The other day, while listening to LCD Soundsystem’s “”Dance Yrself Clean the line, “Talking like a jerk / Except you are an actual jerk / And living proof that sometimes friends are mean” started knocking around in our heads, and it got us to thinking about all the jerks we’ve met in our lifetimes. From there, we started thinking about all the jerks we’ve read about in our lifetimes—there are plenty of literary characters we’ve encountered that almost make the real-life jerks seem tolerable. Below are a dozen that particularly stand out.
Work: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (1937)
Jerk Attributes: He’s the boss’ son with a background in boxing and a Napoleon complex who picks on everybody, especially mentally challenged Lennie.
Quintessential Jerk Quote: “Come on, ya big bastard. Get up on your feet. No big son-of-a-bitch is gonna laugh at me. I’ll show ya who’s yella.”
Work: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951)
Character: Holden Caulfield
Jerk Attributes: He acts out like a petulant child enough to get himself kicked out of school. He mopes and whines constantly. He’s a hypocrite because he complains about people being phonies, even though he’s at least as bad as any of them.
Quintessential Jerk Quote: “All morons hate it when you call them a moron.”
Work: The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (1997-2007)
Character: Draco Malfoy
Jerk Attributes: He’s a xenophobic, sneering elitist on top of being a plain old bully.
Quintessential Jerk Quote: “Longbottom, if brains were gold, you’d be poorer than Weasley, and that’s saying something.”
Work: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
Character: Bob Ewell
Jerk Attributes: He’s supremely racist, for one thing. He also lies under oath to try to get an innocent (black) man put in jail and beats children, including his own.
Quintessential Jerk Quote: “Too proud to fight, you n****r-lovin‘ bastard?”
Work: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1875-1877)
Character: Anna Karenina
Jerk Attributes: Anna is selfish and cares far more about her place in high society than about the feelings of either of the men who are in love with her.
Quintessential Jerk Quote: “You were not mistaken. I was, and cannot help being, in despair. I listen to you but I am thinking of him. I love him, I am his mistress, I cannot endure you. I am afraid of you, and I hate you.”
Work: Hamlet by William Shakespeare (c. 1599)
Character: Hamlet, obvs.
Jerk Attributes: The Second City’s Sassy Gay Friend said it best: “There is something rotten in Denmark…and it’s his piss-poor attitude!” The original emo kid may have it rough, but it doesn’t excuse his rampant self-absorption, treating everyone who cares about him like crap (especially poor Ophelia!) or, you know, stabbing people through curtains.
Quintessential Jerk Quote: “God has given you one face, and you make yourselves another: you jig, you amble, and you lisp, and nick-name God’s creatures, and make your wantonness your ignorance. Go to, I’ll no more on’t; it hath made me mad. I say, we will have no more marriages: those that are married already, all but one, shall live; the rest shall keep as they are. To a nunnery, go.”