Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Miserable, Unhappy Characters Who Lead Miserable, Unhappy Lives

Characters Who Can't Get It Together 
(and Die, in the End, Miserable and Unhappy)

If you know anything about me, you know I've been studying happiness for the last few years.

While there are very, very few characters in books who live happy, happy lives (Anne of Green Gables is a notable exception) there are many, many characters who just can't get their lives together and die, in the end, miserable and unhappy. *

Perhaps there is something to be learned about happiness from reflecting on these lives.

Lily Bart in Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth

Lily turns down a rich suitor because he's too dull, and then turns down an intriguing suitor because he's too poor. Where does that leave you in 1890 New York City? Poor. Alone. Unhappy.

Jodi Brett in The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison

Jodi is a psychologist who treats unhappy people for a living. Her own life
is grim, too, as she silently deals with an unfaithful boyfriend and refuses to think about her troubled past.

Hagar Shipley in The Stone Angel 

Hagar is at the end of her life, thinking about the events of her life, 
concluding, sadly, that it has been the same strong character traits that kept her going 
which have also kept her miserable. 

Dolores Price in She's Come Undone

You name it and Dolores Price has faced it. 
Faced it, and tried to deal with it in every self-destructive, 
spiraling-into-further-troubles way possible.

Olive Kitteridge from Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Olive lives a small life in a small town in Maine. 
Happiness always evades her, eludes her, escapes from her. 

Dimple Dasgupta in Wife by Bharati Mukherjee

An arranged marriage. Forced to move to America where she knows no one. Days spent, doing nothing, contemplating her own suicide. Poor Dimple.

Mary Saunders in Emma Donoghue's Slammerkin

Emma wants beautiful things. The only way for her to get these things is to sell her body in prostitution. She tries to leave the trade, but finds there is an element of prostitution in even honest work for all women of her day. Misery, misery, and more misery.

Vishnu in The Death of Vishnu by Manil Suri

I can't leave you thinking the most unhappy characters are all female; men can also live pretty awful lives. Let's not forget Vishnu. The entire story takes place as Vishnu lies dying on the steps of a rooming house. So, not only is the book centered on a squalid death of a meaningless life, Vishnu spends his time dying going over all the bitter events of his life.

Kevin in We Need to Talk About Kevin

Kevin is an awful character. Not only is he cruel and vicious and unhappy, but he makes everyone who  around him deeply unhappy, too.

Mohun Biswas in A House for Mr. Biswas

A man who was cursed from birth. Tricked into an unhappy marriage. Moves from unhappy job to unhappy job. Unsatisfying relationships with everyone in his life.

Geoffrey Firmin in Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano

What list of miserable characters would be complete without including Geoffrey Firmin in Under the Volcano? Geoffrey drinks himself to death as he mulls over the awfulness of his life.

*I chose to write this week about miserable, unhappy characters after reading two books this week about two miserable, unhappy women in The House of Mirth and The Silent Wife. Let's hope I can find some cheery books for this week's reading.

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Each week we will post a new Top Ten list that one of our bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish will answer. Everyone is welcome to join. All we ask is that you link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND add your name to the Linky widget so that everyone can check out other bloggers lists! If you don't have a blog, just post your answers as a comment. Have fun with it! It's a fun way to get to know your fellow bloggers.


  1. I would add Emma Bovary to this list. She was definitely miserable. Also maybe Mrs. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, even if her misery is comic in nature.

  2. I read The House of Mirth back in college and I have to agree. I was so frustrated with Lily throughout the novel - though I did love it! It's a shame her story ended the way it did when she had many opportunities to turn it around.

    Andrea @ Bookish

  3. Miserable characters are quite the dime of dozen in literature. Although I can see why Kevin (from WNTTAK) might fit your category, I just can't see myself disliking him as a character (might have a different perspective if it was in reality though...)

    Joey via. thoughts and afterthoughts.
    My TTT This Week.

  4. All of us in the book group were frustrated by the Edith Wharton characters.

  5. I definitely would not have wanted to have Kevin as my child.

  6. I confess that I haven't read a single book on your list. Sigh. Your list did bring to mind the opening line from Anna Karenina, however: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." We don't want to read too many books about Pollyanna, they aren't interesting enough. Thanks for visiting my blog.


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