Changing parameters of greatness

by Cygne Sauvage

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Today the world salutes half of its population,  those whom nature held responsible for the growth and nurture of human embryos inside their anatomy,  enduring physical and emotional anguish to deliver and rear new life forms.  Those from whose enchanting hands developed great individuals who contributed to the advancement in the quality of life and made living as comfortable as possible.

However, a measure of a woman’s greatness is not limited to the capability of her reproductive system or her desire to procreate.  It should not be overlooked that women who chose a different path from starting a family, including those who freed themselves and transcended their given gender, can achieve eminence.

Unfortunately, high profile women in politics, in business or in the fashion world, bestowed with myriad accolades, similar to their male counterparts, have not escaped the changing parameters of greatness. Yesterday’s paladins could be today’s villains or tomorrow’s martyrs.

Thus, it is quite difficult to honour women or men for the grandiosity of their achievement.  A saviour in one country could be deemed as a traitor in another geographical horizon.

Therefore, I decide to hover around the discussion of women on those who emanated from the imaginative artistry of mankind, zeroing in on their strength of character, not on their “heroic” deeds.  There have been several of them whose stories have been told through generations and I can only mention those I have met through my reading passion.

Notable is Elizabeth Bennet created by Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice.  She lived in a world that just wasn’t fair for women.  They can’t inherit a property and their only chance for survival is to marry. Yet, Liza Bennet was not cowed by this tradition and expectations that she rejected several marriage proposals including that from her would-be-husband Mr. Darcy. Rebecca Sharp  from William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair is a strong-willed, cunning, moneyless, young woman who was determined and succeeded to make her way in society.

In Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, although told through the history of the Buendia family focusing on the descendants of José ArcadioBuendía, his wifeÚrsulaIguarán is actually the anchor of the clan. She lives to be well over 100 years old, supervises the Buendía household through six of the seven generations spanned in the novel. A very strong character, she often is triumphant where the men of her family foundered, and leads them to the outside world.

At the center of the novel Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell is Scarlett O’Hara, who is pictured as mean and belligerent yet maintained her stubborn optimism as the civil war devastated not only their economy but the moral fiber of the society.

And I must include here Hester Prynne from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.  She’s been convicted of adultery and  forced to wear red letter A for the rest of her life. But, rather than leave or hide, she defiantly decides to challenge the hypocrisy of her Puritanical society. Combatant yet compassionate, Hester opposes  the prevalent oppression in her midst.

 

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