Adapted from a rant posted elsewhere.
Actually, Holden Caulfield, who is somewhere between Thomas Covenant and Elric of Melnibone on my Least Favorite Male Character Ever List doesn’t have a lot to do with this post. Instead, I’m going to talk about Earth Abides, and why I hated the protagonist Isherwood Williams on sight. (The book itself I’m largely ambivalent about, but I know that I despise the protagonist.)
Earth Abides is a post-apocalyptic novel involving a plague that Destroys Civilization. Our protagonist it one of the few survivors, and he is supposed to be a very intelligent loner type. He wanders around meeting people and inevitably feeling superior to them because they do not have his highly evolved brain and motivation to better themselves that he does. The problem is that he is not actually that smart, and he is a dick.
Our Iconoclastic Loner Hero is wandering around looking for some sign of civilization. He finds a black couple who have liberated food, supplies and livestock from an abandoned farm and are attempting to make a life for themselves in the aftermath of a devastating civilization destroying plague. As you do in such situations. Isherwood treats the couple with contempt (despite their being friendly and hospitable), and thinks about how inherently sneaky and slavish black people are. He doesn’t stay with the black couple, though he does think of how easy it would be to control them.
Here’s a few other key moments.
- When his new girlfriend confesses to passing for white, he starts listing all the things that “should have” been obvious to him, such as her physical appearance and her “placid, incurious nature.” (Our Iconoclastic Hero is a great believer in inherent racial traits.)
- When a community begins to take form, he is contemptuous of most of the people there, because they lack his education, or aren’t interested in the things that he’s interested in.
- When one of his kids DOES show an interest in the things he’s interested in, he discourages the kid from reading (Stating that the kid should start slow, and only read books Ish approves of)–despite a stated desire on Isherwood’s part to teach the kid.
- He spends a great deal of time whining about how no one seems interested in being independent/create/rebuild but doesn’t seem to make a real effort to teach or instruct.
- His theories for why no one is interested generally ranges between “Well, they’re still in shock” to “They are stupid/placid/stolid.” At no point does he go “Hey, maybe no one wants to listen to me because I’m an asshole!”
I felt absolutely no sympathy for the guy. I would have preferred a book where Emma becomes a community leader and helps rebuild civilization. Instead, I get a whiny jerk who spends most of his time complaining because no one listens to him. (Hint: no one listens to you because you are a jerk. Why the writer decided that you would become a cultural hero/god, I have no clue.) I mostly ended up reading the book for Emma and the little essays about the next technological feature that is destroyed by time.