After consuming a great piece of literature, readers typically remember the protagonist of the story, rather than the antagonist. Authors draw readers in, to support and fall in love with the hero or heroine and to reject the villain.
Perhaps this is because the hero of the story is created to be relatable, and perhaps because the villain is designed to be unattractive. But occasionally, some literary antagonists are so haunting that readers cannot forget them. They evoke deep emotional reactions through their unforgiving acts of hatred. They delight readers with moments of selfishness and irritate with their judgmental, manipulative ways. That’s a villain done right. Of course, sometimes a hero is written badly, and becomes hated in a way that the writer never intended.
The following are ten of the most hated protagonists in literary history, some of whom are meant to be disliked and some who fall into the latter inglorious category. No matter how they became immortalised, they’re all just a little bit fun to hate.
*Spoiler alert: All following entries include narrative spoilers*
10. Bella Swan from The Twilight Series
Yes, there are legions of Twilight fanatics across the world. But, there are also large groups of people who are completely repulsed by Bella Swan, the young leading lady of the Twilight Series. The 17-year-old protagonist comes to Forks to live with her father Charlie Swan. Not long after her arrival she falls in love with Edward Cullen, who happens to be a vampire.
Throughout their odd love affair, the already poorly conceived character of Bella becomes infatuated with Edward and loses her entire self in pursuit of her love interest. She also allows herself to become a victim, in some of the worst ways possible.
Swan relies on Edward to save her in nearly all of the Twilight books. Swan is incapable of moving on with her life for months after Edward breaks her heart and leaves her. Edward Cullen stalks Bella, breaks into her bedroom and watches her sleep at night – very creepy – and this doesn’t discourage Bella in the slightest. He removes the battery from her car to keep her from visiting Jake, a love rival. All in all, while fans adore the love affair of Edward Cullen and Bella Swan, many agree her character is an insult to female empowerment and to strong female characters in literary history.
9. Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye
Is there a whinier, more judgmental character in all of literature? Probably not. Holden Caulfield spends the entirety of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye critiquing every person he comes in contact with. He seems incapable of getting past the surface layer of a person, choosing to pass uninformed judgements on everyone he meets. He hates people who are insecure, boring, and of course, “phony”.
A large wave of teenagers have come to identify with Holden Caulfield, insisting that they too hate “phony” people. However, what others see is that Caulfield’s labeling of people based solely on their surface characteristics makes him just as superficial and “phony” as them.
8. Miss Havisham from Great Expectations
One would think that Estella would come out on top as the most hated character in Great Expectations. But, most feel a tiny bit of redemptive empathy for Estella as her sense of hatred toward men comes directly from the teaching of her guardian, Miss Havisham.
In the 1861 Charles Dickens’ classic, Great Expectations, Miss Havisham is by far the craziest lady of the 1800s. She lives in her run down mansion, rarely setting foot outside and appearing far older than her mid-fifties. The wealthy spinster woman was humiliated at a young age by her young love, who took a portion of her money and left her at the altar on their wedding day.
Distraught, Miss Havisham never removed her wedding dress, wore only one shoe, and required that the wedding cake be left to rot on the dining room table.
Later in life she adopted Estella. Embittered by her heartbreak, she guided her daughter to become a soulless and emotionally hardened woman. She trained her as a child to break young boys’ hearts and then delighted in watching Estella break young Pip’s heart.
7. Amy Dunne from Gone Girl
Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl was published in June of 2012 and quickly made the New York Times Best Seller list. It examines the deterioration of a couple’s marriage, using the inner workings of an intimate relationship to create a twisted tale of suspense. But, as this novel unfolds it becomes clear that one of the two main characters is truly crazy.
Amy Dunne may be the most sadistic scorned wife ever depicted in a novel. After learning of her husband’s affair, Amy fakes her own kidnapping. She then weaves a highly detailed plot to frame her husband Nick for her supposed murder. Her plan is going well until she is robbed and forced to make contact with a previous boyfriend, Desi. It takes Amy just a short time to become annoyed with Desi’s possessive ways, and she takes some extreme action to rid herself of him.
She makes it appear that she has been sexually abused, tortured, and held captive by Desi after she kills him. She returns home, claiming she killed him in self-defense, resuming her life with Nick. When she fears Nick will expose her, she impregnates herself with Nick’s child and threatens their unborn child’s life. Nick remains with her, despite her psychotic nature, in fear of his child’s life. After this novel became a movie, lifestyle website Jezebel cleverly noted that “Gone Girl’s biggest villain is marriage itself.”
6. Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights
While the initial paragraphs of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights introduce Heathcliff as a romance novel hero, his character is far from perfect. In fact, as the novel continues, Heathcliff becomes more and more cruel.
The reader is led to believe that Heathcliff’s cruelty may be an offshoot of his frustration over his love of Catherine. But as one reads further into Wuthering Heights it becomes clear that Heathcliff might just be a soulless jerk.
He is openly violent toward Isabella and delights in watching her crawl back to him time and again. Though Heathcliff was raised a homeless orphan, he returned to Wuthering Heights with enough money to put him a higher social class and gave him the ability to take revenge on characters such as Catherine, Hindley, and Edgar.
5. Professor Umbridge from Harry Potter
Where to begin with Dolores Umbridge? From her initial appearance in Harry Potter: The Order of the Phoenix, Professor Umbridge and her perfectly pink appearance rubbed fans of the J.K. Rowlings’ series the wrong way. Her popularity continued to plummet as the series progressed, and more of the pure evil that ran through Umbridge’s veins was revealed.
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Professor Umbridge manages to take over as headmaster of Hogwarts and in the process punish Harry Potter, his friends, and any student who attempts to defy her and the Ministry for which she works.
Though her saccharine appearance would make one think that she is as kind and gentle as a grandma, she is in fact almost as evil as Voldemort himself. Or, as legendary writer Stephen King wrote, “the gently smiling Dolores Umbridge, with her girlish voice, toadlike face, and clutching, stubby fingers, is the greatest make-believe villain to come along since Hannibal Lecter”.
4. Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby
The most notable female character in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and one of the most disliked female characters in all of literary history is Daisy Buchanan. Why? Because the blond woman reminds us all of the annoyingly popular, attention seeking girls we went to high school with. Her voice is continually described as being as beautiful as is her appearance.
Despite her physical beauty, Buchanan has several deep character flaws that unnerve readers. She is constantly longing for security, a desire that led her to marry Tom Buchanan instead of wait for Gatsby. Even more, Daisy Buchanan is selfishly reckless and painfully materialistic. Her decision to marry Tom came from a need for not only love but also wealth, security, and luxury.
3. Patrick Bateman from American Psycho
Patrick Bateman is an obsessive, psychotic sex and drug addict who takes center stage as a character as well as the narrator of American Psycho. In Bret Easton Ellis’ 1991 thriller, Bateman is a classic Wall Street investment banker. He is married, but hates his wife. He indulges in a continuous affair with a colleague’s wife as well as sex workers. His entire life is centered around greed and, apparently, killing people.
Along with the many character flaws that initially make the reader dislike Patrick Bateman, his moments of psychosis and hallucinations make him an unreliable narrator and, ultimately, a deeply unsettling character.
Bateman is a killer with no boundaries. He does not have a ‘type’ of victim, nor does he have a preferred method of killing. He kills women during and after sex, he kills men who annoy him and make him feel insecure, and in one instance he kills a child just to see if it satisfied him – which it did not.
2. Cholly Breedlove from The Bluest Eye
A man that sexually assaults his daughter repeatedly, impregnates her, and through years of torture drives her to madness is going to get more than a few haters. Cholly Breedlove, the father to Pecola Breedlove in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, is a man haunted by past events.
He is determined to be a free man, but at the same time he is an absentee father, abusive husband, and an alcoholic. He is careless enough to set his family’s house on fire but does not care about the distaste that the community has for him.
Cholly’s biggest flaw is his twisted inability to show love for his daughter Pecola. In a state of drunkenness, he sexually attacks his daughter and impregnates her, then abandons her and eventually dies in a workhouse.
1. Bob Ewell from To Kill a Mockingbird
There is nothing that will twist the stomachs of readers more than a character that has allegedly sexually abused his own child. Even without Harper Lee directly stating that Robert “Bob” Ewell was the man responsible for his daughter’s abuse, the implications are enough to infuriate readers of To Kill a Mockingbird. And even without the implications, Ewell’s character is despicable.
Bob Ewell is the father to eight children, only two of whom are named – Mayella and Burris. He is an alcoholic who spends the entirety of his government relief checks on alcohol. His entire family is considered to be a disgrace by their town. Ewell’s character goes from despicable to disgusting when he accuses a black man, Tom Robinson, of sexually abusing Mayella and then openly gloats about Tom Robinson’s eventual death.
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