Nothing's better than finding a
literary character who you love... except for maybe finding a literary character who you hate with the unbridled passion of a thousand fiery suns. I mean, sure, there are some characters out there who you might find deliciously evil, or even the occasional character who just seem to rub you, personally, the wrong way (like my nemesis, Encyclopedia Brown). But then there are the characters who are just universally, ferociously loathed. These characters are the bane of high school English, the scourge of online fan communities, and just generally the worst. Here are some of the most infuriating, punch-able, and all around most hated characters in all of literature.
For some of these characters, it's quite easy to see why they inspire intense hatred. They're cruel to children. They frame innocent people for violent crimes. They flay people's flesh from their bones. But for other characters the hatred is a little more... abstract. They're whiny, or annoying, or just intangibly awful in a way that everyone understands but no one can quite voice. Some of these characters might not even deserve their legions of haters, when you get right down to it. But whether they're murderous monsters or bland
teenage heroines, here are the most universally hated literary characters out there:
Voldemort may have been the most evil character in the Harry Potter universe, but Dolores Umbridge was almost certainly the most hated. Unlike Voldy, she didn't represent an abstract form of authoritarian evil. She was that mean teacher you had in high school, that one mom on the PTA who thinks that rap music is destroying America, that simpering talking head on Fox News claiming that feminism makes women unhappy. Her brand of bigotry was just so relatable, and her nastiness got under every reader's skin.
When it comes to A Song of Ice and Fire, there are just so many characters to hate. Joffrey is a little monster. Jaime pushes a seven year old out of a window. But if you're looking for sheer evil, you can't do much better than Ramsay Bolton. Ramsay gets a kick out of mutilation and skin-flaying. He likes to hunt his ex-"girlfriends" and have them mauled by dogs. He starves his first wife until she eats her own fingers. He's not fun evil, he's just gross.
I'd say that Heathcliff and Cathy are just about neck-and-neck in the pantheon of Brontë characters who most people despise (with Mr. Rochester bringing up the rear). But since Cathy dips out of the plot halfway through, and we get a whole lot more of Heathcliff being an abusive ass to all of his family members, Heathcliff takes the title for most hated Brontë creation. Here's a pro tip, Heathcliff and Cathy: if you love each other, please stop actively trying to ruin each other's lives.
People hate Edward Cullen but people
hate Bella Swan. To be fair, she's not nearly as toxic or abusive as Edward is (ladies, if your man is 90 years older than you and breaks into your house to watch you sleep at night, that's a deal breaker). But as the protagonist of the Twilight books, she was just so passive and bland that she ended up drawing most of the reader hate. That, and she named her baby "Renesmee."
Out of all the disturbing characters Toni Morrison has ever created, Cholly Breedlove might just be the worst. He's a terrible father, he abuses his wife, he burns down his family home, and he sexually assaults his daughter, leaving her on the kitchen floor. We get an insight into
why he's like this, given the lack of love in his own childhood, but that doesn't make his cruelty or abuse any easier to read.
Speaking of despicable men who sexually abuse their daughters, Bob Ewell from
To Kill a Mockingbird is easily one of the most hate-able literary characters. Not only is he a violent racist who torments his own daughter, Mayella, but he's willing to falsely accuse Tom Robinson of his own crimes, knowing full well that Tom is innocent.
If you ever meet a man who thinks that Patrick Bateman from
American Psycho is actually a "fun" or "ironic" or "misunderstood" character, run in the other direction. Bateman is more or less a living embodiment of fragile masculinity: despite his wealth and status he feels extreme insecurity and self-hatred, which he translates into murderous rage, sexual assault, serial killing, and cannibalism. He has to murder women to feel good about himself. He's not fun.
Honestly, I think it's a
tad sexist that Daisy Buchanan gets so much more hate than her husband, Tom, who is way, way worse (although spoiler alert for The Great Gatsby: everybody kind of sucks). But, similar to Bella Swan, Daisy infuriates people with her extreme passivity and her choice to be a "beautiful fool" rather than using her brain. She's all elitist frivolity and no substance. You can do better, Gatsby.
The worst part about Humbert Humbert is that he's... almost likable? Dude is
openly a pedophile, but his narration is just so charming that a lot of people walk away from Lolita thinking they've just read a love story. But Nabokov would be the first to tell you that Lolita is not a love story. It's a story of coercion and one-sided obsession, and Humbert Humbert is one of the most horrifying villain protagonists because we come dangerously close to empathizing with his "plight," making us complicit in his "relationship" with a twelve year old child.
OK, I'll admit that I'm a
bit of a Holden apologist... all teenagers are pretentious little brats, after all, and his brother did just die. And don't we all find people phony once in a while? But that doesn't change the fact that Holden is one of the most hated characters in all of literature, hands down. He's a spoiled rich kid who spends the entire novel whining. There's just something about him and his deeply stupid hat that makes him easy to hate. For my money, I think that a lot of teens recognize their own most annoying qualities in Holden when they read this book in high school... but either way, reading about Holden Caulfield just makes you want to scream shut up!