For April the hosts of The Classics Club have asked “Who is hands-down the best literary hero, in your opinion? Likewise, who is the best heroine?” And although I have major issues with the separation of hero and heroine, there is no need to separate the two into gender based categories or if you’re going to separate them make a point and call it a ‘shero’, my answer is below.
I really wanted to write about Bone Cartwright from Bastard Out of Carolina, and I guess I could write about her, but I tend to restrict the monthly memes to this specific reading list. If not there’s no telling who I’d write about, so I’ll go for another character with a story similar to Bone’s. Although hero isn’t the first word to come to mind she is one. Wikipedia has a great line which sums up her existence:
In modern movies, the hero is often simply an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances, who, despite the odds being stacked against him or her, typically prevails in the end.
I’m choosing to equate the word hero/heroine with the word survivor. From the moment of Celie’s introduction in Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Color Purple, as she is being viciously raped, the reader is aware her story and her life will be a struggle for survival and existence.
However, it is not this struggle for survival and existence which makes Celie a hero. Not only does she battle against extreme poverty, but she battles against physical and emotional abuse, abject sexism and racism and even against able-ism and homophobia. And it is the overall idea that hope prevails and the outlook that life does get better that Celie somehow keeps throughout her entire life and horrible experiences that make Celie a hero.
I think it’s very important to note that through this novel, Walker provided numerous strong Black female characters. She shook the literary world, and specifically through Celie, with her portrayal of relations between Black men and women while simultaneously turning gender roles on their heads. So not only did she write a sympathetic hero, if you could get over the vernacular and folk language, she wrote a pertinent character who affected literature for decades to come.