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Piper Chapman: Dislike-able Protagonist AND Future Heroine?

Netflix's Orange is The New Black has an annoying, naive protagonist, but, with help, she might have the potential to become the show's heroine.

by
Becky Graebner

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August 7, 2013 - 6:00 pm
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Not all main characters in books, TV shows, or plays are likable. Frank Underwood in House of Cards is a rotten scoundrel. Henry VIII in The Tudors vacillates between warm and ice cold. Emma Woodhouse in Jane Austen’s Emma is whiny and stuck up, Yossarian in Catch-22 is self-centered, and Katherine in Wuthering Heights is selfish and picks money over her true heart — leading to the misery that is unleashed on her family by the jilted Heathcliff.

There’s nothing wrong with crafting a main character that isn’t meant to be beloved. Humans are flawed so it makes sense that fictional, human characters are not perfect either. Sometimes, having an unlikeable main character is what gives the story a touch of realism — not everything is rainbows and ponies.

I think Piper falls into this group of half-loved, semi-misunderstood protagonists.

When I’m watching Orange is The New Black I want to like Piper but I find her naivety to be frustrating and annoying. In fact, I think she and Emma Woodhouse would get along famously. Amelia Bedelia could also be a friend as well as Sally in the painful scene when she orders pie with ice cream (on the side!) in When Harry Met Sally.  I feel like that’s what Piper would do in a restaurant.  Annoying.

However, despite her shortcomings that annoy me to no end, it is important that Piper’s character straddle the two worlds of “like” and “dislike.”  Making Piper a dislike-able protagonist is what gives Orange some spice and sets the stage for a possible transformation in Piper’s conduct and world-view. Who knows, the time in the big house could transform her into a grown up woman…

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