15 Female Characters In Literature Who Deserved So Much Better Than They Got
Stories can only exist if there's conflict. I understand that. A story in which every character is delightful and nothing bad ever happens would not be particularly interesting (with the exception, of course, of The Great British Bake Off). But there are flawed characters who fall into unfortunate yet understandable circumstances... and then there are characters who seem to be punished simply for existing. They start the story with the best of intentions, and they end up tortured or even killed off. And most of them are women. Here are a few of the great female book characters who deserved so much better, because even fictional women need a break.
And look, I'm not saying that writing a story in which bad things happen to good people (or good things happen to bad people) is bad or wrong. It's barely even fictional. Stuff like that happens in the real world all the time, in high schools and in offices and in most branches of the American government. But when you already have a dearth of popular, well-written female characters, it's all the more painful when bad things happen to them.
So here are some of the coolest ladies out there who deserved so, so much better than what they got:
1. Ophelia from 'Hamlet'
Poor Ophelia. Her brother leaves the country, her father tries to use her as a spy, and her boyfriend is, well... Hamlet. No one deserves to date Hamlet. Even worse, Hamlet murders Ophelia's father, driving her mad with grief, and she ends up drowning. And all she ever did was have a crush on a very angsty prince.
2. The Bride of Frankenstein
Yes, there actually is a Bride of Frankenstein in the book—kind of. She's assembled from dead bodies by Dr. Frankenstein, but then immediately destroyed by Dr. Frankenstein after he freaks out at the thought of two of his creepy undead kids running around having feelings. You deserved better, lady monster.
3. Cho Chang
I will defend Cho Chang with my last dying breath. Her high school boyfriend died horrifically, and people gave her a hard time for crying too much about it? Excuse me?? You're too way good for Harry, Cho.
4. Bertha Mason
Bertha Mason was Mr. Rochester's first wife in Jane Eyre. She had some sort of mental breakdown towards the beginning of their marriage, though, so Rochester responded by locking Bertha in the creepy nightmare attic of his house for the rest of her life. Not exactly a compassionate response to a spouse's mental illness. I'd try to set him on fire too, Bertha.
Eponine from Les Misérables is the poster child for unrequited love. She's head over heels in love with Marius, the annoying young student, but he only has eyes for the hot and rich Cosette. Sure, Eponine is a brat as a little kid, but she definitely didn't deserve to then live a life of poverty and abuse and then die in the arms of her oblivious crush.
I mean, none of the Hunger Games kids deserved to die, but Rue in particular was the youngest and one of the kindest. And her death functions primarily to further Katniss's story, since poor Rue gets so little time on the page before being murdered.
7. Lydia Bennet
OK, so maybe eloping at 15 isn't a stellar idea. But everyone (mostly the other Bennets) hates on Lydia from Pride and Prejudice for being silly and running off with a skeevy dude. However, George Wickham is a dude in his mid to late 20s who married a 15-year-old girl. I really feel like people should be taking this one out on George, not on Lydia.
8. Gwen Stacy
Spider-man's girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, was the first major death of a "good guy" in American superhero comics. So, naturally, she kicked off several decades of girlfriends being murdered so that their super boyfriends could feel angsty and sad about it. And to add insult to injury, it's Spider-man's webbing that accidentally kills Gwen, snapping her neck as he tries to break her fall. Sorry about that, Gwen.
Dido is the Queen of Carthage in The Aeneid, and boy does she get a raw deal. She's the single, powerful queen of a major ancient civilization when we first meet her. But then Venus makes her fall for our hero Aeneas, and the two get it on in a cave while sheltering from the rain. Dido invites Aeneas to move in and rule her civilization with her, but instead he and all his friends crash on her couch for a while, and then he completely ghosts her and leaves to found Rome and Dido throws herself onto a sword in despair.
10. Miss Havisham
Controversial opinion, but Miss Havisham is the true hero of Great Expectations. She gets jilted on her wedding day, and then decides that she's going to stay in her rotting wedding dress for the rest of her life and try to ruin all the men she possibly can. And yes, she does spend her time plotting ways to make Pip unhappy... but she got jilted on her wedding day, and no one deserves that. She also doesn't deserve to get set on fire in the end.
No one deserves to go through what Celie goes through in The Color Purple. This isn't a case of the author punishing her female characters unfairly so much as it is an unflinching portrayal of a particularly hard life. And Celie does find something of a happy ending. Along the way, though, Celie is repeatedly tortured by her father and her husband simply because she is a woman under their control.
12. Tess of the d’Urbervilles
It's hard to read Tess of the d’Urbervilles in this day and age without hurling it at a wall. It's pretty much a victim-blaming bonanza from start to finish (SPOILERS): Tess is assaulted, she gets pregnant as a result, her baby dies, she finally meets a nice dude, she tells him about her tragic past, he is disgusted with her, and eventually Tess is executed for the murder of her rapist. To be fair, Tess is meant to be a sympathetic, tragic figure but... that's still a pretty crummy life.
Of course, the death of a dog (or wolf) is not nearly on the same level as the death of a human person. But Lady still did not deserve her grisly fate. In A Game of Thrones, Arya Stark's wolf, Nymeria, gets in trouble for hurting the nasty Prince Joffrey. But Nymeria is nowhere to be found, so Sansa Stark's totally innocent wolf pup, Lady, is put to death in her place. And then the rest of Sansa's life pretty much sucks as a result.
14. Beth March
Yeah, yeah, the death of Beth from Little Women is pretty much a cliché at this point. Honestly, though, the worst part of Beth's death is that she acts all ethereal and cool with it, because she was never going to do anything with her life anyway. No, Beth! Believe in yourself! ...even if you're still going to die at a tragically young age in an era before modern medicine!
15. Susan Pevensie
So in the last Narnia book (spoiler alert), all the kids come back to Narnia one last time... except for Susan. Apparently, Susan likes wearing lipstick and stockings now, so she is not allowed back into Narnia. And then at the very end of the series, we find out that Narnia is actually heaven, and all the kids are going to stay there forever because they all died in a train crash... except for Susan, who presumably had to identify the bodies. I mean... I guess Susan is the only one left alive at the end of the book? But having all your siblings die and getting excluded from heaven for liking makeup sure sounds like an unfair ending to me.