Every reader will know that soul-crushing moment when your favourite character is hurt, treated unfairly, or killed off completely.
Many of us have also noticed the gender discrepancies in many books- especially old classics written before the acceptance of the wild notion that women are humans too. Female characters have been used/abused/killed off to further male characters’ storylines for centuries and so many of them deserved better.
The six we have picked are well-known, popular, and had great potential… Until they had to have a break down or killed off to further the plot. You all deserved better!
A clichéd death to inspire all clichéd deaths!
In Louisa May Alcott’s novel, Beth contracts scarlet fever, recovers, but dies from its complications later on, mirroring Alcott’s own sister’s death.
Her character had the least agency of all the sisters, and her endless compassion for others meant Beth kept making clothes for local children right up until her death. Poor Beth is so calm and sweet about dying just because she apparently wasn’t going to amount to much anyway, and had resigned herself to a life of domesticity.
What a waste!
Tess of the d’Urbervilles
Tess of the d’Urbervilles is a classic novel people LOVE to recommend to others despite the fact the protagonist is treated like sh*t.
Tess is the quintessential tragic figure: she is assaulted (because what is a well-rounded female character without a bit of rape, right?), she gets pregnant as a result then her baby dies. When she meets Angel- a seemingly ‘nice guy- he tells her he had an affair with a woman, prompting Tess to tell him about her rape, thinking Angel would be understanding and still love her… But of course the hypocrisy of patriarchal ideals runs strong and Angel is disgusted.
Eventually Tess is executed for the murder of her rapist.
Because of course she is. Perfect victim-blaming flim-flam for those who love a tragic, sacrificial victim protagonist.
Celie- The Color Purple
Anyone who has read The Color Purple knows Celie deserved better than the way she was treated.
Abused by her father repeatedly, a few times ending in pregnancy where the children were given away by her father, Celie grew up with a messed up view of how she should be treated. Offered by her father to her new husband like some sort of heifer being offered to a farmer, Celie’s married life was fraught with hurt and it is only thanks to another woman- Shug- that Celie’s life seems to turn around.
Despite the fact Celie’s life does turn out better in the end, the journey to get there is just so terrible- no one deserves that!
Dido from the Latin epic poem The Aeneid is a woman who is manipulated by Venus, royally done over by a bunch of guys, and then kills herself for no real reason.
Dido is the Queen of Carthage, a powerful queen of a major civilisation… Until Venus gets involved. Venus makes her fall for hero Aeneas, instigating a bit of sexy time between them both, in a cave. Dido invites Aeneas to make it official and rule her civilisation with her, but he suddenly remembers (is reminded by Jupiter) that he has a few errands to run for the gods and deserts her completely.
Dido throws herself onto a sword in despair and dies. The dramatic bint.
Still, pretty sad that both Dido and Aeneas were manipulated by the gods to get together, only to be torn apart by the gods then remembering they had other business to attend to! You deserved better, Dido.
Rue from Hunger Games
We all realise that the kids had to die in The Hunger Games, and that the people who died couldn’t be all bad or evil because life isn’t like that… But RUE?! The sweetest and kindest of the tributes?
Dear Rue, a petite 12-year-old girl from District 11, was written as a mere plot tool meant to further Katniss’s cause and whose death is used to send a message to the Capitol. She was helpful, kind, quiet, and … had to die.
You deserved better, Rue!
Oh Ophelia… Mistreated by the men you love, and misunderstood by the people who read about you and reduce you to a ‘crazy woman’ trope. smh
Ophelia is a Shakespearean character whose name is derived from the Greek ōphéleia, meaning “help”, and boy did she need some help.
The young, Danish noblewoman is the daughter of Polonius who gets himself murdered by being a busybody, sister of Laertes who is accidentally poisoned by his own tainted sword, and potential wife of Prince Hamlet, who murders Ophelia’s father by mistake, which drives her mad and she takes her own life.
The whole thing is an absolute classic tragedy by Mr William Shakespeare, but dear Ophelia really had the rawest of deals here! You deserved better, Ophy!