Normally, I specialize in strong, determined, uncompromising, extroverted protagonists, "If the laws of physics are against us, too bad, they need to be changed." I'm pretty good in getting them right.
But this time I tried at someone opposite: a character who is introverted, shy, uncertain, afraid, lost and confused. Unable to fit in, afraid to experiment and try to accept the overwhelming world, a recluse, outcast, working a disrespectful, dead-end job, and not daring to speak up against abusers. Meanwhile, a very nice and smart person, though rarely given any opportunity to shine, and the few times when he tries to take initiative, it backfires badly, discouraging him even further.
I've managed to get the primary, larger scale elements sketched: the abuse, finding him in a scapegoat position, underlining his avoidance of spotlight positions, reluctance towards taking any initiative. Still, the closer image is lacking badly and I really don't know how to proceed. The image I have drawn so far could be misinterpreted as someone who is thick-skinned, naturally passive (lazy), dull in their unwillingness to act, emotionless, or just hard to understand and alien.
The stranger is in fact very emotive, terribly afraid, suffering from solitude badly, often powerlessly angry, and suffering from terrible self-esteem. Thing is, he hides his emotions, keeps them in not to let others hurt him further and take for even weaker than he feels. For the world he is a dull, thick-skinned nobody, and so I fail to make him anybody else for the reader.
This mask is too efficient, and narrating from perspective of an external observer I'm having a very hard time getting the emotions across to the reader. I'm trying to show rare glimpses when the mask drops momentarily, but I'm afraid that's not enough, the readers may consider them more as my omissions and mistakes than as essential pieces of revelation. They are too little to get the readers to like him for who he really is, and feel compassionate.
I need something better, something stronger, that will get the reader deeper into the mindset of the unfortunate stranger, and it needs to be applicable early enough into the story that the revelation doesn't come as a late surprise to the bored and impassive reader but gets them into the character's inner sanctum, revealing their true self without breaking the plot - friendless, lonely recluse won't normally allow any stranger there, one would need a good build-up of trust towards that, and that build-up takes time, and so the revelation gets delayed... you get it. I consider some bullies just "breaking in", but then how to make it not destroy the poor character?
So, how would you paint this kind of character? What kind of motives would you use? Do you know any literary works with such protagonists? I know a few examples of movies - Woody Allen, Charlie Chaplin, Roberto Benigni managed to masterfully draw that type of characters in saddest of their comedies. Still, the expressiveness of the medium, their wonderful play with whole body, indescribable facial expressions, and hard to copy situations are something which is probably beyond my skill of transferring to paper.
(some more info: the setting is similar to modern, a medium-sized town with its corrupt "ruling elite" and neutral citizens mostly honest but staying out of trouble, the character is obviously a foreigner, an immigrant/refugee not of a kind common there, and while probably he would find some good help and even friends if he just started looking, he's too afraid to try.)