The characters we read about in books are not real, per say, but the feelings we have about them are very, very real. Any reader who's ever screamed out loud at a fictional character while on public transportation knows exactly what I'm talking about. There are literary characters we love, literary characters we hate, and literary characters who helped shape our identity. And then there are the literary characters who... we just don't quite understand. Here are a few of the most drastically misunderstood characters of all time.
Of course, the characters we think of as "misunderstood" vary greatly as we grow up. When I was twelve, I probably would have told you that the most misunderstood character in all of literature was the Phantom of the Opera. He was only kidnapping Christine because he loved her! (This misconception of romance led to some very unfortunate teenage dating decisions on my part.) But now, I would probably say that the Phantom isn't a misunderstood romantic so much as he is a terrifying kidnapper.
There are some characters, though, who we think we have all figured out... until we look back years later and realize that they're much more complex. So here are some characters (good, bad, and in-between) who are really, truly misunderstood.
1. Boo Radley
Boo is your classic misunderstood recluse. Most of the people of Maycomb think he's some kind of a monster, but in actuality he's just a pale agoraphobe. Even for the reader, it can be hard to understand his psychology as a recluse who so clearly wants to reach out to people... but then again, I wouldn't really want to hang out with the citizens of Maycomb, either.
2. Sansa Stark
Sure, lots of the characters in A Song of Ice and Fire are misunderstood, but poor Sansa is misjudged by her fellow characters and by most readers. Just because she's a young girl who likes dresses and dreams of marrying a prince, it doesn't mean that she's weak or vapid. Sansa learns how to manipulate her way to survival, and ends up being one of the toughest characters in the series (and in the TV adaption, where she's married off to the utterly vile Ramsay Bolton).
3. Nick Carraway
Nick "my father told me not to judge people" Carraway is the narrator of The Great Gatsby, and not quite what he seems. First of all, he totally judges people all the time. Also, people somehow always skim over the scene early on in the book where Nick Carraway has sex with a man? Nick focuses on Gatsby so much that we never quite get a full picture of who he is.
4. Cathy and Heathcliff
Here's a two for one, since Cathy claims that she is Heathcliff. The two lovers of Wuthering Heights are pretty nasty, hard to understand people. I mean? If they love each other why aren't they nice to each other? Or anyone else? Please stop marrying people you don't like and communicate, guys.
5. Holden Caulfield
Holden is the poster child for misunderstood teens. But even his being misunderstood is widely misunderstood—a lot readers of The Catcher in the Rye see Holden as a whiny brat instead of a depressed kid trying to process grief. But that's because most readers of The Catcher in the Rye are also misunderstood teens. And so the cycle continues.
6. Carrie White
Talk about your misunderstood teens. Carrie from Carrie is bullied mercilessly by her classmates, and abused by her mother. No one understands her weird powers (and poor Carrie doesn't even understand periods). Does that excuse murdering everyone in a telekinetic rage? Well, no... but Carrie isn't simply a sad high school loser or a run-of-the-mill murderous psychopath.
The Wicked Witch of the West in the original Oz books is pretty simple... she's not so nice, and she has it out for little Dorothy (to be fair, Dorothy did murder her sister and then steal her family's property). But Gregory Maguire's Wicked complicates her further, creating a nuanced, misunderstood hero. Or villain? There's no clear answer.
Shylock. Anti-Semitic caricature of a Jewish villain? Or tragic figure and victim of prejudice? He's certainly not a nice guy... what was he even going to do with that pound of flesh? But he's also justified in calling out the Christian characters' bigotry. And no one understands him, not even his own daughter, who runs away from home to marry one of the fun characters.
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9. Frankenstein’s Monster
A lot of people think of Frankenstein's monster as the lumbering, neck-bolted oaf from the movies. But in the book, he learns to speak and read and think. He learns to speak French, for crying out loud, and Dr. Frankenstein still won't acknowledge him. The poor monster only wants daddy's love. He didn't ask to be built.
10. Severus Snape
Look, I'll try to stay bi-partisan on this issue (but also Snape is the worst). Up until book seven, we all alternated between hating Snape and loving to hate Snape. But after book seven, the Snape Apologists took control. Snape is terribly misunderstood... on the one hand, he was risking his life to fight against Voldemort for most of the series. But on the other hand... wanting to bone Harry's mom doesn't give you a free pass to be mean to children.
Well, Milton's version of Lucifer, anyway. In Paradise Lost, Satan is not just a master of lies or a slobbering hell-beast. He's a tragic figure with fuzzy morals. He's trapped in hell just as much as the demons are. Milton's take on the devil has inspired many other writers to come up with their own misunderstood devils, like Neil Gaiman's charismatic Lucifer Morningstar, who quits his job in hell to open a piano bar.
Images: HBO, Giphy (9)