Inspirational Women in Fiction

Can fictional women be inspirational? Without a doubt. Meet four inspirational women from fiction.

Inspirational Women in Fiction


Ayla is the main character in the Earth’s Children series by Jean M. Auel. An earthquake kills her mother and leaves Ayla an orphan. She wanders around aimlessly, ending on a path of a cave lion, which chases her. Ayla hides in a crack in a rock wall. The lion cannot pull her out put scratches her thigh leaving four deep wounds. A group of Neanderthals eventually find her by a river  and the Clan's medicine woman, Iza, adopts her. As Ayla grows up, Iza teaches her about medicines and healing. 

Ayla is a Cro-Magnon and looks very different from the Clan that adopted her who are more primitive in their looks. She is tall with blonde hair and grey-blue eyes. Growing up with the Clan, she learns their customs and communicates through signs rather than speech. She only learns to speak when she meats a man, Jondalar. Since she differs from the rest of the Clan, Broud, the future leader of the Clan develops an intense hatred for her and often beats and rapes her. He gets her pregnant when she is twelve and the child, Durc, is a mix of the two human species. When Broud becomes the leader of the Clan, he sets a death curse on Ayla. It leaves her with no choice but to leave the Clan alone, without Durc. 

Ayla is an inspirational woman because she is intelligent and resourceful. Over the series of books, she encounters many hardships, but using her reasoning and common sense overcomes all hurdles. Using her creative right to bend historical facts, Auel has Ayla inventing many things which in reality took thousands of years. 

June Osborne

June, better known as Offred, is the main character in Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel Handmaid’s Tale. Although the book is not specific on the main character’s name before Gilead, the TV series based on her book used it as her real name. 

June is a handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, a society ran by the Sons of Jacob. The founders of Gilead use their interpretation of The Old Testament to set their laws and to create a hierarchical society. A society where people have limited rights, especially women. A society that doesn’t allow women to read or write, own property or handle money. A society where fertile women are an important commodity since many women are infertile. 

Before the dawn of Gilead, which we learn about through flashbacks, June married and had a child with a man who was already married when they met. Gilead labels her a ‘wanton woman’ but because she is fertile, it saves her from a fate worse than a handmaid's. As Gilead’s power grows, June and her husband try to escape to Canada with their daughter, but soldiers from Gilead intercept their journey. The soldiers take Offred and their daughter, Hannah, to Gilead where Hannah is taken away from her. She later learns that Hannah is living with a high ranking family who are raising her up as their daughter. 

June is the handmaid for The Commander (Fred) and his wife Serena Joy. The new names given to the handmaids when captured by Gilead symbolise their belonging to the man of the house, in June’s case of+fred. Handmaids are routinely raped during the ‘Ceremony’ in the hope of producing an offspring. June is outwardly acquiescent, but the reader knows she is inwardly rebellious. 

Atwood has left it open what happens to June in the novel, but the TV adaptation sees her return to the Gilead and work for the resistance as it goes beyond the events of the book. She is an inspirational woman because she does not let Gilead break her spirit or lose her true identity. 

Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre is the masterpiece of English novelist Charlotte Bronte. She was one of three writing Bronte sisters. Jane is an orphan who at the start of the novel lives with her Aunt, Mrs Reed who treats her cruelly. From there her aunts sends Jane to a school where conditions are abysmal. Mr Brocklehurst, the headmaster of the school is a hypocrite who preaches about the virtue of living a life of poverty while living a life of luxury funded by money intended for the school. After an epidemic spreads through the school, Mr Brocklehurst is replaced by new leaders. Life improves for Jane and her school friends. 

Jane finishes her education at Lowood and stays on to teach for two years before finding work as a governess. She falls in love with her employer, Mr Rochester, who proposes to her. But before the can marry, Jane learns that Mr Rochester already has a wife. Not prepared to lose her dignity by becoming his mistress, Jane flees. 

She is rescued from sleeping rough and starvation by two sisters and their brother St John Rivers.  He asks Jane to marry him and move to India as missionaries. Before she accepts, she goes to see Mr Rochester and finds out that his wife is dead (in a fire that she started). Jane rekindles her relationship with Mr Rochester and they marry. 

Jane Eyre is an inspiration because throughout the novel Jane struggles against people oppressing her. She fights both social hierarchy and against those who treat women as inferior to men. She has an innate desire for equality and freedom to express her thoughts and feelings. She wants love and companionship, but not at the price of her dignity. Only when she has established herself as Rochester’s equal, does she marry him and they enjoy a life of equality and bliss. Jane (or Bronte really as Jane spoke with her mouth) was also an early feminist as she believed that women feel just the same as men do and should not be confined to the roles traditionally considered suitable for them. 

Scarlett O’Hara

Scarlett is a spoiled Southern belle and the main character in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. The story follows Scarlett’s journey from a pampered girl to a successful businesswoman. 

When the rest of the people in the Southern States are preparing for the Civil War, all Scarlett worries about is if Ashley loves her. However, Ashley is marrying another woman, his cousin Melanie. Scarlett is used to getting everything she wants and Ashley’s rejection starts an obsession that runs throughout the book.

But Scarlett is more than a spoiled girl, obsessed with a man she cannot have. She is also an intelligent woman with an iron will. In Atlanta, where she moves to after the death of her first husband, she delivers Melanie’s baby when all the doctors are busy tending to wounded soldiers. She battles her way through battle-scarred South with Melanie, her baby and Prissy, the maid only to reach Tara and find that her mother has died and father lost his wits. 

In an iconic scene where Scarlett is violently sick after eating raw radishes on top of drinking whisky on an empty stomach, she swears to never go hungry again. She resolves to cheat, lie or kill in order to feed herself and her family. When the war is over, she uses all means available, sometimes questionable, to rise from rags to riches again. Even though she is successful in business, she fails in love. She realises too late who she really loves and is left alone. But not beaten, for tomorrow is another day. 

Scarlett is an inspirational woman because she is strong and loyal. She rises back up after each setback. Granted, some of the things she does are morally questionable. However, her motivation is to put food on the table and keep Tara in the family. She is an inspiration as she challenges the traditional views of women and proves they can be as successful as men in business. 

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Reija Sillanpaa
Reija Sillanpaa
Read next: The State
Reija Sillanpaa

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