For those of you that don’t know, Sophie is the main character of Roald Dahl’s 1982 children’s book, The BFG. The book begins when Sophie finds herself unable to sleep one night, and instead of getting a glass of water like a normal person, ends up getting kidnapped and taken to Giant Country by a Big Friendly Giant who goes around giving nice dreams to children. The other giants aren’t so friendly, preferring to eat the kids instead, and the rest of the book follows Sophie’s attempts to stay alive and stop the giants from eating everyone. The book has become a modern children’s classic, winning several awards and topping many charts, hasn’t really been out of print since it was first published, and has been made into two different adaptations – but that’s fairly standard for Roald Dahl. Sophie herself is at the centre of all this, becoming one of the most beloved characters in modern children’s fiction.
But does she measure up to the hype? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!
- Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?
You might think that in a story like The BFG, it would be very difficult for Sophie to have much control over her own destiny. Aside from the fact that she is only eight years old, the story begins when she’s kidnapped by a giant – something which by its very definition, she cannot control. Add to that the fact that she doesn’t come up much higher than her kidnapper’s ankles, and it’s easy to see why she might be powerless.
However, this isn’t really the case. While she may have been kidnapped in order to stop her from telling everyone about the giant she saw, the BFG doesn’t intend to treat her like a prisoner. In fact, if you look at their relationship it’s pretty clear that intellectually, Sophie has the upper hand. This is where she is allowed to exercise some control over her life – by keeping herself safe from other giants and coming up with a plan to be rid of them once and for all. Even though he kidnapped her, the BFG is more than happy to let Sophie take the lead – and she does so, and does it well.
I’m going to give Sophie the full point here. Even though she was kidnapped, she still manages to take back some control over her life, and the story as a larger whole. She gets to decide where she goes and what she does (to a certain extent – let’s not forget the flesh-eating giants). The BFG is the one who ends up doing most of the legwork, but it’s Sophie’s orders he’s following.
SCORE SO FAR: 1
- Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?
We don’t hear a lot about Sophie’s hobbies. She grew up in a pretty grim orphanage, and it’s implied that she simply wasn’t allowed to have fun for much of her life. Her goals and beliefs are much more clearly defined. At first, she wants to get away from the BFG, but then she wants to stay with him, explore Dream Country, and bring down the horrible man-eating giants. She’s not a bystander – she believes very strongly in doing something to fix things instead of letting them slide – is very patriotic, and is clearly quite attached to the concept of politeness. I’ll give her the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 2
- Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?
Sophie is a remarkably consistent character. She’s curious, self-possessed, polite, resourceful, brave and intelligent, and she remains this way throughout the book. We don’t see much of her skills, unless you’re going to count her ability to adapt to situations, but that’s pretty consistent too.
SCORE SO FAR: 3
- Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?
A level-headed, curious and brave little girl hatches a plan to stop a cabal of cannibalistic giants.
SCORE SO FAR: 4
- Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?
Sophie is eight years old, and so doesn’t have a love life. Most of her decisions are influenced by her desire to stop the giants or just keep on staying alive, so she passes this round.
SCORE SO FAR: 5
- Does she develop over the course of the story?
Sophie doesn’t develop a lot over the story. She’s a pretty static character, finishing the story in much the same way that she began it. The only real difference we see is her ability to build relationships. She never had friends at the orphanage, but managed to develop quite a close bond with the BFG – in fact, her saying goodbye to him is the only time she really gets upset during the book. But this isn’t really explored properly, especially as we don’t really see any of Sophie’s friendships outside the BFG. I’ll give her half a point.
SCORE SO FAR: 5.5
- Does she have a weakness?
Sophie doesn’t have a weakness. She has no flaws whatsoever, always remaining brave, stoic, level-headed and self-possessed no matter what happens to her. This is really unrealistic – especially when you consider her upbringing, which was rife with neglect. It’s also a real shame, as it would have really helped to flesh her out as a character.
SCORE SO FAR: 5.5
- Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?
Sophie is a huge influence on the plot. She might not do a lot of physical things, but it’s her ideas that drive the story forward. She comes up with plans, persuades the BFG to carry them out, talks around the Queen of England when she’s trying to tell her about the giants, and also stabs a giant with a brooch when things go wrong. She’s the driving force behind the story, so there’s no way she’d fail this round.
SCORE SO FAR: 6.5
- How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?
Sophie doesn’t really relate to gender stereotypes very much. She’s a young girl who gets kidnapped in the middle of the night by a big scary giant – but the giant turns out to be friendly, and does whatever Sophie says. She takes control of the situation, masterminds the plan to bring the rest of the giants down, and creates a better life for herself – not exactly what you would expect from the typical ‘kidnap’ story. The only thing I can really think of is her predilection for good manners, but as it’s quite a small part of her character I don’t think that’s really enough to mark her down. I’m giving her the full point.
SCORE SO FAR: 7.5
- How does she relate to other female characters?
We only know about two relationships Sophie has with other female characters – the Queen of England and Mrs Clonkers, who runs the orphanage. We don’t see a lot of Mrs Clonkers, but we know that she’s very cruel, and Sophie is a little scared of her. We see a lot more of the Queen, who treats Sophie with respect and kindness, despite the strangeness of their meeting. It’s pretty clear that Sophie thinks very highly of the Queen – when the BFG asks who could stop the man-eating giants, the Queen is the first person she thinks of – and they go on to have a cordial relationship. That’s not really enough to let her ace this round, but I’ll be generous and give her half a point.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10
Sophie is a consistent, active character with a range of clearly-defined goals and beliefs who isn’t completely defined by her love life or gender stereotypes. She may not develop or have any weaknesses, but she’s certainly passed my test!
Next week, it’s the eightieth post on Strong Female Characters! How time flies. I’ll be doing another comparison post and this time, it’s on another classic fairy tale character. Little Red Riding Hood, I’m coming for you.
And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.