The Women Roles in Literature

The Burgeoning Tree of Women Roles from Seed to Sapling

The roles of women in literature have evolved and expanded throughout time. In early literature such as Greek mythology, women were identified as sexual objects rather than individual humans. Gradually, the role of women in literature have developed into something more than a simple object: a damsel in distress who is rescued by the literary hero who is evidently a man. In the course of time, women’s roles have evolved from a damsel in distress to a gallant hero and warrior.

The Iliad, Star Wars, and Ms. Marvel displays the change in women’s roles over time from an object to a damsel in distress to a hero.

In the epic poem The Iliad by Homer, written in 750 B.C.E, it shows the most earliest roles of women in literature: a glorious prize and object. Women are not essential to the action or plot of the epic and they are the depiction of passivity, their fate out of their control.

The Iliad starts nine years after the Trojan War had started, when the Achaeans attack towns and villages around Troy and capturing two girls that are taken by the soldiers: Chryseis and Briseis. They are considered the triumphant prize of their raid and are also enslaved. Agamenon gets Chryseis and Achilles obtains Bresis. When there seems to be no choice but to return Chryseis to the girl’s father because of his appeal to Apollo, Agamemnon agrees to return her but wants to take Bresis instead.

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Agamemnon “prefer her by far, the girl herself” but is willing to give her back if he gets Achilles prize, Bresis, not wanting his “prize snatched away” (Iliad.1.130-140). Homer makes it clear here exactly how women were thought of and treated by men; undoubtedly, a helpless object. However, the women who is the most significant in The Iliad is Helen. Helen, the most beautiful woman is considered as an object and prize by other men who regulates the course of events. Helen’s greatest impact in this literature is being the direct cause of the Trojan War. Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, the three goddesses wanted to claim the golden apple of Hesperides which is for the “the fairest.” Zeus, not wanting to be in the middle of the goddesses’ argument, chooses Paris, the prince of Troy to determine who will get the desirable golden apple. Each goddess offers enticing gifts; Hera offers him political power, Athena offers him success in war, and Aphrodite offers him the beautiful Helen. Seemingly, Paris chooses the owner of the golden apple to be Aphrodite.

Unfortunately, Hera’s husband is Menelaus, and they are Sparta’s king and queen. With the help of Aphrodite, Paris steals Helen from her husband while Menelaus was on a trip.Vowing vengeance, Menelaus gets Agamemnon to be the leader of the Greek forces which will take over Troy, the beginning of the Trojan war. Helen’s right in this literature is very finite and she doesn’t have freedom, privilege or any kind of power. She is accused for the death of men and for the Trojan war itself. Helen is considered and treated as a prize and pride that moves from one man to another man. Helen loathes being this kind of subject answering Priam “If only death had pleased me then, grim death that day I followed your son to Troy/There was a world… or was it all a dream?” (Iliad.3.209-219). Homer plainly presents that Helen hates being the “one” to be advantaged over Gods and other men, blamed for the war that were killing thousands of people. Homer’s epic poem The Iliad presents the earliest role of women in literature which is the object and prize of glory for men.

In the movie franchise Star Wars by George Lucas, written in 1973, it shows the evolved role of women by being the damsel in distress to a warrior. Princess Leia, the great and revolutionary leader is the main character, Luke Skywalker’s sister. Her role in the first half of the the first movie Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, is to be the damsel in distress. She is kidnapped and locked away in the Death Star. Luke Skywalker, Obi Wan Kenobi, R2-D2 rescues her and fights their way out. “This is some rescue. When you came in here, didn’t you have a plan for getting out?” demonstrating how Leia was someone to be rescued in the beginning of the movie (Lucas).

Nonetheless, later in the film Princess Leia shows her side of a strong and independent warrior who takes charge. Courageously, she stands up to Darth Vader, the lead villain, and Grand Moff Tarkin, an ambitious supporter of military power when she faces them. When Grand Moff Tarkin threatens to destroy her planet and asks her where the rebel base is she lies and says “Dantooine. They’re on Dantooine.” even though she knew she would be caught (Lucas). This demonstrates her intelligence, strength, and bravery, the true qualities of a literary hero. Lucas’ movie franchise Star Wars shows the role of women alter from an object to a damsel in distress in literature. This movie also shows the transition of Princess Leia from a damsel in distress to a fierceless literary hero.

In the comic book Ms. Marvel by Willow Wilson, written in 2013, it shows the most contemporary role of women in literature: the intelligent and courageous hero. Kamala Khan is an ordinary Muslim teenage girl from Jersey City. Kamala wants to fit in with the ‘American’ girls like Zoe, and wanted to become a superhero like Ms. Marvel. She is typical girl until three Marvel heroes comes and empowers their forces and gifts upon her. She asks herself, “So why don’t I feel strong and beautiful?” when she becomes like Captain Marvel (Wilson).

Wilson shows that Kamala then has to embrace her true self as she also struggles with her blonde duplicate that she always wanted to be. Adapting her superpower of being able to lengthen her arms and legs and being polymorphic, she rescues a girl named Zoe from drowning and her friend’s brother from being mixed up with distrustful situations. Kamala tells the people keeping guard of her friend’s brother, “You can call me Ms. Marvel. And if you cooperate, I won’t throw you again.” and tells them who she truly is (Wilson). She comprehends that she doesn’t have to be the Ms. Marvel that everyone expects her to be, she can be a strong Muslim girl who is a superhero.

She realizes that being someone else is very exhausting instead of being liberating. Wilson displays the struggle within Kamala to become a true literary hero by showing the hero’s aspects of strength and audacity as well as flaws and weaknesses she presents. This arguably describes what defines a hero. They have interior struggles within themselves but overcomes them to obtain wisdom, friendship, loyalty, and love. Wilson’s comic book Ms. Marvel shows the final change of the roles of women in literature transforming from a damsel in distress to a gallant hero and warrior.

The change in women’s roles are demonstrated by The Iliad, Star Wars, and Ms. Marvel from a dazzling object to a damsel in distress to a valiant hero. Chryseis, Bresis, and Helen in The Iliad are all treated like an object of some kind, controlled and contained by men who regulate the course of events. Princess Leia grow into an independent hero after being a damsel in distress in Star Wars. Finally, Kamala Khan is a dashing hero who struggles within herself to become and accept herself as who she is. From 750 B.C.E to the recent year 2013, there is a drastic change in the role of women in literature. Roles of women in real life have developed respectively of the literature they are portrayed from a seed to a sapling. As society changed and modified, people have given role of women in literature a bigger part of the story rather than being a spectator or an object. It is only a wonder what will happen to the tree of women roles in literature in the future and when the tree will ever grow more than a sapling.

Work Cited

  1. Homer: The Iliad. Translated by Robert Fagels, Penguin Books, 1990
  2. Lucas, George, director. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Twentieth Century Fox, 1977.
  3. Wilson, Willow and Alphona, Adrian. Ms. Marvel vol 1: No Normal. Marvel Worldwide Inc, 2014.

Cite this page

The Women Roles in Literature. (2022, Jun 28). Retrieved from

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