Characters Who Hate Each Other

Celeste and PerryLast week’s post focused on characters who miss each other. This week, the focus will be on those who HATE each other.

The hate might be full-blown or have some nuance, be mutual or mostly one-sided, be never-ending or come and go. It can feature jealousy, fury over harm done, or other elements. But it’s almost always visceral, and visceral can make for riveting reading.

There’s of course plenty of hate in the good vs. evil world of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series — with the prime example being Harry vs. Voldemort. This is a case where Voldemort is guilty of starting all the hate, forcing Harry to respond.

In the non-wizard realm, there’s much venom from the manipulative Zenia — who makes life hellish for three women (Tony, Charis, and Roz) who thought Zenia was their friend in Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride. The trio eventually react to her hate with their own disdain.

Among the cast of Zadie Smith’s On Beauty are two professors — Howard Belsey and Monty Kipps. Howard dislikes the more successful Monty from a place of professional jealousy, and things get thoroughly unpleasant.

Hate can obviously lead to some justified revenge. In the 19th-century back story of Louis Sachar’s young-adult novel Holes, for instance, white teacher Kate and African-American onion seller Sam fall in love, and local racists subsequently murder Sam. The furious Kate kills one of those involved in the murder (a white sheriff), and becomes a justice-dispensing outlaw.

Speaking of rotten law-enforcement people, the title character in Stephen King’s Rose Madder understandably hates and fears her abusive police-officer husband Norman. After Rose escapes the marriage, a magical painting she discovers helps her after Norman finds and tries to kill Rose.

And speaking of domestic abuse, Celeste loathes and fears her violent rich banker husband Perry — who puts on a good front to the rest of the world — in Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies. (The two characters are pictured above this post in the HBO version of the novel.)

And speaking of stone-cold racist characters hated by those whose lives he has made miserable, there’s Bob Ewell in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle features the beleaguered working-class couple Jurgis and Ona Rutkus, who have many reasons to hate Ona’s factory boss Phil Connor. Connor, like other employers in the novel, treats his laborers horribly — and is also sexually abusing Ona.

Sibling dislike can be intense, and there’s plenty of that between half-brothers Hank and the more intellectual/physically weaker Leland in Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion. Things come to a head when Leland returns to Oregon after years on the East Coast.

There’s also a more intellectual/physically weaker motif in Jack London’s The Sea-Wolf, in which muscled brute Captain Wolf Larsen picks up the brainy/”soft” Humphrey van Weyden from a sinking ferry and forces him to stay on his ship. Things do become more equal as Humphrey gains strength and courage, and the strong dislike between him and Wolf is a key driver of the book’s climax.

Your favorite novels with characters who hate each other?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for The latest weekly piece — about a ghoulish Republican plan for a pro-gun mural to counter an anti-gun-violence mural in my town 😦 — is here.

79 thoughts on “Characters Who Hate Each Other

  1. I just finished, not too long ago, a book called “American Princess.” It tells the tale of Alice Roosevelt – Teddy’s daughter. I must say it was fascinating to learn a lot more about this more or less forgotten figure in history. I was also interested in the relationship between Alice Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt as portrayed in this story. They more or less hated each other until much later in life, when they eventually let bygones be bygones. I also just read “I am Mrs. Jesse James,” which tells the story of the notorious outlaw from the point of view of his wife. Although there weren’t many characters in that book who directly hated each other, Jesse James was portrayed as having a deep hatred of the world – but he was also portrayed as a broken human who was made to hate given the cruel world around him. A very, very interesting perspective! Finally, I would like to mention “Before Adam,” another classic that took me way too long to get to. The main character has a deep seated and mutual hatred with Red Eye, and the two never really stop fighting each other given their different “levels” of evolution. Whew! a lot of mentions, sorry to be overwhelming! I just did a lot of reading over my little hiatus 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dave How about Scarlett and Rhett in GWTW.
    They had a strange relationship. Scarlett was always selfish and wanted Ashley from the begining. But Ashley was for Melanie and Scarlett was always jealous of Her.
    When those two married Scarley was going from men to men and destroyed other womans lives even her sisters.
    Finally Scarlett married Rhett who we know was madly in love with her. But her cruelty destroyed his love and he left her.
    Later when Ashley admitted he actually loved Scarlett she felt nothing…and wanted Rhett who was GONE !

    HA…what a book 🙂

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  3. “Kind Hearts and Coronets”(1949) is a dark comedy film starring Alec Guinness almost all the time, very loosely based on a novel “Israel Rank, the Autobiography of a Criminal”, by Roy Herniman (1907), and features the murderous activities of a man who is determined to inherit, despite several relatives ahead of him in the line of succession. It’s not so much that he hates them passionately, as he sees them as removable impediments, and does so dispassionately and repeatedly.

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  4. My eyes always turn to my bookshelves when I read your posts. Love an hate are of course closely related. Pierre in War and Peace hates his former friend Dolochov so much after he found out about his affair with Pierre’s wife Hélène that his blood started to boil and he challenged him to a duel. He hated Hélène too ever since.

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  5. I loved the HBO adaptation of Big Little Lies which I saw before I read the book. I loved the way that Kidman and Skarsgard portrayed domestic violence, even though it’s obviously not a loveable topic.

    I HATE some of the characters that I’m currently reading. I’m about halfway through Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way Of Things and it’s like The Handmaid’s Tale on steroids. I think the women who have been kidnapped are probably too scared and tired to be hateful just yet, but I’m sure there’s lots of hatred coming, and hopefully some revenge. I even hate looking at the title, because NOTHING about this book is natural.

    I think it will be revealed that the women were selected because they were hated. Hated for all the things women are so often hated for. The things they did – being attractive, having sex, speaking out about abuse; and the things they didn’t do – not being attractive, not having sex, not speaking out about abuse. So sad that these stories stay so relevant.

    I’m also kind of hating the other book that I’m reading (Donna Tartt’s The Secret History) but that’s best left for another day…

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    • Thank you, Sue!

      I’ve never watched the HBO adaptation of “Big Little Lies,” but thought the novel was terrific. One of the best books I’ve read by a living author during the past few years. It had to be tricky for Kidman and Skarsgard to portray that couple and the awful domestic violence aspect.

      Yes, characters can hate each other, and readers can also hate characters! Sounds like “The Natural Way Of Things” is a difficult read, while evoking infuriating feelings about the no-win situations women frequently face. You wrote a great two summary paragraphs.

      I loved “The Goldfinch” — the first Donna Tartt novel I read — but understand your dislike of her debut novel “The Secret History.” Very off-putting in various ways, though an interesting read much of the time.


      • Big Little Lies was one of the few things that I’d seen but not read. Then there was a lady at book club who had read it, but not seen it. So we compared notes but they sounded like completely different stories, so I read the book, which was typical Moriarty amazingness, And it turns out, the lady at book club HAD been talking about an entirely different book that also had Lies in the title. But I did learn that HBO made a very faithful adaptation, so it was all worth it 🙂

        The Natural Way Of Things is a very difficult read, but it’s an absolutely brilliant and perfect book. I imagine Wood probably had some trouble writing it, and I look forward to digging in to the behind the scenes a little bit when I’m finished.

        I’m so undecided about whether I want to put The Goldfinch on my list. I am really really really struggling with The Secret History. There is nothing that I like about it, and I don’t know that I trust her writing enough to give her another go. I’ve also heard that The Secret History is the best of her novels, so that puts me off. But then people like you say you love the The Goldfinch and I really want to know if I agree.

        Dave, I’m curious about whether you stop reading books that you’re not enjoying? Sometimes I wish I could ditch a book, but I just can’t. And it’s partly because I know that I’m stuck with it until the very end that I’m so careful about what books I put on my TBR.

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        • Interesting book club miscommunication! I’ve read that the “Big Little Lies” setting was switched from Australia to California, but glad to hear the plot was similar in the TV adaptation. Of course the TV series eventually went beyond the novel, but I think Liane Moriarty was involved in that?

          I’ve read all three of Donna Tartt’s novels, and “The Secret History” is my least favorite. I also struggled a bit with her second book — “The Little Friend” — though I liked it overall. But I unequivocally found “The Goldfinch” riveting, and quite different from her first two. Of course, others might disagree!

          I hear you about not wanting to give up on novels you’re not liking. Most of the time, I finish a book even if I don’t want to. But I do ditch some novels before the end — more than I used to, maybe three this year. I decided life is too short (and was subsequently arrested by the cliché police).

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          • Dave, I’m glad those police let you go 🙂 My book group tries to convince me to become a ‘ditcher’ and create a ‘life’s too short pile’. Their words, not mine, so you’re not on your own with that one. 🙂

            I think what helps is I always have more than one book (and sometimes three or four) on the go. It means I don’t have to waste a good book, that should be read at home in peace and quiet, while I’m waiting for my pizza. The Secret History has been an easy read, so it’s come in handy if I know I’m about to fall asleep, or if I’m just killing time.

            The setting change of Big Little Lies didn’t bother me at all. I don’t think it impacted the story line at all. What was important, is that it was set somewhere rich and swanky… like California. I’ve not seen any of season two, but I think I’ve read that Moriarty was involved. I’m not sure whether I’m interested enough to keep following it. I’d probably read a second book if it was released through.

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            • I was let go with a warning, but will commit that crime again. 🙂

              Sue, I can see that reading more than one book at a time has its benefits! But somehow I can’t do it.

              Yes, rich and swanky, whatever the setting, is a “Big Little Lies” must — though of course one of the compelling things about the novel is that a very major character (single parent Jane) who interacts with the other characters is not affluent.


              • Oh, Jane was absolutely a fish out of water. Which is part of why the swanky setting was important. HBO nailed it.

                While I’ve been told clichés should be avoided like the plague, I kind of like them. And I respect your rebellious attitude, despite prior arrests 😉

                I grew up reading one book at a time, but at some point in my twenties or thirties it became multiple books so that I can read depending on my mood. No doubt I was stuck with a book that I wanted to ditch, and got sidetracked by something better, and voila, multiple books at once became a thing! That doesn’t mean it’s for everyone though. I don’t understand audio books. I can’t concentrate on them and don’t think of them as reading. But other people swear by them. I absolutely encourage people to do what works for them 🙂

                Liked by 1 person

                • Yes, Sue, Jane was a fish out of water, and a great character who was so crucial to the novel.

                  Ha — “clichés should be avoided like the plague,” and the rest of that paragraph. 🙂 🙂

                  I agree that whatever format or approach works for a reader is great. They’re reading! (I’ve actually never listened to an audiobook in my life!)


  6. How about Subhash and Gouri in ” The Lowland ” by Jhumpa Lahiri.

    Gouri would be one of the most disliked woman in a Novel.
    Subhash is the nice, rational brother, who will spend much of his life dealing with the fallout from his sibling’s ( Udayan) heedless actions.
    Udayan died and left a pregnent widow Gouri, Subhash married her to give the unborn , later Bela a home and support.Yet Gouri rejucted Subhash`s kindness with chilly disregard.
    Gouri left her 5 year old baby Bela home alone without any forwarded address.
    Udayan raised Bela as his own to become a wonderful, independent young

    We know the rest Dave, and we both loved how it ended.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Characters Who Hate Each Other — Dave Astor on Literature | Slattery's Magazine

  8. We read the somewhat unusual book, “My Brilliant Friend,” (Elena Ferrante) for book club a year or so ago. The two main female characters seemed to be on a constant cycling through love, envy, and hate, beginning in childhood. The book was interesting but distressing at the same time.

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  9. Another thought-provoking topic, Dave! To expand on Harry Potter, I think one of the most hateful characters, and the one for whom Harry feels some very justified hatred and loathing, is Dolores Umbridge, who is one of the most horrid villains in literature, in my opinion!

    Celie in “The Color Purple,” which I’ve brought up before, also thinks a lot about hatred, something she has to, very justifiably, struggle to overcome.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Elena! Yes, a number of memorable villains in the “Harry Potter” series — and I agree that the evil/syrupy Dolores Umbridge is right up there. Bellatrix Lestrange and Lucius Malfoy are also bad to the bone.

      Good observation about Celie, too. When virulent racism and/or sexism rear their ugly heads, there is much hatred to contemplate. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

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