Tuesday, February 3, 2015

My Favorite Literary Protagonists

If you know me at all, you know I'm a huge book nerd. Reading is my escape and it is my passion. It's an odd passion, but I'll claim it just the same. I love immersing myself into a novel and getting lost in the characters and their lives. It is almost impossible for me to pick a favorite book, but when I think about the books that have made the biggest impression on my life, there are 5 characters who stand out. The order I've listed these characters by no means reflects the importance of each one. These are all characters that, as a reader, I have grown to love. These are the characters I want to introduce my future children to and they are the characters I want to introduce my students to. 

1. Harry Potter

If my husband is reading this, he is rolling his eyes. Pretty much every person in my life knows how much I love Harry Potter. I could write an entire post about just the characters from this series. Each one, whether protagonist or antagonist, has a different lesson to teach readers. JK Rowling has a talent for creating a bond between her readers and her characters.
From Harry, I learned that courage doesn't mean you aren't scared. Being afraid is sometimes one of the indicators of courage. Courage simply implies that you face your fears. Sometimes courage comes from within ourselves, and sometimes we get it from others. It doesn't matter where we get our courage, all that matters is that we don't run away and hide.
As cheesy as it sounds, Harry teaches us that sometimes, the only difference between good and evil is love. Love and compassion for others is what can keep us from crossing the line from integrity and righteousness to selfishness and sin. When we are concerned for the welfare of someone other than ourselves, we are much more careful about the way we live our lives. Harry had a family in Ron and Hermione, as well as so many others (Hagrid, the Weasley's, Remus, Sirius, Dumbledore...). Everything he did, he did while thinking of each of them and how his actions would affect them. I love my husband; therefore, I would never consciously do anything that would upset or hurt him. When we think of others before ourselves, we tend to be much better people. 
Harry also teaches us that a troubled childhood, while damaging and always worthy of our pity, is not an excuse for bad behavior. He shows us that we each have the power to take control of our own lives. We control our own integrity. We have to take responsibility for our actions. It doesn't do any good to blame others for our failures and our shortcomings. Mistakes will happen, we won't always make the right decisions, but we can use those mistakes as lessons so that we don't make them again in the future.

2. Jane Eyre

The Bronte sisters were relatively revolutionary for their time. Their novels pushed social boundaries and questioned roles in society, especially women's roles. Jane Eyre's beginnings were actually very similar to Harry Potter's. She grew up in a home where she was unloved and unwanted. She was shipped off to a boarding school where the students were treated unfairly. In spite of all this, she managed to take her life into her own hands and find a better situation for herself. 
But the most incredible thing about Jane Eyre, in my opinion, is that she put her integrity and her faith above all else. She fell in love with a man who adored her, and circumstances were such that, had she continued in her relationship with Mr. Rochester, she would have had to compromise her morals, her integrity, her dignity, and her faith.  She literally fled from temptation. She left with nothing and had nowhere to go. She relied on God to take care of her, and He did. 
Jane Eyre taught me that God takes care of those who trust and follow him. His timing is perfect, and his ways are not our ways. We can't see everything He can see, and He knows the deepest desires of our hearts. In the end, He made a way for Jane Eyre to be with the man she loved without compromising her integrity, and He showed her how to make a difference with her life. She did what she knew was right instead of what she wanted to do, and at first it didn't seem to pay off, but in the long run her faith is what saved her.

3. Jo March

Each of the March sisters in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is worth getting to know, but Jo is my favorite. Jo didn't care what anyone thought about her. She was unique. She believed in the power of family, faith, and the written word. She had a passion to be a writer and she didn't let anything deter her from that passion. No matter what obstacles were placed in her path, she managed to find a way to eradicate them. 
Jo was selfless when it came to her family. She would have done anything for her sisters, her mother and father, and her best friend Laurie.  She was rough around the edges and had trouble with tact (which I can relate to). She spoke her mind and didn't really think before she opened her mouth (again...I can relate). 
She was flawed. She was passionate. She was opinionated. She was fierce. She stood up for herself and those she loved. When she fell, she got back up again. She was persistent and determined. She made mistakes and wasn't afraid to admit those mistakes. She was impulsive. She was honest. She was everything I want to teach my daughter to be, if I end up having a daughter one day. 
Jo March is the heroine that I wish every girl who idolizes Bella Swan would become familiar with. Jo didn't sit around waiting for things; for a man, for her life to start. She got up and did something. She wasn't content sitting still. She needed to be proactive, no matter the situation. Jo didn't wallow in self pity, and she didn't find her identity in a boy. She was proud of who she was and didn't need a sparkly vampire (my euphemism for boyfriend) in order to be happy or feel like she was worth something. 
Jo March was independent and she was comfortable in her own skin, which is something not many girls can claim anymore.

4. Hadassah

This is where things start to get a little more obscure. Everyone has heard of Harry Potter, and most everyone in the literate world has heard of Little Women, and Jane Eyre. Not as many people have heard of The Mark of the Lion series by Francine Rivers. This is a trilogy consisting of A Voice in the Wind, An Echo in the Darkness, and As Sure as the Dawn. Each of the 3 novels in this trilogy centers around a different main character and all the characters' stories intertwine. Most people who have read the series would agree that the character who leaves the biggest impression is Hadassah. The first novel is centered around Hadassah. She lives in Rome, a few decades after the crucifixion of Christ, not long before the fall of the Roman Empire. She is a Jewish slave in the household of an affluent Roman family. In the novel, she changes the life of every person she touches. 
Hadassah is a servant, not just as a profession, but as a lifestyle. She is a slave, yes, but she has a servant's heart. She is as self-sacrificing as it gets, and is a perfect example of the kind of love Christians should have for others, whether believers or not. 
Hadassah is innocent. She goes above and beyond what is required of her in her duties as a slave. She loves those who own her, and most of the members of the family love her in return simply because her meek, self-sacrificing, humble attitude makes it almost impossible for anyone not to love and respect her. She puts her faith in Christ above everything else in her life, and at this point in time that was a very dangerous thing. She wins people around her over to Christ through her love and compassion, instead of judgement.
Hadassah never judges anyone. Her heart breaks for the people around her and she devotes her life to making others' lives better. She is unfailingly honest, even though the truth ends up putting her in the arena. 
The most astonishing thing about Hadassah is the way she loves. It is easy for us to love those who love us in return, but Hadassah loves everyone. She serves a girl named Julia who abuses her, who hates her for her purity and is jealous of her integrity and dignity. In spite of all this, Hadassah loves Julia. Her heart breaks for Julia and the poor decisions she makes. Hadassah does everything in her power to tug on Julia's heartstrings and to help her realize how dangerous her choices are. 
Hadassah is everything I want to be and everything I am not. I am not humble or meek or self-sacrificing. Yet I know that is what the bible calls me to be. I wish every Christian were familiar with Hadassah and how she won people over to Christ. She didn't judge or accuse; she didn't threaten with the prospect of Hell. She loved.

5. Peeta Mellark

I realize I may have just shocked you a little bit. How can I write a post about literary characters, talk about The Hunger Games, and not use Katniss Everdeen as my example? Here's what I think. Katniss gets all the attention. Katniss is famous, both in the world of Panem and in our world. I think Peeta is too often overlooked. 
Katniss is forced into being the symbol of hope for the revolution. She goes into the Hunger Games thinking of nothing but returning home to her sister alive. She doesn't want to make a political statement. In fact, when she realizes that's what she's inadvertently done she immediately tries to do everything in her power to take it back. That doesn't make her any less of a hero, because she steps up to the plate when she's needed and she overcomes the challenges she faces. She is absolutely a heroine worth looking up to. 
However, Peeta tries to make a difference from the start. He doesn't expect to live, and so he goes into the games trying to hold on to some dignity that the Capitol has taken away from him. He doesn't have the skill that Katniss has, but he has twice the courage. He isn't afraid to make a statement if he feels that a statement needs to be made. He is selfless, and is there for Katniss even when she doesn't return the feelings he has for her. He makes sacrifices for Katniss years before the games even begin. He could easily be jealous of Gale but he's not. Quite the contrary, he cares about Gale and does his best to help Gale when he is whipped in the second novel. 
Everything Peeta does is to help others. At first, Katniss doesn't understand Peeta's motivation for the good things he does. She only understands actions committed in order to gain the upper hand. Peeta is nice for the sake of being nice, which is something that is alien and unfamiliar to Katniss. Peeta teaches Katniss the power of being a genuinely good person. He gives her the courage to be the Mockingjay. Katniss wouldn't be the heroine she is without Peeta.

It's been hard for me to narrow down this list to only 5 characters. I feel like I could devote an entire blog just to discussing and analyzing characters from all of my favorite novels. I'm sure there will be more blog posts from me in the future that center around books I've read. Leave comments, don't be afraid to let me know what you think. 

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