Rebellious reads: 5 great rebels in literature

Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Category: Reading

More than 400 years ago, a group of rebels that most famously included Guy Fawkes set out to start a revolution by blowing up Parliament (and most of the royal family and ruling class). Though we celebrate his defeat rather than his audacity, this seems like the perfect day to tip a hat to other memorable rebels out there—specifically, the ones we read about. Though some of them, like Fawkes, may have ultimately been defeated, their strength and defiance are inspiring both to other characters and those of us devouring their tales.

Offred, The Handmaid’s Tale: Offred, a Handmaid in the oppressive, highly patriarchal Republic of Gilead, is seen by most of her society as little more than a walking womb. In a world where women are completely subject to men, not even permitted to read, her rebellion is a quiet, but powerful one. From surreptitiously looking at fashion magazines and trying out forbidden cosmetics, she moves on to a potentially fatal affair with a chauffeur who also longs to escape the theocratic regime they live under. The book’s ambiguous ending shows just how far she, too, is willing to go for her freedom.

Sal Paradise, On the Road: In the late 1940s and early 1950s, when conformity was prized, Sal and his friends eschewed the trappings of the ‘American Dream’ to live a free-spirited, rootless life travelling from coast to coast. Their journeys, filled with sex, drugs, parties, and a search for purpose, is the very antithesis of the much-idealised Leave it to Beaver era.

Lisbeth Salander, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: This is a girl who really doesn’t care what society thinks or expects of her. Abrasive, aggressive, brilliant, perceptive, largely uninterested in relationships or domesticity, this girl lives by her own set of rules, and we love her for it.

Guy Montag, Farenheit 451: We here at SBT are naturally drawn to any character devoted to literature, and Guy’s so devoted he actually puts his life on the line to save books. His crime means the loss of everything most people would consider important, but enables him to ultimately build up a new, better life.

Randal Patrick McMurphy, One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest: It’s hard to rebel in a mental hospital, but the unforgettable McMurphy manages it, baiting the odious Nurse Ratched, upsetting routines, running a card game, sneaking in prostitutes and whipping up the other patients on the ward to demand better treatment. It’s not long before Ratched’s regime has taken a serious beating and the whole ward is in full rebellion.

Which literary rebels have you cheering? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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