Since Joan of Arc’s career was cut short by her death at the stake, the young woman has been interpreted in a plethora of ways by religious groups, literary and theatrical figures, and feminine ideologies.

In the religious sphere, Joan was eventually pardoned by the Catholics, and she became a saint in the early 1900s.  On the other side of opinion, some Protestants have viewed Joan as an anti-Catholic reformer who helped break ties with the Catholic Church to let the Reformation begin.  The French nation as a whole has turned Joan into a symbol of individualism, nationalism, freedom, and chastity.

Literary and theatrical figures have taken a different approach to Joan of Arc.  Shakespeare did not hide his disgust for her when he called her a “witch and a strumpet.”  Modern filmmakers have been a little more forgiving and have portrayed her as a suffering martyr and as the ideal woman because of her courage and purity.

Feminine ideologies take two completely different approaches to Joan.  Women’s history selects her as a poster child of her era because women can “relate” to her and her story.  Women wish to view history through the eyes of feminine role-models because of the unique sentiments that all women share.  Feminists and women’s rights use Joan as the ideal woman:  a woman who is strong, courageous, and independent of male leadership.  They believe Joan supports their idea for gender equality and feminine superiority.

In reality, there is not enough information to truly interpret Joan.  Historians do not even know what she looked like.  All history tells us is that she was a young woman who used her visions to help France win decisive battles against the English in the Hundred Years’ War.

– Hannah S. Bowers

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