The Return of the King
Women and Femininity Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
"Your duty is to your people," [Aragorn] answered.
"Too often have I heard of duty," she cried. "But am I not of the House of Eorl, a shieldmaiden and not a dry-nurse. I have waited on faltering feet long enough. Since they falter no longer, it seems, may I not now spend my life as I will?"
"Shall I always be chosen?" she said bitterly. "Shall I always be left behind when the Riders depart, to mind the house while they win renown, and find food and beds when they return?" (5.2.110-11, 113)
Éowyn has two pretty big problems here: (1) As a lady, she resents being left behind to tend the household while the Riders of Rohan (and particularly Éomer) have the freedom to ride off and be heroes. And (2) as someone with an official duty to her people, she can't just do whatever she wants. There is responsibility that comes from being a member of the House of Eorl, and in her case, that responsibility doesn't come with much power. But we know that the men and women of the Rohirrim are "valiant both alike" (The Two Towers 4.5.122), so you can imagine how frustrated Éowyn feels. But here's the real question: do you think Tolkien approves of Éowyn's complaints? Or does he agree with Aragorn and the other dudes? Are there ever instances in the The Lord of the Rings when it is virtuous not to do your duty—like Éowyn's riding into battle? Or is doing your duty a virtue in and of itself?
"Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!"
Then Merry heard of all sounds in that hour the strangest. It seemed that Dernhelm laughed, and the clear voice was like the ring of steel. "But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Éomund's daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him." (5.6.14-15)
Take that, you ugly, stinky Nazgûl jerk! This is one of our favorite scenes because Éowyn finally gets to stick it to everyone who ever told her she doesn't have a place on the battlefield. More importantly, she gets to stick it to the Lord of the Nazgûl, who has fatally underestimated her awesomeness. The irony here is that the Lord of the Nazgûl underestimates her because he thinks she's a man, while everyone else has underestimated her because she's a woman. In the end, though Théoden's death marks a tragic point in the novel, it's also a moment of great triumph for one of Middle-earth's few women warriors. We couldn't resist letting out a little cheer.
The winged creature screamed at her, but the Ringwraith made no answer, and was silent, as if in sudden doubt. Very amazement for a moment conquered Merry's fear. [...] A little to the left facing them stood she whom he had called Dernhelm. But the helm of her secrecy had fallen from her, and her bright hair, released from its bonds, gleamed with pale gold upon her shoulders. Her eyes grey as the sea were hard and fell, and yet tears were on her cheek. A sword was in her hand, and she raised her shield against the horror of her enemy's eyes. (5.6.16)
She's a kick-butt warrior maiden, sure. But this description of Éowyn is particularly interesting because it shows two sides to her character. As both a warrior and a lady, she has distinct qualities of both: her bright hair is glowing underneath her helmet (so, that's feminine). Her eyes are "hard and fell" (masculine) and yet there are "tears [...] on her cheek" (that's feminine, in this context). In Tolkien's world, Éowyn can't be totally girly—she has to be hard and cold—because she's a warrior, and therefore needs some more masculine qualities. Can you imagine Tolkien's Arwen wielding sword and shield? Probably not, right?