Okay, I’ll admit that not all protagonists are orphans, but I’ve seen a suspicious number of them, particularly in romantic literature from the 1800s. Let’s take some famous examples here:
Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester: Orphan
No, Jane, we’re not mocking you. You can’t help that your parents are gone. (Charlotte Bronte could have, but she didn’t.)
Um, maybe this is why he is so unhealthily fixated on Jane. Plus, I bet if he still had parents he wouldn’t have tried to marry Jane when he had a crazy wife in the attic.
Jack, Algernon, and Celia (Basically all the main characters in the Importance of Being Earnest excepting Gwendolin): Orphans
Maybe Algernon wouldn’t have to eat his feelings if he had his parents. (Ahm, Oscar Wilde?)
Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights): Orphan
Maybe he would have been more happy and less crazy if he had his parents. Not to mention less clingy. (Blame Emily Bronte for your agony, Heathcliff, and maybe see if you can find Rochester and plot to destroy the sisters who destroyed your chance at happiness.)
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy (Pride and Prejudice): Orphan
As I mentioned in a previous post, I love Darcy, but that fellow does have his issues. He’s proud (I know, I know, it’s in the title). He’s a bit of a snob. He really sucks at discussing his feelings. And he doesn’t seem to realize that standing in the rain can cause a cold. I’m guessing if his parents were still alive they would have pressured him into resolving at least one of these problems.
Nicholas Nickleby (Nicholas Nickleby): 1/2 Orphan
I know he’s not a complete orphan, but I think he deserves a mention all the same, because his mother isn’t the most sensible of women. Sure, he’s a good fellow, but really? life would have been much easier if he still had his father. No crazy boarding schools, no sexually harassed sister, no evil uncle in charge of his fate. Blame Dickens!!! (Who, by the way, orphaned plenty of his other characters.)
Dracula (Dracula): Orphan
Admittedly this is pure supposition on my part. I have no idea if Dracula’s parents are alive, but it seems likely that they are deceased (or undead, which I think still qualifies.) Should Dracula’s parents still be alive, I’m fairly certain they would disapprove of his blood-sucking ways. “Maybe you should take up a hobby,” his mom would suggest, her brow furrowing in concern, “Like knitting. Something to occupy your free time.”
And these are just a few of the examples. Admittedly, I didn’t major in literature from the 1800s, so my opinion could be skewed: maybe only the most famous works of the time had orphans in them.
But what is the reason for this extraordinarily high parent mortality rate? It could be the culture of the times. It could be that orphans typically just have more interesting stories. Or it could be that the authors just were in a really bad mood and wanted to kill people on the page. What do you think?