5 Most Annoying Literary Protagonists

All people have traits which will annoy others, yet writers will often try to tap into that imperfection to create relatable characters. But for protagonists, the reader has to sympathise with them on some level or you will inevitably end up hating the book due to mere frustration. Shakespeare was perfect at setting up such individuals, such as Othello and King Lear. However, annoying protagonists still crop up in even the most highly rated of literary works.


5. John Proctor (The Crucible – Arthur Miller)

This American classic will likely have been read due to high popularity on old GCSE syllabi. John Proctor, a lowly farmer, is caught in a vicious witch-hunt, fuelled by his past affair with key perpetrator Abigail Williams. The issue with Proctor is that whilst framed against intriguing parallels to McCarthyism, he is dislikeable due to his constant switching of personality. He spends half the play denying any sense of obligation, then spends the final act trying to redeem himself without turning into a martyr. This then leads to another frustratingly abstract personality switch in the closing moment which merely confirms his inadequacy as a character.


4. Amir (The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini)

This story acts as a progression through Amir’s life, growing up from boyhood to adulthood, following the delicate relationship between himself and his lower class friend Hassan. The book itself is fairly interesting, integrating contextual points of relevance concerning the history of Afghanistan, but Amir is simply frustrating. His actions as child set him down a road of denial and self-loathing which, only in the final act when he searches for redemption, sees his character break that mould. Even then, however, you will end up sympathising much more with Hassan, making it all the more annoying when the story reverts back to the idiocy of Amir.


3. Offred (The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood)

For many, dystopian literature is a buzz topic and thus seemingly impenetrable to any form of criticism. But in The Handmaid’s Tale the reader is presented with Offred; a slave forced into her position as a result of fertility. As the story progresses, Offred uses her position to get close to her master in the form of playing Scrabble but this is where her character ends.  Offred’s problem is that she feels she should represent something bigger then herself, reflected in the revolution acting around her. But she merely does nothing and, after losing herself in childish indulgences, fades back into the corrupted system. In many ways Winston (1984) presents similar flaws in his passivity, however bad-mouthing Orwell is essentially literary crucifixion.


2.  Blanche Dubois (A Streetcar Named Desire – Tennessee Williams)

This text is another which, although you may place hatred on surrounding characters, it is ultimately within Blanche where most take issue. Seen as a point of repressed femininity against the brutish Stanley, many take sympathy in her attempts to live in peace with her sister Stella. Until you realise that her character has no substance and, although having suffered loss, is solely based around the vanity of age.  When she eventually collapses away from reality, the reader is left to ponder what Blanche was hoping to achieve, and whether the consequences of her insanity were rooted in her aggravating personality.


1. Tess Durbeyfield (Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy)

You won’t have to look far to find when people talk about hated books or characters that Tess seems to crop up a lot. But why? In theory she is representing the innocence of country living. Yet where many readers jar with Tess is that she just mopes around. In the first section, you sympathise with her but by the fourth you end up questioning her decisions in her life, especially her moral judgement. Hardy attempts to counterbalance this by surrounding her with hated male characters but Tess always remains central, happily prodding at such social conventions and female independence. Ultimately by the end of the book you close the final pages, exasperated and wondering ‘What was the point?!’


James Hamilton

Image courtesy of David Goehring via Flickr

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