Strong Female Characters: Amy Santiago

For those of you that don’t know, Amy Santiago is one of the leading ladies of the American sitcom, Brooklyn Nine Nine. Set in a New York police precinct, the show follows a group of detectives who are essentially crime-fighting best friends. The show has become a critical and commercial success, being nominated for several awards as well as pulling in the viewing figures, and Amy herself is at the centre of all this as one of the show’s main characters.

But does she measure up to the hype? 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?

Much like many other characters I’ve looked at, Amy’s ability to shape her own destiny is somewhat hampered by the fact that she has to follow orders. She has to investigate the cases that are assigned to her, and while she does have some leeway in this, she still has to do as she’s told.

But the catch is, Amy loves doing what she’s told.

Although she does freak out about the responsibility that comes along with that multiple times. (image: tumblr.com)
Although she does freak out about the responsibility that comes along with that multiple times. (image: tumblr.com)

Amy is such an overachiever that she manages to turn following orders into a much more active role. Simply doing what she’s told isn’t enough for her – she wants to be the best at what she does and she won’t settle for anything less. This means that she often goes way overboard in order to impress her boss, and she does it all of her own volition.

But even leaving all of that to one side, Amy is still an active character. She pursues responsibility with a vengeance, determined to fulfil her dream of becoming the captain of a police precinct, and this is really what drives her through the show. It’s made quite clear that even though she’s following orders, she’s doing so because a) it fits in with what she already wants out of life and b) she actively enjoys doing it. She may not always get to decide where she goes and what she does, but she has decided that is a position that she wants to be in. I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 1

 

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

Amy’s goals, beliefs and hobbies are extremely clear. She can play the French horn, loves puzzles, and gets a real kick out of organising everything she does with minute precision. Her beliefs are made clear too: she would never disobey an order from a superior officer and she’s something of a feminist. As far as her goals go, as I’ve already mentioned she wants to become captain of a police precinct and be the best at what she does. It’s clear on all three counts, so 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?

Amy is a very consistent character. She’s competitive, intelligent, meticulously organised, a stickler for the rules and can be a little bit obnoxious, and she remains this way throughout the show. Her skills follow along a similar vein: she’s a very good detective and is great at solving puzzles, but she’s also a terrible cook with rather patchy social skills.

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

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 competitive, intelligent detective tries to out-perform her colleagues in fulfil her dream of captaining a police precinct.

SCORE SO FAR: 4

 

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

Amy’s love life is a feature of the show, but it is not the focus. Over the course of the show she dates a couple of guys, but eventually ends up in a relationship with Jake Peralta, fellow detective and musical genius:

However, this takes a back seat to their job, which is very firmly the focus of the show. What influences the bulk of Amy’s decisions is her desire to succeed, whether that’s by one-upping her colleagues or by persuading her current captain to become her mentor. She gets the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 5

 

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

What’s interesting about Amy as a character is that she is always actively trying to improve herself. She views her own character as a work in process and constantly tries to make it better, whether that’s by getting Captain Holt to mentor her or taking a seminar on power poses. Amy’s professional development matters to her a lot, and we see this progress throughout the show.

Of course, the best character development is the one she doesn’t set out to find. In Brooklyn Nine-Nine she also learns to unwind a little, calm down and stop herself from getting so flustered she can’t make a decision. She slowly stops putting pressure on herself, tries to be more decisive and works on her social skills, too. That’s solid development on all fronts, so I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 6

 

  1. Does she have a weakness?

Amy has plenty of weaknesses which do hold her up over the course of the story. She puts far too much pressure on herself, has a desperate need to please, panics wildly to the point where she can’t do anything and freaks out when things don’t go according to her meticulously detailed plans.

That's Granger levels of organisation right there. (image: tumblr.com)
That’s Granger levels of organisation right there. (image: tumblr.com)

This is something she has to work against all through the show and a huge part of her character development, as it often gets in the way of her own happiness.

SCORE SO FAR: 7

 

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

Amy is a real influence on the plot. She drives the plot forward at every turn – usually through her desire to be the best at what she does and her friendly rivalry with Jake. She’s constantly chasing down leads, solving cases, helping out her friends and just generally working on herself to the best of her ability. Amy’s actions and decisions are a real force on the plot, so I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 8

 

  1. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?

Amy is very progressive when it comes to gender stereotypes. She’s a career-focused, ambitious, competitive and determined young woman, working in a field that is not just unconventional but dangerous too. Combine this with her desire to be the best at what she does and her slightly shaky social skills and you have a collection of character traits that are not something you’d usually see in a young woman.

Added to this is the question of race, as Amy is Latina. I’m sure you’re all familiar with stereotypes around Latina women, thanks to the kind of portrayals we usually see in the media: the loud, seductive, overly-sexualised and ‘feisty’ Latina who seems to be a staple of lazy writers everywhere.

You know, something along these lines. (image: pinterest.com)
You know, something along these lines. (image: pinterest.com)

This gives a different spin on the discussion of all Latina characters, as the stereotypes that are most commonly associated with them are a) far more prevalent when you look at Latina characters as a whole, due to under-representation in the media and b) not usually associated with women from other backgrounds.

So how do these stereotypes affect Amy? The short answer is that they don’t. Dorky, competitive Amy is so far from the stereotype of the sultry, sexy Latina that you can’t even see it. That’s what makes her character so great: she doesn’t rely on any stereotypes about race or gender to make up her personality.

SCORE SO FAR: 9

 

  1. How does she relate to other female characters?

Amy has plenty of relationships with other female characters. She’s friends with Rosa Diaz, another detective in the precinct, but she’s also pretty intimidated by her, is often shocked by some of her behaviour and doesn’t know much about her outside of work. She has a complicated relationship with Gina, the superficial and celebrity-obsessed precinct administrator, which starts off cool but ends up as a cautious kind of friendship. Towards the end of season three she has to go undercover in a women’s prison to get information from a mobster’s sister, and while she starts off picking fights just to stand her ground, she ends up getting kind of close to some of the inmates. These are just some of the relationships with other female characters Amy has, so I’ll give her the point.

FINAL SCORE: 10/10

 

Congratulations! Amy is a well-rounded character with a range of goals, beliefs and hobbies, carefully-planned strengths and weaknesses, and who doesn’t rely on gendered or racial stereotypes to form the bedrock of her personality. She develops over the course of the story, has a range of relationships with other female characters, and she’s in control of her own destiny – she’s certainly passed my test!

Next week, I’ll be posting one of the most spoilerific posts yet. I’ll be talking about a mystery character from the continuation of one of my favourite series ever – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

 

And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.

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Strong Female Characters: Katherine North

For those of you that don’t know, Katherine North (known as Kit) is the main character of Emma Geen’s debut novel, The Many Selves of Katherine North. Set in a future where humans have developed the technology to project their consciousness into the bodies of animals, the book follows Kit – an experienced projector, or ‘phenomenaut’ – as she starts to realise that her organisation might be far more sinister than she thought she knew. The book is Geen’s first novel and is already making waves, having received some very positive reviews, and Kit herself is at the centre of all this – whether she’s being a fox, a whale or a tiger.

But does she measure up to the hype? 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?

Kit is a very active character. It’s made clear that she’s had to jump through a lot of hoops to keep her job, and she still has to obey orders – she doesn’t, for example, get to choose whether she gets to be an elephant or an eagle, she just gets told. However, this doesn’t put a crimp in her agency. She investigates her employer, ShenCorp, when she starts to suspect them of various dodgy dealings, even though this could backfire spectacularly. When she’s in an animal’s body, and starts seeing other animals that shouldn’t be there, she starts investigating, believing that they might be artificial images inserted into the program in order to test her. And, of course, she runs away from her employer when she realises that she can’t trust them. Even though she spends a lot of the book taking orders, she’s still a very active character, so I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 1

 

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

Kit doesn’t really have many hobbies, but this is actually made clear that this is a part of her character – she’s a very insular person who simply doesn’t have a life outside of work. Her goals and beliefs are much more clear. Her main goal is to stay a phenomenaut for as long as possible – and as she’s beginning to fear she’s too old to carry on much longer, this is a real concern for her. Later, she wants to find out the truth about the animals she’s been seeing and get away from ShenCorp, and these are goals that come out of her experiences in the novel.

Her beliefs are also very well defined. Early on in the book, Kit is asked to road-test one of ShenCorp’s new ideas: body tourism. Whereas previously, Kit has been inhabiting animal bodies for scientific research – after weeks of careful study, and for months at a time – body tourism is exactly what it sounds like: allowing normal people to take a holiday by projecting themselves into an animal’s mind. Kit believes that this is fundamentally wrong, but after a near-death experience, has no choice but to go along with it. She believes that respect for the animals they inhabit is a crucial part of a phenomenaut’s role, and she is extremely uncomfortable with ShenCorp’s newest and most sinister development: projecting themselves into human bodies.

giphy llamaface
Like this, but with less llama. (image: giphy.com)

Her goals and beliefs are very well-defined and influence her character all throughout the book. They’re a direct result of her own experiences, so I’m going to give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 2

 

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

Kit is a very consistent character. She’s determined, resourceful, intelligent, curious, but also extremely awkward, snappy, a little paranoid and has very poor social skills. As far as her skills go, she’s a talented phenomenaut, but she’s also a terrible public speaker and has some trouble disassociating herself with the animals she temporarily inhabits.

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’?

An intelligent but withdrawn young woman projects her consciousness into the bodies of animals – but soon begins to suspect that she’s not alone.

SCORE SO FAR: 4

 

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

Kit doesn’t really have much of a love life to speak of.

giphy whale
Apart from the ‘incident’. (image: giphy.com)

She has a long-standing crush on her Neuro, Buckley – the scientist who talks her through the consciousness projections, and is effectively her closest link to the human world while she’s in an animal body. But this isn’t really a huge feature of the novel. It does influence her decisions a little, but most of the time she’s far too preoccupied with trying to work out what’s going on with the sinister ShenCorp. I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 5

 

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

Kit does develop over the course of the story. She becomes more paranoid, forces herself to confront some unpleasant truths, and finds herself becoming more and more isolated as the story goes on. But it’s not all bad – she also starts becoming more mature, and takes steps toward expressing her emotions and feeling comfortable in her own skin. I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 6

 

  1. Does she have a weakness?

Kit has plenty of weaknesses. She finds it very difficult to disassociate herself from her experiences projecting into animals’ bodies, and elements of their behaviour start bleeding through into her normal life. She can’t express her emotions well, runs away from her problems, doesn’t have many social skills to speak of and tends towards the paranoid. That’s a range of weaknesses that do actually hold her back, so I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 7

 

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

Kit drives the plot forward at every turn. She investigates ShenCorp, comes to question everything she thought she knew, and digs deeper and deeper into the mystery at every turn. Of course, a lot of the time she is following orders, so there is that to consider, but there’s no denying that she’s a real force on the plot.

SCORE SO FAR: 8

 

  1. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?

Kit is pretty progressive when it comes to gender stereotypes. She’s intelligent, resourceful, and determined. She’s widely acknowledged as one of the best phenomenauts in the field, despite the fact that she is a teenage girl. She struggles to express herself, grapples with paranoia, and is emotionally stunted in more ways than one. She acts like an animal on a regular basis, isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, and has absolutely no issue with things that other people might find absolutely disgusting.

giphy gross
I made this face a few times. (image: giphy.com)

She also pays absolutely no attention to her appearance, not even caring that as part of her job she’s asked to shave her head. These are hardly traits that are common for teenage girls, so I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 9

 

  1. How does she relate to other female characters?

Kit has plenty of relationships with other female characters. There’s the other phenomenauts: Sally, a friend she lost touch with; Lisa, a girl she sticks up for; and Daisy, who she frequently butts heads with when Daisy bullies the younger girls. There’s Grandma Wolf – a creepy old lady who hangs around ShenCorp – who she both pities, and is frightened of. And then there’s Kit’s mother, who is suffering from a degenerative disease: she loves her, but she’s so far from the person she used to be that Kit finds it incredibly difficult to be around her. That’s a range of complicated and nuanced relationships on all counts, so I’ll give her the point.

FINAL SCORE:10/10

 

Congratulations, Emma Geen! Kit is a very well-rounded character, with a range of clear goals, beliefs, skills and weaknesses. She develops throughout the story, isn’t completely dependent on her love life, has a range of relationships with a range of female characters and is an incredibly active figure. And she does it all while inhabiting a range of different bodies, which is no mean feat for any writer to pull off. If you ever get the chance to read this book, I highly recommend it.

Next week, I’ll be looking at Brooklyn Nine Nine. Amy Santiago, I’m coming for you.

 

And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.

 

Strong Female Characters: Eponine Thenardier

For those of you that don’t know, Eponine Thenardier is one of the leading female characters in Les Miserables, the door-stopping classic written by Victor Hugo. Set (and written) in nineteenth-century France, the novel covers just about everything – including morality standards, the Battle of Waterloo, the concept of redemption, the French penal system, the history of the Parisian sewers and a hell of a lot of architecture – but mainly focuses around Jean Valjean, a former convict who redeems himself through good works and gets caught up in a rebellion while trying to avoid arrest. Eponine has a relatively small role in the overall story, but it actually ends up being quite significant because the original book is over 650,000 words long. She’s certainly one of the most significant female characters in the story, and – thanks to modern adaptations – has become one of the most popular.

But does she measure up to the hype? 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?

Eponine is actually a pretty active character. It takes her a while to come into her own – as a child, she does almost nothing, and when we first meet her older self she’s very much following her father’s money-making schemes – but once she falls in love with Marius she starts to strike out on her own much more often. She prevents her father from hurting Marius by stopping the planned burglary of Cosette, lying about his whereabouts when her father tells her to look for Marius in his rooms, and slipping Cosette and her father a note telling them to leave. She also takes it upon herself to find out where Cosette and Valjean live, decides to withhold Cosette’s letters to Marius when she’s asked to deliver them to him, and sneaks onto the barricade dressed as a boy in order to die alongside Marius. She does all of this of her own volition, and it’s all out of love for Marius. I’ll talk about this more later on, but for now I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 1

 

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

We don’t see much of Eponine’s hobbies. It’s stated in the book that she’s a heavy drinker, and that this has taken a toll on her voice and appearance, but as I said in my Rachel Watson post, I’m not going to count alcoholism as a hobby, especially seeing as it’s likely a way of coping with the abject poverty Eponine has grown up in. Said abject poverty has, quite understandably, put a bit of a crimp in Eponine’s social life, so we don’t see anything along more conventional hobby lines. The most we hear of her hobbies is when we discover she enjoys walking by herself at night, and she helpfully sings a song about it.

Her goals and beliefs are much more clearly defined. Her goals are to stay alive and to get as close to Marius as possible, by any means necessary. As far as her beliefs go, she’s clearly someone who doesn’t adhere to a strict moral code – all the scams she engages in are proof enough of that – but she is someone who has a strong sense of loyalty to those she cares about and is willing to risk her life for them. She’s got something on all three counts here, so I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 2

 

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

For the most part, Eponine is a pretty consistent character. She’s a brash, sometimes abrasive young criminal who thinks nothing of all kinds of petty crime, but she also has an extremely strong sense of loyalty, is very brave, and is capable of kindness and goodness despite the difficult life she’s lead. She’s very much a diamond in the rough – one of those characters with a harsh exterior, but who still is capable of empathy and selflessness because there’s still some good in them. Unfortunately a lot of Eponine’s harsher edges are omitted in the musical, which I think lessens the impact of this part of her personality, but I’ll still 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’?

Actually, I can’t describe Eponine without mentioning her love life. Such a lot of her motivations are influenced by her feelings for Marius, and that’s crucial to her trajectory as a character. Unfortunately, both her motivations and the better side of her personality – which are very important parts of her character – are only brought out by her feelings for Marius, so I can’t really let her pass this round.

SCORE SO FAR: 3

 

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

Pretty much all of Eponine’s decisions are influence by her love life. She decides to stop Cosette and Valjean from being burgled because she knows it would hurt Marius, not because she’s met them and likes them. She decides to keep Cosette’s letter to Marius, because she hates the fact that he has fallen for someone else and wants to break them up. She follows Marius to the barricades out of love, as well, believing that there they will be able to die together. All of the independent decisions Eponine makes are motivated by her love for Marius, so she’s never going to pass this round.

tumblr_n7rrrm8f4d1smcbm7o1_250
That’s right, I WENT THERE. (image: wifflegif.com)

That being said, much like with other characters I have to wonder if Eponine’s feelings for Marius are all that’s going on here. It’s made clear that despite a happy childhood, Eponine has spent a significant amount of time growing up in squalor. It’s not talked about in the musical, but in the book she expands on this, saying that she was once so hungry that she hallucinated and at one point she seriously considered suicide. It’s also made clear in the book that she’s been drinking from a very early age, looks like a wizened, toothless old woman at the age of fifteen, and has been participating in her father’s schemes for so long that she now sees burglary and embezzlement as a normal, and acceptable, way of life.

And then she meets Marius, who’s rich, and kind, and doesn’t turn her in when he finds out how her family makes their living. It’s implied that Marius is the first person who’s treated her kindly in a long time, so no wonder she falls so desperately in love with him. But I think that for Eponine, Marius doesn’t just represent the kindness she’s been missing – he also represents a way out. Marius is so clearly not a part of the world that Eponine grew up in that I have to wonder if he doesn’t represent some kind of hope for her – a hope that one day she will be able to leave poverty behind her and have a better, safer life. Unfortunately Victor Hugo doesn’t really expand on this, so it’s all speculation on my part. As we don’t get confirmation on this, I’ll have to do what I did for Daisy Buchanan and withhold the point, but hopefully this interpretation is at least something to think about.

SCORE SO FAR: 3

 

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

In the musical, Eponine doesn’t really develop much, but in the book, her character gets much more of a chance to grow. She starts the book as a spoilt child, but after ten years pass we see she’s grown into a twisted, malnourished young woman accustomed to an extremely hard life. We see she thinks nothing of a life of crime but then, when she meets Marius, the kinder and gentler parts of her personality are slowly drawn out of her. She starts to turn against her criminal associates (including her own family) and starts becoming a better person – culminating when she quite literally takes a bullet for Marius, sacrificing herself so that he will live. It’s a beautiful and actually quite inspiring piece of character development, showing that no matter what people have been through, they are still capable of love and redemption.

giphy tears
I’ve just got something in my eye… (image: giphy.com)

Unfortunately, the musical irons all of this out, which I think does a real disservice to her character. I’ll talk about this more later on, but for now I’m ignoring the musical and giving her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 4

 

  1. Does she have a weakness?

Once again, Eponine’s flaws are ironed out in the musical, but in the book one of her biggest flaws is her tendency to selfishness. She can be petty and jealous when things don’t go her way, and she’s perfectly prepared to stoop to all kinds of lows if that’s what suits her. It doesn’t really hold her back – personally, I think this developed as more of a self-preservation tactic – but it is something that she manages to overcome. Once again I’m giving her the point and saving my rant about the musical for later.

SCORE SO FAR: 5

 

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

In the book Eponine exerts quite a bit of influence on the plot, but more in the way she manages to manipulate other characters. She finds out information about Cosette for Marius, in an attempt to make him happy, and ends up engineering their first meeting. She warns off Cosette and Valjean, leading them to start preparing to leave the country. She takes letters between Cosette and Marius, and decides to hide them to make Marius give up on Cosette. And, of course, she saves Marius’s life – but she does get shot and die in the process so this last one’s a bit shaky. In the musical she has a lot less influence – but as they’re trying to cram a book that’s more than 650,000 words into the space of a couple of hours, I can kind of understand why her character got slightly overlooked here. I’ll be generous and give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 6

 

  1. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?

Eponine’s character works differently with gender stereotypes depending on whether you’re looking at the adaptation or the book. In the original novel, she’s a hardened criminal, drastically changed by her terrible adolescence, morally ambiguous and having lost her looks at a very young age, due to a combination of poverty, drink and malnutrition. It’s extremely rare to see this in a teenage female character, and this helps to offset the fact that she’s another teenage girl whose story is fundamentally about romantic love.

giphy eye roll
Can you pull a muscle from rolling your eyes? Asking for a friend. (image: giphy.com)

A lot of the more clichéd elements of her character are offset by the sheer depths of human misery she has been through, however. It’s worth noting that Eponine’s story is about how romantic love can redeem someone despite their past – but whereas in these kinds of story it’s usually the love of a pure and innocent woman who redeems a man who’s made some dodgy choices, with Eponine it’s the other way around. She is the one who has done bad things, and becomes a better person thanks to love – but there’s another spin on this old trope because that love isn’t even reciprocated. She becomes a much more complex character, as it’s not the act of love but the feeling of love that ultimately makes her a better person. Couple that with the fact that she has to keep struggling against the nasty, self-preserving elements of her own personality, and you get a character that critics have argued is one of the most complex in the whole novel.

However, the musical just doesn’t really pack the same kind of punch. Its main problem is that while Eponine has been through a lot, she’s nowhere near as nasty as her counterpart in the book. She already starts off from a very sympathetic position: as Marius’s best friend who’s secretly in love with him. She doesn’t grow into selflessness because she’s already there – leading Marius to the sickeningly saintly Cosette, even though she finds this heart-breaking. All her sharper edges are gone – there’s no alcoholism, no manipulation, and we don’t actually see her commit a crime. We are told that Eponine is tough and that she’s been through a lot, but we don’t actually see it for ourselves.

What this means is that she doesn’t get anywhere near the kind of character development that she does in the book, and her character suffers as a result. The kind of gender stereotypes that she’s associated with now are far more to do with the tragedy of unrequited love, and the idea that a woman will wait for a man to love her – which is a huge step back, considering the original novel was written in the nineteenth century. The idea of love bringing out the better elements of her personality doesn’t really apply here, because they’re already on display right from the beginning. The idea of redemption doesn’t really hold water, because Eponine doesn’t really need to be redeemed. In the book, it’s made explicitly clear that she has done bad things which have taken a serious toll on her personality. She’s got something she has to work against. In the musical, it’s difficult to believe that Eponine has done bad things at all.

giphy eponine
I mean, look at her little face. (image: giphy.com)

The long and short of all this is that the musical irons out a lot of Eponine’s nasty side – but it takes a lot of her character’s depth with it. In the book, we know that Eponine starts out as a bad person, who has to work her way up to goodness. In the musical, Eponine starts out as a good person in bad circumstances, who doesn’t really have to work her way up to anything. When you take away that gritty side of her character, all that’s left is the romanticised unrequited love, and all the tired old tropes that come along with it. That’s still a feature of her character in the book, so she’d never completely pass this round, but that’s all there is to her in the musical.

SCORE SO FAR: 6.5

 

  1. How does she relate to other female characters?

We don’t see a lot of Eponine’s relationships with other female characters. We know her mother spoiled her when she was little, but neither of them appear to really care about each other. She has a sister, Azelma, who looks up to her – but she’s so insignificant that she’s completely cut from the musical, and with good reason. The only relationship of substance is the one she has with Cosette.

Cosette and Eponine are clearly set up to be contrasts to one another. Eponine and her family mistreated Cosette as a child, dressing her in rags and making her act as a servant, but when they grow older the tables have turned and Cosette is wealthy, and Eponine is poor. Cosette is everything Eponine is not – kind, innocent, naïve, beautiful and obedient – and doesn’t really seem to think much of Eponine at all. Eponine, on the other hand, is wildly jealous of Cosette and resents her for being the object of Marius’s affections. Unfortunately the two don’t get much of an opportunity to really settle their differences, as they only meet a couple of times. Their relationship is really something for the reader to observe, rather than something the two girls create themselves.

FINAL SCORE: 7/10

 

Eponine is a character with a range of strengths and weaknesses, who develops over the course of the story and who has a certain amount of control over her own destiny, but ultimately that isn’t enough to let her pass my test. Her character is so completely wrapped up in her unrequited love for Marius that it’s impossible to separate her from it, and that’s ultimately what brings her down. Whereas most of Hugo’s characters serve more than one purpose in the story, Eponine only serves one – to illustrate the power of redemption through tragic love.

It’s a real shame because she is still a very compelling character in her own right. Many modern critics think that Eponine is one of the most interesting and complex characters in Les Miserables, if only she had been developed a little further. In his book, A History of the French Novel, George Saintsbury described her like this:

“…Eponine, if Hugo had chosen to take more trouble with her, might have been a great, and is actually the most interesting, character.”

This, I feel, really sums up the problems with Eponine’s character. She simply isn’t examined in enough detail to really bring out the best in her. If her character was fleshed out a little more, perhaps she would have passed my test, but unfortunately that isn’t the case.

Next week, I’ll be looking at a new favourite of mine. Katherine North, I’m coming for you.

 

And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.

 

Strong Female Characters: Erin Gilbert

For those of you that don’t know, Erin Gilbert is one of the leading ladies of the 2016 reboot of Ghostbusters. Set in New York City, the plot follows Erin and her friends’ attempts to study and prove the existence of ghosts – oh, and prevent the apocalypse while they’re at it. The film was at the centre of a certain amount of controversy since it was announced, with some people questioning why there needed to be a reboot of such a successful franchise, and some other people using that as an opportunity to air some pretty worrying views about women. Regardless, the reboot was certainly one of the most talked-about films of 2016, wobbling a bit at the box office but being well-received by critics. Erin herself is at the centre of all this, love her or hate her.

But does she measure up to the hype? 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?

For the most part, Erin is in control of her own destiny. She decides to confront Abby about the book they wrote together, then to join up with her as a professional ghost hunter, and then to try and prevent the ghost-pocalypse. Sometimes her hand is forced – whether that’s by her being fired from her job, the other Ghostbusters’ actions or the interference of the mayor and the villain – but that’s pretty normal. She still has moments where she gets to decide where she goes and what she does, so I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 1

 

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

You could class Erin’s hobbies as ghost-hunting and science, but to be honest I think that’s cheating, as that’s also her job. With those off the table, there isn’t much else to go on in terms of her hobbies, but her goals and beliefs are much more clearly defined. Erin clearly believes that professional acclaim and recognition are very important, and is prepared to put those above other concerns in her life. Her goals are to be recognised for her scientific work (simply completing it is not enough), to prove the existence of ghosts, and to prevent New York from being sucked into a big swirly green cloud-vortex.

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I mean, just imagine the traffic problems this could cause. (image: rollingstone.com)

SCORE SO FAR: 2

 

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

Erin is a remarkably consistent character. She’s intelligent, awkward, sincere, uptight, craves acceptance and recognition for her work and can be quite conservative. Where her skills are concerned, she’s also shown to be a brilliant physicist, clearly explaining concepts to the audience and the other Ghostbusters alike. She definitely passes this round.

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’?

An uptight, conservative physicist who craves recognition decides to make her living from hunting ghosts instead.

SCORE SO FAR: 4

 

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

Erin doesn’t really have a love life, but that’s not for want of trying. She has a massive crush on the Ghostbusters’ receptionist, Kevin, but that doesn’t really go anywhere as he doesn’t like her back. But even that doesn’t affect many of her decisions – most of the time what motivates her is the desire for professional recognition or preventing the ghost-pocalypse. I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 5

 

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

Over the course of the film, Erin learns to let go of her need for professional recognition. At the beginning of the film she’s working at Columbia University and is desperate for a tenured position, to the point where she’s constantly looking for approval from Charles Dance.

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DID YOU LEARN NOTHING FROM GAME OF THRONES?!?! (image: radiotimes.com)

As the film goes on she still looks for approval, and actually puts her team in danger to get it – she opens up a ghost trap to convince a prominent sceptic that ghosts are real, and it really doesn’t end well. She’s very upset when the mayor announces that their work can never be publicly acknowledged for fear of causing a panic. But as the film goes on, and Erin gets her hands dirty by fighting ghosts and preventing an apocalypse, she starts needing less approval and actually ends up feeling mostly comfortable with the mayor’s arrangement. It’s small-scale stuff, but I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 6

 

  1. Does she have a weakness?

Erin has a number of weaknesses – she’s awkward, she’s uptight, she has no idea how to appropriately express romantic feelings for someone but most of all, she craves the approval and acceptance of her peers. This does get her into trouble, as I discussed above, and it’s something she has to work against for the whole film.

SCORE SO FAR: 7

 

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

Erin’s a driving force on the plot. She’s always involved in the action, whether she’s reconnecting with old friends or hunting ghosts. She forces the plot forward at every turn, so I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 8

 

  1. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?

Erin doesn’t really interact with gender stereotypes much. She’s a brilliant, focussed academic, and later a ghost hunter who gets repeatedly dowsed in ectoplasm and chased through creepy buildings. Her appearance is occasionally mentioned, but only in the context of her ridiculously conservative dress standards, which she often worries about being too sexy. Her love life isn’t a feature – she has a crush on the receptionist but it doesn’t go anywhere, and she doesn’t go crazy or hold a grudge because of that. These aren’t traits you usually see in female characters. It’s very refreshing for the genre as well – if there’s a woman in an average ghost-hunting story (particularly one that was produced before Buffy came out), she’s most likely to be cast in the roles of helpless victim or mysterious psychic. It’s nice to see that isn’t the case here.

SCORE SO FAR: 9

 

  1. How does she relate to other female characters?

Erin has a bunch of relationships with other female characters. She reconnects with her old friend Abby, resolving their differences to fight ghosts together. She strikes up a cautious friendship with Holtzmann – not because she doesn’t like her, but because she’s afraid she might blow things up.

giphy holtzmann
I mean, that’s actually quite a reasonable fear. (image: giphy.com)

She becomes friends with Patty, and seems a little shy of her – but unfortunately this relationship isn’t really developed as much as it could be, and we don’t see much more of it than that. She also butts heads with Jennifer Lynch, the aide from the mayor’s office, about support and funding for the Ghostbusters, and eventually develops a working relationship with her. I have to say, I think it’s slightly odd that Erin’s relationships with women of colour aren’t given anywhere near as much time and attention as her relationships with other white women, but I’m sincerely hoping that this is due to constraints of screen time. Regardless of these potentially unfortunate implications, she does have a range of different relationships with different women, so I’ll give her the point.

FINAL SCORE: 10/10

 

Congratulations, Paul Feig! Erin is a very well-rounded character with a range of goals and beliefs, strengths and weaknesses, and a solid amount of character development. She’s firmly in control of her destiny, isn’t completely defined by gender stereotypes or her love life, and has a series of different relationships with different women. She’s certainly passed my test!

Erin’s a very well-developed character, as are most of the women in Ghostbusters, and I have to say I think it’s a real shame that this has been eclipsed by all the controversy surrounding the film. While it’s true the film isn’t perfect, its humour isn’t for everyone and it draws heavily on the original, I think it’s still worth a look. You can tell that some real time and effort has been put into this film and it would be a pity if that doesn’t get recognised. Feel free to disagree with me if you like (after all, this blog is just my opinion every week), but I think the new Ghostbusters has a lot going for it. It’ll never replace the original, but you still might find yourself enjoying it. If you haven’t yet seen it, I’d strongly recommend that you do – if only to make up your own mind!

Next week, I’ll be looking at another one of the classics – Les Miserables. Eponine, I’m coming for you.

 

And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.