Monday, July 9, 2012

Most Hated Protagonists in Literature

Not too long ago, I did post on villains we love to hate.

This week, I've decided to switch things up and talk about protagonists that seem to have struck a negative chord with so many readers, that I feel compelled to write about them.

These controversial protagonists seem to polarize many readers as well. It's very difficult to finish a book whose protagonist gets on your nerves, isn't it? So here's my personal list of protagonists that I just don't like very much.

Waaah! 
Bella Swan - Twilight. Oh Bella, Bella, Bella. If there ever was a role model of how you DO NOT want your daughter to grow up to be like, it's Bella Swan. She's whiny. She's clingy. She's pretty stupid. I mean, she jumps off a cliff because Edward doesn't love her. She's trying to off herself to get a vampire's attention. That's just great. What irritated me the most was how she complains about damn near everything. The weather, Edward hates me, Edward loves me, where is Edward, I need more attention. I am proud to say that I finished Twilight, however. As a whole, the book was very poorly written, and the fact that I hated Bella made it even more of a chore.

You're all phony!
Holden Caulfield -Catcher in the Rye. I actually love this book, but I've met so many readers that hate the protagonist, Holden Caulfield. The dude is cray-cray, and even ends up in an institution. He's super judgmental, whiny, hypocritical, and he's most definitely a psychopath. Despite his wackiness and his brooding angst that gets annoying, I think the reason why characters like Holden and Bella are so popular is that teenage audiences can relate in some way to them. Holden is angry at the world, and there sure is a lot of that going on right now. For Holden, I think the reason people both hate and love him is because through his crazy, you see some truth there.

This dragon makes this not-Star Wars
Eragon - Eragon (The Inheritance Cycle). This one is probably the author's fault. Eragon himself is not a character I hate. I guess I just hate the way author Christopher Paolini wrote him. He's a walking cliche and Star Wars ripoff. I think Paolini just took the basic premise of Star Wars and put dragons in it to write his book. He's a lonely farmboy who dreams of adventure, raised by an uncle. And when fate comes a-knockin' and kills his uncle, Luke Sky..., I mean, Eragon must go and find his destiny. After five days of training, he learns to kick everyone's asses. He goes off with the help of a wizard to rescue a princess. Sound familiar? I actually started to read the second book in this series, and when the "Yoda" character popped up, whom Eragon had to seek in order to perfect his abilities, I pretty much just chucked it.

Oh, to be the hand that slappest thy face
Romeo - Romeo and Juliet. At first glance, this tale of star-crossed lovers is really touching. It's one of the first melodramas ever written, and pretty much every soap opera or teen TV show owes much to Shakespeare. But upon closer inspection, our hero is really not so great after all. While teaching this play to a bunch of 10th graders, I had one student say, "So now he loves Juliet after just seeing her?" Maybe younger people just don't believe in love at first sight anymore. But it did get me thinking, what the hell is wrong with him? Romeo is rejected by some other girl, sees Juliet, and now he's got hunger pains for some hot Capulet action. Let's get this straight, he doesn't really love her. He just wants to jump her bones. Then he kills himself thinking Juliet is dead. But she's not, she awakens from her drug induced coma, finds her hot lover dead. So she offs herself. Knuckleheads.

I can kill you from 100 yards
Katniss Everdeen - The Hunger Games. I'll probably get a bunch of boos on this one. But let me say that I enjoyed reading this trilogy. Mockingjay was the weakest installment in my opinion, but honestly, Katniss, our hero, my least favorite character. Katniss is very flawed, and that's what I like about her. Her incessant whining is irritating (can you tell I hate whiners?). I just didn't buy how shy she was about her ability to kill stuff with her bow. It's a bit "Mary-Sue" in that she's overly modest about her skills. It's a trope that's gone into cliche territory. Maybe there's too much love-triangle stuff from Twilight here with Gale and Peeta longing for yet another Plain-Jane. Looking at all three books, I believe her character descends into more whining and bitching. And by the end of the trilogy, she's pretty much the same person. No lessons learned. She's a survivor. She's brave. Both admirable qualities. But she fails to really grow even after all she goes through. In the end, I like Haymitch's character much more.

43 comments:

Vero said...

You had me laughing out loud in the office. In front of my colleagues. During a "serious" workday. Thanks a lot, Jay! Your take on Romeo and Juliet is hilarious, and oh-so-damn true! XD

Also, yes! Mockingjay was week, Katniss didn't learn squat despite being an awesome kick-ass gal, and her settling into a life with Peta out of... pity? --seriously?!-- just made me want to snap her head off.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Whiny characters annoy me as well. I'd heard a lot about the similarities between Eragon and Star Wars. The movie was really bad as well.

Brinda said...

I liked Katniss Everdeen. I read the trilogy and must say that I liked her in the first book the most. I didn't care for the last two books.

Jay Noel said...

Vero: I still love Romeo & Juliet, and I did enjoy The Hunger Games. But that's despite some annoying characters.

Alex: The movie was horrible.

Brinda: There's a lot I like about Katniss, actually. But I still think Peeta and Haymitch are overall better characters.

Julie Dao said...

I agree with you that Haymitch's character was one of the most compelling ones in the HG series. And I was pretty darn proud of myself for finishing Twilight, too!

farawayeyes said...

Ha, ha, ha! You pretty much 'nailed' these guys. Save me from the perpetual 17 years olds, both the men and women. Ha!

Jay Noel said...

Julie: It was a tough road...and a lot of work to finish it. But I did it, which gives me the right to criticize it!

faraway: I hear ya. It was weird how all of these 30-40 year olds went absolutely NUTS with Twilight. I had a psychologist who was a fan explain it to me...she gave me enough for an entire post!

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

I liked your list. Bella is a true Mormon girl though so there are many that would love to be in her situation.

Stephen Tremp said...

I haven't read Mockingjay and read some poor reviews on it. I feel a trilogy really needs to finish strong. Having the recent news out of CERN of the Higgs Boson couldn't be better timing for me. Have a great week!

Jay Noel said...

Michael: I don't know quite enough about the Mormon religion, but I've heard that A LOT. I think you hit on a nerve there - that's the appeal. You have a plain nobody of a girl with two powerful hot guys fighting over her.

Stephen: Yeah, it ended with a whimper. Go God Particle!

Pk Hrezo said...

Hi Jay! Very provocative thoughts! Love it. Haymitch is way more interesting than Katniss, but I love that Katniss is a survivor and tough. I agree there was no arc, tho, and have wondered how Collins got away with that. My hubby thought she was way too whiny too.
I love Holden and can totally relate to borderline crazy. Got a soft spot for MCs on the edge.
Bella was tolerable for me, but in no way a good teen role model. I think thats why so many teen girls related to her--she was so annoyingly flawed and ordinary.
Romeo I never really thought about, but great points!! What was Shakespeare thinking??
And considering Eragon was written by a boy, his stereotypicalness is understandable and somewhat excusable.;)

Emily R. King said...

Bella is an irritating character. She's so unexceptional. I was a Mormon girl, and I was nothing like her. (I didn't whine. Whining pisses me off.) Weakness is weakness. It's not to be pinned on a whole religion.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I've never watched the movies, but my husband has, and he can't figure out what is wrong with Bella. She has a great life - why so moody?

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Interesting character assessments, and I'm very impressed with the fact that you stuck it out to the end of these books, even though you were less than enchanted with the protagonists. With so many wonderful books yet to be read, I simply refuse to finish any more books I don't like.

Laura Eno said...

I've never read Eragon but wondered why it was so popular with teen boys...now I know. :)
Interesting thoughts on Romeo and Juliet. I haven't read it since I was a lovesick teen. I wonder what I'd make of it now.

DEZMOND said...

I bow to your choices, thou speaketh the truth!
Eragon would die without his magic (such a stupid cliche) and Bella is in the line of Sookie Stackhouse when it comes to utter degradation of female gender!

The Desert Rocks said...

Nice blog but I'm not that familiar with all of the stories. Good point though--we're supposed to like these characters right? LOL

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I laughed and clapped through your psych breakdowns of these hero types.Bella is certainly the biggest idiot and like you, I could not get through the second book.
And though I'll never tell my daughter, I agree with you about Katniss.

M Pax said...

I bow to you. I only made it 1/2 way through Twilight. I read Cather in the Rye, but don't remember it very well. Hunger Games is in my TBR pile

Jay Noel said...

Pk: Good point on Eragon. I think even the author admitted he was "inspired" by Star Wars. Ya think?

Emily: I agree. I did see a lot of writers make the connection of Mormonism and Meyer's story, but I just don't know enough about that. Irritating is irritating.

Diane: Your husband has? Really? Wow. I just can't bring myself to do it.

Susan: Like with Hunger Games, I liked the book, just not the protagonist.

Laura: You would laugh your ass off!

Jay Noel said...

Dez: Bella is Snookie. I love it!

Eve: Surely you're familiar with Romeo and Juliet? I tried to mix some contemporary with the classics.

Susan: Thanks! Yeah, don't get Hunger Games fans angry. They might shoot an arrow at you.

Mary: You will like Hunger Games for the same reason I did - Katniss is strong, she's a broken person. But the side characters make the book worthwhile.

EvalinaMaria said...

Oh, I'm not a fan of Twilight either. I'm glad I'm not alone in my feelings.

Peaches Ledwidge said...

This is just wonderful. I like how you nailed the character flaws even if others don't see them the way you do. I'm thinking that I need someone like you to critique my book.

Good job. Just found your blog today but already, I'm liking it.

The Golden Eagle said...

I totally agree with your list--especially on Katniss Everdeen. I didn't see anything particularly special about her character, despite the popularity of the trilogy.

J. A. Bennett said...

With you on the Romeo front and Juliette had some issues too for going along with it. Then again they were only 14 (or at least Juliette was). Anyway, about Katniss, you're right she is way too modest with her awesome skills. There were so many times she could have been stronger :)

Miranda Hardy said...

I admit, I haven't read all those books, but the ones I have, I tend to agree with you.

Never liked Bella as a character and I liked Katniss in the first book, but didn't quite like her in the last two. She didn't grow as a character, that's for sure.

Jay Noel said...

Evalina: It's a double whammy for me. I don't like the protagonist or the book.

Peaches: I edited manuscripts for nearly a decade before I decided it was MY turn!

Eagle: I can see why many like her. Her skills rock. She's tough. She's a survivor. But she fails to grow.

J.A.: That last book was really weak too. There was a lot Collins could have done to show us some growth, some change in her character.

Miranda: Katniss is static. That's what bothers me. But Collins is laughing all the way to the bank!

Morgan said...

OH my gosh... what an entertaining post! I loved this. Seriously, Jay. I think your blog is a new fav of mine :D

Sarah Ahiers said...

Great post! Though i would say Eragon is less Star Wars and more the exact template for the Hero's journey, of which Star Wars falls in to

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

@Jay: I live in a community surrounded by Utah Mormons (different from other kinds of Mormons). Basically, from the female Utah Mormon friends I've made who are in their 40's and go walking with me, I've gathered that they are 1) very sexually repressed by their male counterparts who expect them to be perfect for them and 2) that there is elitism among their ranks. In other words, they look down on each other for many physical qualities. Basically, it's like the perfect storm to seek out romance books. The men aren't meeting the physical needs of the women because they consider such acts to be "unclean before god" which is a real strange concept to me (an atheist) but whatever... and the very notion of growing old leads to uncontrollable physical imperfection which doesn't meet the needs of the chauvinist men. That's just what I've observed in four years of living in Utah.

Hope Roberson said...

Haymitch is a good one!

Christine Rains said...

I agree with you about all of them, especially Bella. Horrible role model. I liked Katniss at the beginning of the series, but I didn't like what became of her.

Cherie Reich said...

I'm definitely with you about Bella Swan. And I like Katniss, but I've only read the first book so far, so that could change. Romeo & Juliet were both a bit stupid, but they were also 17 and 13 or something like that. People do stupid things at that age. Heh.

Cynthia said...

Jay! Thanks for checking in at my blog. I've been busy with the new baby but I haven't forgotten about my fellow bloggers. I plan to return to blogging by the end of this month or early next month, so stay tuned...

This is an interesting post, though I have to say that I'm still a Katniss fan in spite of her flaws. I think all characters need to have some flaws, even if they might make them less endearing. Perfection can be boring.

Talk to you again soon.

Jay Noel said...

Morgan: Thanks!

Eragon: Yeah, but there's just too many particular similarities for my taste.

Michael: Unclean before God??? That's very strange.

Hope: My favorite in the series.

Christine: I was hoping Katniss would undergo some big change. But alas, no.

Cherie: They sure do. But it's funny when teens think other teens are stooooopid.

Cynthia: I liked that she was imperfect. I just wanted her character to be less static.

Hope Roberson said...

I gave you an award on my blog today :)

Dafeenah said...

I agree with most of these. Although I haven't read Twilight but the sparkles are enough to keep me away lol. And Katniss I wanted to slap her. I couldn't enjoy the book because of her. If she had been removed I would have liked the trilogy but because of her I ended up hating it.

Ciara said...

The movie for Eragon was a joke, but I did like the first book. I never made it through the second. I LOVE Katniss. She was such a perfect flawed teenage girl. Maybe that is what bothers most. A teenage girl will whine no matter how talented or strong she is. IMHO. Bella did get on my nerves, and the books didn't live up to my expectations.

Jay Noel said...

Hope: Thank you!!! My post will be up tomorrow.

D: I hear ya!

Ciara: I liked her flaws. Like I said, there was no growth at all throughout the trilogy. By Mockingjay, I thought: grow up!!!!

Lydia Kang said...

You're right, Katniss doesn't really grow in the book. This was such a great post. Totally enjoyed it!

nutschell said...

haha! Great post Jay! Totally agree with you on Bella Swan. She's at the top of my list. Eragon and the others were okay, though I do think Romeo was a bit weak.
Nutschell
www.thewritingnut.com

Jay Noel said...

Lydia: Thanks. It's too bad she didn't change. I think a lot of readers were expecting something.

Nutty: He was pretty weak. Even teens today think he's pretty weak.

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