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The New Heroines

A dialogue about teen and YA heroines in pop culture.

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Ramona Flowers

Scott Pilgrim is a series of graphic stories by Bryan Lee O’Malley (Later adopted into a Movie, ‘Scott Pilgrim vs the World). The series is about Canadian Scott Pilgrim, a slacker and part-time musician who lives in Toronto and plays bass guitar in a band. He falls in love with American delivery girl Ramona Flowers, but must defeat her seven evil exes in order to date her.

Ramona COVER

Character background

Ramona Flowers is a 24 year old Amazon.ca delivery girl recently living in Toronto, Canada. She reveals very little and is very guarded about her past in New York before she moved to Toronto. However, she quickly becomes the love interest of the titular character, Scott Pilgrim. She is capable of traveling through Subspace (Its like a weird highway through people’s minds, “it’s a long story”) and has seven evil exes who challenge Scott for her affection. Nearing the confrontation with the final, most imposing of the the seven evil X’s, Gideon Graves, Ramona begins to break away from Scott in a very sudden fashion, leaving him fro Gideon. Four months after, Scott goes to confront both Ramona and Gideon, hoping to find out the reasoning for Ramona’s sudden disappearance.  Although seeming to merely be playing the damsel in distress/ the reward for the main hero’s journey, Ramona’s struggles and internal conflicts throughout the series are an entire journey on their own.

Feminist Criticism

As of late, young heroine’s journeys have had a trend of being much more internally focused as compared to that of male heroes. In terms of Ramona, her journey is the struggle of overcoming her fear of commitment and borderline addiction to change, coming to terms with her past by finding a sense of inner happiness and control of her life. Ramona has always been an enigmatic and charismatic presence throughout the series, but nothing is revealed about the things she believes in other than the fact she is very willing to simply go with change, often changing her style (and in some instances, location as prevalent in the beginning of the novel). As best described by Ramona herself, Ramona always felt the need for change, fearing a stagnant life. She states this in a scene near the end of the novel, having a very meaningful and deep discussion with Scott now that the situation with the 7 evil X’s is settled and done (See below):

Ramona RIVER

Before breaking free of Gideon’s mind control (more on that in the next section), Ramona had a bad habit of hanging her happiness on those around her. She would focus on one person in her life at a time, Scott at this point,  and hand them the responsibility for her happiness. It meant a lot of stress for both parties, often pushing Ramona to feel she needs the major change in her life once more. This reliance on another is most prevalent in the fact that Scott alone must be the one to take the burden of fighting against her evil ex’s, only to step in once to fight when Scott refused to punch Ramona’s ex girlfriend (It was a phase). When Ramona looks back at her time with each X and the changes she’s made between them, it’s as if she sees them as emotional clutter, preferring to just move on in life and forget about it, only to change and forget again.

Ramona CHANGE

“Things do not change; we change.” – Henry David Thoreau

Only from freeing herself of Gideon (getting to that very soon I promise) does Ramona finish her internal journey of self and begin to embrace her past rather than abandoning it. She begins to look at each prior “self” she has left behind and decided to keep them as part of her life and grow from it. Sometimes we need to put the change aside and have a little patience with our current situations, seeing through to fruition the plans we put into place a while back.

Post-humanism: Transhumanism/Augmentation

Later on in the series. We find out that Gideon (yes we’re finally getting to that) has implanted a chip in the back of Ramona’s head that controls her behavior near the end of their previous relationship. It’s implied in the scene where Ramona walks out on Scott that this is the moment when Gideon activates the chip and begins controlling her, rather than her simplifying ‘changing’ again and abandoning her past.

Ramona HEADACHE

Described as a powerful weapon of “emotional warfare”, the chip manipulates the mind’s psyche of those it infects, causing them to become overwhelmed by their personal issues. ‘The Glow’, as it’s also called due to the fact it make the personas head glow when in effect, suppresses positive emotions such as friendship and love, and simultaneously enhances negative feelings like suspicion, jealousy, and self-loathing. At a time where it seemed Ramona was beginning to have a major shift on her views of commitment and stick it out with Scott, Gideon steps in and adds another layer of conflict within her psyche.

Ramona CHAIN

What makes Ramona’s situation of augmentation unique is the fact that her growth as a character is focused upon the removal of it rather than the addition of it. Its her breaking free of The Glows control that she manages to finalize her growth as a character previously mentioned, and can truly begin to embrace her past for better use in the future. It’s the perfect culmination of the mental and emotional struggles of Ramonas internal journey, showing off just how far she’s come as a strong, independent woman who feels like she has control of her life.

Ramona FIGHT

In Conclusion:

Despite the fact that Ramona is not the titular character, and does not directly affect the plot through her actions until the final parts of the series, readers who look closely can see how incredible of an example Ramona is of an internal struggle. Her epiphany of self-confidence and control over both her life and emotions truly culminate into a beautiful moment, one that says that there’s no need to run from your past and regret your decisions in life. The life you’ve led thus far is ultimately yours, so own it. As far as a heroine’s journey goes, Ramona’s, regardless of how subtle, will be one that I will personally remember for a long time to come.

Ramona END

Annabeth Chase – The Brains Behind the Operation

The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series is in its own sense Annabeth_Chase-Viriaa modern monomyth. Though the story takes place in the 21st century, it also incorporates many elements of ancient Greek mythology. The series follows a group of characters known as demigods – children with one parent that is a normal, mortal human and one who is a Greek God – and details the various hero’s journeys they undergo. These journeys draw a lot of parallels to the source mythology, retelling the stories of various monsters, creatures, and other well-known Greek deities such as Medusa or the Minotaur in a more modern context and portraying them as enemies or trials for the demigods to overcome. The universe of the story even has a special training camp, known as Camp Half-Blood, where demigods can live safe from the threat of monsters and train for various quests and adventures. One such demigod that is one of the main characters and therefore central to the plot of the series is Annabeth Chase.

Annabeth is the daughter of Athena, the Greek Goddess of wisdom and battle strategy, and her father is a professor of American military history. From the instant she is introduced to the reader, she is portrayed as someone who is already heroic – she is highly knowledgeable and capable, both as a skilled fighter, leader, and mentor to Percy, the main character and namesake of the series. From a feminist standpoint, she breaks traditional gender norms and roles of masculinity or femininity throughout the story. Firstly, Annabeth is introduced in a position of power and status as a senior counselor at Camp Half-Blood, who earned this position through demonstrations of her strategic skills over the years. When she and Percy’s friend Grover the Satyr are chosen to accompany Percy on his quest, rather than being a damsel-in-distress archetype that constantly needs Percy’s protection, she is usually the one protecting him from the mythological world that he knows little about and keeping him in check. Even as Percy develops and gains experience, Annabeth is never truly ‘surpassed’, nor does she become irrelevant to the plot as the story progresses – she and Percy become more like equals as they both bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table.

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As the book is narrated through Percy’s point of view, and its primary target audience is male school-age children, unfortunately Annabeth is subject to the male gaze on a few occasions. The best example of this is when at first, Percy only sees her as a love interest and doesn’t acknowledge her achievements, expecting her to think that he was ‘cool’ for killing the Minotaur and subsequently being surprised when she was unimpressed. This eventually decreases as the story goes on, although in the long term Annabeth does end up in a relationship with Percy, which can potentially be seen as a drawback for her character from a feminist standpoint.  

Another framework through which Annabeth’s character can be viewed is that of Marxist criticism, which revolves around a base of power dynamics and exploitative relationships to maintain a superstructure of what is considered “normal” in society. While Marxism is not inherently present in The Lightning Thief or any of the other books in the series, there are a few themes from Marxist criticism that can be applied to the story. One of the most obvious is the power dynamic between the Olympian Gods themselves and their mortal children, the demigods. Throughout the story, Annabeth makes several mentions of the Gods using their children to settle their quarrels, and in fact this is the backstory behind the plot of the whole book – Percy and his friends are literally sent on a quest to the underworld to retrieve Zeus’ lightning bolt which was apparently stolen by Hades.

Layered on top of the whole God/mortal power dynamic is the parent/child power dynamic, as well as an interesting dynamic between demigods and other, normal humans who for the most part are oblivious of the mythological world that they coexist with. These normal humans are for the most part protected from any mythological threats by ‘the Mist’, a supernatural phenomenon that causes them to interpret mythological events in terms that make sense to them. While not oppressed per say like the Marxist proletariat, they are kept in the dark ‘for their own good’.

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Annabeth can easily be described as a “New Heroine”; in fact, it’s almost as if she was designed for the archetype. Similarly to many other heroines in modern literature, she is depicted as someone who is already heroic, being highly skilled to begin with and acting as a mentor to those less experienced with her. And although she is shown to be a strong character, she is not without her flaws and weaknesses, making her believable and realistic as well. While her identity as female does play a role in how she is portrayed as character, it does not define her – her identities as a hero, demigod, and child of Athena are more important to the story, meaning that she is an excellent example of a strong female character that doesn’t seem forced. These qualities are what make her a “New Heroine”.

Bloody Circuits & Vin’s Jewlery

(fanart by intrepidati0n)

This post, about the heroine Vin from the book Mistborn, contains major spoilers for the series. No, seriously, this isn’t casual spoiler time, this post contains notable story-ruining plot-twisting spoilers. Unless you’re determined never to read the books, please don’t ruin this for yourself. (Even if you haven’t read the Mistborn series, this post does assume you’ve read the previous blog post about Vin, which you can find by clicking here.)

Posthumanism is a big topic with a lot of big ideas, but they stem from a central idea, or a central question: What makes a human actually a cyborg, instead of a human?

The nerdiest (and possibly most common) answer is, “whenever their humanity is directly intersected by technology,” or whenever they have a robotic appendage. The answer is much more complex, however; if a human relying on technology makes them a cyborg, then what if the technology is a pacemaker, hearing aid, or a pair of reading glasses? What if a human isn’t relying on a robotic appendage, but simply uses it in day-to-day life, or is who they are as a byproduct of their appendage? If these examples also count, then every person in modern society is technically a cyborg. With that conclusion out of the way, we can explore the relationship people then have with technology and the world around them, and leave behind a notion that “human” is a separate entity from the influences of the outside world – after all, as we’ve just noted, everyone is a cyborg, so we have no example or frame for “human” outside of what is also “cyborg.” Thus the label ‘posthumanism.’

Posthumanism explores ideas of human development, reliance on and integration of technology, body image (and purpose, and use), and the ‘making’ of people. After all, cyborgs aren’t born, they’re created…but if everyone is a cyborg, then what creates them?

Posthumanism as a lens lends itself very well to Mistborn, and specifically Vin, thanks to a number of parallels that conveniently line up – for example, though neither posthumanism nor Vin are actually about metal and technology, they both frequently use metal and technology as a vehicle and conduit. Vin, as an Allomancer and Mistborn, carries glass vials of metal flakes, which she has to swallow and ‘burn’ in her stomach in order to use her powers. When others fight Vin, they use glass or obsidian daggers, because Vin can push and pull on metal objects with her mind – in fact, metal armor makes Vin’s enemies more vulnerable, as it lets her control them directly. Inversely, Vin keeps metal on her at all times, because she can propel any small piece of metal at extreme speeds, weaponizing coins, trinkets, nails, silverware, and anything else handy. Even carrying metal is a sign of either rampant foolishness or extreme confidence, which doesn’t deter Vin in the slightest.

Yet, excluding a bag of metal coins and such, Vin never carries glass daggers, swords, or any other weapon – throughout the story, Vin instead uses her body as a weapon in a literal sense, burning metals in her stomach to enhance her physical strength, speed, and agility. Vin fights and moves using her surroundings and wit, pushing her enemies into weapons or disarming opponents into their own weapons rather than staying armed herself. As she increases in skill and embodies and more and more literal “weaponized” heroine, she embraces a repeated metaphor that characters in Mistborn use to refer to her – she is the Knife, or the Assassin. Despite being characteristically unarmed, petite, and even weak, Vin is seen taking down entire armies using just her self.

Vin, as nothing more than an isolated ‘human’ could never actually take down armies. She’s small, malnourished, and has had little opportunity in her short life to work out and get stronger. Yet, her Allomancy is a part of her genetically, despite requiring an outside and ‘non-human’ component to work. Even though Vin has to swallow metal to use her powers, if we equate ‘electricity running through silicon to make things happen’ to ‘magic,’ there’s little difference between Vin’s Allomancy and a cyborg with metal in their body to use robotic abilities – both are equally integral to their character. Vin as an ‘isolated human’ is the same as Vin as an Allomancer – she is, by definition, a cyborg, and Allomancy poignantly makes the point that ‘humanism’ is not and can not be isolated from its external influence.

But there’s more. As Mistborn (the series) goes on, it’s revealed that Allomancy is just one tier of the full magic system; where Allomancy requires consuming metal to release power through people, there’s also Feruchemy, which stores power in metal for people, and Hemalurgy, which requires consuming people to release power through metal.

Through Hemalurgy and the sacrifice of some Allomancers and Feruchemists, metal objects can be charged with power and then stabbed through other people. This lets those other people harness otherwise genetically inaccessible Allomantic and Feruchemical powers, so long as they keep said metal objects piercing their body. In addition to gaining the ability to have multiple powers, and needing to keep large metal spikes in your body at all times, Hemalurgists get the added benefit of hearing Ruin, the God of Destruction, speak as dozens of voices in your mind, driving you insane. With both the sociological aspects of posthumanist study, and the more literal comparison of having metal implanted in your body to gain new abilities (and the discussion of sacrifice and where to draw the line on a purist view of humanity), Hemalurgy serves as a fascinating comparison to more traditional cyborgs in the world of Mistborn. But how does Hemalurgy relate at all to Vin?

In the preview picture to this blog post and the last blog post about Vin, did you notice the small metal stud piercing her ear?

Vin has an earing, which she affectionately keeps in her ear throughout the story. Vin showcases being much stronger than other Mistborn, sometimes even accomplishing feats with Allomancy that were previously thought to be impossible. See where I’m going with this?

Vin’s earing is actually a Hemalurgic spike, and grants her enhanced Allomantic powers (as well as the trauma of hearing Ruin speak into her mind through her half-brother’s voice, influencing her decisions and perceptions of the world around her). She is, in other words, enhanced by a piece of metal technology that she considers integral to her being. Though Vin can (and at times does) remove her earing without much suffering, other character have spikes through their chest (or through their eyes and out the back of their heads), and if these characters have their Hemalurgic spikes removed, they die.

Posthumanism as a lens and concept is showcased brilliantly with Vin.

 

Pre-Medieval Post-Modern Vin

This post, about the heroine Vin from the book Mistborn, contains minor spoilers for the series. However, it’s written so as to avoid spoiling anything that wouldn’t be on the back of the book, or a sensitively-written book review…but if you plan on ever reading the series, you should probably skip this post.

Mistborn books are classified as a “fantasy” series, which is the same genre that A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) and Lord of the Rings have. It’s under this presumption that I want to consider Mistborn, and in particular its protagonist, Vin. Mistborn certainly appears at first glance to be an epic fantasy – it has lords, houses, noblemen and peasants, land wars and racism, slaves, and medieval weapons, with a mysterious and revered magic system, a foreign land with just-short-of-Earth-like properties, and peculiar names. All of these are staples of the genre, but that all said, Vin (and Mistborn as a whole) goes on to defy the very nature of the genre, and in very interesting ways.

In order to consider these differences in a valuable way, let’s take a look at Mistborn through a postmodernist lens. Postmodernism rose as a direct response to “modern” literature as a formulaic, regimented, and specific science, challenging its tropes, inter-media ruleset, and trends. Modernism focuses on a respect, admiration, and sometimes sense of loss around tradition and ‘older’ art. In simpler terms, modernism is a slightly cynical view of modern art as imperfect, while calling to nostalgically remember history and older art techniques, which in effect created a dry traditionalism in modernist literature. Postmodernism, meanwhile, celebrated the “collapse” of traditional art and norms, reveling in unusual combinations, rule-twists, new systems of belief, and art (or literature) viewed from outside the scope of its medium’s history and technique.

Postmodernism calls to attention genre-blending, inter-text reference (rather than references on ‘real life’), and the distinction between “high” and “low” culture – between high class art and low-brow art, especially when the two overlap. Postmodernism likes to point out the irony in how past works have influenced modern works, with a tongue-in-cheek twist rather than reverence. Lastly, postmodernism appreciates literature that claims something is true not when measured against an external set of laws, but its own internal rules and criteria, established in that literature.

How do any of these apply to a fantasy book, or specifically Mistborn? First, let’s just talk about magic – for example, the magic in Harry Potter is plainly impossible, and for the most part, none of the rules established in that series could be guessed based on rules in real life. That said, magic in Harry Potter isn’t arbitrary, and is entirely consistent with its own rules, whether the reader is immediately able to discern those rules or not. Technology doesn’t work if there’s a lot of magic nearby, and spells are easier to cast with a wand and an incantation.

In Mistborn, the common people and peasantry (called skaa) rarely believe in the local magic system, called Allomancy. This isn’t helped by the fact that only the nobility has Allomantic powers (supposedly), and the nobility are said to be descendants of the Lord Ruler and his closest friends when he took the throne. The Lord Ruler is the god-emperor of the world, has ruled for over a thousand years. He is affectionately referred to as the Sliver of Infinity, the Father, and God.

Despite these superstitions, Allomancy is incredibly scientific – in fact, it’s basically a reinvention of chemistry, with a healthy dose of metallurgy on the side. I’ll keep this short, but the gist is, an Allomancer can swallow a specific metal or alloy (with exact percentages), then ‘burn’ that metal in their stomach to consume it as fuel and unlock a special power.

Yeah, you read that right.

Different metals and alloys produce different powers. Some allow the Allomancer to become stronger and tougher while decreasing fatigue (that’s Pewter), while others increase the Allomancer’s senses (that’s Tin). Iron and Steel let the Allomancer “push” and “pull” on metals in their environment, respectively, where the metal in question either hurtles itself toward the Allomancer or flies away. Any Allomancer can only burn one metal based on their genetics, with the notable exception of Mistborn, who can burn all Allomantic metals.

Having a logical magic system isn’t all that unusual, though it’s certainly worth pointing out in a postmodernist lens. That said, every angle of Mistborn’s world follows suit to rules in a very scientific nature, despite Mistborn’s science being radically different from our own. In the opening pages of the book, the world is described as barren and brown. Ash literally rains from the sky, spewed from huge ‘ashmounts.’ The sky is red. There are no green plants. Though all of these seem arbitrary (and bleak), each and every one has a completely logical explanation by the end of the series, which a smart reader could discern just from noting the world’s rules and drawing sensible conclusions. Even outside of obeying rules, Mistborn exemplifies postmodern critique. (Spoilers below)

Legends exposit that there was once a terrible evil, called the Deepness, that threatened to swallow the world, but a hero (of famous and legendary feat) rose up to defeat the Deepness. After uniting their kingdom and recruiting a band of unique and skilled sidekicks, this hero embarked on an epic journey to stop the Deepness once and for all, restoring peace to the land.

He failed. As a result, the Lord Ruler controlled the world for a thousand years.

This takes the formula of epic fantasy (and quite a few other genres as well) and turns it on its head; what would happen if the hero failed?

So where does Vin fall into all of this? Vin is skaa, a peasant, and a thief in a skaa crew. She’s a teenager, scrawny, and without a family (her half-brother abandoned her, a fact which she uses frequently to stay motivated to survive), who’s only really staying with her thieving crew to keep off of the streets, despite the constant beatings and neglect she receives from the crew-leader. As expected, Vin doesn’t stay in this position for long – when her crew-leader tries to scam the church (which worships the Lord Ruler, so naturally doubles as government), his plan almost fails, until Vin uses her mystical power to convince the church to fall for his trap. This power (now discovered) turns out to be Allomancy, which Vin was instinctively activating using trace amounts of metals from her silverware.

Allomancers who are also skaa are both incredibly rare and actively hunted by the Lord Ruler for execution. Vin is found by a team of Allomancer-skaa before the church hunts her down, and is recruited to their team, led by an enigmatic man named Kelsier. Kelsier is the only known living Mistborn skaa…until they discover that Vin has instinctively burned not one, but two metals, making her Mistborn too.

Mistborn (the book) follows Vin as she rises to her power and helps Kelsier’s team on the impossible mission to remove the Lord Ruler from his position of power – to dethrone God, effectively. During this, Vin practices and is found to be a natural with Allomantic powers, out-maneuvering even Kelsier with greater and greater ease. This is especially surprising to the characters in Mistborn because of Vin’s small frame and low weight; physical metals can’t increase an Allomancer’s weight, only use it to accomplish other tasks like ‘pushing’ on metal. If two Allomancers both push on each other’s belt buckle, for example, the heavier Allomancer will stay in place, while the lighter one will go flying backwards. For Vin (almost always guaranteed to be the smallest Allomancer in any confrontation) to be so skilled with Allomancy that she can beat Allomancers twice her age, with double her years of practice and double her weight, is unprecedented.

As Vin grows stronger and more cognizant of the world around her, she brings the reader with her to re-observe her world and learn its inner workings. Her nativity, and the skaa’s collective penchant for campfire stories and gossip, lend the reader to make certain assumptions about the world, while Vin’s growth in prominence allows her to learn new truths that illuminate the reader at the same time. This is an ongoing process throughout the series, and it invites the reader to ask the same questions that Vin should be asking. When a character does something unlike themselves, or when an event happens that appears to contradict the rules the book has set up, Vin and the reader should (and do) notice this at the same time and in the same way. Likewise, when Vin solves a ‘riddle’ and figures out a plot twist in the story or secret from clues she’d been trying to put together, the book waits a few pages before spilling the beans, and inevitably, the reader comes to the same conclusion just before Vin shows what she knows.

These twists play on tropes of fictional narrative literature as a medium, using techniques that readers have come to expect and dismiss as integral aspects of the story, and they are a large part of how Vin thrives through a postmodern lens. If a character like Vin suffered a traumatic loss at a young age, then heard voices of their lost person in their internal monologue (which helped explain their character, motivation, and thoughts to the reader), readers would accept this addition with little reservation as a narrative tool…despite the fact that the story would be blatantly saying that the protagonist is hearing voices in her head, something which normally constitutes schizophrenia or some form of insanity. Alternatively, if historians in a fantasy book talked about events up to a thousand years ago with the exact same government structure, social norms, technology, and land structure, readers would barely notice, as that’s a given in fantasy books…despite the fact that things like epic heroes and a powerful magic system would realistically speed up technological development, not prevent it entirely. Both of these examples and more are integral to the story and Vin’s arc – she notices these abnormalities as little as the reader does, albeit for different reasons, which perfectly sets up the twists and progression in her journey as a heroine.

Oh right. Morals.

Nimona constantly proves herself to be a nuanced character with complex motivations, which sets her apart from many two-dimensional, underdeveloped female characters of today’s media. She’s a villain with a heroic narrative arch, in which she sparks a change in the characters and the society she interacts with.

Nimona is not bound by moral codes when it comes to villainy; she operates outside the “rules” of classical tales of heroism and villainy: no killing, showmanship, monologuing, banter, etc. She’s bloodthirsty and has little to no moral code. In a scene in chapter 3, she shapeshifts into a child to catch a castle guard off guard, steals his knife, and kills him with it. She takes advantage of her enemies’ moral convictions.

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Nimona could be categorized as an example of the “weaponized woman” trope: typically a female character who’s been modified by an outside source to be incredibly powerful, and is used as a tool by a person in power. Her seemingly unlimited shapeshifting power is unprecedented in their world, a place where magic is just a myth and science rules all. However, whether Nimona chose to become powerful on her own is not confirmed in the story, but it’s clear that she became Blackheart’s sidekick by her own volition. She defies this trope by being in control of her own path rather than letting the powers that be control her; she hates being thought of as a weapon. Blackheart considers her a friend and a partner, while the Institution considers her a tool. And despite the Institution’s dehumanization of her, she is portrayed as a sympathetic and relatable character.

She is shown to be an ambiguous and complex character, particularly when she lies to Blackheart about her backstory; her reasoning is never confirmed, but speculation could lead one down many paths. When we find out her true backstory, the differences reveal how guarded she is as a person. The lie she tells Blackheart claims that a witch turned her into a dragon so that she could save her family from raiders, but by the time she is able to return to her true form, she finds her village destroyed and her parents dead. Her actual backstory implies that she killed people in defense of her family, and was subsequently taken from her parents, imprisoned, and experimented upon. This one puts her in a more realistic light; in a way, society dehumanizing her is what humanizes her to the reader. She wanted to save those she loved, but using her powers to do so made people think she was a monster. Growing up as an outcast with too much power to be trusted by normal people, she turned to villainy. Her morality parallels Blackheart’s, both people who started with good intentions, but were forced to be evil by the societies they lived in. Blackheart retained his moral convictions, while Nimona rid herself of hers as a form of protection.

All of this leads up to Nimona being incredibly loyal despite her unethical practices. Her loyalty to Ballister Blackheart parallels the bond between a parent and child, and the Institution uses this to their advantage.

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They use Blackheart as unwitting bait and capture Nimona when she comes to rescue him. The Institution sees her as a power to be tapped into through experimentation, and manages to contain her in a way her powers can’t break through. Even with her incredible strength and science defying abilities, she is helpless to escape on her own. However, even when placed in a “damsel in distress” situation, she’s still a force to be reckoned with; the cells the institution had extracted to run tests on become their own mindless entity and terrorize the town in the form of a monster while her main body is held captive. She may be loyal, but she’s not naive. She knows when she’s being taken advantage of, and she refuses to allow herself to be in that situation. She does not allow herself to be manipulated, and that is what separates her from other “weaponized women” characters.

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Nimona’s story isn’t about her single-handedly saving the day, but about the changes she sparks by being present in the lives of those she interacts with and the society she lives in. She’s not necessarily the hero, but she’s a catalyst for revolution. Her villainous side together with Blackheart’s moral convictions is what allows them to do what is necessary to change the problems in their society. It seems that sometimes it takes a villain to be a hero.

Beautiful Creatures: Lena as a Teenage Cliché

As a book that isn’t afraid to deviate from the YA norm, while running head-long into other romantic novel clichés, Beautiful Creatures from the Caster Chronicles series is a mixed bag when analyzed through a feminist lens. Although the book is from the perspective of a young man, Ethan Wate, his love interest, Lena Duchannes, fills a much more important role in the story. Think Twilight, except gender-swapped.

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Lena doesn’t appear to be anything but a weirdo at first. As the story takes place in modern-day Southern United States at a high school, no one is particularly excited to meet the gothic new girl that moved into reportedly haunted Ravenwood Estate. And she seems to prefer it that way. Lena doesn’t try to befriend any of the other kids at school, but small-scale disasters seem to happen whenever people whisper behind her back. The only one genuinely interested in her is Ethan, who begins to believe that she is the girl from the supernatural dreams he has been having since before she arrived. But she pushes him away and denies everything. It would take time for Lena to finally open up to Ethan about what she really is.

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The world of the Beautiful Creatures series is identical to our own modern-day United States except that there is another, secret world of magic and Casters coexisting with us. Casters are essentially modern-day witches who must keep their magic a secret. However, there are also Light Casters, who try to use their magic for good, and Dark Casters, who are said to have lost the power to love and use their powers for evil. All Casters are able to choose whether they want to be Light or Dark, except for the Duchannes family, who have been cursed. In which case, that decision is made for them on their sixteenth birthday, and they are Claimed for either the Light or the Dark. This spells extra trouble for Lena, who is a Natural, the most powerful type of Caster, able to control weather and the elements. Although most Duchannes show some signs of being Claimed Light or Dark before their birthday, Lena seems at war with herself, and has a hard time controlling her powers under stress. As her sixteenth birthday approaches, Lena is unsure if she will be Claimed as either Light or Dark. She fears she will go Dark and ultimately destroy everything she’s ever cared about, and that entire decision is out of her hands.tumblr_n3mb04v1ey1srujwgo1_500

Lena’s reasoning, then, for pushing Ethan away is two-fold. First, she doesn’t trust him. Lena knows the Caster world and mortal world shouldn’t mix. She knows a mortal — liketumblr_mto2hoppgh1shr2ugo1_250 Ethan — shouldn’t be aware of the magic around them. You only have to look at thehistory of the so-called Witches of Salem to know what kind of chaos that would create. But second, she doesn’t want to get him involved. Her world is dangerous, and it would be better for him if he was not part of it. In the movie, Lena goes to much greater lengths to achieve this.

From a feminist perspective, these are all good things. Lena is not a stereotypical high school girl –tumblr_npjqyrcxtf1tg4v08o3_250– though those do exist in the novel — and is a very strong-willed and independent young woman who is ready to speak her mind. She has other interests besides boys and isn’t afraid to stand out from the crowd. However that does not mean this book is without real feminist criticism. Far from it. But to limit the scope of this article only to Lena, there are definitely pitfalls Lena has as a YA heroine.

The most overused stereotype about women is that they are overly emotional. Beautiful Creatures has done nothing to refute that. In fact, when she is upset, she loses control of her Natural powers, and all heck breaks loose. Windows shatter, lightnintumblr_mnaiqaeix91r8sbg1o4_250g strikes, rain pours, and tables spin a whirlwind. It would be one thing if this was an uncommon occurrence, but despite the last fifteen years of her life she’s spent living with her powers, she still can’t seem to control them or calm herself down. This is probably in the hopes of connecting with a young adult audience who also may have trouble dealing with their emotions, but Lena never really becomes a good role model for anything except panicking over her future. To be fair, she is not a completely helpless bystander to her own fate, despite what her curse would have you to be believe. By the end of the book, she takes matters into her own hands, for better or for worse… but unfortunately it’s not over her own fate that she flips the world upside down to change, it’s Ethan’s. 

 

For more on The Caster Chronicles:
http://thecasterchronicles.wikia.com/wiki/Lena
http://thecasterchronicles.wikia.com/wiki/Caster
http://thecasterchronicles.wikia.com/wiki/Ethan_Wate
http://thecasterchronicles.wikia.com/wiki/Beautiful_Creatures
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/02/15/beautiful-creatures-14-notable-differences-from-the-book-to-the-screen.html
http://thenovl.com/BeautifulCreatures
http://yourekilling.us/?tag=beautiful-creatures

Arya’s Begining

Arya Stark is a strong female heroine as I discussed in my first blog post “Arya a Feminist.” She defies the norms of women in her world and sets out to master the skills that only men are supposed to learn. She starts learning how to sword fight after her father provides her with a teacher to help her. Shortly after this, the King of the realm is killed in a “hunting accident” and her father, Eddard Stark, is deemed a traitor for proclaiming that the King’s son is not the true heir to the throne. Eddard is sentenced to death by the new King Joffrey Baratheon, a boy of 13. All hell breaks loose in the castle once Eddard is marked a traitor and they attempt to take his daughters into custody. Arya managed to escape and hide in the town until the day of her father’s beheading. This is arguably the day that Arya gets her call to adventure when she is taken by an ally of her fathers to bring her back to her home of Winterfell.

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A man that goes by the name of Yoren takes Arya and adds her to his band of boys that are supposed to be taken to “the Wall.” The Wall is a place where criminals go to protect the rest of the realm from the wildlings that live on the other side. Yoren shielded her from her father’s death and said “They’re done here. You’ll be coming with me, and you’ll be keeping your mouth shut” (Martin 608). He told her to keep her mouth shut because he didn’t want anyone to find out she was the runaway daughter of Ned Stark. She couldn’t resist him either because she is young girl and he is a full grown man who is much stronger than her. This is Arya’s call to adventure because she is off into the unknown without her family or anyone she knows. She tries to refuse the call but she doesn’t have a choice since she would be a prisoner if she returned to the castle. Arya fits Campbell’s Hero’s Journey well since she follows most of the steps of it. The supernatural aid is for part of her journey is a boy named Gendry that is a part of the group heading to the wall.  She crosses the first threshold when they leave King’s Landing.

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Arya also fits in with Vladmir Propp’s functions of folktales that matches the ideals that “all fictional works have basically the same structure underneath, and that a story can be created by instantiating a sequence of abstract plot elements.” Arya fits is with “The Absentations” where someone leaves or dies, usually a parent. She just sort of witness her father’s death and was taken away from her mother to go to King’s Landing. She also matches the “Transfiguration” function in the scene where Yoren cuts her hair to make her look like a boy. It is just after her father died and Yoren is taking her away, “he had a knife in his other hand … he had her by the hair, so strong, she could feel her scalp tearing, and on her lips the salt taste of tears” (Martin 609). This is her transformation to become some else and no longer be Arya Stark because that name could get her killed.

These two scenes are very important to Arya Stark’s story line. This is where she branches off from her family and begins her own journey. She matches various functions of a hero and gains her significance as an independent character.

Psychoanalysis of a Whiny Vampire

As explained in my post from earlier, Damon Salvatore has a lot of issues. The girl he loves fell hard for his brother, he manages to screw everything up and has a nasty habit of killing those close to him somehow. So what does a psychoanalytical criticism have to do with it? Everything.

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The whole ordeal of Psychoanalysis deals with Freud’s theories of subconscious desires, thoughts and antagonisms. “Freudian interpretation is popularly thought to be a matter of attributing sexual connotations to objects, so that towers and ladders, for instance, are seen as phallic symbols.” But it’s not just about sexual thoughts and penis jokes. Freud also argues that suppression of incidents or feelings rear their ugly heads in varying ways. ” The underlying assumption is that when some wish, fear, memory, or desire is difficult to face we may try to cope with it by repressing it, that is, eliminating it from the conscious mind. But this doesn’t make it go away: it remains alive in the unconscious, like radioactive matter buried beneath the ocean, and constantly seeks a way back into the conscious mind, always succeeding eventually.”

Damon Salvatore however, doesn’t fit the typical male statute of sexual repression within the subconscious. Instead, he falls prey to Freud’s female statute. “…women’s sexuality is based upon feelings of narcissism, masochism, and passivity, and the idea that they suffer from an innate form of inferiority complex known as ‘penis envy'”. In such, females are presented with the analysis that sexual abuse (or romantic encounters within the guidelines) are actually projections of female fantasies.

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Damon Salvatore is then introduced within the framework with his relationship and interactions with Elena Gilbert and Katherine Pierce. Time after time he is lead on by both girls, and time after time, rejected. Either with sexual advances or romantic leads, he is shut down like blockbuster after Netflix made it big.

He projects his ideas of a fulfilling relationship and love life onto these two women through his constant pressure of sexual innuendos and persistent romantic intentions. This fantasy, that everything will work out and be merry, is the drive in which his sexual and romantic abuse takes hold.

 

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So, all in all, Damon does have an excuse as to why he doesn’t just give up.

Discrimination of Mudbloods

The wizarding world of Harry Potter has discrimination just like the world we live in. In the Harry Potter movies and book series there is a portion of the wizard population that believes only “pure bloods” should be allowed to practice magic. Pure bloods are individuals who have two magical parent. Those who have 1 or no magical parents are known as “mud bloods'” meaning they have dirty blood. A majority of the wizarding world have no problem with people who aren’t pure bloods. However some people think differently. Hermione Granger, Harry Potter’s best friend doesn’t have any magical parents. However one of their classmates, Draco Malfoy is a pure blood and has been brought up to believe that mud bloods are less than pure bloods. Even though the wizarding world portrayed in these books and movies is far different from our own, they still have a class system and discrimination.

In the second book/ movie Draco Malfoy calls Hermione “a dirty mud blood.” Draco views himself as better than Hermione based on his heritage, his “pure” blood. This belief of his and other members of his community gives him the power to discriminate against those whom, in his eyes, are not as good as he is. In many ways Hermione is better than Draco, she is smarter, kinder, and over all a better wizard than Draco is. Yet for some reason she can be viewed as a lesser person based on simple fact that her parents do not magical parents and his do.

In the last book/movie the government is taken over by Voldemort and his followers. Voldemort is obsessed with taking over the wizarding world. He kills anyone who gets in his way, he is also a member of the group that believes mud bloods are dirty and shouldn’t be allowed to practice magic. Although since Voldemort is a power hungry psychopath he takes his disapproval of mud bloods to a whole other level. We wants to ban any wizard from marrying a muggle (non magical individual) and wants to kill or in prison an mud blood he comes across. In one scene in the final book/ movie Harry, Hermione, and Ron go into the Ministry of magic and see something horrible, a statue of dead mud bloods encased in cement.

Marxism can be defined as a method of socioeconomic analysis, originating from the mid-to-late 19th century works of German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, that analyzes class relations and societal conflict using a materialist interpretation of historical development and a dialectical view of social transformation. The relationship of pure bloods and mud bloods shows the classist relationship in the wizarding world, mud bloods are less than pure bloods simply based on their parent’s magical abilities. This classist divide shows one of the societal conflicts in the  world of Harry Potter.

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