I’ve recently realised that orphans are protagonists in numerous books, thanks to a video on YouTube where Simon from SavidgeReads interviews E. Lockhart. They can be characters who are on their own, forced to look for a place they can call home. But they are also used to showcase either strained or loving relationships with other family members besides parents. When there is really no family member left to take care of them, they are a window to the difficulties faced by children who are institutionalised.
Glancing through my shelves, I found some books whose protagonists are orphans of both parents at the beginning of the story.
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter
Probably the most famous literary orphan, Harry Potter lives, at the beginning of The Philosopher’s Stone, with his horrible uncle and aunt unaware that his parents were two famous wizards killed by the evil Lord Voldemort. I’m sure there is no need for me to tell you more about his story.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – Jane Eyre
The title character of this book by one of the Brontë sisters lives with her maternal uncle’s family, the Reeds, at the beginning of the novel. Her parents dyed of typhus, and her uncle was the only one in the family who showed her some kindness. But, after his death, she is left alone with four people who are abusive to her, until she is sent to a school for poor and orphaned girls, where she is first a student and then a teacher. She is afterwards employed at Thornfield Hall by Mr Rochester. Jane Eyre is one of my favourite classics.
The Lord of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien – Frodo Baggins
Frodo is a Hobbit from the Shire who plays a crucial role in the quest to destroy the One Ring. His parents drowned in a boating accident and he was then adopted by his “uncle” Bilbo, who made him his heir.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – Pip
The main character in this novel, Pip, is an orphan who lives with his abusive older sister and her kind husband, Joe Gargery. He tells the story in the first person, starting with the moment when he encounters a convict next to his parents’ graves. He makes many mistakes, but grows up to be a better person in the end.
A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin – Daenerys Targaryen
One of the last members of House Targaryen, Daenerys is the daughter of King Aerys II and Queen Rhaella. Her father was killed at the end of Robert’s Rebellion and her mother died after giving birth to her. She lived in fear in exile together with her abusive brother Viserys. Throughout the series, she grows into a more confident woman.
It’s likely that she is not the only protagonist who is an orphan at the beginning of the series. But as that possibility hasn’t been confirmed in the books yet, I’ll not say who I’m talking about so not to spoil those who don’t watch the TV series.
What books have you read with orphans as protagonists? Tell me in the comments!