The Write Choices – On Which We Stand

I’m talking shoulders. We stand (or at least sit) on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. Societies change because of the efforts of individuals who strive to make a difference for humankind, sometimes in the wilderness but most often with the help and guidance of others.

Let’s take, for example, 19th century women like Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone whose agenda was equal rights for woman and African Americans. Without their efforts to grant the right to vote to all citizens of the United States, would Ruth Bader Ginsberg have made it to the Supreme Court nearly a century later? I think not. Does having predecessors detract from RBG’s brilliance? Absolutely not! But it is because of a movement created by those earlier women that Ruth could enter the spotlight – riding on those strong preceding shoulders.

I don’t necessarily mean we all must be famous to make a difference, however. The figureheads, the leaders who become the face of change, like Ms. Anthony, Ms. Stone, and Ms. Ginsberg, are the cream. But they rise to the top only because of the thousands, nay millions of ordinary nobodies who choose to take up their cause, extol their glories, and carry the banners that result in real change – in science, in society, in life. It is the frameless heads on nameless walls (to borrow from Don McLean) who form the groundswell that carries ideas forward. We may see another RBG in time, but we will definitely have thousands of her unknown disciples who carry her cause(s) forward.

With that in mind I created the lead character of Embracing the Elephant, Guine Walker.

I could have chosen a real-life personage and fictionalized her life (as was done brilliantly by Sue Monk Kidd in The Invention of Wings – a novel based on the life of the very real suffragette and abolitionist Sarah Grimke). But what I wanted instead was to show how free-thinkers (like Sarah) influenced ordinary, anonymous people who then go on to change their own lives and, as a result, alter (however slightly) the society around them. A groundswell that causes a tsunami. A force of the anonymous.

Guine Walker is such a force. Influenced by the strong, independent, willful women she meets on her journeys, Guine discovers her own power to break from the societal rut in which her late mother was trapped and create a new, more satisfying life for herself despite the continuing pressures of 19th century society. Guine is a nobody in historical terms (well, since she’s fictional, that would be true anyway – but what I mean is that, like so many other real-life individuals who bend the rules and push the envelop, Guine is not and will never be a household name). The other women she meets in the book are not famous. Yet they and others like them make a difference for Guine.

My character Guine Walker represents a person on whose anonymous shoulders others will stand some day – in her case, to further the cause of justice and equality begun by those who came before her.

About Lori Hart Beninger

Lori Hart Beninger is a native California writer with three critically acclaimed historical novels (Embracing the Elephant, A Veil of Fog and Flames, and A Peculiar Peace) that follow two 19th century young adults as they struggle with survival and acceptance in the pivotal era of the California Gold Rush up to the American Civil War. Please visit for synopses, availability, reviews, and more.
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