7 Misunderstood Characters in Literature
— Kate on
First impressions can be misleading—in life, but in fiction as well. Sometimes, a character may gain a reputation that’s not exactly true to the text. We owe it to ourselves and to the world of literature to give such characters a couple more chapters before drawing conclusions. That’s why we’ve rounded up a collection of commonly misunderstood characters. From Frankenstein’s monster to Mr. Darcy, here are some characters who deserve to be read between the lines.
1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The character: Frankenstein’s monster
The misunderstanding: After Victor Frankenstein creates his so-called “monster” from various corpses, he flees from it. The monster, free to wander the world, is met with cruelty and fear. Everyone sees an eight-foot-tall, yellowish, shriveled beast of a man and immediately thinks that he means harm.
The truth: He just wants to love, be loved, and discover the truth about his creation. (But he does kill some people, so maybe the folks in the book weren’t wrong to go running.)
2. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
The character: Narrator
The misunderstanding: The unnamed protagonist of this stream-of-consciousness short story is a young woman being treated for her “nervous condition” with forced bed rest and isolation. Though she protests, she is treated like a child until she literally goes insane, thanks to her husband John’s patronizing and misogynistic medical practices.
The truth: The protagonist is more competent and capable than she’s given credit for and knows her health better than anyone. If her husband had listened to her and allowed her to do some work or get out of the house while depressed, she maybe wouldn’t have so thoroughly lost her grip on reality.
3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The character: Mr. Darcy
The misunderstanding: Just about the richest character in the book, Mr. Darcy seems rude, standoffish, and stuck-up to just about everyone else in the novel. In Elizabeth Bennet’s eyes, he seems incapable of saying anything nice or enjoying anyone’s presence.
The truth: On a second read-through, it begins to become clear that that he’s not so much stuck-up as he is adorably socially inept, especially after having been chastised by Elizabeth. He’s just doing his best.
4. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
The character: Ebenezer Scrooge
The misunderstanding: He hates Christmas and, it seems, all things good and happy. To everyone in the town, he’s a Christmas-hating, little-boy-mistreating, downright-evil old humbug who only thinks about money.
5. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
The character: Gregor Samsa
The misunderstanding: After Gregor Samsa mysteriously becomes a gigantic insect (literally), his entire family shuns him and treats him like, well, a giant disgusting bug. And in doing so, they seem to forget that he is still their beloved son and brother.
The truth: Even though he’s developed a new fondness for music, as well as an appetite for rotten garbage, he’s still the same person—more or less. And, just like any person, he suffers when ostracized.
6. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
The character: Ophelia
The misunderstanding: For apparently no reason, Ophelia goes insane, then kills herself.
The truth: A kind, obedient, and innocent person, Ophelia falls victim to the political intrigue of Claudius’s court. Her overbearing father and brother chastise her for the affection she has for Hamlet, and when she becomes distraught after Hamlet begins mistreating her, she kills herself, having had no one around who would listen to her.
7. Miss Brill by Katherine Mansfield
The character: Miss Brill
The misunderstanding: The titular Miss Brill spends a day in the park, people-watching and enjoying the sights. But to those around her, she seems out-of-place, sitting alone on a park bench wearing her over-the-top fur. All in all, she comes across as off-putting and maybe even a little crazy.
The truth: She just wants to be included in the world around her, creating fantasies of how she’s connected to everyone. But she ends up realizing more than ever how much of an outcast she is, and in turn, she ends up getting a glimpse of how cruel people can be.
So, which characters do you owe a second chance? Are there any other characters out there you feel get a bad rap? Let us know in the comments!