Rape: The Breaking or Strengthening of Women? As Explored Through Literary Heroines

Open Access
Yacovone, Kara L
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Jennifer Madison Lawlor, Thesis Supervisor
  • Lisa Ruth Sternlieb, Honors Advisor
  • rape
  • trauma
  • literary heroines
  • sense of self
  • strength
  • survival
  • performance
  • victim
Throughout countless literary works, rape has been used as a means of gaining control and power over a woman. Men have raped women as a means of eliminating their voices, their sense of self-worth, and their perceived power and equality in society and within relationships. Because rape is such a traumatic experience, many people view raped women as completely defeated or broken. While many raped women unfortunately do exhibit these traits, I argue that for a select few literary characters, women gain strength as a result of surviving and healing. Instead of becoming broken and passive, these women are able to regain a sense of self and use their voices to share their story and reveal injustices in their respective regimes as part of their healing process. The act of rape and a subsequent healing process is possible in many different types of regimes, which is why I chose three extremely different works to explore. Each of these works is reflective of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in which Philomela instigates her healing process through her method of storytelling. As early as in late 16th century writing, it is possible to see women surviving and healing from rape; William Shakespeare’s tragic play, Titus Andronicus, features Lavinia using her rape to learn to speak for herself and to co-author her own demise to escape the corrupt regime allowing for her abuse. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale explores the role of rape in a dystopic, futuristic society. Offred shares her story to reevaluate how a dominating rape culture and monthly rape has changed her and to emphasize the importance of holding on to a fulfilling past. And in an alternate universe with advanced information technology, Nalo Hopkinson shows the importance of releasing guilt to become a stronger version of oneself and using this strength to help others in exposing injustices in Midnight Robber. Literary female characters should not always be viewed as powerless after being raped. Many of them have the capacity to heal from their trauma and grow to become stronger individuals as a result of surviving their damaging abuse.