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My most hated fictional protagonists
The vast majority of time, whenever we read a book or watch a movie or TV show, we sympathize with, if we don't actually like, the protagonist. This is because the writer controls our exposure to the character and can present the character in a sympathetic way, even when the character has attributes we don't like.
Some other stories deliberately make the protagonist unlikable or unsympathizable. But again, the writer is controlling our perspective, only now they're presenting the character in an unsympathetic way.
But once in awhile, a storywriter will intend to write a sympathetic protagonist, but fail. That's what this post is about. This post is a list of fictional sympathetic protagonists I hated and actively rooted against.
Toru Okada, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles
Toru Okada, from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, is my fourth most hated protoagonist. Actually hate might be a strong word, and I suppose my hatred mostly isn't actually personal against Toru. It's mostly that I didn't want Toru to ever come into contact with anyone. Toru was basically a bum who had a house thanks to family, and was as ineffective and useless a main character as I've ever seen. But somehow, in the rare times he ever did anything, everyone he came into contact with ended up with major psychological trouble, at least until some shady people recognized his "talent" and exploited it.
Toru, by virtue of being the one of the most ineffective and useless people ever written down, was the one who deserved the psychological trauma he was causing others. Not that the other characters were any good—in fact, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles is probably the only book I've ever read where I didn't like a single major character (note: until Wheel of Time)—but they were at least doing something.
Jack Tripper, Three's Company
Jack Tripper and the Three's Company gang basically exhibit what I like to call sitcom-think. Basically it means that as soon as you suspect someone might disapprove of something you did, you go to ridiculous extremes to prevent that person from finding out, and oftentimes the scheme is obviously not something that can be sustained. To a certain extent this kind of thinking to drive half-hour sitcom plots so a lot of sitcom characters have it, but Jack Tripper takes it to an unbearable extreme, and he never learns anything, ever.
There are other sitcoms where people never learn anything (Seinfeld is a classic example) but in those, the character is at least somewhat high-functioning in their default state. Jack Tripper is the kind of character whose whole reason for existing is to learn a lesson. In other works, that's the sole reason this kind of character would be a protagonist, and you can never feel a catharsis until that character learns their lesson.
But we never have a catharsis in Three's Company because Jack never learns, in fact he never even faces any seriously negative consequences at all.
I realized how bad I hated Jack Tripper when I was watching Three's Company once, and realized that I was actively, from the bottom of my heart, rooting for the thug Jack was trying to avoid. I'm not just saying that to be edgy or to exaggerate: I really, from the bottom of my heart, wanted the thug to beat up Jack Tripper.
Aron Trask, East of Eden
I am not sure whether John Steinbeck actually wanted us to like Aron Trask, per se, but we definitely were supposed to symathize. I didn't. In fact, I think one of the most delightful things I ever read was the scene were Abra burned all his old love letters.
I hate to say it, but Aron represents (to an extreme extent) some of the faults I see in myself, so maybe I'm being unfair. (I should mention that I am talking about the Aron from the novel; in the movie a lot of the subtext on Aron came to the surface, giving him more of an edge which actually made him less nauseating.) Aron is the prototypical fragile pretty-boy. As a youth Aron was shielded from reality, by virtue of being the favorite by everyone on accont of being so pretty and sweet. As a result he became one of those people who believes anything can be overcome by the power of love—not just any love, his love specifically—and is genuinely wounded to his very core when reality happens and everyone doesn't share it. And—this is the nauseating part—his reaction to reality is to double down and get even more idealistic and then get even more wounded when his efforts still produced no results.
I can only imagine what his evenings with Abra were like, she being forced to listen as he got more and more crazy and earnest over how powerful their love was and that it could overcome anything.
Nikolai Rostov, War and Peace
My most hated character of all is Nikolai Rostov from War and Peace. I read War and Peace the very boring summer before I headed off to college, and I may have misunderstood Tolstoy's intent. But Tolstoy seemed to intend Nikolai and his sister Natasha (also not one of my favorites) to represent normal average people who were swept up in the events of the Napoleonic Wars, but in fact they were pretty much just the redneck trash on the lower-end of Russian nobility. Honestly, the Rostovs in general could very well have been a reality TV family with all their drama.
You might have noticed a theme in characters I don't like: they tend to be ineffective people who react to difficult circumstances with even more ineffectiveness. Nikolai is no exception: he pretty much sucked at everything he tried. But what made Nikolai truly insufferable was that, not only did he think he was just a great guy in every eay, the other characters did too.
So. Nikolai Rostov, in his actions and thoughts, is probabaly the biggest pussy ever set upon paper, but the author, all the characters in the book, and Nikolai himself, thought that he was this great awesome guy. As a result, everything he did wrong (which was, in fact, everything he did) was forgiven... because he was such a great guy. And we are supposed to feel sorry for this great guy when all this bad stuff happens to him—a good portion of which was his own fault—and oh, by the way, when he backstabs his own cousin, breaking his promise to marry her so he could marry an heiress (who deserved better) so he could get weasel out of the gambling debt he got himself into, we're supposed to think, "Ah, there's a guy who got things done in the end."
I wanted to strangle him right through the page.
I highly suspect Tolstoy intended for the in-universe sympathy for Nikolai to be ironic. I hope so, because other than the Rostovs, War and Peace has a lot of good characters and was a great story. But if it was ironic he played it perfectly straight: maybe until the epilogue where Nikolai's nephew has no respect for him but does respect Pierre and his father Prince Andrei.
Faile, Wheel of Time
Oh God, Faile. It's not much of exaggeration to say I stopped reading Wheel of Time because of her. Even without her, I'm sure I would have stopped at some point because she's just the worst of an entire cast of awful characters who I was starting to see would never get better. But the moment I decided to put the book down forever, it was largely because of Faile, and she made everyone around even more stupid than they already were.
It was Chapter 16 of the fourth book; it was probably the worst thing I had ever read in my entire life, a long argument with her boyfriend who loved her for some reason and was trying to make her hate him so she didn't accompany him into danger. It was ten relentless pages of this awful argument, neither one of them managing to communicate even the tiniest bit of understanding, and she stayed at an intensity level of 11 the whole time.
I did actually finish it, and intened to read on, the but the coup de grâce came right after, when the one remaining main character who hadn't yet done anything stupidly melodramatic (Lan) panicked like a baby when he found out his crush was going to go on a mission, after 3+ books of being nearly completely implacable.
If not for Faile, I probably could have dealt with Lan's melodrama and at least made it to the end of the fourth book. But I didn't read past the end of that chapter.
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