Southern Women from Literature Who Didn’t Need Saving

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Southern Women from Literature Who Didn’t Need Saving


The smartest thing a woman can ever learn is to never need a man.”-Chicha Bans

For so many years, Southern belles have read upon books to define their elegance, grace, & the way that they conducted themselves.

Southern Literature began between 1800-1860, also known as The Antebellum Period. The researched article, “Rethinking Southern Literature”  dived deep into the time of chivalry, morals, and values of being a Southerner where authors like William Gilmore Simms (author of Joscelyn) and William Caruthers (author of The Kentuckian In New York) dramatized plantation owners’ daughters being saved by the love of their life (while having no or very little regard of the Civil War or the slaves circling around the cotton fields and the plantation homes).


A lot of Southern literature was written in The Great Migration time period, which was between 1910-1930, highlighting the “good times” or before/during the Civil War. During this period, Southern chivalry was highlighted, with the concept of women being treated with respect, but was also deemed as “delicate flowers” i.e. damsels in distress. According to Richard King’s piece: “A Southern Renaissance”, most famous American romance novels are written by Southern authors because of this utopian romanticism, e.g. Gone With The Wind.

Even though characters like Lady Madelyne who has a baron “pledging to protect her with his life” in Julie Garwood’s book “Honor’s Splendor”, there are numerous Southern books that have the woman not needing a man to define nor to save her life. These characters prove the saying, “I WANT a man; I don’t NEED one.”


Edna Pontellier in “The Awakening”

Edna lived her life the way she was expected to. She married well, was the beautiful host of the household that she was expected to be, and lived the “white picket fence” life. But that wasn’t enough for her. Once she started doing things on her own, i.e. painting and swimming for the first time, she discovered the joy of independence and received her self discovery of herself as an individual instead of who she is as a wife. She finds her voice and her passion for self-awakening and never looks back on the life that she once knew the one of hiding her true self to the norm of society.  


Scout in “To Kill A Mockingbird”

The spunky tomboy shines in the classic novel. Scout hates everything about being a girl. The girls she knows to wear frills and bows and is too scared to speak up. Scout questions women’s position in society since the examples that she sees have to listen and obey the rules, and she wants to do things under her own terms. She learns through the trials of the book that women can be just as strong as men, and can still be powerful while rocking a fierce dress and heels.  


Rachel Harmon in “Serena”

This telling of two women would make a reader believe that the women would form a bond after sharing a lover (oh the drama!). And even with someone as compelling and powerful as Serena as the protagonist of the story, the reader would think that she would be the one to model after, but it is actually the quiet but demanding side character, Rachel. When her father dies trying to save her honor, Rachel knows at that instance that she’s on her own. Raising her son on her own, she is the one who shields him from the dangers of his father and his new wife. She quiets her emotions and holds her head high as she has to live her life as the head of the household-something that’s foreign to her. But she does what she must for her son.


Janie in “Their Eyes Were Watching God”

Janie is every woman who learns more and more about herself through every relationship that she’s in. She finds herself through this story and discovers her love of independence through the relationships that she’s in. After every failed relationship, she finds herself alone in the book; something she was deathly afraid of at the beginning of the story. Janie experiences fulfillment in herself and secures independence. She feels that the ones she loved once are always with her and that she’s never truly alone, thus making her happy.  


Esch in “Salvage the Bones”

The mature-for-her-age 14-year-old character in this gripping tale of a family fighting through Hurricane Katrina makes any reader root for her. Pregnant as a motherless child with brothers to watch over and an absent father who drinks until he forgets the memory of his late wife, Esch survives the circumstances that are in front of her. She demonstrates motherhood-in all of its glory and pain. Esch is still a child herself about to have one, but she mothers her brothers as they go through their challenges throughout awaiting the arrival of Hurricane Katrina. One character compares women to storms:  “all the worst storms are women, beautiful and terrible to behold, bringing with them wreckage and transformation.” And in the story, Esch’s life might be full or wreckage and terrible, but it transforms her into the woman and mother that she becomes.