I got to wondering recently, if readers ever subconsciously associated the heroines/female main characters in novels, especially in mystery/thrillers, as being based on certain archetypical models. For that matter, I wonder if any writers deliberately base their female protagonists on them. Archetypes represent the main traits that drive a character to act the way they do; in other words, what motivates them and what’s at stake when they don’t get what they want.
For those of us from a certain generation, Nancy Drew is probably the most recognized default personality to emulate female sleuthing characteristics; the educated, strong, independent type who in spite of the risk to her own safety, could always be relied upon to take on a case, even without mention of compensation. Man, that’s dedication. This is a woman who is more concerned about causes than her own safety, especially when they involve the people she most cares about.
So, I did some research on archetypes and found two related ones that in my opinion are best suited to female sleuths. This is the Artemis archetype: a hunter in search of those in need of protection, and the female Warrior.
She is independent, strong-willed, opinionated, and usually a feminist. Once she sets her sights on a goal, she pursues it with dogged determination. She fears losing her independence, and fights against patriarchal assumptions. Her self-sufficient inclinations may make her choose to live alone, or else she might choose to remain single while living with someone. She also fears appearing vulnerable by proving she’s as much equal to the task as any man. Like an Amazon, she can appear larger than life, motivated by survival and those causes that deeply concern her, especially women, children and animals. She loves being in nature. She can be athletic and trained in combat, as much as she can have her power come through her wits or special powers. To show growth as her character evolves within the plot, she might possibly be paired with someone who could teach her it’s okay to depend on others for help, especially a man, or perhaps pair her with someone to get her to loosen up if she’s too intense. Besides Nancy Drew, another example of this archetype might be Wonder Woman.
The shadow side of an Artemis character is full of irrational rage at injustice. When threatened, she can direct her anger in extremely furious and brutal ways. This character is not rational and takes things to extremes. Like a mother whose child is pinned under a car, she will instinctively rise to super human strength to lift it; then she will avenge whoever hurt her child. Without fearing the consequences, if she feels justified in her actions, nothing will stand in her way, not even the law. She disregards morals and ethics when they get in her way and refuses to conform to social norms. Caring not for her own safety or that of others, she can be physically aggressive, reckless, and feels justified in taking whatever actions she deems necessary to avenge the human rights she believes has been violated. This is an eye for an eye type of justice. She will even sacrifice her own life if necessary to bring down the perpetrator of an injustice.
I think the reason the mystery/thriller genre has such a following with women might be that this Artemis and female Warrior archetype is one with which women can personally identify. It’s reflected in the women who manage to juggle ten tasks simultaneously, who must leap over their own version of tall towers in a single bound while holding down a full time job, being a mother, a chauffeur and a wife too, or it's the career woman breaking the glass ceiling. It’s a wonder they manage to accomplish everything they do packed into one day, then to get up the next morning to begin it all again. Haven’t we all felt like Wonder Woman at times?
P. J. Woods is the author of the Harper Simone Mystery Novels. You can keep up with Pat at her website: http://pjwoodsauthor.com or her professional website for editing manuscripts at: http://bonmotsandprosepublishing.com.