Hello friends!! I think about unlikeable characters all the time, and today I am talking about them and sharing my thoughts with you all! As always, I loved to see what you all think.
Often in our group reads, we talked about how likeable the characters are. For some of us, it can make or break the story and affect our enjoyment of the book. It’s always fun to talk about the characters and what we like and don’t like about them and their questionable actions and motivations.
I have been talking a lot about Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist. She talks a lot about how women are represented in fiction, and she has given me a lot to think about and question. She inspired me to write this post and ask the question, “Why is likability even a question?”
I find myself drawn to unlikeable characters and love to delve into why they behave the way they do. I often don’t want them to do the right thing or behave in a socially acceptable way. It’s human to want to be liked and accepted, but the characters I love the most are the ones that are not afraid to show their truths and be unliked. I want to see them as humans who do bad things and make bad choices. I want to see the truths they hide, the kind people judge and don’t understand. I want to see all their ugliness, so I understand what makes them ugly. I want that honestly from our characters with their behavior, and I want to see them do questionable things because humans are messy, have faults, make mistakes. I love the characters who are honestly written who speak their minds and not be afraid of being disliked because the truth hurts. So I read to be part of a world like that. Then, of course, there are the characters we love to hate and the psychopaths or sociopaths that we find so fascinating.
Roxane Gay writes, “likability is a very elaborate lie, a performance, a code of conduct dictating the proper way to be. Characters who don’t follow this code became unlikable. Critics who criticize the character’s likability cannot necessarily be faulted. They are merely expressing a wider cultural malaise with all things unpleasant, all things that dare to breach the norm of social acceptably” “Are characters more likable when they do the right thing”?
“Should characters be a reflection of us as humans or our better selves”? Maybe that is why some readers read. They like the characters to be socially acceptable and behave in a way that is palatable. We all read for a different reason and get different things out of what we read, and that is why likability is even a question.
What about stories that are centered around the unlikeable character and the messiness of their lives they create and the messiness of life. One of the most unlikeable characters I have encountered was Olive Kitteridge. She was also one of the most honest characters I have encounter. Sure she was mean, bitter and nasty, but she was also compassionate under that nastiness. She saw the truths in people and the world and wasn’t afraid to say how she saw it or speak her mind. It often came out nasty, and she never saw the consequences of that. Was she unlikeable because we can’t see ourselves as being like her? But the side she kept hidden was her compassionate side that she only shared with people she saw struggling, and even then, she came across mean by telling the truth. She didn’t know how to show love and wasn’t shown it either.
I also encounter a character that a few of my friends found likeable that was so unlikeable to me. I despised the character. The author wrote her in such a favourable way, making her into a strong character who made good choices after finding herself in danger. The author made it easy to forget the bigger picture, and what her true motivations were that put her in danger. I wanted to see that character for the unlikeable character that she is not the character who made choices that made her likeable.
What about likability in men? Is it easier to like one over the other? Do we accept unlikeable traits more in men than women? This isn’t something I thought about before, and that lead me to think about gender roles in fiction. That privilege white male role has been played many times. But maybe that is for another post.
Do we see women characters as bitter, angry, selfish, more than we do men? I think I do
What about realistic characters? Do we find them more realistic when they are likeable and do the right thing? Unlikeable characters can seem to lose credibility because we can’t imagine people behaving that badly in real life.
The author needs to make the characters strong enough to carry the plot and create that conflict that has us turning the pages. If characters are always doing the right thing, does it make it interesting enough for us to care?
Thank you for sticking with me and reading through my post! What do you think about the things I said? Is likability a question for you? How do you feel about unlikeable characters?