Juliette Ferrars is 17 years old and is locked up in a asylum alone. She has no idea of the date, the time – nothing. All she owns is a small notebook and a pencil, spending her days in the dark cell writing and writing and writing until there is no longer space. The reasoning behind being locked away is because she killed a young boy three years prior.
Her touch is lethal. Murderous. And she killed a little boy.
The dystopian novel Shatter Me, written by Tahereh Mafi, begins with Juliette locked away, seemingly crazed and dangerous. She’d spent years alone in her cell with nothing but her notebook to keep her company. And then, they put a boy in her cell. Of course, what starts as a typical story about a helpless girl seeking her ‘prince’ turns into a thrilling story of a girl who has to fight her way to freedom, which proves to be excruciatingly difficult, despite the fact that she could kill anyone in her way with a simple touch. Juliette transforms from a frightened girl who is ‘rescued’ by the Reestablishment to a feminist hero by the end of this first novel.
The Reestablishment, the form of Government in the book, wants to use her as a weapon. Not only is she considered lethal, crazy, and murderous, the Reestablishment believes that she’d be happy to be used against the same people who locked her away for three years. Juliette, however, doesn’t want to kill anyone. But the man in charge, a teenage boy named Warner, has other plans for her. Plans that include forcing her to kill and to obey. And of course, that boy they put in her cell? A boy working for the Reestablishment placed in her cell on purpose, used against her to gain her trust before the Reestablishment ‘rescued’ her from her misery.
So, how does Juliette transform from a weak girl who is afraid to stand up for herself to a girl who saves herself and those around her? Of course, as the story progresses and Juliette realizes that she does not have to follow Warner’s plans, she gains the strength and courage to save herself and Adam, the boy from her cell in the beginning of the story.
When picturing Juliette as a feminist heroine, there is a certain scene that comes to the forefront of my mind. It takes place in chapter 25, and of course, Juliette is determined to not be used as a weapon for the Reestablishment. Warner knows this, but he is determined to make her see the benefits in using her power. He wants to feel it for himself, to have a taste of the power beneath her skin, but Juliette refuses. And so he does the next best thing. Warner places Juliette in a room where the floor shifts into deadly spikes, and adds a young baby to the mix. The outcome is simple: If Juliette doesn’t pick up the blindfolded toddler with her deadly hands, the floor will shift and kill the toddler instead. So, of course, when the floor begins to shift, Juliette tries to save the child by picking it up. Of course, this turns out just like she suspects, and her touch hurts the child. When the floor shifts back to normal, Juliette puts down the child and is so outraged that she crashes through concrete and glass to get to Warner, who is watching the entire event in a separate room. That’s right: she punches her way through concrete to get to Warner. And when she breaks into the room, she grabs Warner and pushes him against the wall, being careful not to touch him of course. Juliette, who could easily kill Warner and every soldier in the room, does the opposite. She has great restraint, as she does this without touching him with her hands. She doesn’t want to kill him – she wants to warn and threaten him. She’s fighting for her right to be free and to not be used as a weapon, and killing Warner and his guards would have gone against her morals. I think this scene shows how much a feminist she is because she’s demanding her rights and her opinions be taken into consideration. She isn’t asking – she is demanding. Again, not only did she save herself, but she’s also taking matters into her own hands without help. She shows amazing restraint, stands up for herself and her rights, and does it all without taking the easy way out, which would have been to kill everyone on the spot. With super strength and lethal skin, it would have been easy. Extremely so.
Another scene I would like to analyze in a feminist lense is one of the last scenes in the book, taking place in chapter 39. At this point in the book, Juliette and Adam have escaped. Adam has turned against the Reestablishment after he and Juliette decide they’re in love, and currently in the chapter, Adam has been found and trapped by everyone’s favorite villain, Warner. Of course, everyone in this book is a teenager; Juliette, Adam, and Warner. This means hormones are raging, and surprise, Warner has a crush on Juliette. The ultimate plot twist: the villain falls for the hero. But in this scene, Juliette is frantically searching for Adam, and instead finds Warner. Also, it is important to note two things: One, Adam can touch Juliette with no repercussions. Her touch does not kill Adam. Two, Warner can also touch Juliette with no repercussions. So, at this point in the book, no one except these two main boys can touch Juliette, which seems suspicious and very convenient for the situation. So, Juliette and Warner are in this room together, and she wants to find Adam, who Warner says is dead. Now, up to this point, Warner has clearly been pinned as the enemy. The author wants to reader to feel that Warner is this insanely emotionless boy who kills people for a living and doesn’t care about anything or anyone. But in this chapter, the author writes “But I’m shocked by the tenderness in his voice. The sincerity with which he wants to know. He’s like a feral dog, crazed and wild, thirsty for chaos, simultaneously aching for recognition and acceptance. Love.” So, the reader is suddenly feeling these crazy emotions because on one hand, Warner is a bad guy. He’s not a good person at all, but suddenly he’s not this horrible person. He’s 19 years old and he loves Juliette. Of course, in this scene, he kisses her. Not surprising, considering they’re in a room alone and he is in love with her. Also not surprising because he thought he’d lost her forever when she ran away, so he’s thrilled to see her again. So thrilled he felt the need to kiss her. But despite the fact that Juliette does feel something in the kiss – potentially feelings arising for the boy who has been keeping her prisoner – she grabs his gun and shoots him. Now, this is why I chose this scene for a feminist lense, because despite the fact that she does has feelings for this boy, she knows that she needs to save herself and Adam. So, she goes against her feelings, distracts him through a kiss, and then shoots him with his own gun.
If that isn’t the coolest thing a feminist heroine has ever done, then I don’t know what is.
“My hands wrap around the gun. I feel him freeze. Pull back. I watch his face phase through frames of confusion/dread/anguish/horror/anger. He drops me to the floor just as my fingers pull the trigger for the very first time. The power and strength of the weapon is disarming, the sound so much louder than I anticipated. The reverberations are vibrating through my ears and every pulse in my body. It’s a sweet sort of music. A small sort of victory. Because this time the blood is not Adam’s” (Mafi). Even reading it, I felt power course through me. Like yes, shoot this boy. Use his own gun and shoot him when he is weak and distracted through his own emotions.
Juliette is obviously proving that she doesn’t need anyone to rescue her. She was in a place where she did not have the upperhand. She was in a place where she had to go against her emotions, her morals, and her best interests to save herself. And she did it, flawlessly. She sucked it up, kissed the boy, and shot him.
The reason I see this as feminism is because she’s standing up for herself for once. She doesn’t need rescuing from a boy, and she certainly doesn’t need to beg to be let go. She doesn’t helplessly cry out of fear. She doesn’t flinch at the fact that she no longer has a lethal touch to save herself. She toughens up, uses her enemy’s weaknesses against him, and escapes. I call that feminism, and I call that a powerful heroine. Not only does she save herself, but then she goes and saves Adam. She goes and saves the boy. Adam doesn’t save her, doesn’t sweep her off her feet and fight her battles for her. No, Juliette does it on her own, and then she rescues Adam. That is the kind of strength that heroes are made of, and Juliette has it.