Rebecca and Rowena both bring two different worlds and aspects to the book. They also bring the feminine touches to the novel because they are the only female characters that are talked about in depth by Sir Walter Scott. Rebecca and Rowena also show the struggles and obstacles that women in 12th century Britain would have faced.
Firstly, a major difference between these two characters is of course their racial and religious backgrounds. Rowena is a well off Christian Anglo-Saxon while Rebecca is a wealthy Jew. This difference may not seem so crucial but it turned out to be the very reason why Rebecca wasn’t able to marry the love she loved- Ivanhoe. The reason being that during this time being a Jew wasn’t such a great thing. The English men were jealous that the Jews had accumulated so much wealth so they retaliated the only way they could- with words, insults, and social snubbing.
As a result, Rebecca was looked down upon while Rowena was adored by many. While on the topic of their adorers, it would be improper not to discuss the different pressures that they faced due to their social statuses and standings. Due to Rowena’s Christian- Saxon heritage her father wanted her to marry Athelstane so that they could carry on the strong Saxon line. On the other hand, Rebecca wasn’t pressured to marry anyone. In actual fact she did not start off with any pursuers because nobody necessarily wanted to marry a Jew; even a wealthy one.
During this time women had little to no say in whom they married or what their occupations were. I was based more off of who you were and where in society your class stood. Women especially had even less rights if they were in the lower class but in this case it is reversed. Rebecca was able to pursue her passion of medicine and later go on to heal Ivanhoe. Rowena would not have been able to pursue such a manly occupation, not when she was supposed to be of a noble and higher class.
Similarly though, the two women of the book in their own ways are heroines in the book. A heroine has many characteristics that the two women displayed. Rowena for example showed dignity, modesty, and strength. She showed modesty when she met Rebecca at the end of the novel and though she knew the way that Rebecca felt about Ivanhoe she didn’t gloat or mock her instead she consoled her. She displayed true heroine characteristics.
I like to think there are two types of strengths: physical strength and emotional strength. Most women have the latter. I believe emotional strength is harder to acquire than physical strength because it’s not something that you can go the gym and get after a few weeks of training. On this note I would like to discuss the emotional strength of Rowena.
I also believe that Rebecca is a heroine because she was the tragedy of the novel. She had to walk away from the man she loved because she knew that it was not going to go anywhere due to their social standings.
The kind of strength needed to comprehend that even though you are in love you can never act on it is one that I envy because it’s so admirable. She’s also an admirable heroine because when Rebecca goes to Rowena who’s still wearing her wedding dress Rebecca gives her rival- the women who gets to live happily ever after with the man that she loves- a gift. And this was not just any ordinary gift; it was a box of jewels. Again the emotional strength that Rebecca shows is covetous.
In conclusion, Rebecca and Rowena are both women from two different classes, social standings, and completely different religions. However, we find that even with their differences they are still women plagued with things that two people in their polar circumstances face. They are both sought after and almost defiled by men who they are not betrothed to. They also fall in love which almost every women can contest they have felt once in their lifetime. So really apart from their differences they really are very much the same.