I’ve started reading The Hunger Games last night, and at the very beginning, there was a nasty surprise.
I’ve heard of the book, of course, and I knew what it was about, and I knew that the MC was a good person who sacrificed herself to save her little sister. So, a very good person, and brave, and so on. And yet, at the beginning, we learn that a few years ago she tried to drown a kitten, and it was only the crying and the begging of her little sister that stopped her. MC didn’t try to do it out of malice, she was afraid she’d have to feed another mouth, and she was already taking care of her mother and her sister in a very cruel world. But still. She tried to drown a kitten.
There are some things that the good guys (and gals) just don’t do. For any reason. Good guys can kill, torture, maim, slaughter — if there’s good reason for it, of course — but they don’t kick puppies. They don’t hit helpless old ladies on the head and steal their purse. They don’t steal lollipops from children. And they don’t drown kittens, nor they attempt to do it. That’s what the bad guys do, that’s how we know, from the very start, that they’re bad. It’s like a code, or like an agreement between the author and the readers: good guys don’t kick puppies. If you see a character kicking a puppy, you know immediately that it’s a bad guy. And there should be a good guy somewhere around stopping the bad guy.
Now, a case comes to mind, of Jaime Lannister from A Game of Thrones. In the first book, we see him throwing a child from a wall, in an attempt to kill that child, and we know that he’s a bad guy. Later, in another book, he starts trying to redeem his honor, to do some good things, help some children. He does that after becoming a cripple himself, no longer one of the greatest fighters of the Seven Kingdoms, and we discover that there’s more to him than a villain.
However, that doesn’t make him a good guy. That makes him a bad guy who is trying to become better. That is not the case with Katniss Everdeen. She was supposed to be the good one from the start, and I have no doubt that many see her that way. I can’t. Not after she tried to drown a helpless little kitten. That makes her a villain.
How about you? What do you think? If a character kicks a puppy (or tries to drown a kitten), can you still see them as the good guys? Or do you hope for the real good guy/gal to come and teach them a lesson?