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It's hard to think about Coraline without comparing her to other famous young heroines like Lucy, Alice, Meg, or even Hermione. Coraline is a classic heroine in many ways – she's a little girl who's tougher than she seems – but that doesn't mean she isn't unique.
Coraline doesn't blend in for the reader, but she sure blends in for everyone else. Her neighbors always call the poor girl "Caroline." Her parents, who obviously know her name, often just ignore her. Our heroine is actually quite witty and smart, but no one seems to notice it.
"Coraline? Oh there you are. Where on earth were you?"
"I was kidnapped by aliens," said Coraline. "They came down from outer space with ray guns, but I fooled them by wearing a wig and laughing in a foreign accent, and I escaped."
"Yes, dear." (3.9-11)
This passage not only shows us Coraline's awesome imagination and mature sense of humor, but it also proves our point: no one really notices her. With that much personality, you'd think everyone would be all over her, but instead, she's just "Caroline."
I'm an explorer, thought Coraline to herself. (6.35)
Explorers share a certain set of characteristics: for starters, they are heroic, bold, and curious. Sound like any fictional girl you know? Coraline is definitely all those things. Her desire to explore would give even Christopher Columbus a run for his money. Of course, Coraline's explorer spirit gets her into some trouble when she decides to, you know, tromp on over to another world. Most people would have slammed that pesky door shut and made a run for it, but not Coraline. And sure, she might end up in trouble, but she does a great job of getting herself out of it, just like a good explorer should.
Maybe the most important quality of an explorer is bravery. Bravery means something different for everyone – it can range from public speaking to squashing a spider – but Coraline has a very specific definition:
"[Coraline's dad] said that wasn't brave of him, doing that, just standing there and being stung," said Coraline to the cat. "It wasn't brave because he wasn't scared: it was the only thing he could do. But going back again to get his glasses, when he knew the wasps were there, when he was really scared. That was brave. […] "Because," she said, "when you're scared but you still do it anyway, that's brave." (5.75, 80)
If bravery is "when you're scared but you still do it anyway," then Coraline is brave to the max. She deliberately goes back into a very scary situation – hello, beldam world! – in order to rescue her parents.
You might notice that most of the other characters in Coraline are adults. Why might that be? Well, when you think about it, Coraline has to do some very adult things in this book. She cooks herself dinner, puts herself to bed, and, you know, kills evil villains.
Our heroine also seems to be wise beyond her years. Sometimes adults (even the ones at Shmoop) seem to think that the grass is always greener on the other side. That basically means we want what we don't have – and then once we have it, we want the other thing! Silly adults. Coraline, though, doesn't get tempted by green grass. Even though she's kind of bored by her regular life, she isn't tricked by the other world or the other mother (even when there's breakfast involved). Smart lady.
All that said, Coraline is still a kid. She plays with her dolls, likes to see mice circuses, and of course, she has to go to school. But this time, she'll be a little less scared about it.
Coraline is awesome and smart and heroic and... you get the point. But no one even knows. She saves the day and no one blinks an eye. And, of course, she can't really tell anyone about her adventure, since she'd risk sounding a little crazy (imagine if your little sister told you how she found a secret passageway to an evil world).
Have you ever heard a story about someone who saves the day but doesn't get the recognition? Do the names Batman, Spider-Man, or Superman ring a bell? Just like Coraline, none of these dudes ever get credit for all the cool, world-saving stuff they do. Of course, Coraline is a lot more low-key than these guys: no capes or masks for this girl. She also doesn't have the support system they have: she does it totally on her own. That makes her even more super of a superhero.
We don't want to burst anyone's bubble, but we have an important question for you: is it possible that this entire story was a figment of Coraline's super active imagination? (The author doesn't think so.) When you have a heroine as smart, creative, and imaginative as Coraline, you can't underestimate her powers to create her own stories. If this was all made up by Coraline, how does our perception of the story change?