Exemplar: Female Characters

Some of literature’s most memorable characters are female. In literary settings, there are both strong and weak female characters as well as those who are somewhere in between. Readers can determine the degree of a character’s strength not only by her actions that indicate strength of purpose or character but also by the power or status she holds in the community and by the influence that she asserts on others. In the story “Before the End of Summer” by Grant Moss Jr., Grannie is a very strong female character. Her strength and her status in the community are shown by her actions, by the high regard that her community gives her, and by her strong, positive influence over Bennie and his mother.

Grannie’s personal strength is seen at the very beginning of the story. She asks Dr. Frazier for the truth about her illness and accepts the closeness of her death. She does not want him to tell anyone. She would rather face it alone than disturb her daughter or worry her grandson. Grannie is old and has lost her husband and several children, and she tells Dr. Frazier that she knows death. A long and difficult life can either destroy a person or make him or her stronger, and life’s hardships have made Grannie strong. The doctor respects Grannie’s strength, and because of it, he is direct and honest with her. He doesn’t lie to her, telling her that nothing is wrong, and he doesn’t patronize her or inform her daughter. He knows that Grannie will continue to care for her home and family until she goes to sleep and doesn’t wake up. He respects her choices.

Grannie’s status throughout the community, too, shows that she is a tower of strength. She owns her own property, manages her own affairs, and functions very well even at the age of 84, which in the early part of the twentieth century was an age that few people reached. She is dependable and competent, as others turn to her in their times of need. She cares for her friend May as she dies, and Grannie stays calm and strong, even when, at the funeral, she sees May lying in the coffin and envisions her own death that is soon to come.

Within the family, Grannie’s strength is seen in her influence over her grandson and her daughter, Birdie. Grannie is level-headed and practical. She does her work around the house whenever she can. Even after her daughter announces her engage- ment, Grannie tells Bennie that they have work to do, and she keeps going as long as she can. Near the end of her life, she tries to make sure that her daughter and grandson will be provided for without her. She encourages her daughter’s marriage to Joe Bailey, saying that he is a good man and will take on a fatherly role for Bennie. With this marriage, Bennie and Birdie will need her no longer. Grannie never speaks of love or romance, neither to Birdie nor to Bennie. In fact, she tells her grandson to behave himself and not to cause trouble between his mother and Joe. Grannie will tolerate no foolishness, even after she is gone.

As the summer passes and Grannie’s time gets shorter, as the days do, she continues, although she tries to defy her oncoming death by continuing to believe that late August is summer, even though Mr. Mathis states that they will have an early fall. Her determination to face death courageously and alone continues until the final heart attack, when the reader can see Grannie’s strength transferred to her grandson.

Even as her death approaches, Grannie keeps going about her tasks. After the death of her friend, May Mathis, Grannie tells no one else about her illness. During her final attack, she is level-headed enough to explain to Bennie what is going on and what will happen, surprised that he has known all along. She doesn’t want him to be frightened but to accept death as she has. With her guidance, he does. Thus, she passes her strength along to her grandson, who behaves as she would have in a similar situation.

The theme focuses on strength. It is about Grannie’s strength in light of her secret,
and it is also about the strength and self-sufficiency that Bennie—a child whose sense
of responsibility is of concern to his mother and grandmother—has inherited from his
grandmother. In her strong demeanor and positive, rational attitude, Grannie sets a
model for Bennie to follow. Bennie will surely follow in her footsteps and successfully
face life’s challenges with calm and strength.