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My Essay on Eowyn and Feminism, if you're interested (LONG) :)

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antigone382 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Dec-19-04 11:31 PM
Original message
My Essay on Eowyn and Feminism, if you're interested (LONG) :)
This is my final term paper for my ENGL 1010 course(with a few minor revisions). I couldn't include the Works Cited page, because I forgot to save it to disk. The citations you see would have referred to it, but they're all pretty easy to figure out; a critic, the Bible, all three books of LOTR, and Peter Jackson's movie (it might seem a little inconsistent, but one of the requirements of this paper was that we had to cite the movie),

Enjoy!



Feminist Icon or Female Stereotype? Eowyn of Rohan Explained

Eowyn of Rohan is the only significant human female in J. R. R. Tolkiens The Lord of the Rings trilogy, making her meaning in the story difficult to determine. Because of her genders uniqueness, a critic may begin to view it as the sole determining factor in an analysis of her character, to the exclusion of all else. At the same time, one runs the risk of effectively dismissing her gender altogether by interpreting her as merely another warrior, albeit trapped in a womans body. Pains must be taken to avoid both errors; in Eowyn, Tolkien constructed a character of particular depth and complexity, and any critic who endeavors to understand Eowyn owes Tolkien at least a fraction of the time and consideration he put into creating her.

From a strictly feminist perspective, Eowyns story is not necessarily a positive one. Though Tolkien describes her as a fierce and independent warrior, she is nearly undone by her love for Aragorn, the future king of Gondor who cannot return it, for he is already pledged to the beautiful but unassuming Arwen Evenstar, princess of the Elves. His rejection, combined with her dissatisfaction with a life spent at the hearth, tending to her warrior kinsmen, leaves Eowyn nearly suicidal, hungering for death and glory on the battlefield. However, forbidden by her uncle, King Theoden, from traveling with the soldiers, Eowyn is able to take up the sword and ride into battle only by abandoning her gender and taking on the identity of the male soldier Dernhelm. Though she defeats the seemingly invincible Witch Kingwhom "no man can kill"specifically because she is a woman, she is struck down in the act, and her life is saved only by the healing hands of Aragorn, the man who is the very cause of all her misery. Even when she has been revived, Eowyn cannot totally heal until she abandons her desire to be Aragorns queen, and surrenders to the love of Faramir, the steward of Gondor in Aragorns absence. Claiming that Faramir has "tamed" her, she ultimately gives up her role as shieldmaiden, choosing instead to be a healer (Tolkien, Return 262).

Tolkiens message is an apparent paradox, which has frustrated numerous feminist critics, such as M. J. Kramer, a columnist for The Swan, an e-magazine devoted to fantasy literature. In "Eowyn Reconsidered," Kramer explains her struggle to understand Eowyn: "the more I tried to reconcile the two Eowyns, the warrior and the wimp, the more I realized how impossible the task is." On the one hand, Tolkien affirms Eowyns right to express her intense frustration with the limitations placed on her because of her gender--indeed to succeed in defying those limitations and to achieve what seemed impossible as a result, earning the respect of the men who had underestimated her. Considering that The Return of the King, the final book in which most of Eowyns story develops, was completed in 1955, no small amount of respect must be paid to Tolkien for his evidently keen perception of the under appreciation and exasperation of women in that time. On the other hand, however, with a few kind words from Faramir, who explains to her the folly of her love for Aragorn, she throws away her chance to achieve anything greater or to win any further respect or independence, in effect choosing to settle down and become a homemaker. Ironically, her choice seems to play right into the conventional wisdom concerning what womens roles were supposed to be in the post-war world. How can anyone reconcile these two vastly different statements regarding the significance and purpose of women?

The solution rests in viewing Eowyn from more than a strictly feminist perspective. Only when the interpretation of her character is broadened, from one based solely on her gender to one that encompasses her whole humanity, can Eowyn be compared to the male characters around hera comparison which is necessary, since there are no women in the book of equivalent stature to compare her to ("woman" being interpreted as human and female). One must consider the personalities, choices, and fates of the men in The Lord of the Rings, not only to discover the ultimate theme Tolkien is trying to express in the story, but also to determine whether or not he holds Eowyn to a different standard than her male counterparts.

Only then does a clear pattern begin to emerge: those characters who believe they are entitled to additional power and glory are thwarted and struck down, while those characters who believe they are not worthy of it are rewarded with the very glory they do not think they deserve. Boromir and Faramir, the sons of Denethor, Steward of Gondor, illustrate this pattern in their choices and resulting fates regarding the Ring of Power, which tempts all who come near it, and corrupts all who use it. In The Fellowship of the Ring, the first book of the trilogy, Boromir betrays his pledge to help Frodo in his quest to destroy the Ring, believing it will help him achieve victory. He even tells Frodo: "The Ring would give me power of Command. How I would drive the hosts of Mordor, and all men would flock to my banner!" (Tolkien, Fellowship 448). Though he repents after Frodo escapes, he is killed moments later while attempting to defend Merry and Pippin, Frodos kinsmen, at the beginning of The Two Towers, the second book in the trilogy (Tolkien, Towers 4). Faramir, on the other hand, finds Frodo and his servant Sam wandering without permission in the wild of Gondor. He owes the two no allegiance, and he could take the Ring if he desired with apparent justification. Yet he recognizes his own weakness in the face of so much power, as he also tells Frodo: "I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory." (Tolkien, Towers 314).

Indeed, the War of the Ring itself is a battle between a force of good led by the reluctant future-king Aragorn, who knows that he does not have the self-control to wield the Ring of Power; and a force of evil led by the power-hungry Sauron, who is bent on reclaiming it and setting himself up as the merciless ruler of Middle Earth. Sauron fails, of course, and Aragorn is returned to his rightful place as King of Gondor. This victory of the humble desire to serve over the prideful desire to rule is clearly consistent with Tolkiens ardent Catholicisma major factor in his creation of The Lord of the Rings, as he stated many times throughout his life. A quick perusal of the Gospels, in the New Testament of the Bible, yields several examples of this principle, such as Matthew 18: 4, which states that "Whoever humbles himselfis the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Another example is Luke 22:26, which says, "The greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves." Either of these verses could double as the ultimate theme of The Lord of the Rings; in Tolkiens mind, they very well might have.

Nevertheless, how does all this apply to Eowyn, who never even comes within miles of the Ring of Power, much less attempts to take it? Eowyn is, quite simply, the personification of this struggle between ambition and self-sacrifice. In the valley of the Hornburg, just prior to the battle of Pelennor fields, Eowyn complains of her plight to Aragorn, asking him "Shall I always be left behind when the Riders depart, to mind the house while they win renoun?" (Tolkien, Return 47). Tolkien has Aragorn gently rebuke her for this, saying, "A time may come soon. when none will return. Then there will be need of valour without renounYet the deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised," (47). Moreover, Eowyns infatuation with Aragorn is later revealed to be based less on Aragorns own attractive qualities than it is on her wondering admiration of his power, and her desire to share in that power by being his queen. However, Eowyn also shows the capacity to put others goals ahead of her own when she offers Merry, the Hobbit who has also been forbidden to go to the battle, the chance to ride with her, even though he is a burden who could reduce her chances of achieving the glory she so desperately wants. In the end, this simple act of selflessness not only helps her gain that glory, but also undoubtedly saves her life, for she is only able to kill the Witch King after Merry stabs him in the leg (Jackson).

After Eowyn is brought back from the brink of death by Aragorns healing powers, she still cannot heal totally, either physically or psychologically, until this conflict of being is resolved. At this point, Eowyn meets Faramir, who is also healing from an injury and cannot join the battle at the Black Gate of Mordor, Saurons realm. Faramirs gentle humility is the perfect contrast to Eowyns fierce pride, and as the two grow closer, she begins to see her own error, particularly in her longing to be Aragorns bride, the Queen of Gondor. Once she has rejected her devouring ambition, she inevitably accepts the love of Faramir, not as a second choice, but as an ideal partner in a relationship built on equality. She also rejects her status as a warrior, choosing to become a "healer" insteada vocation which is not as stereotypically "feminine" as it might seem, for Aragorn proves himself to be the heir to the throne of Gondor by fulfilling the old prophesy that "the hands of the king shall be the hands of a healer."

Thus are the two halves of Eowyn united into a whole. The character that emerges is a woman of enormous strength, a person of remarkable complexity in whom the central theme of The Lord of the Rings is revealed. Eowyn is the only character in the entire trilogy who successfully makes the moral and ethical transition from the prideful desire to rule to the humble desire to serve. Her reward for that journey is marriage with Faramir, and a share in his rule of the city of Ithilien, which Aragorn gives to the two. Tolkien is vindicated of the charges of sexism, for he holds Eowyn to the same standard as the men in the story, and allows her to succeed as well as they do.
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RevolutionaryActs Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Dec-21-04 12:56 AM
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1. That's an awesome paper, very well thought out and very true
I totally agree with your view of Eowyn, and gave me lots of points to think about. Very good, I hope you got an A (or will get an A) you deserve it. :)
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antigone382 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Dec-21-04 04:06 PM
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2. Thanks so much!
Well, I got an A in the class, so I guess my professor liked it as well.

:hi:
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RevolutionaryActs Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Dec-21-04 05:00 PM
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3. Oh thats very good! Congrats on the A
:toast:
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Coventina Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Dec-21-04 05:10 PM
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4. Nicely done!
I also want to add that Eowyn's choice didn't mean her life was now going to be easy.

She and Faramir were going to go back to lands partially polluted by Sauron, where they could very well encounter evil "refugees" from the war. From where I sit, it looks like it could very well be a hard and dangerous life, with a lot of toil involved.

It seems a brave choice to me, not at all like "giving up".
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Crunchy Frog Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Dec-29-04 03:20 AM
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5. Very nice. Sorry I commented so late
but it's been awhile since I popped in here. Eowyn is one of my favorite characters, and I'm a feminist, so I've mused alot on these issues too. I too have chosen to accept a more generous interpretation of the character and what Tolkien is doing with her than some others might.

Apparently, she was only written in at the instigation of Tolkien's daughter who was bothered by the paucity of female characters. It sort of makes me wonder what Tolkien's works would look like if he'd had mostly daughters instead of mostly sons.

I find Galadriel a really fascinating character as well. I think there are some interesting paralells between her and Eowyn. She also IMO "successfully makes the moral and ethical transition from the prideful desire to rule to the humble desire to serve", though over the entire course of Tolkien's writing, rather than in the actual trilogy.

Maybe we should do an entire thread on Tolkien and female characters. Anyway, thanks for sharing that essay. :)
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StrongbadTehAwesome Donating Member (623 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-31-04 08:28 PM
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6. very cool...makes me want to re-read the trilogy now n/t
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porkrind Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jan-02-05 12:26 AM
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7. Excellent paper
and a nice analysis. Thanks for sharing it!
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