1. Offred from The Handmaid’s Tale
Set in a dystopian world, Offred is a young woman who is put into a classification known as a ‘Handmaid’ – a group that consists of fertile woman who are forced to attempt to bear children for barren, upper class couples. Although her rights to freedom and choice have been taken from her, she still manages to be a perceptive, tough, and even slightly funny character in the midst of a dark and terrifying society.
2. Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter
After becoming pregnant by sleeping with a man who is not her husband, Hester is forced to wear a red ‘A’ (for ‘adulterer’) everywhere she goes. She is scorned by her fellow citizens and faces heavy backlash. Hester is a complex character who represents the pressure that women feel to explore their sexuality while also dealing with societal expectations. Although she ultimately accepts the penance that society forces on her, she is no doubt a strong woman: she endures years of shame and alienation and uses that time to ruminate on society’s treatment of women.
3. Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird
Even though she is incredibly young, Scout is wise beyond her years. Growing up in a time of extreme hatred and racism in Maycomb, Alabama, Scout is an intelligent girl who learns about life and develops her opinions on her own terms. She manages to be someone who searches for the goodness in others while also learning to be aware of – and active about – the potential for evil and ugliness in humanity.
4. Jane Eyre from Jane Eyre
Jane is the antithesis of a damsel in distress. Although she faces a lot of adversity throughout her story, Jane consistently maintains a strong sense of self-worth, while also staying true to her integrity and her moral compass. She sums herself up better than anyone else ever could, with the following quote: “Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! I have as much soul as you, and full as much heart!”
5. Celie from The Color Purple
Celie is a woman who has been oppressed by men her whole life. Right from the beginning of her story, she experiences a huge amount of trauma and bigotry. However, throughout the book, she displays a strong spirit and a drive to survive — no matter how bad things get for her. After being voiceless for most of her life, she transforms, slowly but surely, into a self-actualized and independent woman, regardless of what she’s been through.
6. Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games
There is no doubt that Katniss is an incredibly tough and capable woman when it comes to her own survival and the survival of those she cares about. And while her self-defense skills, her bravery, and her resilience in the face of fear are admirable qualities, she is also incredibly impressive because of her selflessness, her big heart, and her dedication to doing what she believes is right.
7. Hua Mulan from The Ballad of Mulan
You probably know her as the Disney warrior heroine, but the character of ‘Hua Mulan’ actually dates back to the 6th century, when the story of the legendary woman warrior was first transcribed. Known to be skilled with the sword and a master of martial arts, she fought in the army for 12 years and gained high merit, but refused every award offered to her until ultimately retiring to her hometown. In the ultimate act of selflessness, she joined the army in the place of both her old, sick father as well as her younger brother, who was just a child. Not only did she display strength and skill, but also a strong sense of selflessness and bravery.
8. Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice
An intelligent and well-read woman with a quick wit and a willingness to speak her mind, Elizabeth Bennett is a woman who follows her gut and looks out for the people she loves. She’s not okay with meekly accepting the role that society expects of her, and instead follows her own truth and does only what feels right in her heart.
9. Janie Mae Crawford from Their Eyes Were Watching God
Janie Mae is the epitome of the idea of ‘being your own person.’ Although people constantly try to put her into a box, she defies the gender and race stereotypes that people try to place upon her and instead uses her own curiosity and independence as her compass in life. She has a strong sense of self as well as a strong understanding of others, and knows how to be who she believes she is, without letting others influence her too much.
10. Hermione Granger from Harry Potter
Ask any Potter fan and they will be likely to tell you that there’s no way Harry and Ron (and plenty of others) would have ever survived without Hermione. She’s not only incredibly intelligent, discerning, quick, and insightful, but she also sticks to her instincts constantly throughout the series and always does what she believes is the right thing. She’s not easily deterred, and although others perceive her in a lot of different ways, she remains true to herself and unwavering in her convictions.