Top 5 Wednesday – Unlikeable Protagonists

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly book meme created by gingerreadslainey but now hosted by ThoughtsOnTomes.

I see unlikeable protagonists as a good thing to have in a book. Now hear me out; I don’t mean that its good for the protagonist to not be someone that the reader roots for. What I think is that people usually use this term to describe characters that are flawed, that aren’t perfect but instead have a level of humanity about them. It makes the character more realistic as no one in real life is perfect, we all make mistakes, and in my experience this makes me root for the character more. If they are too perfect I end up resenting them a bit, just for being so perfect, unbelievably so.

  • Hanna from Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Hanna isn’t especially unlikeable, she is brave, funny, clever, everything you would expect from a strong protagonist. What makes her unlikeable however is her privilege above a lot of the other characters in the book. This book uses this in a really interesting way to explore how the reader feels sympathy- does her grief and loss throughout the book make her less privileged and more on the other characters’ level? Or do they still resent her level of wealth despite all of the emotional loss she experiences? I will discuss this more in my review for this book, which I will post tomorrow.

  • Kaz from Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Kaz is a very different character from Hanna. He is not at all wealthy however he has also experienced loss and grief. But he is pretty much a villain, and what he does each day is not something you would expect from a hero who you feel sympathy for. However, we do because of that deep sympathy we feel towards him, and the way the author has got the reader on his side, rooting for him. Actually, most of the main characters in this book could be described in this way.

  • Cathy and Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

These are some of the most unlikeable protagonists in literature. Yet it is still seen as one of the best romances of all time. The reason Heathcliff is vouched for by readers rather than completely hated is because of the pity we feel towards him. When he acts violently, we see where it has come from. We then sympathise with Catherine maybe because of her love of Heathcliff and the decisions that she has to make, or perhaps it is through the viewpoint we get of her, from the point of view of Nelly.

  • Kate from This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

This is another very similar case of sympathy. Kate isn’t really a nice person in the book, but her overwhelming loneliness makes her someone that the reader roots for. She is maybe one of the least unlikeable on this list, just because we see so clearly why she acts the way she does.

  • Emma from Emma by Jane Austen

Jane Austen herself said that Emma is “a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” She is so self centred that she does come across as unlikeable, and the whole novel is full of her making mistakes. As we see everything in the novel through her eyes, we do in fact end up backing her up and, despite all her mistakes, not hating her.

Who are some of your favourite unlikeable protagonists? What are your thoughts on these characters?


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