Judging a Book By Its Protagonist: Do you Judge?

Eva Lesko Natiello

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Every story needs a bad guy, right? The badder the bad guy the more compelling the read. But what about the protagonist? What if she’s unlikeable? There are many readers who will say, heck no to that book. There are readers who will stop mid-book, or earlier, if they deem the protagonist unrelatable. I have seen well-written books receive 1 star accompanied by a review which simply says: “Hated the main character.”

Are books the only art form where character likability is so intrinsic to its overall likability? I’ve never heard someone say they hated a song because its protagonist was a jerk. Art isn’t valued less because the subject is unattractive. Even movies, which are often based on books, seem to judge their unlikeable leads with less disdain. So why the hostility and outrage (and threats of burning books) when the main character in literature is not warm and…

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About Jane Wilson

Jane Wilson graduated from the University of Michigan Law School, was a trial attorney for 25 years and has served on the faculty of the National Institute for Trial Advocacy on numerous occasions. She was an Adjunct Professor of Law at Cleveland State University for several years and served as an Interim Associate Professor of Law in the clinical program at Case Law School. In 2009, she returned to the small southwestern Michigan community where she was raised, and wrote a novel.
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