Study Guide

The Return of the King Women and Femininity

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Women and Femininity

Just one question: where are the women in The Return of the King? While we think it is great that Tolkien gives us a warrior maiden character in the form of Éowyn, and a kind queen in the form of Arwen, we still can't help but point out his judgmental language in describing these ladies. Éowyn the shieldmaiden is cold and hard, while Arwen is soft and sympathetic. Tolkien's depictions of women, though few and far between, ask us to consider the roles females can play in times of war, and they force us to look at our own gender norms, too.

Questions About Women and Femininity

  1. Besides Éowyn, what other major female characters appear in The Return of the King? What social roles do they fill in the novel? How does Tolkien compare and contrast his female characters?
  2. As a healer in the Houses of Healing at Minas Tirith, Ioreth is the only genuinely professional woman we see in The Return of the King. What tone does Tolkien use to describe Ioreth? How does he seem to regard her work? What does Ioreth's character indicate about the place of women in Gondorian society?
  3. The Return of the King seems to set up Arwen as an ideal woman. What are the traits that make her so devastatingly attractive to the men around her?

Chew on This

Arwen Undómiel is not a three-dimensional or realistic character. She is just a gendered ideal intended to fill the role of Aragorn's partner. Snooze.

Many of the women characters in The Return of the King (Arwen, Ioreth, and even Galadriel) seem like stereotypes or caricatures because the emotional focus of the novel is not on romantic relationships between men and women. Instead, the book is all about bromance, which leaves little room for the ladies.

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