Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

7 Literary Heroes Who Are Actually Garbage People

Have you every really thought hard about some of our literary heroes? When you look closely at their behaviour, they’re often not the loveable salt-of-the-earth types we like to think they are. I’ve written before about unlikeable narrators, but I don’t think that being “unlikeable” necessarily makes you a garbage person, nor does being a garbage person ipso facto make you “unlikeable”. In fact, some of the ones I include on this list are downright endearing and charming. I’m very aware that this post might be controversial as fuck, because our literary heroes are beloved by readers and coded well by authors to hide their true colours – but when has that ever stopped me? Let’s take off the rose-coloured glasses, people! Here are seven literary “heroes” who are actually garbage people.

7 Literary Heroes Who Are Actually Garbage People - Text Overlaid on Image of Superhero Wall Mural - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Toad (The Wind In The Willows – Kenneth Grahame)

The Wind In The Willows - Kenneth Grahame - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Toad is a jovial kind of guy, great fun to have at a party, but damn! In the real world, he’d be Elon Musk. He loves his friends, and they do the best they can to help him, but it’s all to no avail: he’s too stubborn and arrogant to listen to them. There’s also the little matter of Toad’s grand theft auto. By the end of The Wind In The Willows, he’s an escaped felon, and he cons his friends to harbour him – a fugitive! – making them criminals as well. Worst of all, he never faces any consequences for his actions. Garbage behaviour all-round from this lovable rogue…

Tom Sawyer (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain)

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Tom’s only an adolescent in Mark Twain’s adventure stories, but he’s well on his way to becoming a career criminal – possibly even a charismatic cult leader. He’s so caught up in his youthful folly, inspired by the adventure stories he’s read himself, that he can’t see past the end of his nose in the real world. Huck Finn would’ve done just fine rescuing Jim, the runaway slave, if Tom hadn’t tripped him up every step of the way trying to make things “proper”. Plus, he’s a fuckboy of the first order.

Mr Rochester (Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë)

Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Look, even I (of the cold dead heart) get sucked in to the love story of Jane Eyre, so I don’t begrudge anyone getting a little twinkle in their eye when they read about the “dark, strong, and stern” Mr Rochester. But we have to face facts, Keeper-Upperers: he literally locked his goddamn wife in the motherfucking attic. I don’t care that he was “tricked” into marrying her; he needs to take some stinkin’ responsibility. Not to mention he negged Jane at every opportunity and basically only made himself emotionally available to her when his life fell apart and he needed her to put it back together. Boo!

Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë)

Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Speaking of the Brontës: Heathcliff is the quintessential literary hero who was actually a garbage person. I know he had a rough trot being orphaned and everything, but heck! So did Cinderella, and she made herself useful, cleaning the house and caring for animals and stuff, instead of getting all butt-hurt about the girl next door marrying someone else and ruining everyone’s lives in revenge. Look at the plot of Wuthering Heights: the whole thing is basically Heathcliff’s fault! He’s an abusive a-hole, he screwed up his family for generations, and – not satisfied with that! – he continues to freak people out after he shuffles off the mortal coil, joining Cathy in a moor-haunting creepy ghost double-act.

Everyone (Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray)

Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Fine, this one is kind of a gimme: Thackeray literally called Vanity Fair “the novel without a hero”, but they were all just so garbage I couldn’t help but include them. George Osbourne, for starters, was so up-himself he couldn’t touch his toes, and he had to be talked into marrying Amelia after her family went bankrupt. He went through with the wedding, because “honour” (what a guy!), but just kept shagging her friends on the side until he got himself killed at war. Next up, there was William Dobbin, who sulked for years about Amelia’s shitty taste in men, and ultimately harangued her into marrying him too. Throughout it all, Amelia just wouldn’t. stop. whining. and she did very little to take control of her own destiny, or even just make her own choices. Plus, her kid was a right pain, and she thought the sun shined out his wazoo. Blegh!

Arthur Dent (The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – Douglas Adams)

The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy - Douglas Adams - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I know that the Brits are super-proud of their stiff upper lip thing, but Arthur Dent takes it to the next level. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy begins with the actual destruction of the entire Planet Earth, but Dent doesn’t shed a single tear. He doesn’t grieve for the loss of the entire human race, not one bit. How self-centered do you have to be that you don’t find a minute to mourn the passing of an entire population? He just goes on belly-aching, with nary a thought for those poor perished souls. Smh.

Lemuel Gulliver (Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Smith)

If you only read the first couple parts of Gulliver’s Travels, while he’s gallivanting around Lilliput, you’d think he was alright. A bit slow on the uptake, maybe, given that he keeps taking all these voyages that end in disaster, but not an actual garbage person. That is, until, you reach the end: you’ll realise what a twat the man actually was. He abandons his wife and family time and time again for these ridiculous “adventures” (that always end with someone trying to kill him, and a botched escape). When he finally comes home for good, he decides he finds Mrs Gulliver “disgusting” and treats her like absolute shit for the rest of their lives. Garbage person!


And an honourable mention has to go to Harry Potter: there were so many wonderful characters in that book, and yet the main character was an angsty, arrogant emo-kid who was told repeatedly throughout his entire adolescence that the whole world revolved around him, so (of course) he believed it. Can you think of any others? Don’t hold back, Keeper-Upperers! Tell me about them in the comments (or vent over at KUWTP on Facebook!).

14 Comments

  1. What a great list! And you’re so right about all those characters. Definitely flawed characters. My husband read Harry Potter as an adult and really hated Harry because he always broke the rules and got house points for it πŸ™‚ I don’t know if you’ve read Rebecca, but Maxim de Winter deserves to be on your list.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      May 31, 2019 at 11:25 AM

      Oooh Rebecca’s on my next list (thanks to you!) – I might have to add to this list after I read it! πŸ˜…πŸ˜‰

  2. Hahahahaha! This post is great! Although I will take exception to Dobbin being garbage. It’s been a few years since I’ve read Vanity Fair, but I seem to remember thinking he was the shining light in that novel.

    And how about Anna Karenina? Totally should be up on that list. The Great Gatsby? All of them garbage. Amir from The Kite Runner? The worst. Pip from Great Expectations. Dimmesdale from The Scarlet Letter (though can we all just agree that on that? no one’s idolizing him, right?). Haha! This list could go on and on.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      May 31, 2019 at 1:50 PM

      Dobbin was sweet, but I had no time for his mopey gee-this-girl-I-love-married-my-best-mate-and-then-he-died-why-won’t-she-marry-me-now schtick – like, mate, shit or get off the pot! πŸ˜‚ (Also, I might be a very harsh judge, I’ll accept that.) I thought about including Gatsby and co here, but to be honest I struggle to think of any of them as “heroes” at all – I hated that book! I might need to do another one of these once I’ve read and reviewed Anna Karenina, Rebecca, The Kite Runner, Great Expectations, etc… πŸ˜…β€οΈ

  3. Heathcliff is the worst! But so is Cathy. I think that’s why I love that book πŸ˜‚

    • ShereeKUWTP

      May 31, 2019 at 1:50 PM

      Bahahahaha I know, right? She was SO selfish and melodramatic! πŸ˜‚β€οΈ

  4. Haha, nothing like a great laugh to start a Friday morning. You’re right, these 7 are the absolute worst forms of humanity! They totally deserve your wrap-up. And what does it say about us as readers in general, to even care enough for them to keep turning the pages? Since you’ve asked for more, how about Phileas Fogg from Around the World in 80 Days? He just kept forcing people to jump when he snapped his fingers, even though the whole gambit was his own obsession and not theirs. And I agree with Jane’s comment above. Maxim de Winter from Rebecca just seemed to be asking for a smack in the face the whole way through, but never got it πŸ™

    • ShereeKUWTP

      June 1, 2019 at 9:31 AM

      Oh yesssss, great addition! I’m surprised at how much pushback I’m getting elsewhere at the inclusion of Rochester – I would’ve thought he was, along with Heathcliff, the prototype hero-but-garbage-person? Apparently not! πŸ˜‚πŸ€·β€β™€οΈ

  5. Fascinating list. I really enjoy this type of post. I have always been puzzled when folks claim Heathcliff to be sympathetic or romantic. He is such an abusive and narcissistic character. He is very close to being a monster.

    I never thought about Arthur Dent as self centered but you have a point about him.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      June 1, 2019 at 9:35 AM

      Hahaha cheers Brian – I’m equally baffled at how Heathcliff is beloved! And I hope I didn’t ruin Arthur Dent for you πŸ˜…β€οΈ

  6. Arthur Dent, such a normal Englishman I thought, faced with destruction of the Earth goes in search of a nice cup of tea. You really have to respect that in a person…

  7. YESSS. I think most people probably see the angle that Heathcliff is a garbage person, but it’s surprising the number of people who think Mr Rochester is a-ok. He’s literal trash, and thank you for saying it.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      June 7, 2019 at 10:15 AM

      I am SO GLAD you’re on my side! I got a *lot* of blow-back for including Rochester, far more than I was expecting πŸ˜…

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