Books Featuring Strongly Independent Characters
Perhaps more than any other month, July has come to be associated with independence. Beyond even our own tradition here in the United States, many countries the world over commemorate their Independence Day in July as well. So in celebration of this fact, here are a few titles in our collection that feature characters who exemplify, in some way or another, the quintessential spirit of independence.
"On the Road" by Jack Kerouac
In Kerouac’s classic novel, the freedom of the road and the search for experience coalesce into a work about the unconstrained spirit and restless destiny inside us all. Following the exploits of a drifter, Sal Paradise, and his freewheeling comrade, Dean Moriarty, “On the Road” is truly an autobiographical telling of Kerouac’s own journeys across the highways and byways of North America. As Paradise and Moriarty traverse the post World War II landscape of the United States, Kerouac confronts his generation's inability to fully connect, as well as their insatiable need to do exactly that. Filled with uncommon stories, and even more uncommon characters, the tale flows through different personalities and escapades, all of which teem with a sense of unchained possibility and an overwhelming longing for purpose and meaning.
"Winter’s Bone" by Daniel Woodrell
Cornered by life’s difficulties, 17 year old Ree Dolly knows she has to fend for herself, because that is all she can really rely on. After her father skipped bail and disappeared, leaving Ree to care after her kid brothers and their mentally shattered mother, Ree really has no other choice in the matter. If her father doesn’t turn up, one way or another, Ree and all who rely on her will be kicked from their home into the exposed wilderness of the Ozark Mountains. Fiercely willful and defiantly self-reliant, Ree is a character whose struggle to keep her family afloat shows that the fight of our lives is often found in how far we are willing to go to decide our own fate.
"Little Women" by Louisa May Alcott
Set during the era of the American Civil War, Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel tells a story about the daily lives of four sisters--Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy--and their mother, known charmingly as Marmee. Often focusing on feisty and headstrong tomboy, Jo, and how her spirited personality conflicts with the genteel world that surrounds her, the book provides intimate insight into the journey from girlhood to womanhood. In this way, Alcott explores the challenge of finding one’s way in a world convoluted by expectation, and how the way one answers that convolution can often define the difference between adolescence and maturity.
"The Golden Compass" by Philip Pullman
In an alternate reality from our own, Lyra Belacqua is a spirited and carefree orphan girl spending her days running wild across the campus of Jordan College in Oxford. That is, until children start to go missing, victims of a mysterious group known simply as the “Gobblers”. After her friend Roger is kidnapped, and Lyra escapes her own encounter with the group, she finds herself at the center of a world-bending adventure filled with intrigue, action, and dark schemes. Guided by a magical instrument, known as the Alethiometer, as well as an equally magical cast of characters, Lyra follows her free-spirit and resourcefulness on a journey to get her friend back.
"One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest" by Ken Kesey
Within the stifling walls of a mental hospital, everything is supposed to work like clockwork, especially when that clock is being wound by the hand of the domineering nurse Ratched. But that all goes out the window when the rowdy and rebellious Randle P. McMurphy shows up. A self-styled gambler and fighter, McMurphy challenges Ratched’s tyranny at every turn, sparking a personal war between the two of them and bringing to his fellow patients a whole new sense of what it means to be alive. Filled with rip-roaring fun tempered by a dose of sober insight, Kesey’s celebrated novel takes on every type of wall meant to close us off, whether real or imagined.
"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson
In this dark and mesmerizing thriller, Stieg Larsson created one of the most fiercely memorable characters in recent literary history. Lisbeth Salander is a genius hacker and a femme fatale, an indomitable will and a cunning mind. As she helps journalist Mikael Blomkvist investigate the cold case of Harriet Vanger’s disappearance, Lisbeth’s ferocity of spirit and disregard for authority blaze through the mystery’s many twists and turns. In this way, she uses her unique skillset to shed light on the many secrets obscuring the story’s enticing truth, and in the process becomes the kind of unique character that makes a novel into a cultural phenomenon.
"The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins
In a future dystopian vision of North America, Collins creates a world where the elites of the Capitol city oppress the 12 surrounding districts, requiring them each to send two young people as sacrificial tributes every year. These 24 individuals must then fight to the death in an elaborately televised contest, known as the Hunger Games, until only one survivor remains. Katniss Everdeen is one of these individuals, having volunteered in order to save her sister, Prim, from being chosen instead. Now it is up to her to find a way to survive the Capitol’s terrorizing efforts to intimidate the masses, and in so doing unveil a possible path to freedom through courage and compassion. In confronting her society’s darkest practices, as well as her own uncertain motives as an individual beneath the thumb of that society, Katniss becomes an example to the people of what it is to challenge the system of fear and choose one’s own way forward.
"Their Eyes Were Watching God" by Zora Neale Hurston
A novel challenging the concept of a community’s role in individual identity, Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” flows like a song expertly sung from a place of passion and experience. Navigating three different attempts at marriage, the story’s heroine, Janie Crawford, boldly faces down the murmur of gossiping voices, the loneliness of matrimonial expectation, and the depression of losing one’s dream to the cause of settling for another’s. As she moves from one relationship to the next, Janie comes to understand what it is she is truly seeking in life, and how to more truly live that search with all her soul and all her heart. Told in the breathtaking lyricism of the character's own vernacular, Hurston’s masterpiece presents the spirit of independence as being about the courage one has to choose the love they seek and the resolve one shows through living the ups and downs involved in choosing such a love.
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