[Written by Goose Masondo (they/them)]
[Art by Yana Dzhakupova (she/her)
Content Warning: Discussions of queerphobia, race and death or dying
I’m a fourth year English Literature student, which means I’m graduating this year. For the most part, my degree has been fun – I love seeing how stories can shape our lives and our culture and exploring how different lived experiences can lead to completely different interpretations of texts. The problem with doing an English degree is that you have to read books, and often, those books are bad. Sometimes they’re bad because they’re awfully overwrought and you can tell the authors were paid by the word, like literally anything Charles Dickens has ever written. Sometimes they’re bad because the author doesn’t explain the narrative at all and you’re left feeling very dumb and confused, like literally anything Henry James has ever written. But sometimes they’re just bad because you want to punch the protagonists’ front teeth in and you can’t stop thinking about how much better the book would be if they shut up for just a second.
You knew what this article was going to be about when you read the title, so let’s cut to the chase. Here are some fictional assholes I personally would quite like to beat the shit out of:
- Holden Caulfield
That’s right: it’s your freshman-year boyfriend’s favourite book. If Catcher in the Rye were set in 2020, Holden would either be an incel or a skater boy. The kind that paints their nails black and posts about it with the caption, “fuck toxic masculinity”, but will still call you homophobic slurs if you annoy him. Also, I could probably beat him in a fight despite being 5’2”, horrifically unfit and barely 110 lbs.
- Sal Paradise
Of all the characters on this list, this one is the one that makes my blood boil the most. It actually took me the longest to write because I had to keep stopping to rant at my flatmates about how much I hate Sal Paradise. I had to write an essay about On the Road for my course and it took every cell in me not to write “I hate Sal Paradise” over and over again for 3500 words. Anyways.
A barely-disguised stand-in for Jack Kerouac, Sal spends approximately 320 pages whining about how his life is unsatisfying, fetishising Black, Latino, and working class suffering for his ‘beat’ aesthetic, and abandoning everyone in his life (including wives, girlfriends, and children) because he got bored. Not to mention, he refuses to hold down a job, constantly asking his rich aunt for money that he never pays back or even thanks her for. His best friend, Dean Moriarty, is similarly awful, but Sal outranks Dean for how he cultivates a soft boy character, manipulating the people around him with a veneer of heartfelt sensitivity that falls away the second he doesn’t need them for sex or kicks anymore. A true scumbag.
- Romeo Montague
We all make mistakes when we’re 14. However, those mistakes usually don’t lead to the death of seven people including your girlfriend, her cousin, your best friend, and your mum. Sure he didn’t mean it, but what else did you expect was going to happen when you got involved in a centuries-old family feud, Romeo? There’s also the fact that Romeo met Juliet once at a party, where he couldn’t even see the majority of her face, and decided that the next appropriate move would be not send her a letter, or arrange to meet again someplace else, but jump her dad’s garden wall to catch a glimpse of her. That’s just really creepy, Romeo.
There are a lot more characters that could be added to this list but unfortunately that would take me the entire contents of an issue to unpack. Some of them are intended to inspire ire in the reader, like The Great Gatsby’s Daisy Buchanan or Jane Eyre’s Mr. Rochester. Romeo is arguably one of these characters too, depending on whether you read Romeo and Juliet as a tragic love story or a piss-take of 13-year-olds who think they’re going to marry their middle school crush. Characters that are meant to be annoying, however, aren’t quite as rage-inducing as those who demand that you take them seriously, all the while being outrageously and unbearably obnoxious. They also tend to be the inspiration behind other intolerable people, which makes the imagery of me burying a fist into their face all the more satisfying. As I imagine Holden’s stupid hat tumbling off his head as I tackle him onto concrete, I imagine the ego of every mediocre, rich, white, cishet dude that thinks he’s exactly like him crumble in my hands.