Thursday, May 1, 2014

Sister Heroes: Tris and Ripley

Ellen Ripley, the protagonist of the 1979 movie, Alien, and its sequel in 1986, Aliens, may be unfamiliar to contemporary readers and movie-goers, but I assure you, Ripley is one of the all-time favorite female heroes and an ancestor to Tris, the protagonist of Divergent. Both women are exemplary dystopian heroes, and both should inspire young women everywhere.

Ripley, you may remember, is the tough Science Officer who could have saved the Nostromo and her crew if only they had followed protocol and Ripley's advice instead of Captain Dallas's. The Captain had good intentions, but he allowed the agent of his crew’s death to board his ship and stalk them. Ripley, in a story featuring each of the five types of conflict, survives by thinking on her feet and overcoming fear.  

Ripley’s antagonists include an Android loyal to a profiteering Company willing to sacrifice a crew in order to retrieve a living, breathing weapon. Ripley also faces that terrifying potential weapon: an alien monster seeking living hosts to nourish its larvae. It exists for no other reason than to propagate itself.

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Equally important, Ripley faces outer space where she cannot survive without a space ship, one free of monsters and alien predators. Ripley must fight Nature itself for a safe haven. More important, perhaps, is Ripley’s struggle to transform herself from an ordinary human, endowed with fitness and strength, but neither equal to an Android nor supernatural beast, and summon extraordinary gifts in order to survive.

Tris also faces each type of conflict, beginning with her struggle to know her own nature and choose the path right for her. To do so, she must also reject her parents’ faction and fight for a place within a new one. Her personal struggle takes place within the context of strife between the factions. This strife reshapes Tris’s world into one unfit for most humans, causing many residents to question their purpose and to rely upon faith for comfort and direction.

Like Ripley, Tris works from her head and her gut. She’s resourceful, stronger than she ever imagined she could be, and capable of facing down her fear in order to survive. She loses those who are dear to her as does Ripley, and neither woman has the luxury of time to grieve. Both must move on; their own and the lives of others depend upon them doing so.

Tris, however, escapes in the arms of the man she loves, the man who loves her. Ripley returns to stasis with only a cat for company on her long, long trip home. Neither woman is sure of her future. Each one ventures into an unknown, but they do so with eyes clear and spines straight.

Reading Challenge:

Read Alien, Aliens, and Divergent, book and film. Note the conflicts each female protagonist faces and the similarities in the characters.

Writing Challenge:


Write a character sketch for a female protagonist whose ancestors are Ripley and Tris.