky question in Hazel’s case. It’s established in the first few pages that she has a very serious form of thyroid cancer that almost killed her a few years before the story starts. Since then, she’s been given a drug that cleared up the worst of her symptoms, but there’s no cure; she relies on support machines to breathe properly and spends most of her life under some kind of supervision (either medical or parental). Obviously, this is seriously going to limit the amount of control she can have over her own life, as she is physically unable to do some of the things that a healthy person would be able to do.

However, Hazel hardly ever makes any decisions for herself throughout most of the novel, and this is a serious problem. Her actions have absolutely no effect on the major plot points: they happen completely independent of her influence and are simply presented to her as a fait accompli. She does not choose to go to the cancer survivors’ support group where she meets Augustus; her mum makes her go because she’s worried about her. She does not set up a meeting with Peter Van Houten, the author of her favourite book; it is arranged for her, and all she has to do is show up. She does not choose to go and tell Augustus her feelings for him when it is revealed his cancer has returned; he demands that she write him a eulogy and read it to him while he’s still alive. Most tellingly of all, Hazel doesn’t even choose to go to Amsterdam; Augustus arranges it all for her, with absolutely no effort on her part. While it’s pretty clear that Augustus wants the trip to be one of those ‘big romantic gestures’ that Cosmo keeps telling us about – and thus, making the boring arrangements is something he doesn’t want Hazel to worry about – she expresses absolutely no desire to go to Amsterdam at all until the trip is presented to her ready-made. What’s more, even after Augustus has told her all this, she doesn’t so much as crack open a guidebook, or even google something she might want to go and visit while she’s there; it’s all been taken care of for her.

The upshot of all of this is that Hazel doesn’t really feel like she has an impact on her own story. For someone who is so quick to dispense her opinions, her opinions and decisions have very little impact on the plot. It can be argued that Hazel’s passivity is a result of her illness, and the depression that stems from it, but there is very little evidence for this in the text. For the most part, she spends the novel making wry observations and philosophical statements; she comments on her emotions rather than letting the reader feel them. This really detracts from the emotional weight of the book’s subject, and its strongest moments are when this façade is dropped and we get a sense of the real emotional connections between the characters. But for the most part, Hazel spends her story being, rather than doing: she is a fundamentally passive character.

SCORE SO FAR: 0

 

  1. Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?

Again, this is a difficult one to pin down. Hazel enjoys reading, but we only ever see her read books that are crucial to bringing her and Augustus together (such as An Imperial Affliction, and the totally-not-a-Duke-Nukem-ripoff series that Augustus recommends). She doesn’t really have any goals of her own, either. She’s finished high school early and is taking college classes (despite being pulled out of school at age thirteen and almost dying), but never says why she’s doing it, or works toward any qualifications. As far as her beliefs go she’s a little more independent: she doesn’t believe in an afterlife and spends a lot of her time philosophising, but most of her core beliefs are gleaned from An Imperial Affliction or interactions with the characters around her.

When you look at these character traits as a whole, it becomes pretty clear that Hazel’s goals, beliefs and hobbies only exist because the plot demands it – and that’s some pretty poor characterisation.

SCORE SO FAR: 0

 

  1. Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?

When I was reading the book, I had real trouble pinning down Hazel’s character. She’s supposed to be very intelligent, particularly in regards to literature, but she frequently misuses literary terms – in particular, the word hamartia (which means a fatal personality flaw that leads to a character’s downfall – Hazel and Augustus use it to describe their cancer), as well as an assortment of medical terms that she claims to be familiar with. Other characters describe her as kind, yet she frequently snaps at people trying to reach out to her, ignores her friend Isaac’s breakdown after losing his sight in favour of talking to her boyfriend, and eggs Isaac’s ex-girlfriend’s car after she broke up with him because she found their relationship too difficult.

But she eggs her in such a CARING way. (image: teen.com)
But she eggs her in such a CARING way. (image: teen.com)

This is something I learned from the series I hate the most out of anything I’ve ever read: Twilight (and its doppelganger, Fifty Shades of Grey. They’re basically the same books). Hazel is exhibiting informed character traits. Instead of actually showing us her personality through her thoughts and actions, other characters (and sometimes, Hazel herself) simply tell the reader what she is like, and regardless of anything she says or does, people will always see her as the version of herself that is told to the other characters – and, by extension, to the reader.

However, I will give Hazel credit where it’s due. While she may be exhibiting one hell of an informed personality, her narration and internal thoughts are pretty consistent. She’s always snarky, glib, irreverent and completely focussed on herself (even going so far as to physically assault her favourite author, Peter Van Houten, when he will not answer her questions about his book). Her opinions and attitudes may be completely opposite to her informed personality, but they are at least consistently so, and that deserves a half-point.

SCORE SO FAR: 0.5

 

  1. Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?

A young cancer patient seeking meaning in her life and coming to terms with her own mortality.

SCORE SO FAR: 1.5

 

  1. Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?

The strongest parts of the book are the ones where Hazel’s love life is mentioned as little as possible, particularly the scenes with her parents. Due to Hazel’s inherent passivity, not a lot of decisions actually get made in the whole book, let alone the ones which aren’t influenced by Augustus.

And his stupid, STUPID metaphor (image: pagetopremiere.com)
And his stupid, STUPID metaphor – which still requires him to pay the tobacco industries, by the way. (image: pagetopremiere.com)

This really leaves me able to talk about one decision she makes: the decision to try and distance herself from her friends and family for fear of hurting them when she eventually dies. This is handled pretty well (apart from Hazel’s deeply pretentious insistence that she’s “a grenade”) but due to the fact that this is really the only non-romantic decision she makes, I’m going to have to give it a half-point.

SCORE SO FAR: 2

 

  1. Does she develop over the course of the story?

The strongest part of Hazel’s character development takes place in her relationship with her parents. As the story progresses, she gets over her belief that she needs to push them away in order to stop them from getting hurt, becomes more comfortable with their need to celebrate still having her alive, and allows them to comfort her in a way that she would not have done at the beginning of the novel. She doesn’t really develop much in other aspects of her character, but given the significance of this particular character trait – which she spends most of the novel struggling with – I’m going to award her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 3

 

  1. Does she have a weakness?

One of Hazel’s biggest weaknesses is the need to push people away to stop them from getting hurt. This has a huge effect on her relationships and is a serious obstacle for her throughout most of the story. Aside from that, she doesn’t have very many other weaknesses acknowledged by the rest of the characters: her tendency to make spiteful comments is frequently passed off as ‘quirky’ and has absolutely no effect on her actions, and her self-centredness is rarely addressed by the rest of the cast (even when she ignores other people’s distress to pursue her own ends). With that in mind, I’m giving her a half-point.

SCORE SO FAR: 3.5

 

  1. Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?

I touched on this earlier, so apologies if this all sounds a little bit familiar.

Hazel does influence the plot, but not by doing anything under her own steam. Because she is a young cancer patient, a lot of the other characters change their behaviour in order to accommodate her needs, particularly her parents. While this is perfectly understandable, it means that much like Sansa Stark, it’s very easy for the plot to simply happen around her without her doing anything – which is exactly the trap that John Green falls into.

The plot is presented to Hazel ready-made; she does nothing to put it together herself. This is particularly ironic, because at one point in the book she says of Augustus’s ex-girlfriend (and I quote):

“…she seemed to be mostly a professional sick person, like me, which made me worry that when I died they’d have nothing to say about me except that I fought heroically, as if the only thing I’d ever done was Have Cancer…”

The reality is that Hazel doesn’t actually do anything to stop this statement applying to her, too. She has no goals of her own and all the important plot developments are handled by other characters and presented for her approval: she has no impact on it. To be quite frank, you could replace Hazel with a lampshade and it would have no effect on the details of the plot.

Augustus 2.0? (image: giphy.com)
Augustus, is that you? (image: giphy.com)

This actually carries some really worrying implications. By getting rid of her agency so thoroughly, Green has effectively made Hazel’s illness the most important aspect of her character. This does a real disservice to living cancer patients by drastically overshadowing their agency and personality as people, rather than patients. Just look at Stephen Sutton, who raised £4 million for the Teenage Cancer Trust after being diagnosed with incurable cancer. Hazel’s lack of agency and impact not only drags her character down, it also means that her illness eclipses everything she is – something that should never be applied to people with illnesses or disabilities and something that she herself does not want to happen.

SCORE SO FAR: 3.5

 

  1. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?

Hazel doesn’t really interact with stereotypes about gender much, which is actually quite refreshing. She’s quite a healthy mix: she enjoys getting dressed up and worries about her appearance, but she also contemplates the nature of the universe, death and the afterlife and reads beat poetry without giggling.

Hazel’s illness often restricts her physical mobility and affects her appearance, which means that I’m also going to take a quick look at some of the stereotypes surrounding women with illnesses or disabilities and see how they affect her character. For the most part, they don’t have much impact on her character – apart from her lack of agency, which I touched on earlier – and the narrative does its best to steer clear of the most common stereotypes surrounding disability and illness. What’s particularly nice about this is that her illness doesn’t stop her from finding love, or from enjoying sex, and it doesn’t compromise her femininity. This is particularly relevant as a lot of fiction about people with illnesses or disabilities doesn’t see them as people with sexual needs – the cliché that keeps these characters as tragically pure as possible is utterly stifling. While this trope is often applied to women (just look at all the prettily frail tuberculosis sufferers in 19th century literature), it isn’t applied to Hazel, and that’s a real breath of fresh air.

SCORE SO FAR: 4.5

 

  1. How does she relate to other female characters?

Hazel only has a few significant relationships with female characters: her mother and her best friend, Kaitlyn. Throughout most of the book Hazel actively tries to distance herself from Kaitlyn, treating her with a mixture of disdain and bemusement. This is actually pretty worrying, as in many ways, Kaitlyn is held up as the stereotypical teenage girl – often shallow, obsessed with boys, parties and shopping, and completely incapable of understanding deeper concepts. She’s basically set up as a character foil: if Hazel’s “not like all those other girls”, then those other girls are effectively Kaitlyn, rolled into one.

Hazel’s relationship with her mother is much more realistic. They get frustrated with each other, try to care for each other and frequently misunderstand each other, but you see them interact on a regular basis and it’s very clear that their relationship is a loving one, albeit one under a lot of strain. Based on the strengths of this relationship, I’m going to give her a half-point.

FINAL SCORE: 5/10

 

And so we come to the first character to fail my test. While Hazel has a consistent internal voice, isn’t dominated by gender stereotypes and has a crucial weakness that she struggles against for most of the book, her credibility as a character is seriously undercut by her lack of agency and impact. She just doesn’t do anything – and while part of this can be chalked up to her cancer, a much more significant part of this can be chalked up to John Green’s desire to make Augustus the perfect boyfriend. This is particularly relevant because of the stereotypes surrounding illness and disability, which often minimise the agency of handicapped people when this simply isn’t true.

But does this mean that The Fault in Our Stars is not worth reading? I don’t think so. While I didn’t enjoy the majority of the book, there were some parts of it that I thought worked very well, particularly the passages where Hazel interacts with her family – which is actually pretty rare for YA fiction, which usually cuts family life out as much as possible. Some parts of it are definitely worth reading – but which parts is up to you.

Next week, I’ll be looking at one of my favourite Disney movies, Beauty and the Beast. Belle, I’m coming for you.

Strong Female Characters: Sansa Stark

Happy 2015, blog-followers! Now that I’m finished with the business of Christmas, New Year and slowly but surely getting older, let’s get back to business.

For those of you that don’t know, Sansa Stark is one of many principal female characters in George R. R. Martin’s phenomenally successful series, A Song of Ice and Fire. Set in the fictional kingdom of Westeros, the series chronicles several warring noble families as they fight to seize the crown (or just not get beheaded). Think of it as a fictional parallel to the Wars of the Roses – except with considerably more dragons, ice zombies and (in the case of the HBO adaptation) gratuitous nudity. Sansa Stark – a young noblewoman – is in the centre of all this, and is frequently the topic of much debate among fans of the series, some of whom do not consider her to be a strong female character.

But is this a fair criticism? Let’s find out! Watch out for spoilers of all four series of HBO’s adaptation of the series – but I’ll do my best to keep any potential season 5 spoilers under wraps!

 

  1. Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?

For the majority of A Song of Ice and Fire – and HBO’s Game of Thrones – Sansa does very little to actively shape her own destiny. Most of the big decisions in her life are made for her, whether by her father, the monarch, or other important noblemen. They are the ones who decide where she lives, who she sees, who she will marry, and how she must act.

However, there are some mitigating points to consider. First and foremost is that Sansa is a very young girl – in the first book, she is eleven years old; in the first series, she is about thirteen. It’s not unusual for girls her age to have little control over their destinies, and in the world of Westeros – where even grown women can be married off as their relatives see fit – this is perfectly normal. Secondly, for the majority of the series Sansa is little more than a hostage in the royal court at King’s Landing. Guarded and watched throughout most of her time in King’s Landing, if she didn’t behave herself her head would quite literally end up on a pike.

Case in point. (image: freerepublic.com)
Case in point. (image: freerepublic.com)

But this does not last for the whole of the series. As both the books and the TV series progress, Sansa learns to manipulate the people around her into behaving the way she wants them to. At first, she mainly does this to Joffrey, using flattery and carefully-times lies in an effort to stave off some of his cruelty. Later, when she has been smuggled out of King’s Landing by Littlefinger under a false name, she reveals her true identity in an effort to get them on her side. As she grows older, Sansa does her best to retain control of her own destiny, but is often forced to rely on manipulating others in order to do so (mainly because she hasn’t got a dragon). With that in mind, I’m giving her half the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 0.5

 

  1. Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?

Sansa’s beliefs and goals are the results of the people around her. Her desire to be a perfect lady is a product of her upbringing in Westerosi society, where this is the only acceptable lifestyle for many noblewomen. She wants to escape King’s Landing and be reunited with her family; this is the result of the cruel behaviour she experiences at court (as when the royal family were kind to her, she begged them to stop her father from sending her back home).

However, as the series goes on her own interests start to develop. Westeros has two main religions (her father Ned believes in the Old Gods, her mother Catelyn believes in the Faith of the Seven) and unlike any other character in the books, Sansa believes in both. She has a very strong interest in stories and songs, particularly those about chivalry and love, and a special fondness for lemon cakes. Crucially, in the season four finale, she demonstrates that she has her own goals (not simply an extension of Littlefinger’s master scheme) and has her own plan for achieving them – although the details of this are yet to be seen. Because it occurs so late in the series, I’m giving this development another half-point.

SCORE SO FAR: 1

 

  1. Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?

Sansa’s skills remain constant: she is always shown to be good at singing, good at embroidery, and good at remembering her courtesies. Her personality is not quite so static. Over the course of the series, she loses her naivety, stops believing in songs and stories and learns to be a more guarded person. However, she still remains a kind, ladylike girl with a strong attachment to her family all throughout the series.

SCORE SO FAR: 2

 

  1. Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?

A naïve young noblewoman learning to survive in both the vicious royal court and the dangerous political climate.

SCORE SO FAR: 3

 

  1. Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?

Most of Sansa’s decisions in the first book/series are influenced by her desire to impress the young prince Joffrey. This is a terrible idea.

What a catch. (image: winteriscoming.net)
What a catch. (image: winteriscoming.net)

Once she realises this, most of her decisions are influenced by the need to GET AWAY FROM THAT MONSTER. I suppose at a stretch you could say that wanting to run away from that little hellspawn is simply another way in which her love life influenced her decisions, but given Joffrey’s predilection for abuse, torture and murder, I’d say that survival plays a much bigger part in her motivations. Sansa doesn’t always get to make many decisions for herself – particularly when she is under guard in King’s Landing – but those she does make are primarily influenced by the need to survive. Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the scenes where Sansa believes she will be married off to one of the Tyrells. While in the show, it is established that she already fancies her prospective groom, in the books she has not even met him, and only agrees to the match because it would take her out of Joffrey’s reach. With that in mind, I’m giving her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 4

 

  1. Does she develop over the course of the story?

I touched on this earlier, so apologies if I repeat myself.

Over the course of the series/books, Sansa grows up – we quite literally witness her going through puberty. Aside from the physical changes this entails, this also involves Sansa losing her naivety, learning to keep her true emotions and thoughts hidden from those around her and beginning to take control of her own destiny – all while maintaining the appearance of being a perfect noble lady (which is incredibly difficult when you are a teenager, and all you want to do is yell at your parents and eat more pizza).

SCORE SO FAR: 5

 

  1. Does she have a weakness?

Sansa’s main weakness is her naivety, which leads her to make many poor decisions over the course of the series, but she begins to grow out of it as the series goes on. However, she has also been shown to be impatient, petty, and judgemental – and above all, easily manipulated by others. These are very realistic weaknesses which she constantly has to struggle against, so she passes this round with flying colours.

SCORE SO FAR: 6

 

  1. Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?

Due to Sansa’s status as an attractive young noblewoman who’s also the heir to a bunch of really important land and titles, she can influence the plot simply by being in the story and doing nothing. Her high status means that other characters will always try and get her on their side by one way or another, and the plot will generate itself. But I’m not going to count that, as it’s not an active influence in the slightest.

Once you put Sansa’s status aside, she doesn’t actually have that much direct influence on the plot. Most of the decisions she makes are reacting to the circumstances she’s in, which are usually created by other characters. She doesn’t get captured or killed, but for most of the series she’s moved around like a chess piece by other, cannier characters. While in the series four finale she shows that she’s not willing to be manipulated, as of yet this hasn’t really translated into a tangible impact on the plot, so I’m withholding the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 6

 

  1. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?

One of the key criticisms levelled at Sansa’s character is that she is a ‘typical teenage girl’. In some ways, Sansa does conform to a lot of stereotypes about teenage girls: she can be very superficial and petty, she places a lot of emphasis on being traditionally feminine, and she develops ridiculous crushes on some frankly awful boys.

I could watch this forever. (image: giphy.com)
I could watch this forever. (image: giphy.com)

However, this is not the only aspect to her character; she is also adaptable, kind, and a quick learner. Furthermore, as the series develops, we see Sansa using people’s perception of her as a stereotypical teenage girl as a kind of shield. In constantly professing her love for Joffrey, she is able to convince people that she is loyal to the crown. While she is still engaged to him, she uses this influence as a means of moderating some of his cruelty, most notably stopping him from having Ser Dontos Hollard killed while maintaining an outward aspect of innocence and naivety. This is a very subversive treatment of traditionally feminine stereotypes, so she passes this round.

SCORE SO FAR: 7

 

  1. How does she relate to other female characters?

Sansa has a wide range of relationships with a wide range of female characters. She looks up to her mother, Catelyn. At first, she also looks up to Queen Cersei, but when her true nature is revealed Sansa’s opinion of her changes dramatically. She has a brief friendship with Margaery Tyrell – although Sansa is too naïve to see that this is motivated by the Tyrells’ openly political ambitions – and she looks on Septa Mordane with the strange mix of admiration and frustration that teachers often inspire. Most interesting of all is her relationship with her sister, Arya. The two are polar opposites and frequently argue, but despite their fighting Sansa still loves her sister and wants to be reunited with her.

This range of relationships are all realistic, complex and well thought out, and so Sansa passes this round spectacularly.

FINAL SCORE: 8/10

 

Sansa is a naïve young noblewoman who spends the series learning to keep her true plans a secret, and is beginning to take hold of her own destiny through whatever means are available to her. She has well-developed weaknesses, grows up over the course of the series, and realistic relationships with a wide range of other female characters. She is not always in control of her own destiny, but due to her circumstances, this is actually a very realistic plot choice. While she’s often described as one of the weakest characters in A Song of Ice and Fire, she’s certainly passed my test!

Next week, I’ll be looking at The Fault in Our Stars. Hazel Lancaster, I’m coming for you.