Classic literature is like the broccoli of books: nobody likes it, but we’re all going to have to deal with it eventually. (And if you actually like broccoli, congratulations—you’re going to outlive me, and you ruined my analogy. Are you happy?)
The problem with classic literature is that it takes place in a time so far removed from us that we just can’t bring ourselves to care. We get it, okay? People were dying of the pox a hundred years ago and everything’s a metaphor for the Dust Bowl. Big whoop.
But as someone who has read a book or two in her time, I’m here to tell you that these primeval characters of yore are often just as dumb and embarrassing as we are. Case in point:
The character: Boo Radley from To Kill a Mockingbird Why he’s relatable: Didn’t leave his house for fifteen years.
The character:Jane Eyre Why she’s relatable: Would literally rather starve to death than talk to strangers. This is the rough equivalent of me refusing to come out of my room when my parents have guests over.
The character: Mistress Hibbins from The Scarlet Letter Why she’s relatable: She wants to make friends but has no clue how to do this. Instead of saying something normal like “Hey, what’s up?” she’s like “Hey, want to hang out in the woods and summon devils?”
The character: Zeus from The Odyssey Why he’s relatable: He definitely could have helped Odysseus at any point over the course of those ten long years at sea, but he just didn’t really feel like it, you know?
The character: Nameless woman from Fahrenheit 451 Why she’s relatable: Would rather set herself on fire than let them take her books.
The character: Hamlet Why he’s relatable: Talks to himself, won’t stop wearing black clothes, craves death, given to random outbursts of excessive oversharing.
The character: Miss Havisham from Great Expectations Why she’s relatable: Gets dumped one time and swears off all men for eternity.
The character: Hero from Much Ado About Nothing Why she’s relatable: Fakes her death for the drama of it all, which is something I am most assuredly about.
The character: Simon from Lord of the Flies Why he’s relatable: Occasionally disappears into the doom jungle just to have some alone time.
The character: Mr. Lockwood from Wuthering Heights Why he’s relatable: Dude thought he was the main character even though he was very clearly the least important person in all of nineteenth-century England.
The character: Mr. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice Why he’s relatable: I cannot say in good conscience that this man has ever cared about anything, ever, in his entire life.
The character: Mercutio from Romeo and Juliet Why he’s relatable: Can’t stop himself from making a pun while he dies because he is OUT OF CONTROL.
The character: Marius from Les Misérables Why he’s relatable: Has no idea that all the girls in France think he’s cute. Instead, he believes they are laughing at him and runs away. He only goes out after dark so no one will see how stupid his jacket is.
The character: Ajax from The Odyssey Why he’s relatable: Arrived home safe and sound from the Trojan War, thought saying “TAKE THAT, THE GODS” was something he should definitely do, and got himself killed for his hubris.
The character: Satan from Paradise Lost Why he’s relatable: Gets kicked out of the cool kids’ party so he’s like, “Whatever, I didn’t want to go anyway. I’ll just be over here, throwing my own party. If you want to come, tough luck. I know you didn’t ask, but still.”
The character: The Phantom of the Opera Why he’s relatable: He teaches his crush to sing and then kidnaps her instead of just, like, asking her out. On the one hand, this is a terrible thing to do, but on the other hand, I get it.
The character:King Lear Why he’s relatable: Uses his power and influence to force people to give him compliments.
The character: Agamemnon from The Odyssey Why he’s relatable: Gets murdered and just won’t stop complaining about it, even in the Underworld. His eternal whining literally transcends the human frailties of life and death, and that is a platform I can get behind.
The character: Telemachus from The Odyssey Why he’s relatable: Messes up one time and cries out, “God help me, must I be a weakling, a failure all my life?”
The character: Klipspringer from The Great Gatsby Why he’s relatable: Is such a shameless freeloader that is he straight-up living in Gatsby’s mansion.
The character: The ghost from Hamlet Why he’s relatable: Only emerges under the cover of night. Refuses to speak in front of the whole group, probably because he’s shy. Asks Hamlet for a huge favor and does nothing for him in return. I really should not have identified so strongly with the ghost from Hamlet, but alas.