I certainly didn’t want this book to turn into a political statement about female-empowerment. I think that sort of thing has been overdone in fantasy–the woman in an oppressive masculine world seeking to prove that she can be just as cool as they are. However, I did have to deal with some cultural issues in ELANTRIS. There’s no getting around the fact that Sarene is a strong female character, and I think it would be unrealistic not to address some of this issues this creates with the men around her.
I actually used several women I know as a model for Sarene. I’ve often heard women say that they feel like men find an assertive, intelligent woman threatening. I suspect that there some strong foundations for feelings like this, though I would hope the men in question form a small percentage of the population. Still, I do think that it is an issue.
In my own culture, people tend to get married early. This is partially due to the LDS Church’s focus on families and marriage, and partially because I’ve lived mostly in the west and mid-west–where I think that the general attitude is more traditional than it is in big cities. Because of this, I’ve seen a number of people–many of them women–complain about how they feel excluded from society because they’re still single. Sarene’s own insecurity is related to the real emotions I’ve seen in some of my friends.
However, I do have to point out that some of the reactions Sarene gets aren’t because she’s female–they’re just because she’s bull-headed. She tends to give too much stock to the fact that she’s a woman, assuming that the resistance she receives is simply based on gender. I think a man with her personality, however, would encounter many of the same problems. The way she pushes Roial into a corner in this chapter is a good example. In my mind, she handled things in the kitchen quite well–but not perfectly. She still has some things to learn, some maturing to do.
You’ll notice the quick mention of the Widow’s Trial in this chapter. This sub-plot was actually added later in the drafting process, and I had to come back and write these comments into this scene. It will become apparent why later on.
Though, you spoilers already know how it is used. I needed to get Sarene into Elantris somehow, and I wasn’t certain how I was going to do it. Somewhere along the way I devised the idea of the Widow’s Trial. In the end, it worked quite well, as it provided the means for Raoden to create New Elantris.