Wednesday Woman: Dawn Summers
First of all, I want to extend my heartfelt gratefulness and thanks for the kind words and everyone’s thoughts. Yesterday was one of the most difficult days of my life. I am glad I could be there with my family to mourn the loss of someone we all loved — someone who will always be a part of us. Someone found my blog yesterday searching for Nate — I hope that person knows how much he was loved, and how much he will be missed deeply by his family and friends.
As with my Monday Man feature, today’s post is for the women of urban fantasy. I thought a lot about who to write about, both from books and television (if you’ve been following this blog for a while, you should know by now that I wouldn’t dream of leaving out Buffy in any discussion). I considered a character analysis of Rae “Sunshine” Seddon from Sunshine, as the primary dude (can a vampire be a dude?) took the cape Monday, but ultimately decided against it.
My first Wednesday Woman is…
Yep, Buffy right off the bat. Buffy’s kid sister, no less. This blog will contain some spoilers. Not too many, but enough to pester the spoiler-phobe.
Dawn started out one of the strangest characters I’ve seen on television, let alone in fiction writing in general. Plunked into the series in season 5 with no explanation other than that she is clearly Buffy’s little sister, a great many viewers hated the poor thing for the duration of the show. I’ve never hated Dawn, though. Her character demonstrates the kind of moving, life-like development that Joss Whedon has been venerated for. Her character’s journey is truly…extraordinary.
Dawn is fourteen when we meet her, but she acts quite a bit younger. She’s klutzy and breaks things, and both Buffy and Joyce treat her like a child, talk about making sure she has a baby-sitter (by that age, I’d been a baby-sitter for a couple years already), and she has some mannerisms of a younger child. As the season progresses and the nature of Dawn’s mystical appearance are brought to light, she begins to undergo some massive psychological shifts. Instead of being able to trust her memories, she finds out that she’s only been around for six months. Six months. To me, right there, that’s an excuse for most of the whining Dawn is accused of. She forms a relationship with Spike, who exhibits a desire to protect her even at that early stage. It’s with his help that she discovers the truth about her existence.
One of the huge themes associated with Dawn’s character is loss. She was created by Joss Whedon as a way for Buffy to have an intensely emotional non-romantic bond, and the dynamic that exists between Buffy and Dawn has a massive impact on Dawn’s development. When Buffy enters a trance-like state to see what is hurting her mother, she instead sees the truth about Dawn, telling her that she’s not her sister. Dawn takes that as a blow — at that point, she doesn’t know she’s not “real.” After the death of their mother, Buffy assumes a more parental role with Dawn, and it’s clear that Buffy truly sees Dawn as her sister. Following Joyce’s death, Dawn attempts to bring her back with black magic, but she destroys the spell just as the Joyce-apparition approaches the house, causing Buffy to break down completely for the first time since Joyce’s death. At this moment, Dawn’s character takes a leap forward as she comforts her older sister, the Slayer, the badass, the stoic woman she admires so much. Buffy’s grief-wracked words hit home for me even now, “Dawn…who’s going to take care of us?”
As the season moves along, it becomes clear that Dawn’s role extends to more than just some arbitrary sister plunked into Buffy’s life. She is a mystical object sought by a hell-god named Glory. Good. Something that’ll end well.
It takes a solid running away and encounter with Glory for Dawn to realize that however she came to be in Sunnydale, she is Buffy’s sister. Summers blood. This revelation comes to a head when Buffy has to sacrifice her own life to stop the apocalypse after one of Glory’s minions successfully activates Dawn’s blood. Season 6 dawns (haha) with new maturity in Dawn as Willow and Co. bring Buffy back. It’s clear Dawn learned her lesson with the spell with Joyce — that tampering with life and death is dangerous no matter how successful you are. She calls a spiraling Willow out on it, telling her that she can’t just fix the world to her liking and mess with people’s lives. This shows a big step forward in Dawn’s maturation.
Dawn assumes a role of caretaker for Buffy in the early bits of season 6, but she quickly gets pushed to the side as Buffy’ struggles to adapt to her new life after 147 days dead. She gets angry and feels neglected — and resorts to petty larceny more often than not. She also experiences her first kiss with a vampire, which is a nice, non-ironic situation. (Kidding.) She is then forced to stake him, compounding the ever-present theme of loss in Dawn’s life. Her arc is brought home (literally) when she accidentally wishes to a vengeance demon for people to stop leaving — subsequently making everyone stuck in her house. Oops. When the spell is reversed, Buffy realizes that Dawn needs her and makes the choice to stay with her when everyone else bolts.
Through the rest of the season, Dawn insists that she is old enough to handle being a part of the Scooby gang, but Buffy pushes back, not wanting to endanger her. Dawn’s frustration is as normal as any teen’s in this case — just another shining example of how well Joss manages to tell human stories through a supernatural lens.
Thank dog for urban fantasy.
This struggle culminates when Darth Rosenberg (that’s Dark Willow, to you) drops Buffy and Dawn into a fight against superhuman creatures made of earth and roots — and Dawn holds her own, even saving Buffy a few times. This is one of the more affecting moments of their relationship.
Dawn…I don’t want to protect you from the world. I want to show it to you.
In season 7, Dawn takes on an almost Watcher role, helping the gang with research and training with Buffy as a full Scooby. There are many moments in this season where she proves herself, from translating ancient Sumerian to battling ubervamps, but what stands out to me is the episode Potential. For a time in this episode, a spell goes a bit wonky, and Dawn thinks she’s a potential Slayer. She takes off out of the house to figure things out, and she finds a friend from school who has had an encounter with a vampire. The two young women go to the high school to attempt to take him out, only for Dawn to discover that she isn’t the potential; Amanda is. When this happens, she not only steps back immediately, but she empowers Amanda to do what she has to do. What Xander says to her sums up her character’s progression:
They’ll never know how tough it is, Dawnie, to be the one who isn’t chosen. To live so near to the spotlight and never step in it. But I know. I see more than anybody realizes because nobody’s watching me. I saw you last night. I see you working here today. You’re not special. You’re extraordinary.
I think it’s only fitting to show Dawn Summers some love. She’s a character who has experienced unparalleled psychological trauma and shock, as well as extreme loss, from the death of her mother to Buffy’s death, to being the one to discover Tara’s body after Warren shot her. She lost a number of parental figures and still came out of it with grace and poise — by the show’s end, she is the same age Buffy was in the early seasons, and she bears the trials of her life with a lot more finesse.
Dawn Summers, you are Wednesday Woman.
- Buffy Fans Rejoice – Season 8 Getting a Hardcover Release & Season 9 Getting Its First Collection! (dreadcentral.com)
- Entertainment Weekly Review on Buffy Season #9 Comic (houseofvampires.wordpress.com)
- ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ stars: Where they are now? (herocomplex.latimes.com)
- Joss Whedon’s THE AVENGERS Might Feature a Vampire! (geektyrant.com)
- Joss Whedon Discusses His Defunct ‘Wonder Woman’ Movie (screenrant.com)
- The Recalcitrant Vampire: Immortal Pop Culture Emperor (emmiemears.com)
Posted on December 21, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged Buffy the Vampire Slayer, character studies, Dawn Summers, fiction, Joss Whedon, strong female characters, strong women, urban fantasy, vampires. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.