Title page for ETD etd-11092004-144531

Document Type Master's Dissertation
Author Donaldson, Eileen
URN etd-11092004-144531
Document Title The Amazon goes nova : considering the female hero in speculative fiction
Degree MA (English)
Department Languages
Advisor Name Title
Ms M Brown
  • Tanith Lee
  • Vonda McIntyre
  • C.L. Moore
  • Joanna Russ
  • female hero
  • hero
  • archetypes
  • feminism
  • Joseph Campbell
  • speculative fiction
Date 2003-12-06
Availability unrestricted
The female hero has been marginalized through history, to the extent that theorists, from Plato and Aristotle to those of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, state that a female hero is impossible. This thesis argues that she is not impossible. Concentrating on the work of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, a heroic standard is proposed against which to measure both male and female heroes. This heroic standard suggests that a hero must be human, must act, must champion a heroic ethic and must undertake a quest. Should a person, male or female, comply with these criteria, that person can be considered a hero.

This thesis refutes the patriarchal argument against female heroism, proposing that the argument is faulty because it has at its base a constricting male-constructed myth of femininity. This myth suggests that women are naturally docile and passive, not given to aggression and heroism, but rather to motherhood and adaptation to adverse circumstances, it does not reflect the reality of women’s natural abilities or capacity for action. Indeed, with the rise of contemporary feminist discourse the patriarchal myth of femininity is being demystified and, without the myth of femininity to constrain her, the female hero is now re-emerging in certain areas of cultural expression.

The examples of female heroes discussed in this study are taken from speculative fiction, encompassing the genres of both science fiction and fantasy. Speculative fiction, which has a propensity for challenging the status quo and questioning common societal assumptions, provides the perfect platform for women writers to confront feminist issues and launch the female hero. The female hero challenges the patriarchal claim that all heroes must be masculine, she defies patriarchal power structures and she demands a re-evaluation of women’s capabilities. The female hero gives women an example of heroic activity to emulate, in place of the ‘angel in the house’ that women have had to bow to for so long.

The works discussed in this thesis cover a range of authors, from those of outspoken contemporary feminist, Joanna Russ, to early speculative works like those of C.L. Moore. Lesser-known authors such as Vonda McIntyre and Tanith Lee are also discussed.

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