August 17, 2005

Which Characters Deserved It?

[UPDATE: Hey, thanks for the boost, Ogged!]

Over at Unfogged we were discussing Robertson Davies, and I complained that in World of Wonders Davies really set one character up for humiliation, and this device bugged me. (I had to have my memory refreshed on the details; it's been about ten years since I read it.)

baa responded:

while I am never a fan of the obvious author set up of the hateful character, this one didn't offend me much.
And now that I think of it, the authorial set ups of a horrible character can be really enjoyable. Sack Lodge in "Wedding Crashers" comes to mind as a recent example. I wonder if can think of examples of this from "high literature." (perhaps the argument is: what makes high literature high is that it avoids crowd-pleasing simplifications like the completely hateful character, but that doesn't seem like it can be right...).

I think that's a great idea! Can anyone think of cases where an author really sets up a character for humiliation, and it's great because the character deserves it? Leave your nominees, pref. with spoiler warnings where appropriate. I have a couple below the fold.

Perhaps something like the fate of Lorcan Larkin in Marian Keyes' Last Chance Saloon, though I fear Keyes does not count as 'high literature' for our purposes. Or there's a supberb one in Kingsley Amis's The Green Man--click this link for a spoiler. And I might count the abuse of Oswald in King Lear:

KENT Fellow, I know thee.

What dost thou know me for?

A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; a
base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited,
hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a
lily-livered, action-taking knave, a whoreson,
glass-gazing, super-serviceable finical rogue;
one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a
bawd, in way of good service, and art nothing but
the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar,
and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch: one whom I
will beat into clamorous whining, if thou deniest
the least syllable of thy addition.

Maybe I'll change the name of the blog to "clamorous whining."

Posted by Matt Weiner at August 17, 2005 01:25 PM

Eric Cartman, in the Awesome-o episode.

Posted by: Michael at August 17, 2005 05:41 PM

Dickens is full of this, although I'm not sure how awesome it is in most cases -- Heep, Pecksniff... Their comeuppances may have been more entertaining for Dickens's original audience than it is for me.

Posted by: LizardBreath at August 17, 2005 07:53 PM

And I think subject-verb agreement are for wimps.

Posted by: LizardBreath at August 17, 2005 08:04 PM

Frederic Moreau's comeuppance in Sentimental Education is set up quite well, but maybe he doesn't fit in here since he's the main character and not unsympathetically portrayed. But he still deserves it.

I'm only posting because ogged made me.

Posted by: eb at August 17, 2005 08:30 PM

Malvolio, Twelfth Night .

Posted by: Cala at August 17, 2005 09:14 PM

Martin Amis's Money is one long set-up for the comeuppance of its narrator, John Self (nice touch, there).

Posted by: theophylact at August 18, 2005 08:02 AM

What about Polonius?

Posted by: Joe Drymala at August 18, 2005 09:37 AM

That's pronoun-antecedent agreement, LB. Pwned!

Malvolio has got to be the paradigm. I don't think Polonius counts because he doesn't get humiliated or made to look like an ass (any more than he already did, which is a matter of debate)--he gets killed, and arguably didn't deserve it. Unless we're thinking of the "Brevity is the soul of wit" scene, which might be taken as him getting set up for the great line "More matter, less art"--but I think it's more like garden-variety making an ass of himself, which is not quite what I was hoping for.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at August 18, 2005 11:24 AM

How about Bernard Welch in Lucky Jim?

I always felt sorry for Malvolio. I think a good sequel would be Twelfth Night II: Malvolio Is Revenged On The Whole Pack of Them.

Posted by: Richard Mason at August 18, 2005 11:50 PM

B. Welch is a good one (but isn't it Bertrand?) In fact the fils-pere contrast is instructive--at the end Jim feels bad that he spent so much energy hating pere, while fils makes a total ass of himself, loses everything, and is insulted by Uncle Julius into the bargain.

After spending a year in a place where "No Cakes and Ale" could be the state motto, I have no sympathy for Malvolio at all. But I guess it's a matter of taste which characters are getting set up and which characters deserve it.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at August 24, 2005 10:53 AM

Yes, Bertrand.

Posted by: Richard Mason at August 29, 2005 11:13 PM