Discussion: The Perception of Strength

One of the most prominent features people seem to focus on is character strength. What makes a character strong? As a concept I think strength is quite a complex one in terms of discerning the characteristics that makes someone strong.

However, before looking at specific character strengths, I think it’s important to question the meaning of strength.

Strength
noun: the quality or state of being strong; bodily or muscular power; vigour
.

In simple terms, strength related to the sense of being physically strong. However, we all know that there’s more to it than that. Strength does not solely relate to the physical strength of a person. Strength can also be found in ones emotional and mental health.

I think the perception of strength in the media is an interesting topic. In this current day and age there has definitely been a surge of films, books and TV shows that center on a strong female entity. I think the perfect example would be Katniss Everdeen. Physically she’s a very dominant force as displayed by her skills with her bow; she’s a survivor and an individual who essentially raised her younger sister and adapted her strengths and will to whichever situation she’s in. The qualities in Katniss is one that is explored in several characters e.g. Tris from Divergent and Arya in Game of Thrones. However, is there a danger in this overemphasis in the need to have women who are capable of fending for themselves, of women who are headstrong and independent? Don’t get me wrong I love reading or watching a woman who can stand on her own but at times I feel like this focus on those characteristics, ones that are also usually associated with men, can overshadow the subtler, quieter bouts of strength that women display every day.

I think a clear example of this subtlety is in the character of Sansa Stark. I’m more familiar with TV Sansa than I am with the books but I remember when watching the first few seasons of Game of Thrones all the comments I read regarding Sansa were along the lines of ‘she’s so weak, and naive…Sansa you fool.’ I get it; I was also frustrated with some of her comments and actions. However, can you really blame her for her naivety? She’s been told from a very young age that her role in society is to be a lady, to be submissive, a tool to use in order to strengthen the bonds between two nations by marriage. She knows her purpose in society and when things take a turn for the worst it’s her position as a lady that keeps her alive. Emotionally and mentally I honestly believe that Sansa is the strongest character in Game of Thrones. She’s tormented on a day to day basis and not every woman could cope with it and not fire back. In keeping up this ladylike appearance, Sansa ensures her own survival. That is her strength. She’s placed at the heart of the political game and in keeping up this appearance of being a weak, naive child she gains so much; she learns how to manipulate the stakes for her own benefit because people aren’t afraid of her influence and don’t realise that she’s taking everything she witnesses on board. That is essentially what makes her dangerous. There’s a subtlety in her strength and by embracing her role in society she ensures her survival, something that would not have happened if she had adopted Arya’s aggressive, rebellious approach.

What I love about Sansa’s character is the way that her ladylike manner is utilised as a way of demonstrating his strength. It’s the fact that instead of imposing the typical male heroic archetypes onto a female character; Sansa has a quiet confidence to her, one that serves to highlight her own strength.

I guess the point is that sometimes you don’t have to be loud and you don’t need to be a leader to be strong and that acknowledging your own emotions and limitations also demonstrates your strength. Again the purpose of this post is not to criticise or judge this image of a strong, independent female character. I just think that sometimes we need to recognise and remember that asking for help isn’t a weakness and the smaller, quite bouts of strength and confidence is just as important.

What are your thoughts on this topic? How do you measure ones strengths?

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6 thoughts on “Discussion: The Perception of Strength

    • I couldn’t agree with you more. I love exploring flawed characters. Having the characters make mistakes only adds more depth to their character. No one is perfect and so flawed characters and not only more realistic but they’re also a lot more relatable. Thank you for visiting. 😀

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  1. I admire women in fiction of all strengths. Whether’s it’s the more ‘male’ physically strong females or the ones with a more quiet and maternal strength. With Sansa, I still get really annoyed when I reread the first book from her POV, even though I do grow to love her in the later books. I also have to excuse the fact that she’s 12-13 in A Game Of Thrones. I think the most important thing about characters for me isn’t strength of any kind, but that they get realistic development 🙂 Fantastic discussion post!

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    • Thank you for your always insightful thoughts on the subject. I definitely agree with the realistic development and I think being able to explore a characters flaws and mistakes really does contribute to this realistic portrayal. I think the fact that I started off not liking Sansa and then got to this point where I can say she’s my favourite character really just emphasizes her character growth. I don’t think there really is a recipe for what makes a person strong because everyone demonstrates their strength in different ways. 😀

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  2. Admittedly, physical strength is cool, but I, like you, like to look at the characters’ internal strengths as well. As you mentioned, characters that have the quiet confidence and determination are the type I’m more drawn towards and consequently enjoy more (I guess the weak ones are too whiny sometimes?). But it all depends on the story and plot. I mean I don’t mind characters that started off vulnerable or weak but later grew into stronger individuals. I really love themes of redemption. And believable, great character development is always a plus for me. 🙂

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    • Thank you for your insight. I too am a big fan of redemption arcs because I find that those character arcs are the ones that provide an opportunity to explore the complexities of human nature and makes them a lot more grounded and real. I think strength has a lot to do with the journey they take; how they make mistakes and learn from them. I want to see them struggle and see how they overcome the challenges they face. Thanks again for your thoughts on the matter. 🙂

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