Count Olaf as a Villain in the Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
A villain is a cruelly malicious person who is involved in or devoted to wickedness or crime. This expression could be used to describe Count Olaf, and his role in Lemony Snicket’s The Bad Beginning. This novel follows the three Baudelaire orphans, Violet, Klaus and Sunny, who are portrayed as the story’s protagonists, and their fight against Count Olaf to keep the Baudelaire fortune. This essay will analyse how Count Olaf is portrayed as the villain in this narrative.
As it happens, the children’s first encounter with Olaf pointed towards him having ill intent with him saying ‘“I realize that my humble home isn’t as fancy as the Baudelaire mansion, but perhaps with a bit of your money we could fix it up a little nicer.”’ This statement alone reveals that his intentions were never to look after the orphans, but entirely to obtain their massive fortune instead. Count Olaf invites some of his theatre troupe members over for a dinner and one of them says to Violet ‘“If I were you I would try not to anger Count Olaf, or he might wreck that pretty face of yours.”’ This shows that Count Olaf is violent, with a short temper and that he has a reputation for violence throughout his friend group. Count Olaf also clearly has a demand for control and will do anything to obtain what he presumes he is entitled to. When he lost his temper during the dinner and “struck Klaus across the face” it demonstrates this point.
A villain can often pose as a good person in order to trick their victims and manipulate them into doing what the villain desires. These people are often more sinister than openly evil people, as they blatantly lie to their victims with no remorse. Chapter 6 shows Count Olaf pretending to be nice and caring by making oatmeal. He poses as gracious so that when he askes the children to be in his play, which turns out to be a ploy to receive the Baudelaire fortune, they agree. Olaf’s plot to steal the fortune was eventually discovered by Klaus Baudelaire and as a way to regain control of the situation, Olaf kidnaps and holds the youngest Baudelaire, Sunny, hostage. Violet says to Olaf, “please, she’s just a baby. We’ll do anything, anything. Just don’t harm her.”’ Sunny is a small child who cannot even defend herself. Significantly, this shows us that Olaf is an unremorseful person with no sympathy.
In the novel The Bad Beginning, Count Olaf is quite clearly the antagonist of the story. His actions and reactions, traits, dialogue, attitudes, values, beliefs and relationships with others justify this point and help us analyse Count Olaf as a character. Olaf is a malicious person whose intent is to benefit himself and steal the Baudelaire orphan’s inheritance. Count Olaf is the villain to the children and the antagonist of The Bad Beginning.
A Paradoxical Dichotomy of a Villain
The concept of a great villain is paradoxical. From the ancient epic of Gilgamesh to modern literature, the roles of heroes and villains have been well established. The hero most often combats adversity and challenges through a combination of ingenuity, bravery, strength and/or luck to perform great deeds or selfless acts for the common good. The role of a villain is to be the antithesis of the hero, to operate in moral contrast to the hero, to be evil and to be vilified. Yet in pop culture, some villains are almost revered, in a manner more befitting a hero. The Joker from The Dark Knight and Darth Vader from the original Star Wars trilogy are prime examples of such well-designed, famous and effective; i.e. ‘good’ villains. Why are such characters like The Joker and Darth Vader considered as prime examples of villains? Why do they resonate deeply with the audience while other villains like Deadpool from X-Men don’t?
This paper will attempt to answer these questions by considering some of the most famous villains in the fictional media and their psychological relationship with the audience. This paper proposes that some villains are better examples of villains as they exploit the pre-existing disposition of the audience, by showcasing themselves as not fundamentally different from the audience but instead are reflections of the familiar and fundamental forms of morality matrix of the audience.
Stories are a reflection of the psychological tendencies that of humans
To understand why some villains, more so than the hero in some cases, are deeply impactful, one has to consider how moral psychology behind actions are constructed in the minds of humans. This is a justified approach to evaluating characters as stories are the products of human minds. The validation of this approach is best stated in The Literary Animal: Evolution and the Nature of Narrative, “If one reads accounts of troops of bonobo … one sees rehearsed all the major themes of the English 19th century novel[s]: alliances made and broken, individuals rising while others fall, plots hatched, revenge, gratitude, injured pride, successful and unsuccessful courtship, bereavement and mourning.” Consequentially if one extends this argument to its logical conclusion, for villain to be truly successful; he/she must associate with audience mentally by being the reflections of different components that evolve, diverge and converge together to be the driving force behind the morality the said audience. Thus, the fundamental question of how to make excellent villains can be evolved to ask what’s the best way for a villain is to form a connection with the mind of the audience. To answer this, we apply existing theories of morality that the deal with the moral psychology of human mind to villains and identify their sense of morality. Consequently, we can find out what villains are truly reflective of why the most effective means of forming a relationship is to exploit the primal need of the audience by creating relationship between the hero and villain to allow the audience to identify and contrast with. A perfect villain will also exploit the thematic inverse relationship between the hero and villain to create tension and conflict by giving the protagonist and antagonists the same end goal but have clear, differing motives that causes the protagonist to make difficult choices.
The Freudian Villain
Heath Ledger was posthumously awarded the golden globe award 2009, the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor 2008, for his critically acclaimed performance in The Dark Knight , as the Joker. His portrayal helped define the Joker as the quintessential villain of the early 21st century, as it was a reflection of the audience at subconscious and primal level. This helped the audience relate with Joker as he is the full-fledged manifestation of Id, something familiar to the audience. In the movie, The Joker’s operands are directed by the need for mayhem, impulse, and a requirement for instanteous satisfaction, the defining characteristics of Id. Id was one the fundamental factors behind morality as identified by Sigmund Freud. Freud divided morality the into conscious and unconscious elements. The unconscious section encompasses all the repressed traits of one’s personality. Although repressed, they continue to influence behavior. According to Freud , repressed personality is divided into three components the id, the super ego, and the ego. The Id, the crudest of the motivational matrix, is concerned with the instantaneous and momentary gratification of fundamental physical needs and desires. The Joker exemplifies all of id traits through his destructive and infantile manner with no true end goal or plan. He is depicted to be extremely intelligent. He plans carefully and shrewdly by inventing schemes to discredit the Batman; however, he is undisciplined and uncontrollable. The Joker disregards all of the established conventions, even those of the mobsters, instead goes about executing his whims. To show his nonchalance towards rules, he went so far as to burn his half of a billion dollars, just to prove that he does not care, and that money is not a motive to him. He represents chaos and animalistic side of human nature, many times comparing himself to a dog. He is depicted leaning out of a police cruiser in a fashion reminiscent of how a dog leans out of an open window in car. The biggest reveal about joker’s personality happens when Batman has the Joker in the police interrogation room and the criminal states that his attacks on Batman are like a dog chasing a car. He asks Batman, “what would a dog even do with a car if he caught it?” Until this point, it seemed that the Joker wanted to ruin or kill Wayne’s alter ego but this statement reveals that he has no true end goal other to spread chaos. This pivotal moment in the film brings his character into perspective, as does his stunt with the explosive boats on the river: The Joker is the manifestation of the animal and chaos within humans, and not only is he attempting to bring about meaningless destruction for personal enjoyment and release, but also to show that that capacity is retained inside of everyone. As he is the embodiment of the Id capacity of humans, the beliefs are inherently familiar to the audience, consequently allowing The Joker to form a deeper connection to the subconscious psyche of the audience.
Based on the works of Carl Jung, the character Joker is extremely successful with audience because it provides the audience with an opportunity to explore their intrinsic tendencies for violence without suffering any associated consequences. Carl Jung was an early 20th-century psychologist and psychotherapist, who advanced the ideas proposed by Sigmund Freud. An idea proposed by him as there exists a cognitive bias in us all that causes an individual to think highly of their positive qualities, and to underplay their negative ones. This is termed as “Illusory Superiority.” The audience wants to believe themselves to be the noblest, most honest, and the best, especially in comparison to others. This means that audiences want to project themselves on to the hero rather than the villain. However, the anthesis of illusory superiority is the Shadow. The Shadow is the part of a person’s psyche that wants to break rules. According to Jung, a person must recognize, identify, accept and overcome those negative impulses to maintain mental health. This relates directly back to Freudian notion of ego. However, sometimes it is better to unleash the inner shadow, and accept the Id urges within oneself, “we all [have to] break, to be bad every once in a while.” When a character like the Joker is so driven by Id, it offers up an ‘unpassable opportunity’ for the Shadow to unleash itself. Joker resonates with the audience since it them gives a chance to recognize and release their inner shadow and experience the adrenal rush and thrill of the action without suffering the consequences. This is especially attractive proposition for the shadow as Id is the most primal of motivation and it makes easier, quicker and more satisfying to break the rules. The Joker is a compelling outlet for the Shadow that has captivated audiences and allowed them to enjoy the depravities of their own psyche. Because the Joker acts in manners, that audience sometimes wish they could, by unleashing mayhem and the audience experiences a rush out of seeing him enjoying and embracing that true mayhem, it creates an instant bond between the Joker and the audience by exploiting the primal underlying urges. Thus, making Joker an effective and great villain, more so than even other villains introduced in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy.
Breaking the hero-villain divide
Connections between the villain and the hero, literately or figuratively, makes the villain more endearing to an audience. An illustration of this could be seen in the relationship between Darth Vader and his son Luke Skywalker in the original trilogy. Darth Vader underwent and lost his battle against the dark side in prequels , the same fight that Luke undergoes in the movies Freudian theory provides an explanation for why hero-villain relationships resonate with audiences. This connection between the antagonist and protagonist is important as it introduces an element of uncertainty in the story. The uncertainty is caused as the audience are left to wonder if protagonist will join forces with antagonist due to their shared connection. This uncertainty resonates with viewers as audience mentally associate different aspects of themselves to heroes and villains portrayed. The audience initially identify with the hero’s illusory superiority with their own. Audience transfer their own positive qualities to the hero and identify negatively with the villain. As the audience are omni-potent in the context of the movie, the movie acts as simulation for the audience to explore the consequences of actions as portrayed by the characters as consequence of their morality, i.e. Id and super-ego. The ego, the middle ground between Id and super-ego, is the rational, pragmatic and logical piece of ones’ identity. Freud believed ego to be the identifier of “self,” and its main responsibility is to balance the demands of the Id and super-ego in practical reality. Accordingly, the ultimate struggle faced by humans is to balance the primordial super ego and Id inside oneself. The balance of super-ego and id is a consequence rather than a deliberate step. Ego provides solutions and reasons to the struggles faced by humans. When ego is unable to provide an adequate explanation for one’s experiences, one reverts to primal id or attempts to use super-ego to reason out of the problem. When the forces of good, often portrayed as representatives of super-ego in films, are unable to provide a solution or reason to the hero’s inner struggles, it often pushes them from the ‘good’ path. This push culminates in the characters transforming themselves into the villain. To illustrate how this characteristic can be exploited to create iconic villains, we examine Darth Vader. In prequel trilogy, the fear of loss of the woman he loves pushes Anakin Skywalker away from the path of good. In Anakin’s case, he dreamt of his wife, Padme, dying in labor. Subsequently upon approaching Darth Sidious, representative of Id, and Yoda, representative of super-ego, both offer Anakin their beliefs on death but the fact that it is not Yoda but Sidious who is able to provide the ideal solution that Anakin is seeking for; pushing Anakin away from the Jedi and causes him to fall to the dark side. The audience in their omnipotence can examine the consequences of choosing either Id or super-ego over the other. This association becomes extremely powerful as audience attempt pre-empt the steps of the villain and the hero in their own minds. This form of extreme association allows characters, in this case Vader, to become effective, iconic and well-designed villains. Luke in Empire Strikes Back is at the same position with regards to his sister, Leia and the fate of the rebellion. Luke can choose the dark side, embrace his id qualities to defeat Vader and Sidious and try to save all he cares about or embrace the super-ego side and sacrifice himself, his sister and the rebellion. When the audience sees embracing Id as the moral choice that has a possible solution to crises, they subconsciously root for Id. By drawing upon the audience’s own subconscious attempts to effectively attempt to solve the moral issue facing the protagonist, the audience to conclude its better to be a villain with a chance for success than rather a victim. Thus, even though the audience initially identify with the hero Luke Skywalker, the also slowly start rooting for the villain, Vader.
The role of the villain in a story is both paradoxical yet important. Without a villain, heroes can’t be hero. For villain to be truly effective they must be manifestation of the audience’s subconscious moral ethics. The Joker is a good villain because he is a manifestation of the audience Id. Darth Vader is effective for another reason, that has to with him being associated with the protagonist. This connection is effective due to both narrative plots as well as exploiting the psychological associations between the audience and the characters.
Comparison of the Villains from the Hunger Games, Thor, Star Wars and Harry Potter
There is most likely a villain in every movie you watch. Some movie villains are more memorable than others. A villain can be described as an evil person or character that is the main enemy of the hero. A villain strives to do the opposite of what the hero is doing. For example, in Harry Potter, Voldemort strives to take down Harry while Harry strives to take down Voldemort. President Snow from The Hunger Games trilogy, Loki from Thor and The Avengers, Darth Vader from Star Wars, and Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter series are just a few examples of good movie villains. These movie villains are what make the movie plotline, thicken. Without them, their would probably be no conflict. My favorite movie villain is Loki from Thor and The Avengers. Loki provides a great story line and is very good at being a villain. [Thesis] The best movie villains are Loki from Thor and The Avengers, President Snow from The Hunger Games trilogy, and Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter series.
While Darth Vader is probably the most famous movie villain, President Snow from The Hunger Games trilogy is a some-what, new movie villain. He acquires a victor each year in the annual hunger games, but when Katniss and Peeta defy that rule and get 2 victors, Snow tries to eliminate them. He tries his best at doing this which makes him a good villain. Although he doesn’t succeed, he still makes the plotline of the movie better. Without President Snow being in the movie, it would have been less conflictual. What makes President Snow a good villain is that he is very powerful and people have to do what he tells them to or else they get eliminated. Having power is a quality a villain needs in order to succeed in what they are trying to accomplish. Snow tries to eliminate Katniss and Peeta in the 75th annual Hunger Games but he fails. Katniss figured out how to break the Dome and she was rescued. However, Peeta gets captured by the President and gets brainwashed. President Snow has done something terrible that his enemy will eventually kill him for. I think Donald Sutherland played the character very well. I can not imagine a different President Snow.
On the other hand, Loki from Thor and The Avengers makes a great movie villain. Tom Hiddleston plays the part of Loki quite well. Loki has perseverance in trying to take over as King of Asgard and he stops at nothing to do it. His clever ways of transforming into another person and making things look different, is amazing. This is why he is my favorite movie villain. In my opinion, he is the best movie villain. He has failed at taking over as King of Asgard in Thor but in Thor: The Dark World he is seen sitting on the throne of Asgard in his Father’s place. That is how the movie ends. We don’t know if he has killed his Father, the King, but it seems like it. Loki is smart and knows how to trick people and Thor falls for his trick when he sees Loki dying after trying to defeat the elves. He acts like he cares about Thor but actually he is just trying to get closer to the throne to be king. His illusions are powerful and believable. Also, Loki has continuity as the villain throughout three movies which means he is dedicated at being a villain. He knows what he wants and what he needs to do it. I have watched a lot of movies but Thor: The Dark World is one of my favorites.
Next, we have Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter series. He is played by Ralph Fiennes. In my opinion, Fiennes plays the character of Lord Voldemort extremely well. In the movie, Lord Voldemort tries to take over the wizarding world. However, Harry Potter stands in his way of doing that. Voldemort gets an army together to attack Hogwarts in the movie. This is a trait that makes him a good villain. He knows what to do to potentially take over Hogwarts and the Ministry of Magic. Although he does fail eventually when Harry defeats him, Lord Voldemort is an exceptionally good villain. He knows what Harry’s weakness are and uses it to his advantage. Also, Voldemort is not human. He was made the way he is for evil and wrong doings. People and wizards that know who Voldemort is, are afraid of him. This is a quality that makes a good villain, too. If people are afraid of you, they probably won’t mess with you. Unless they have a lot of people fighting together to defeat the villain like Harry does. Voldemort is smart to put together an army of people the way he does. He knows how to work his way around the other wizards to get to Harry.
Finally, I am going to explain why these particular movie villains are my favorites. First, Loki from Thor: The Dark World is the number one movie villain on my best movie villains list. He is smart, conniving, mysterious, and his power of illusion is what makes him a great villain. Tom Hiddleston plays the part of Loki very well in the movie and that is also why he is my favorite movie villain. Next, President Snow from The Hunger Games trilogy is the second best villain on my best movie villain list. He has all of the qualities that make a good villain. He is evil, powerful, and knows what to do to get rid of someone or something. He is hated by everyone in the lower and middle class society because some have lost their friends and relatives in the games. He has a lot of people working for him which makes him powerful. Lastly, Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter series is the third villain on my best movie villain list. Voldemort is sneaky, evil, and will do anything to get what he wants. He murders everyone who gets in his way and doesn’t care. He is not human which is usually a trait most villains have. Voldemort is wise with magic and has a lot of people on his side. However, the one person he fears is Professor Dumbledore. When Voldemort plans Dumbledore’s murder and he dies, he becomes more powerful because he isn’t afraid of anything anymore. All of these qualities make a good villain. This is why Loki, President Snow, and Lord Voldemort are the best three movie villains.
Finding the Villain in Junichiro Tanizaki’s the Key
Double Standards and Villainy in The Key
The differences between tradition and modernity find their way into Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s 1956 novel The Key as something of a double standard: where the ways of old help retain the feelings of goodness within its female protagonist, Ikuko, her husband seeks pleasure in what would widely be accepted as “bad” through the usage of modern objects. The unnamed male protagonist, who will from here on out be referred to as “the Professor”, is the object of Ikuko’s hatred, and yet, love: while The Key is told in two separate diaries written by Ikuko and the Professor, both of whom focus on the sexual feelings one holds for the other and how it translates into the progression of their lives, Ikuko almost becomes the focus of the novel, for her thoughts and feelings close the novel, and she as a character changes the most. But it is through her husband that these changes occur, and collectively, Tanizaki is able to reveal an interesting moment in the lives of an aging couple; whereas both husband and wife seek to fulfil their pleasures through the extreme, The Key is able to take its two main characters and divide them, thus begging the question: who is the villain? and in the quest for both happiness and pleasure, who won?
The double standard is what channels both Ikuko and the Professor’s villainy; the Professor opens the novel with the first entry dated New Year’s Day. He describes his wife as having “[an] old-fashioned Kyoto upbringing [that] has left her with a good deal of antiquated morality; indeed, she rather prides herself in it” (Tanizaki 3). While certainly “a good deal of antiquated morality” can leave the impression of goodness within a person, this notion that Ikuko thinks she exhibits changes throughout the novel: Ikuko does frequently comment on her traditional upbringing, but this is not the only characteristic seen in her throughout the novel’s story. In a diary entry dated January 8, Ikuko writes, “I violently dislike my husband, and just as violently love him” (Tanizaki). Ikuko’s sense of “goodness” (that she holds for herself), and how she feels about her husband, are repeated throughout The Key. What marks their importance is how both set of emotions, expressed inwardly and initially only through Ikuko’s diary, both eventually affect the people around her: Ikuko’s belief that she is the embodiment of tradition drives her sexual pleasures, and the love/hatred she has for the Professor seems to do the same thing. Thus, what Ikuko is inwardly most passionate about seems to fuel her lust.
But what drives the Professor? What makes Ikuko’s passions particularly interesting is how they affect her husband: more than Ikuko, the Professor spends a great deal of time within his diary discussing his spouse. He describes what he likes about her, both sexually and otherwise, and demonstrates a clear devotion towards her. The Professor explicitly states in his diary that he loves Ikuko (as well as, unlike Ikuko, how he holds no hatred) and even notes, within his first diary entry, “she possesses a certain natural gift” (Tanizaki 6), that makes sex with her all the more gratifying and desirable. He describes certain elements to her body, singling out “her extraordinarily shapely feet” [Tanizaki 7], as well as her legs, “slender and trim enough, but excessively curved out from knee to ankle [… and yet] pliant and feminine in the traditional Japanese style, a style that is suited to kimono” (Tanizaki 107). In fact, the Professor’s observation of Ikuko’s traditional appearance is in a way contradicted by what the Professor uses to enjoy her body: by consulting Kimura, a younger man is ends up being suitor to both his wife and daughter, the Professor gets his hands on a Polaroid camera, a modern and even Western device, to photograph Ikuko’s body. Ikuko, who suffers frequently from fainting spells brought on by the overconsumption of alcohol and general poor health, is at the Professor’s mercy once he discovers he has unlimited access to her body. With the aid of another modern invention—the fluorescent lamp—the Professor is given unadulterated sight of his wife, “to explore all her long-hidden secrets” (Tanizaki 25).
Fundamentally, the Professor and Ikuko seem to represent modernity and tradition, respectively; however, this is not quite true as their changes in character seem to allow them to experience both sides to the spectrum. The Professor, unlike his wife, has not actually chosen to categorize himself as either traditional or modern, although he does state his appreciation for traditional appearances; Ikuko, as mentioned, is proud of her roots and consistently refers back to them, if only for her own reassurance. But while both husband and wife seem to think of themselves as relatively good (and even normal) people, they eventually both dabble in the dark side: the Professor uses Ikuko’s delicacy to sate his desires, and Ikuko uses her husband’s lust to satisfy herself. It is ultimately, though, that Ikuko realizes she has complete power over her husband: when the suitor to their daughter Toshiko is introduced, Ikuko discovers a new way to toy with her husband and to enjoy herself at the same time. This young man, named Kimura, manages to be the guiding force of modernity for both the Professor and Ikuko; Ikuko, in her states of now-feigned unconsciousness, murmurs his name when the Professor has sex with her, replacing her husband in her thoughts with Kimura, even noting later how his body is much better than her husband’s, and how he has “skin [that] seemed dazzlingly fair, not the usual dark skin of a Japanese” (Tanizaki 33). The Professor, of course, uses Kimura to gain access to the Polaroid camera, and allows him to come over for drinks and take his wife and daughter to the cinema. Kimura himself seems to fascinate both the Professor and Ikuko, but their acknowledgement of his differences from their ways of tradition is mute; Ikuko believes she is doing nothing wrong when she does consummate her relationship with Kimura (she even writes, “Somehow I have the notion that no matter what happens, as long as I don’t engage in what my husband likes to call ‘unorthodox sexual intercourse’, I haven’t really been unfaithful” [Tanizaki 92-93]), and the Professor, totally aware now that something is going on between his wife and Kimura, seems to not really mind, if only to be fuelled by the gravity of his own jealousy but to still get the satisfaction he so craves in the end.
The Key presents the Professor and his wife as both two-faced, selfish individuals who are allowing their libidos to control them. However, either seem to have a redeeming factor—Ikuko appears to have led on the Professor for a long while, even before the events of the novel, and Ikuko herself is somewhat unhappy, citing her husband as a “miserable man” and only truly content after meeting Kimura. Yet is one’s plight more sympathetic than the other? By the novel’s end, both the Professor and Ikuko acknowledge the distances they have gone to enjoy themselves and what they did at the other’s expense—it leads to the Professor’s death, Ikuko’s guilt, and a sense of an uncertain future. But is there anyone to blame? Perhaps husband and wife can both be, and yet, Ikuko, who learns how to control her husband and drive him crazy, present more antagonistic qualities than her husband does. It his last entry before suffering a stroke, dated April 15, the Professor writes,
“I can see that my brain is steadily deteriorating. Since January, when I became intent on satisfying Ikuko, I have found myself losing interest in everything else. My ability to think has so declined that I can’t concentrate for five minutes. My mind teems with sexual fantasies. For years I have been a voracious reader, whatever the circumstances, but now I spend the whole day without reading a word. And yet, out of long habit, I continue to sit at my desk. My eyes are fixed on a book, but I scarcely read at all.” (Tanizaki 105)
In this entry, the Professor admits freely that he has become consumed by his lust and all that Ikuko has done for him. Of course, the Professor isn’t totally blameless—the manipulations of his wife’s body, and the photographs he took of her, when he thought she was asleep isn’t exactly a normal and acceptable thing—but Ikuko manages to take things a bit further by fuelling her husband’s jealousy and amplifying his fantasies. The last time Ikuko and the Professor have sex, is when the Professor’s health takes a turn for the worse, and he dies shortly thereafter.
It may not be the most concrete theory, but on paper, Ikuko is responsible for the Professor’s death. While he violated her physically, she did so to him mentally, and that in turn led to something external. Is Ikuko necessarily the villain? No. But her inability to reflect on her errors until after the damage is done is nearly unforgivable, and by the The Key’s end, she has become extremely unlikeable. Perhaps there is hope for yet, but unfortunately, Ikuko cannot take back what she has done.
Leslie Jamison’s Morphology of the Hit: Empathizing with the Traditional Villain
How to Empathize with a Stranger
The main character within a story is almost always identified as a hero. When reading a book, a person is typically expected to empathize with this character above all others, the villain especially. In her essay “Morphology of the Hit”, Leslie Jamison plays with this common conception, placing herself in the role of hero as she retells her story of getting attacked while working in Nicaragua. In borrowing concepts from another essay and interlacing them into her own, Jamison attempts to evoke feelings of empathy not for herself but for the person who hit her. By carefully examining the framework of the hero’s story, the advantages and disadvantages of her background, and her experience with this attack, Jamison introduces the idea of empathizing with the traditional villain in spite of the negative image we tend to hold against them.
Jamison appropriates elements from Vladimir Propp’s essay “Morphology of the Folktale” to distinguish the fantasy of empathy from its reality by comparing Propp’s theories to her own memories. She states clearly at the end of the first function, “Propp maps imperfectly onto the story. I keep coming back to his functions anyway” (57). With this faulty structure in mind, it is clear that Propp’s functions are used ironically to oppose the idea that empathy is strictly reserved for the hero. Jamison uses these functions to label certain instances within her story, but sometimes they do not always fit. Rather than leaving them out of the essay, she chooses to dispute them. One example is under “Maybe VI”, where the villain is supposed to “deceive his victim”. Jamison, instead, insists that her attacker’s gestures are honest, a first attempt at empathizing with the stranger, which suggests that, like Jamison, he may not fit his dictated role (57). This is also where the reader starts to become aware of the issue of identity within the essay. In stories, for instance, the hero and villain are identified from the beginning, whereas in reality, there is no way to know who the good guy is or who the bad guy is. By using these functions but not having them necessarily complement the events within the essay, Jamison sets herself up to be questioned by the reader as to whether or not she is right for the role designated to her by this framework.
As the story’s principal character, Jamison writes the essay from her point of view, which would normally indicate that she is this “hero” character. As such, the reader directly learns much more about Jamison than her attacker and should be much more likely to empathize with her. However, the thoughts shared in this essay also lead the reader to look into the theoretical life of the attacker, at least as far as it concerns Nicaragua and the United States. Jamison mentions the history between the two countries, using the word “hero” to describe Hugo Chavez, the former president of Nicaragua (57). Imposing this title cannot be done without its opposition being named as well. In short, Jamison may be the protagonist in the typical American’s eyes, but to the Nicaraguans, based on their reverence for Chavez, she is the antagonist. Jamison recognizes this in the moments following her mention of him: “Maybe that didn’t make it right that I got punched in the face. But maybe I wasn’t entirely innocent, either” (57). Of course, she is not alluding to anything that she had actually done to offend anyone but to the fact that who she is, where she is from, whom she interacts with, and who witnesses these interactions ultimately affects how she will be defined by others. As she mentions the advantages of being able to go to America, of being able to leave her attacker behind, one cannot help but compare that freedom to the humble living situation of the local Nicaraguans and wonder if what happened to Jamison was really so unfortunate (60). She loses some money, her stuff, yes, and even mentions the loss of her face, but Jamison still has means of fixing these things (58). In this way, the reader gets an idea of the assailant’s opposing lifestyle, which is far more worthy of pity than of resentment.
The greatest reach Jamison makes toward trying to empathize with her unknown attacker, however, is her use of language. Jamison is very careful throughout her essay to make sure she does not express blame against him. When she introduces the subject of her essay, she says twice, “I got punched.” (57). Jamison uses a passive voice; unaggressive and non-threatening. Even though Propp’s functions indicate which roles the characters play, inherently polarizing them, the way in which the incident is described contradicts these labels. This contrast informs the reader that there is no villain here, that who we think are is arbitrary in determining which side we are on. In Jamison’s essay, there is only the person who was hit and the person who attacked, but as to who is “good” or “bad”, there are no conclusions. The reader sees more of this type of conflict as Jamison tries to explain her feelings of guilt, anger, fear, and obsession (60). There was a resolution that she had wanted to take place: a confrontation, not between hero and villain, but between two people. However, without knowing where to find the other person involved, there could be no settlement.
And so we return to the problem of empathy and identity. As individuals, we are always so inclined to create labels: good, bad, hero, villain. But what it all comes down to is perspective. In the end, all anyone can really know is himself. We can try to understand others but will always be drawn toward people that are like ourselves because we equate understanding with love, with empathy. It is easy to assume villainy of people we do not understand. Perhaps it is not done violently, or even out loud, but it is acted upon. And these labels made against each other only encourage the segregation of people who are just as deserving of care and attention as anyone else. What is most daunting in “Morphology of the Hit” is not that Jamison was punched. It is that she can never empathize with her assailant. He is not a villain any more than she is a hero because the world is not as black and white as people choose to make it. Instead of being the hero of one’s own story, Jamison encourages looking at others as if they are the heroes of other tales. If we embrace this frame of mind, there can be no villains, and we will find love and empathy in place of the inclination toward judgment and fear.
Thanos is Actually the Hero of Infinity War
Thanos is a character that has had a lot of time put in him to make sure that is a good character, but he is not really a villain even if Marvel’s audience paints him as one. Thanos never intended to destroy the universe. He only wanted to help save it. Thanos says, “The hardest choices require the strongest wills,” which represents Thanos well because his will to do anything for what is right is almost incredible. He sacrifices the one person he loved to get closer to accomplishing his goal of saving the universe, which is possible as show with Gamora’s home planet that is now paradise. Thanos also intends to save the world not for his sake but for others.
In the Marvel cinematic universe up to Infinity War, Thanos is obviously show as a hero. He is currently the only character to have gone through the entire hero’s journey in the time frame of Infinity War, and post credit scenes. Even though it may have not gone in order, he goes through all stages:ordinary world, call to adventure, refusal of the call, meeting the mentor, crossing the threshold, test allies and enemies, approach to the innermost cave, ordeal, reward, the road back, resurrection, and return with elixir. Thanos’s ordinary world was that of Titan after he saw its fall and his adventure to save the universe from destruction was brought up. He refused to start it off and sent Loki do it for him. Even though Ebony Maw may not be exactly be a mentor, they tell him that Loki failed, which is what sparks the change of mind that he “will do it himself” as shown at the end of Age of Ultron. He builds his army and fights the Avengers as he collects the infinity stones. He meets his ordeal when he has to sacrifice Gamora to accomplish his goal. Thanos actually gets two inner most caves: the Battle for Wakanda and the Battle on Titan, where he has to fight many Avengers. Thanos is then rewarded with the infinity stones but is then immediately faces his resurrection scene when Thor almost kills him and the famous “ You should have gone for the head” scene plays and makes his final move, the snap. Thanos then returns to a planet, expected to be Gamora’s home planet, as his returning from his two major battles, which is a combination of the road back and return with elixir, to rest and “watch the sun set on a grateful universe” while half the population strives better than before.
Even though Thanos’s methods to saving the universe might be questionable, his character and story has the build of a hero. He also leaves the audience with a sense of respect for all the hard work he has gone through to achieve his goal. Either way by the end of the movie, Thanos had paid his price for the salvation of others, not much for himself.
Johnny Bear’s Representation as a Protagonist, Criminal and Victim
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life thinking that it is stupid.” It takes someone with a talent to completely imitate other people including their voices. In this world there is no such thing as a villain, hero or victim. When we look at Johnny Bear’s situation from different perspectives, he is a hero, villain and a victim as well.
A villain is not always a bad person because sometimes it is the villain who becomes the hero. In nature I don’t think that anybody likes to kill just for fun, but for the sake of somebody they truly love they would do anything for that person. If we take the enemies we fight against in the battlefield as example, we know that to us they are enemies and villains. If we even dare to put ourselves in the shoes of at least one of the enemies whom we fight against, some of them kissed their children ‘goodbye’ telling them that they were going to go fight for their future freedom knowing that they would never see them again and that they would have to risk their lives in the battlefield for the sake for their children. The people whom we think are villains then turn out to be the ones who fought to save the generation of their children. Amy might look at Johnny Bear as a villain because he would ruin her reputation, but I doubt that the person she had sex with thinks the same way.
For Johnny Bear imitating conversations was a way for him to make money because the people would just sit there and drink whiskey while he imitates and engage in different conversations. He was helping spread the truth, and at that time the civil rights of the Asians were not respected; rather they were treated as immigrants. I think that every person is a human being whether he or she is Mongoloid, Negroid or Caucasoid. Everybody can be a hero, but not everybody is a hero. If a person is lying on a sidewalk, everybody is walking by, but when one person steps to help others then start to help. I would say that that person is the hero.
If we looked at Johnny Bear’s situation from his perspective, he benefited from sharing people’s conversation because the more he shares things which people don’t want to hear the more he is going to get customers. If he continues doing what he does, then people would just listen to him because their reputation might be ruined by what he said. In the story we see that he would get smacked in the head to stop him from talking because he does not care about what type of situation he would be in if he copied people’s conversations.
The people who are at the top with power live a luxurious life compared to the people at the bottom. Once a person experiences such life where he or she can get anything he or she wants, then that person would then want to be at that place and would do a lot of things to stay there. Johnny Bear was an idiot because he did not think to calculate the risks of giving out information which would ruin someone’s reputation. In conclusion, Johnny bear being a villain, victim or a hero depends on the perspective of the person involved but from my point of view I think that even though he can imitate people along with their conversation and voice, I don’t think he has empathy for other people and that has him in trouble.
Understanding Rudyard Kipling’s Portrayal of Rikki-Tikki as an Antihero Based on His Wickedness as Depicted in His Short Story, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi
Hero or Villain?
Hero or villain? that is the question when considering the mongoose character in Rudyard kipling’s short story “Rikki-tikki-tavi.” In the story, Rikki-tikki the mongoose takes great measures to protect his human family from the fatal attacks of a king cobra family. Rikki is first introduced as the main character who fought “ single handed” in “great war”, (22). In addition, kipling concludes the telling of the story with the following statement, “Rikki-tikki had a right to be proud of himself, but he didn’t grow too proud…” (34) While Rikki protected his family honorably against the cobras, he should not be proud of his actions due to the fact that he was merciless in his dealings, and he even gloried in his killings.
Rikki’s actions reveal a heart that is merciless and cruel. First of all, Rikki shows no hesitation in killing all the baby snakes that were yet to be born. “ He bit off the tops of the eggs as fast as he could, taking care to crush the young cobras…at least there were only three eggs left, and Rikki-tikki began to chuckle to himself,”(30). Although Rikki may have deemed it a necessary evil to kill the snake eggs in order to protect his human family, his chuckle conveys a twisted enjoyment of this mission that leaves his character in question. When Nagaina learns from Rikki-tikki that all but one of her eggs are destroyed by Rikki-tikki, she pleads with rikki-tikki to let her take the one egg and promises to leave and never return again. Rikki tikki refuses. “Yes, you will go away, and you will never come back; for you will go to the rubbish heap with nag. fight widow…”(31) perhaps rikki tikki doubts her sincerity, but he gives this plea not even a second of consideration. In light of these events, rikki’s strength seem to lie in heartlessness and cruelty.
Rikki-tikki killed the cobras who just wanted to get a good home for their family, moreover, gloried in his killings. “Quick Chuchundra or I’ll bite you.” (27) It shows that Rikki-tikki can be friendly only with the creatures who are on his side. Even not with the characters who are neutral. And obviously not with his enemies. Also he doesn’t feel sorry for not resolving a problem without or at least in less amount of deaths. He didn’t even try to move the snakes. Rikki-tikki didn’t either listen to Nagaina when she asked him to let her leave to save her and baby’s lives. Then, maybe he wanted to kill as many of his enemies as he could. Or kill anyone who is going to give him a reason. ”The boy is safe, and it was I – I – I that caught Nag by the hood last night in the bathroom.’ Then he began to jump up and down, all four feet together, his head close to the floor. “He threw me to and fro, but he could not shake me off. He was dead before the big man blew him in two. I did it! (31) This all leads to the conclusion that Rikki-tikki enjoyed killing others and wanted everyone to recognize him for it. Maybe he wanted to let others know that he dominate in this garden, and you better don’t argue with him, or you’re going to go the same road as Nag and Nagaina.
In conclusion, Rikki-tikki has more reason to be ashamed of himself rather than to be proud. He was merciless in his dealings with the snake eggs, and he was merciless in not allowing Nagaina to go away with her last egg, the only family she had left. To Rikki-tikki, his killings also meant more to him than just the safety of his family. His killings yield for him personal satisfaction, arrogance, and even glory. Although Rikki may be proud of himself for protecting his family from the cobras, Rikki-tikki’s drive for bloodshed and violence extends beyond the noble cause of defending those whom he loves and enters into a darker realm of self gratification. Rikki-tikki cannot be heralded as a “hero.” “Villain” may well be more like it.
An Analysis of Oscar Wilde’s And Sarah Water’s Demonstration of Victims and Criminals as Shown in the Picture of Dorian and the Little Stranger
How do your chosen authors explore Victims and Villains?
Within the supernatural victims and villains will most likely appear as main plot devices. Throughout The picture of Dorian Gray many fall to his charm and beauty then paying the price with their death for example the enamoured Sibyl Vane who commits suicide at the apparent thought of being rejected by Gray. Faraday in The Little Stanger also has an effect on the Ayres family as he brings an unknown presence into the house which results in the destruction of the family. In spite of individuals playing a part there are other themes in which villains and victims are conveyed such as class as shown in the futile death of James Vane or the inability to adapt to the changing times for Mrs. Ayers. Both Water and Wilde have villains and victims as its trope of the genre but also conveys their ideas about the times.
One way in which the texts present villains and victims is through the theme of class. In a post war era The Little Stranger takes place in a time where social mobility was increasing and the rich, affluent families were beginning to die off. The way Waters shows that the Ayres’ are a victim of this change as in the opening chapter on Empire day the house was resplendent as Faraday explored the “marble- floored passages” filled with “marvellous” things. This shows they used to possess great wealth and have substance with their name . The contrast in aesthetics thirty odd years later when Faraday next visits sees the previous opulence replaced with “signs of decay” shows the effect changing ideas in class system and the war itself have on the affluent families of the time as they lost out financially. The crumbling house could hence be seen as a microcosm for the diminishing families and the people within them. Throughout the novel the Ayres’ can never get enough money together because they don’t know how to make money as before it had been handed to them on the silver spoon when they were born. Most notably Mrs. Ayres who’s in ability to adapt to the times leaves her behind in her time where her family flourished. Waters has inverted the usual trope of the vilified upper class but instead making them the victims which is a supernatural feature as the reader is most likely not used to sympathising for the well to do elite of British society.
In comparison Wilde presents the working class as victims in The picture of Dorian Gray as shown by James Vane. When the bereaved sailor tries to avenge his sister he is killed by “unfortunate accident”. If he had killed Dorian it would have signalled a class triumph but alas the futility of his death reflects how no matter how hard James Vane tried the upper classes will always come out on top. This was a common theme in the writing of the time with such novels such as Bram Stokers Dracula which is essentially the upper class count preying on the witless lower classes. There is little emotive language or pathos in light of dead man as Dorian replies “listlessly” and is “bored” the only reason he takes interest is because James Vane was a threat to him sowing that in the end the upper classes are only interested in themselves. It can also be stated that Sibyl Vane is also a victim of class as they only way she could hope to ever leave the circumstances she was in hinged on marrying a rich man, like Dorian. Working Class actresses was a very lowly job and often coerced with prostitution to make extra money for the owner of the theatre never mind the girl herself. A girl this low in class could never hope to be free from her social trap hence why the nickname “prince charming” is so apt for Dorian as the prince saves the princess from distress to a live of prosperity. The sheer notion that this is possible means for Sibyl Dorian rules “life for us now” indicating the scale at which a plaything of the rich can affect a life like this. Therefore, her suicide is not just the doing of the individual Dorian himself but also the consequences in terms of class as Sibyl surely could not hope to find another suitor as lavish as Dorian with as many doors to new opportunities.
Another way in which villains and victims are presented is the role of influence. Lord Henry plays a significant role in the character development of Dorian as he introduces him to the ideas of hedonism and that he should “give form to every feeling, expression” in his “low musical voice” which ensnares Dorian. Wilde deliberately using the term “musical” to make the readers imagine what pleasant voice Henry must have had thus lulling them in the same way Dorian was. Hence everyone is being put into Dorian shoes making Henry’s words stand out even more. Henry knows that Dorian is an impressionable young man with a lot of money and this shown in the way Dorian “swings” on his chair. This all-taking place in the garden, this could be an allegory to Genesis as Henry represents the snake and entices Dorian to take a bite of the proverbial apple. This also fits into the philosophy of the Dionysian as Henry wants to live a life of degradation and frenzy compared to the apollonian Basil who symbolises order and normality to Dorian. It is Henry who gives him the yellow book which enthrals Dorian so much so he gets them in many different colours or the fact that Henry found “exquisite pleasure” in playing with Dorian even going as far as to describe him as a “experiment”. This shows Henry to be self-interested and perhaps the most villainous character in the novel as sets Dorian on the path of chaos.
Influence is also seen in The Little Stranger in order to present villains and victims through character much like the dynamic Lord Henry. Faraday could be interpreted as a villain of storytelling and the reader the victim. The whole story is from his perspective and the way he is very hazy over various subjects lends to the ambiguity of the story such as right from the start by saying the house was “blurred and uncertain”. This is called an omniscient narrator and fits in very well with gothic literature because a reader puts their whole trust in the narrator when telling the events that occur but what those events appear untrustworthy or peculiar it would give that sense of unease of what’s real and isn’t. Reality is something Faraday seems to manipulate when he feels “out of time and out of place” as in his mind eye he travels to Hundreds Hall and the reader is left pondering is he really travelling there or is it merely a vivid dream. Waters accentuates this liminality by using phrases such as “I see myself cross the silvered landscape and pass like smoke” the adjective “silvered” creating this unnatural colouring to nature jilting reality. Furthermore, the simile “like smoke” evaporates Faraday into some ethereal being contradicting his previous beliefs that nothing supernatural could be going on it was all down to science. This events occurring on the night of Caroline’s death make it all seem to suspect to the reader, as it could be an attempt by the villainous Faraday to lead a path away from the true events and get trust from the reader just how he got eventually got trust from the Ayres’ family. Faraday wishes to lead the reader astray just like how Lord Henry led Dorian Gray onto the path f Hedonism in order to achieve his desires with little regard for anything else.
In conclusion, victims and villains is a theme explored by both novels for an effect. Dorian Gray exposes the predatory nature of the upper classes on the lower classes and the irony in the empty philanthropy discussed in chapter 3. Wilde wants to satire this society who claim to be so generous to the poor when in actual fact they are only self interested. This is switched on its head in The Little Stranger as she victimises the falling apart gentry and the toll time had including the Second World War. Everyone, even the reader themselves are susceptible to being influenced by other and this truth is realised by the two writers who had two heavy influencers to lead the story in various directions all in the aim to achieve a goal in which they may stop at nothing.