Spoilers for GOT Season 2 and ASOIAF Book 4
(I figure I should just note that I have been pretty influenced by Feminist Fiction’s great Sansa Stark post, which fans of GOT/ASOIAF should read.)
I just wanted to take a moment and examine Sansa Stark and my own reaction to the hatred towards her character. Of course, this is a topic that has been covered extensively and eloquently by amazing feminist writers, but I wanted to see if I could flesh out my own thoughts on this.
Sansa has always been one of my favorite characters. In fact, I’m pretty sure that she was my first favorite POV (either her or Tyrion), but I think I liked her before her first POV chapter. When I reflect upon my early fondness to her character, I am a little wary that I may have liked her for the “wrong” reasons. What strikes me about Sansa’s character is how comfortable she is to like at first. She’s a young, pretty, well-behaved, feminine girl, and as Arya puts it, she is “perfect.” Hell, the first memory I have of her is during Arya’s first POV chapter in which she resents her sister’s perfect embroidery. In the beginning, when we see her from other POV chapters, mostly Arya’s, Sansa is an immensely “safe” character who has no risks associated her with. The first glimpse we get of Sansa paints her as someone who succeeds by conforming to the social standards, in total contrast to Arya who feels out of place.
(Now, please keep in mind that I am not going to hate on Sansa even though this has hardly been flattering to her so far. I am simply trying to examine my reasons for liking her so much so early, before she became a full-fledged member of the awesome club.)
I think part of this early fondness stems from the fact that when I was a kid, I was always really well-behaved and fairly feminine. I had my small rebellious moments, but for the most part I was very, as my parents’ friends would phrase it, guai (Chinese for “obedient” which I have trouble using because it sounds so…dog-like). That’s why I sometimes have trouble identifying with the usually tomboy-ish, overtly spunky female characters who’ve become so popular in stories. I fully admire and appreciate those girls/women, but they never really felt like me. It seems a bit ridiculous to complain that well-behaved, feminine women are under-represented in fiction because many “classic” novels feature exactly those types of women. However, they’re never really heroic or presented as strong, and usually they simply serve as love interests, so in that sense, admirable, feminine women who are treated as strong and worthy by the narrative can be rare.
And that’s precisely the reason why Sansa Stark is so amazing as a character. There is a reason why GRRM allots her such a great portion of narration time. I admit that it took me a bit to fully realize it, but she is a fountain of strength. She has had a rough fall from innocence, was forced to rapidly learn how to use her wit so she can survive in court (which, make no mistake, is an incredibly dangerous environment as she is surrounded and watched by people all the time and is the hostage/plaything of a sadistic boy-king), and yet remains kind and caring enough to save Ser Dontos’s life and to comfort the noblewomen during the siege. The show, despite shafting her season 2 storyline, has given her some great rejoinders (“You’re right, I’m stupid. Of course you’ll be in the vanguard” is a great line and I like how it plays off the assumption that she’s unintelligent but refutes it with sass). Moreover, her situation at the Eyrie at the end of the fourth book is setting her up to become a major player of the game. No, she doesn’t pick up a sword and run away, but not every woman can. I admit that her storyline, even in the books, seems tame in comparison to that of Arya, but Sansa presents such an interesting study of someone who resists quietly. Yes, she struggles to survive (and what the hell is wrong with that?) and is forced to do so by measuring up to her oppressors’ standards of behavior (in what is perhaps a twisted punishment for her character’s conformance to society’s standards). Yes, she tells everyone who is listening that her dad was a traitor, but for the love of god, do you really think that Ned, who was willing to sacrifice his honor and reputation by declaring himself a traitor to save Sansa, would want her to get herself killed by defending him? Sansa lives under the court’s oppressive hand, but she works against it quietly by being refusing to let it corrupt her. Even Arya is becoming increasingly cruel and amoral, which is totally understandable but do not let it go unsaid that the ability to remain good and kind isn’t strength.
So, to summarize, Sansa initially seems like a boring and weak character, due to her conformance to societal expectations. However, it’s so refreshing to see GRRM give her such an amazing character development ark and to see her strength and worth demonstrated through the narrative.