Does Your Protagonist have to be likeable?


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Do you have to like the protagonist?

Of course, your protagonist can be an anti-hero. But, can your anti-hero protagonist be unlikable and the story still succeed?

These are some female protagonists I do not like from some stories that I love  –

Scarlett O’Hara –

I don’t like her, and I don’t think I’m supposed to. Just as a side note: I don’t like Melanie Wilkes either. But, I love the story of Gone With the Wind.

Edna Pontellier –

Chopin’s Awakening. I have a hard time relating to her and probably wouldn’t like her very much if I met her today. But, again, one of my favorite stories.

Hester Prynne –

Scarlet Letter. She makes me furious! What she sees in Arthur Dimmesdale is beyond me. One of my all time favorites.

So, for me, the protagonist (anti-hero or hero) does not have to be likeable for me to fall in love with the story.

What about you? Do you have to like the protagonist in order to like the story?

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About melindamcguirewrites

The young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat. ------ William Faulkner, Nobel Prize Speech, Stockholm, 1950
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9 Responses to Does Your Protagonist have to be likeable?

  1. And don’t forget Humbert Humbert! Hate that man, love that book!

    • Hi Andi 🙂
      I actually thought of Humbert when I wrote the post, but I decided it would be better for me to stick with female protag (since that’s my protag in Josephine). What’s trickiest to me with Humbert is that he is such an unreliable narrator. That story is incredible – unreliable, awful person narrator, despicable plot, and yet… engaging, riveting.

  2. DM Yates says:

    I don’t think there’s ever been a protaganist that I haven’t liked. I would have to like he/she on some level.

  3. Good question! I never thought about it until you mentioned it. I discovered that we think a lot alike. Totally agree with all of your observations!

  4. As long as the surrounding characters are likable then it is okay (Stephannie Meyer made a fortune with a very unlikable protagonist. – I admit, I own all the books because I liked Jacob and some of the other characters.) but if no one is likable then I’ll quit the book.

    • Hi Joleene,
      I think this is partially true for me. I’m trying to think of a story where I just didn’t like anyone, and probably Lolita comes closest. I don’t really “like” any of those characters, but it does elicit so many other emotional responses and I enjoy Nabakov’s writing style. I do like the book.
      I think I can like a book and enjoy the story if other elements are great and I don’t have to like the characters. Another that pops into mind is Salinger’s Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye. I don’t like the character, but love the story, and enjoy that I don’t like him. Strange.

  5. Sarah says:

    I actually do not like Scarlet O’Hara or Hester Pryne and therefore did not like either story. I think you have to have other likable characters and in those, I didn’t find any other characters that I liked enough to make up for it.

    • Hi Sarah and thanks for commenting.
      While I don’t like Scarlett, I do like the character of Rhett Butler and Belle Watling, but I dislike Melanie and Ashley.
      And, in The Scarlet Letter, I don’t really “like” any of those characters either, but I thoroughly enjoy both stories.
      It’s been interesting to see our differences as readers 🙂

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