Friday, December 02, 2011

Characters from literature you can't stand

Once in a while, you read a book, and there's a character who just gets on your last nerve. Either they're poorly-written (the author's fault, in that case), or the characterization the author has given them makes them SO annoying.

Right now I'm reading Bleak House. I'm probably 2/3 of the way through. But I get slowed down because I keep running into that damned Harold Skimpole. He's the guy who portrays himself as "a child, just a child" and who says he has "no sense of money" and "no sense of time."

(I suppose a modern apologist for Skimpole would diagnose him with some kind of disorder...well, fine, whatever. But he's thoroughly annoying. I admit my main reaction to him is a desire to kick him in the butt and tell him to grow up and pull his weight).

He is almost had up on the charge of not being able to pay his debts - so he winds up taking all the money that Esther Summerson and Richard Carstairs have in the world, to pay off his debtors. He sponges off EVERYBODY. Some people inexplicably find him "refreshing" and "entertaining" but I think most readers of the book (at least, the few people I know who have read it and whom I have asked) find him awful and annoying and someone you'd back away from if you knew him in real life. In some ways he comes off as perhaps a bit of a sociopath - the only person who exists for him, the only person who matters to him, is Harold Skimpole. He apparently feels NO SHAME at extracting 24 pounds (an enormous sum of money in those days) from two orphans.

Actually, when you think about him, he's actually kind of frightening - there's not really a conscience there, there's just this ego that says he deserves what he gets, he deserves his food and his lodging and he deserves not to work, simply because he does not really WANT to.

And the thing is: I've seen modern-day Skimpoles. I've read about them. People who seem to believe that they should be cared for, either by the government (a/k/a, the taxpayers) or by someone else, because they're entitled to it. Or they won't take a job they're offered because it seems below them, or because it requires getting up early in the morning. Or they won't take certain classes that they really need to graduate - and try to find ways around taking those classes - because they have heard those classes are "hard," or involve a lot of math, or something. They're the people complaining that their credit card debts should be discharged or their student loans forgiven, well, just BECAUSE. Because they want it and feel somehow they deserve it.

I think a big part of my disgust with Skimpole in the book is that the real-life Skimpoles annoy me so much...the people who tell me that I'm "good at" some thankless volunteer task, and so I should do it along with everything else I already do, while they do not lift a finger to do anything. The kind of person who, as I'm carrying sixty pounds of equipment down the hall to the lab, follows me and yammers at me about something I "need" to do, while I'm totally focused on not dropping the equipment or straining my muscles any more than they already are.

The Little Red Hen (a childhood hero of mine) would want to scratch out Skimpole's eyes.

I think my frustration with Skimpole is that it seems to me right now the world is full of his descendants, and there are every day people deciding that they should be more like him. And I recognize it's unreasonable and somewhat petty of me, but yes, I get extremely annoyed when I see people shirking responsibilities. I know its partly a sour-grapes thing on my part - there have been far too many days this fall when I've arrived on campus at 7 am, gone home with a stack of work at 5 pm, and either finished, or put up what I could do the next day, at 9 pm. And then to have people saying to me, "You need to..." while they seem to be doing little.

I'm actually kind of surprised at how visceral my reaction to the character is - I don't generally detest book characters. But I do detest Skimpole, and there's some other emotion there as well - almost, but not quite, a fear - a sense that he's such a creature of ego that a real-life Skimpole would not stop at ruining someone's life or even harming someone to get what he wanted.

1 comment:

Heroditus Huxley said...

Yeah...I couldn't stand that particular character from Bleak House either. Nor Mrs. Jellyby.

Yes, there are characters from literature that are so hateful I want to scream and throw the book(s). And I don't throw books.