The 11 Worst Brats in Literature
From Flannery O’Connor’s Hulga to the girls of Emma Cline, these brats are coming in hot
I wish this was an article about bratwürsts, but alas, in my reading I haven’t come across many references to hot dogs in literature (if you have, let me know). Instead, I want to highlight some of the würst brats — as in the child kind — in fiction. Like hot dogs, they are the result of some gloriously congealed nastiness, but they don’t need any condiments to spice things up. Of course, if I came across any of these trouble-makers in real life, I would likely find them unbearable. Safely tucked away in words and pages, however, the pranks, cackles, and uproar these brats bring to their stories makes for some choice reading.
Fred Vincy, Middlemarch by George Eliot
Brats always want what they can’t have, and they show their true colors when in a state of pursuit. Fred wants to live lavishly, while his father wants him to join the Church. The bullish son develops a gambling problem because of his need for a luxe lifestyle and then can’t pay off his debts — which are owed to the brother of the woman he wants to be his wife! (Good move, bro.) This puts him in quite the pickle, and he ends up working for his co-signer. And of course the whole time, he is whinging about not having what he wants.
Hamlet, Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Hamlet’s brattishness is almost hidden by the play’s lush iambic pentameter, a kind of wrapping you might equate to a soft, chewy bun. His mood swings are out of control and he can never make up his mind. His soliloquies are wordy woe-is-me’s — it’s true that his new stepdad is a jerk and his father’s ghost is demanding revenge, but does that justify his treatment of Ophelia? Can’t a guy think of someone other than himself once in awhile? Like a proper tragedy, everybody dies at the end, and by the second act you’ve already decided that Hamlet is an obnoxious brat.
Mary, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
My next list is going to have to be “Best Insults by Narrators, Ranked,” because this description of Mary would take first prize: “As tyrannical and selfish a little pig as ever lived.” Mary is a product of her absent parents, but she doesn’t do a lot to encourage sympathy. Unlike the other brats on this list, however, Mary undergoes a change, becomes the kind child we all want to love. Better late than never, I suppose.
Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The classic brat, the ultimate brat, the mega brat — Huck Finn put the brat on the map. He’s the nightmare of every mother in town, smoking cigars and stealing livestock. Although the kid is kind of a jerk, it doesn’t feel like it’s all his fault. Society let him down, turned him into a rebel! If I’m honest, I’m kind of fond of this rascal, pranks and all.
Francis Hancock, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Nothing is worse than having to swallow your retorts to a jerk. Harper Lee had it right in her classic — Francis Hancock needed the good smack in the back of the head for the words he used about Uncle Atticus. Finally, justice is served.
Satan, Paradise Lost by John Milton
Satan is our ageless brat. Milton initially has the reader feel sorry for Satan, that is, until you realize he’s just a mope. His hatred of God is really a hatred of being told what he can’t do, and his temper tantrums rival those of a toddler who’s missed his nap. He hates God so much that he ruins the lives of the only two people on earth, thus ruining it for the rest of humanity. By the end of the epic, you’ll be surprised you ever felt sorry for him.
Nellie, Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Nellie’s trouble to begin with, but let’s remember that the trouble she inflicts is on two girls whose parents are battling the fever ’n’ ague, have just moved across the county in a wagon, and who don’t know anyone in their new town. There is an argument to be made that Nellie is bigger than a brat — she is a next-level nemesis.
Edmund Pevensie, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Edmund Pevensie is the typical, bullish older brother in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. But his behavior eventually goes beyond your average sibling taunts and becomes inexcusable when he betrays his brothers and sisters to the White Witch in exchange for Turkish delight. The little taste of evil power, though, freaks him out. He’s not malicious to his core, just easily persuaded by sweets.
Glory, “Glory” by Lesley Nneka Arimah
Behold! An adult brat! Lesley Arimah introduces us to Glory, a fully grown wet blanket who “has something rotten in her, her chi is unwell” (according to her grandfather). Her decision-making skills are terrible (for everyone), she’s constantly asking her mother for money, and worst of all, she steals food from the communal work fridge. Things work out for Glory, though, and she meets someone special. There’s someone out there for all of us, even the brats.
Hulga, “Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor
Originally named Joy, Hulga changed her name because she wanted to have the ugliest name possible (her words, not mine), one that reflected her true nature (those were mine). She earned a Ph.D. in Philosophy just to piss off her mother. When a Bible salesman shows up at her door, she decides she wants to seduce him. But at the end, Hulga loses her prosthetic leg to the salesman who is actually a nihilistic atheist, thus leaving Hulga stuck in a circle of irony.
The Girls, The Girls by Emma Cline
These girls are bratty and creepy. They are in their 30s but their demeanor is still that of twelve-year-olds. The girls read and laugh at a personal diary, they have a strange fascination with their cats (I get the fascination of cats, but there’s a difference between taking pictures of your cat in cute poses and pretending your cat didn’t take the legs off a mockingbird). They are constantly talking trash about other people in the story, and they push their father into alcoholism. And without saying too much, there’s a certain death for which they might or might not be responsible. These are more than meddling kids.