Changing Representation of Female Characters

Children’s Literature Research


The Changing Representation of Female Characters and Feminist Heroines in Children’s Literature from Baum to Montgomery


Once children can read, they are cast into the literature world – characters, themes, settings, and plots. Children’s literature brings concepts like friendship, nature, education, discovery, religion, and the structure and operation of society so that the child feels connected to the material. Some have argued that children’s literature only comes to existence when it can portray child or child-like characters or appeal to the child’s point of view (Grenby, 2007, p.277). children’s literature has a long, global history that originates in the traditional and folk oral tales. In Britain, children’s books can be traced back to the eighteenth century, with such classics as John Newbery’s A Little Pretty Pocket-Book (1744). In the nineteenth century, children’s books formed a distinguishable genre within the literary world. Expansion of children’s literature to the international level in the nineteenth century saw the female protagonists’ advancement, considering early children’s readings used the male-child protagonists only. Some of the influential literary works in producing strong female protagonists are Lyman Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of OZ (1900), together with Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables (1908). This paper will explore the changing representation of female characters in children’s literature by focusing on these two literary works.

Historical content

Born in 1856, Lyman Frank Baum spends most of his early years indoors after being diagnosed with a week heart. This allowed for extensive reading. His cultural career began with writing articles for local newspapers. Baum’s life experiences permeated the setting and plot structure of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. at some point, Baum attended the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, which included the White City, a model city with lights that created the impression of a jewel. This impression is credited with assisting Baum to create the Emerald City in the novel (Rogers, 2002).

On the other hand, Lucy Maud Montgomery was born in 1874, and at the age of twenty-one months, her mother passed away. Shortly after that, Lucy’s father remarried and moved with her new wife, leaving her daughter to be brought up by her maternal grandparents. In her childhood, Montgomery undertook extensive reading and led a life with strict discipline, for she lived in an isolated area with few friendships (Bienert, 2009). Both Baum and Montgomery had a reading culture that stimulated their imaginations and influenced the passion for writing.

These selected readings, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Anne of Green Gables, creatively allude to the two writers’ personal life experiences. Despite being born in different decades, in different counties, and their gender differences – Baum is male and Montgomery a female, they both produced two strikingly similar children’s novels that deal with female protagonists and their respective journeys (Becker, 2013). Given the difference in publication dates for the two novels, they are well placed in exploring the change in women’s representation in children’s literature.

Feminist Theory and children’s literature

The nineteenth-century saw the initial shifting of the representation of women in children’s literature. An example of this is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Alcott writes a perfect read for young girls, but the novel transcends most gender stereotypes of the nineteenth century. For example, through the characters Jo and Laurie, Alcott portrays the two as nonconforming to their gender-stereotypical roles. Jo vacillates between a more traditional role and feminist character, while Laurie has more stereotypical feminine attributions (Bender, 2017). Though Alcott explores the women’s roles in the nineteenth century, the book Little Women is also a strong affirmation of feminist’s beliefs, and she presents them with respect and empathy. The enduring effect of this book is evident in that it has been adapted into a film (Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2019).

Exploring children’s literature all through the decades has been done through various literary theories; however, feminist literary theory is considered to provide the most insightful approach for this paper. For this paper, analysis is done using the concept of influential feminist theorist Simone de Beauvoir (Simons, 2010). Concerning The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Anne of Green Gables, analysis is done through the characterization of two female protagonists, the secondary female characters, and secondary male characters through the lens of feminist literary theory.

Feminists analysis of selected texts

1. The wonderful Wizard of Oz

1.1. Analysis of Dorothy

The creation of Dorothy – female protagonists marked a change in bursting with make oriented children’s literature. However, it is to be noted from the onset that, even though Dorothy is presented as a self-reliant young woman, there are still some elements within the text that bring out the notion of stereotypes and the presentation of women’s traditional roles. Most of Dorothy’s qualities are designed to contest the traditional subordination feature of females. For example, she slaps the lion on the none after fearing Toto’s safety (Baum, 1900, p.3). Even though she can counter the female’s timidity stereotype and slap the lion, she still, deep, portrays the fearful concern typical of a female.

She also portrays bravery that defeats the stereotype of a woman when she speaks to the lion and says, “don’t you dare bite Toto! You ought to be ashamed of yourself…” (Baum, 1900, p. 43). In addition to bravery, she also breaks the typical roles of women in society by engaging in manly and muscular tasks; for example, she helps her friends push the raft to the shore, even though this puts her life in danger (Baum, 1900, p.60). Through Dorothy, Baum has designed a character who is Brave and Kind. The kind virtue represents her feminine behavior; however, the masculine discourse revolves around the concept of female liberation. Bearing in mind that in the nineteenth century, male characters’ dominance in children’s literature was at its epitome, this is considered a bold move that provided the starting and the baby-steps for feminist theorists.

1.2. Analysis of secondary female characters

In addition to Dorothy – a female protagonist, Baum also creates secondary females to show the traditional stereotypical ideology and its change. In the introductory part of the book, Baum explains how to eliminate the stereotypes of “the genie, dwarf, and fairy” to create “modern” children’s literature. According to the theory by Beauvoir, society has placed stereotypes on women such as “The married Woman” and “The Mother,” which indicate a certain pre-designed destiny for a woman (Simons, 2010). In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, women presented as “good” possess traditionally ascribed to women. Aunt Em is described as having been “a young, pretty wife” who has been changed by hard work and the rough terrain (Baum, 1900, p.8). This use of “pretty wife” feminine discourse oppresses this secondary character and indicates how their beauty traditionally describes women. Also, the Queen of the Field-Mice is described as being “good.” The princess made from China described as being “beautifully dressed” and “speaks in a frightened little voice” (Baum, 1900, p.117) serves to cement the position of secondary females in the text. However, Glinda’s innovative creation, a good witch’s, female soldiers, in a reversal of roles. The creation of female soldiers counters the traditional image that a soldier is a male.

1.3. Analysis of secondary male characters

Role reversal and change in feminine and masculine discourse are evident through the secondary male characters, including the Scarecrow, the Lion, the Tin Woodman, and Oz. The scarecrow is a male character described as having now brains (Baum, 1900, p.23), and his stripped of the masculine qualities – has low self-confidence, is dependent on Dorothy, and lacks knowledge. The Tin Woodman also lacks masculine characterizations, for he is helpless and subordinate (Baum, 1900, p.31). The Lion, though he first appears to be a ferocious male beast, close inspections reveal he is a coward who is frightened by Dorothy’s assertive nature (Baum, 1900, p.40). Oz’s character is the reverse of the other male characters as he is the one with power, but in the end, he is exposed as being a liar and a humbug.

2. Anne of Green Gables

2.1. Analysis of Anne

Montgomery portrays Anne Shirley with traditional women’s roles and yearning for change in the social order. The first illustration is in Marilla and Matthew’s discovery that Ann is not a boy (Montgomery, 2004, p.18). The stereotypically female role is illustrated when she responds to Marilla that she can wash dishes, but she is better at looking after children (Montgomery, 2004, p.23). Despite the numerous characterizations that depict Anne as fitting the traditional feminine image attached to women by society, the Author has also portrayed Anne qualities that counter the societal norms, expectations, ad standards.

When Anne is introduced, she is more outspoken and more precocious than expected of passive little girls (Montgomery, 2004, p.8). On her first day at school, Anne doesn’t care much about the male teacher, and she is scolded by Marilla and told she should “criticize the master,” which indicates her willingness to challenge traditional placement (Montgomery, 2004, p.69). Her willingness to challenge the social gender stereotypes is also illustrated in her not taking the role of the “good little girl,” which is an attribute placed on young girls by society (Montgomery, 2004, p.47). Anne is also intelligent, a trait that is normally associated with males. Through Anne’s education, Montgomery challenges females’ patriarchal views as housewives and questions women’s position in society (Montgomery, 2004, p.156). Anne is not only the heroine of the novel but also discovers herself and used her power to change those around her, e.g.., Matthew changes to confident, outspoken, and loving.

2.2. Analysis of Secondary female characters

Secondary female characters, which include Marilla, Diana, and Mrs. Rachel Lynde, are used to reinforce the challenge of stereotypes on women. Marilla is introduced as unmarried, which counters women’s stereotypical role and considers that Beauvoir portrays marriage as an oppressive institution (Simons, 2010). She is a representation of the liberated woman. Moreover, she doesn’t desire to be a mother, and her need to adopt s boy is to provide help for Matthew on the farm (Montgomery, 2004, p.5). The physical figure is also described in a masculine manner, i.e., “tall, thin woman with angles and without curves” (Montgomery, 2004, p.4). Rachel Lynde is characterized as a believer in the modern woman’s place, and she holds the view that the traditional role of women is changing (Montgomery, 2004, p.6). Diana Barry is described as being “a very pretty little girl” who is “good and smart” (Montgomery, 2004, p.38), which is an indication of her inclination to the feminine attributes of a woman by society.

2.3. Analysis of secondary male characters

The characterization of secondary male characters in Anne of Green Gables emphasizes their subservient behavior, which shows the reversal of male and female roles in society (Becker, 2013). First, male characters in the novel are scarce, which illustrates females’ significance and counters male leads’ reliance. Only two male characters are identifiable in the novel; Matthew Cuthbert and Gilbert Blythe. Matthew is portrayed as “the shyest man alive” who “hated to have to go among strangers or to any place where he might have to talk” (Montgomery, 2004, p.3). Gilbert Blythe first appears strong and dominant, but as the story progresses, he is gentle and soft (Montgomery, 2004, 72). These characters serve to cement the emancipated role of the woman in the twentieth century.


Classical children’s books are meant to be educational and entertaining, and through-provoking to make the reader explore imaginative freedom and excitement. Baum and Montgomery have developed vivid imageries of female protagonists; however, consider that these books where written in different centuries. The level at which feminist ideologies have been employed can be seen. Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, penned in the nineteenth century, has employed feminists at a fairly subtle level; moreover, at this time, it was only when the society had begun to challenge societal ascribed gender roles. On the other hand, in Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, feminist concepts are well developed, and the setting of the literary piece indicates this. In Baum’s work, the female protagonist still has some major stereotypical elements of the female. Even though the secondary male characters do not largely measure male stereotypes, they still are present and still shine throughout the novel.

On the other hand, Montgomery significantly develops female protagonists while simultaneously making secondary male characters very dime. Therefore, it is evident that there is a significant increment in female protagonists’ representation from Baum to Montgomery. This increment is expected to grow, as witnessed in The Little Women (2019).


Alcott, L.M. (1869). Little Women. Little, Brown, and Company.

Baum, L. F. (1900). The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. EBook. Project Gutenberg.

Becker, B. (2013). A feminist analysis of Lyman Frank Baum’s the wonderful wizard of Oz, Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s the secret garden (Doctoral dissertation, University of Fort Hare).

Bender, C. (2017). Gender Stereotyping in Little Women: “Let Us Be Elegant or Die!”. MJUR, Issue 8, 140-153.

Bienert, M. (2009). Imagining Anne: The Island Scrapbooks of LM Montgomery. The Lion and the Unicorn, 33(1), 115-116.

Grenby, M. O. (2007). Chapbooks, children, and children’s literature. Library, 8(3), 277-303.

Montgomery, L. M. (2004). Anne of Green Gables. Broadview Press.

Rogers, K. M. (2002). L. Frank Baum: Creator of Oz: A Biography. Macmillan.

Simons, M. A. (Ed.). (2010). Feminist interpretations of Simone de Beauvoir. Penn State Press.

Sony Pictures Entertainment, (2019, Aug. 13). Little Women – Official Trailer (HD). YouTube. Retrieved from



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