As students we do a lot of reading – English students especially are renowned for the amount of time they spend with their nose buried in a good book. Yet though there is a great deal of literature that we love, there’s the occasional book that’s simply downright twisted by the annoying voice of its narrator, a narrator that we just hate. Impact recently asked a few students who their most hate-able narrators were…
Holden Caulfield – The Catcher in the Rye
The Catcher in the Rye was one of those books that I desperately wanted to like. Considering I love The Perks of Being A Wallflower, another coming of age novel, The Catcher in the Rye ought to have been a perfect fit. After all, it’s one of those great American novels. A classic tale of teenage angst and isolation embodied by the protagonist and narrator Holden Caulfield. Yet I don’t find Holden’s angst ridden narration relatable. Perhaps his contradictory behaviour towards friends, and unsympathetic response towards the teachers who offer him good advice is intended to represented this angst. I simply found Holden petty throughout the novel. The first person narration is presumably part of representing the isolation and turbulence of youth, yet Holden’s narration seems rather self centred. Aside from himself, he only seems to care about his younger sister Phoebe. Compared to the hopeful and contemplative narration by Charlie from The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Holden’s narration is a crass cynicism which I found too standoffish to be relatable. Whilst Holden does point out the hypocrisies of his peers and the adults in his life, the prolific slang and his dismissive attitude made his narration rather unsympathetic and juvenile, in my opinion.
I Hate Victor Frankenstein – Frankenstein
Victor Frankenstein is one of those characters who I would relish the chance to slap in the face if he were real. Except, knowing him, he’d immediately faint, then ignore the world for the next month or two, then carry on as normal, pretending it had never happened and not even vaguely attempting to improve his personality so something similar never happens again. This man is incapable of learning anything worthwhile, and is quite honestly the worst kind of person.
- Victor is a self-absorbed prick who, when his parents adopted a little girl, decided his new sister was his own possession (literally, he says that) but also his true love. He doesn’t even allow her the right to speak in his recollection of memories until she is an adult.
- He eventually ends up creating new life, then promptly abandons his child on the very day of his birth, leaving the poor Creature to a life of torment. He hates his new son, and tells him so at every possible occasion. And then wonders why he grew up hating him.
- He’s so self-absorbed that he doesn’t even realise the Creature is threatening to kill his wife.
- He also allows a young woman to be killed for a crime he knows she didn’t commit.
- There’s many more points. But I’ve already gone over my 200 words.
As you probably know, Frankenstein isn’t the monster. But then again, maybe he really is.
Lockwood – Wuthering Heights
If the many layers of narration Bronte treats us with weren’t confusing already, Lockwood’s highly annoying narrative perspective is enough to make you want to gauge your eyeballs out. As much as I love this novel and the Bronte sisters generally, I have several problems with the choice of Lockwood as narrator. Firstly, he is the most irrelevant character present in the whole book. He adds nothing to the plot, nor does he have any insightful comments to make about the fact that Cathy’s ghost keeps appearing at random (sorry for the spoiler). Secondly, he is a very unreliable narrator; a poor judge of character, dishonest and unfamiliar with his surroundings in the Yorkshire Moors, the audience get the impression that Lockwood is hopelessly trying to make sense of things, with very little success. Thirdly and finally, compared with Bronte’s other strong protagonists in Wuthering Heights – Nelly, Catherine, Heathcliff – Lockwood is just a bit of a wimp. As you can tell, I don’t really have anything positive to say about Lockwood, his character is simply a clueless, incompetent nuisance. In my opinion, you could remove Lockwood from the narrative completely and nothing would be lost from this gothic, romantic classic.
Jane Eyre – Jane Eyre
I feel like this entry on the list might be quite confusing to most people. You might be sitting there thinking, “Not my girl Jane! Hasn’t she suffered enough?”- Let me explain.
We begin the novel rooting for ‘Plain Jane’, an orphaned girl with a bleak life and even bleaker circumstances. Her best friend Helen passes away and her Auntie and cousins are pure evil. So why do I find her annoying? Jane literally scams herself out of her own happy ending.
The first time I read the book I found myself so relieved when she became a school mistress and had her own little place away from Rochester- but then she goes back to him! The close of the novel moves away from Jane and her path to agency and instead we find “redemption” for Rochester in the fact that Jane is essentially meant to be his own personal guardian angel. Our girl seems to blow past all of the awful things this man has done- including locking his first wife away in the attic whom he is secretly still married too! How many red flags does Jane need?
I will admit it’s probably more the annoyance at the novel form for feeling that it has to carry out this marriage arc and resolution due to the era in which it is written. But all the same it feels as though our narrator goes from a steely, young lass setting out to develop her own sense of agency and self-hood to putting her own wants on the backburner to fulfil Rochester’s happy ending.
Nick Carraway – The Great Gatsby
“Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction—Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn”
It’s lines like these that made me really hate Nick Carraway.
At some point or another, most of us will likely have had to read The Great Gatsby – throughout my academic career, I think it’s been part of my required reading at least three times. Being an American classic, not too long, and a great exploration of a great deal of themes (specifically those relevant to 1920s America) I can kind of get this – in many ways, I even like the book.
What I don’t like, is it’s narrator: Nick.
As demonstrated by the line above, he’s just far too obsessive for one. I get that the book is about Gatsby (it’s called The Great Gatsby after all) but what Nick portrays isn’t a friendship, it’s just plain creepy. Not to mention, Nick isn’t even interesting as a character! If you took him out of the story, it would barely make a difference – in some ways, it might even improve it! He spends the whole time criticising lavish lifestyles whilst constantly engaging in it. He makes snide remarks about Tom, and praises Gatsby, when both of them are just as flawed as each other.
Aside from his convenience as Daisy’s cousin, literally only useful as a means of getting Gatsby back into Daisy’s life, he’s pointless. I’d far rather have had a 3rd-person omniscient narrator than this complaining pain in the neck.
Disagree with our list? Let us know in the comments below who you believe should be classed as literature’s most hate-able narrators.
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