06/20/2014 11:44 am ET Updated Aug 20, 2014

When Times Are Hard, Pick Up These Works of Literature

If life is a constant series of obstacles, the key is not how to struggle against them. Rather, you should become so tough that you don't break if you are crushed beneath the weight. Look to literature for characters who face their battles with admirable traits which help them cope. Start first with Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Hester Prynne is shunned from society for committing the sin of adultery and forced to wear a massive letter A across her chest. The scarlet letter bears witness that she has sinned. Every single day for seven years, every person gazes at her in disgust and treats her horrendously and cruelly. However, Hester never gives into their evil snarls. She stays composed and holds onto her inner strength.

Not only does Hester show bravery, but she also preserves her dignity and self-worth as she proves she will not give into their ignorant behaviors. When they stare at the letter A rudely, she stays quiet. When they stammer jokes and call her wicked names, she says nothing. When they gossip, she still does not say a word. This shows the true strength within her for she seeks no one for support and validation of her true sense of worth. Instead of seeking friendship where she could not find it, she finds work by use of her needle on garments. Thus, Hester finds a way of coping through the art of embellishment.

She does have one companion, her daughter Pearl, who is a passionate soul ignited with energy. Hester finds it her duty to her raise her daughter, though in isolation from the world which shuns them.

When Pearl's father finally reveals himself (spoiler), he falls dead holding Pearl's hand (spoiler). Hester's A for Adulteress now becomes an A for Able. Society now regards her as strong and seeks her for advice. She not only upheld her pride and dignity, but also changed the entire meaning of the letter pasted on her by a bitter world. She earned their respect and validation. While this was not her goal, this was the result.

Hester was not placed in an easy situation; it was a never-ending position to last a lifetime. As the novel states:

She could no longer borrow from the future to help her through the present grief.
To-morrow would bring its own trial, and yet the very same that was now so unutterably grievous to be borne. The days of the far-off future would toil onward, still with the same burden for her take up, and bear along with her, but never to fling down; for the accumulating days and added years, would pile up their misery upon heaps of shame.

(Hawthorne, Nathaniel, The Scarlet Letter, page 73)

Yet she managed to live by holding onto her courage, strength, and self-worth.

Another piece of literature conveying a strong woman caught in the midst of unfavorable circumstances is Tess d'Urberville from the novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. When Tess agrees to go to her ancient, "noble" side of the family to help earn money for her family, her rude, disrespectful cousin will not keep his hands away from Tess. While she is sleeping, he rapes her, and leaves her back at her home where she gives birth to a son. For the rest of her life, Tess has to endure society viewing her as immoral. Her son dies, yet Tess stands strong although the community is against her pregnancy and the son's burial. The son is denied a Christian burial as the child was born out of wedlock.

Throughout the novel, Tess is forever working jobs and trying to redeem her sad past, though she was a victim, and keeping her head held high despite the pain pressing inside her bones. Most of all, she never falls down when the rest of her world crashes. When at last her world is picture-perfect as she and Angle Claire fall in love and he asks her to marry him, she finds her haunting past still won't disappear. She confronts Angle after their marriage ceremony and he turns his back on the marriage. Tess, the once strong, witty-tongue maiden who could care for herself under any circumstance, is left hanging on by a thread although she had seen this coming.

However, Tess has a fierce determination throughout the entire novel. Her passion blazes inside of her to always push forward no matter the outcome or the level of pain she is enduring. Tess is highly motivated, driven, and courageous. Even when she knows the men are coming to take her away for the murder she commits so she can at last be with Angle, she still holds onto her pride. Although she was always the victim until the very end of the novel, she navigates herself away from returning to that state. This character trait, to play the tough, courageous one when you are holding all your pieces together because everyone has taken a blow at you is what makes Tess so memorable.

These two novels, which are considered to be among the canon of the greatest classical works of literature, are definitely worth picking up again if you need characters to inspire you. They will remind you of the most defining and beneficial character traits which are so rare, but sing so loudly from these pages.