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The Moral Dilemma Surrounding Revenge and How Characters in Different Stories and Genres Seek Revenge

Numerous writers feel that seeking revenge is a natural feature of human nature, making it a more accessible aspect of almost all genres. Juvenal, a Roman poet, once characterized vengeance as the feeble pleasure of a narrow and small-minded person, but it has since developed into a persistent craving for retribution by inflicting harm on those who have harmed us. Because it is a universally relatable human urge, vengeance is one of the most motivating topics in a variety of genres. The necessity for vengeance tales in these unstable times has therefore been accentuated by the age of technology- and voice-assisted justice demands. Because of this, many characters in various tales and genres employ retribution in a variety of ways to either advance the story or provide a satisfactory resolution for the audience who empathize with the afflicted character. This essay examines the idea of vengeance as it is used by characters in novels of all genres as well as the ethical conundrum that arises when vengeance is carried out.

Characters’ Use of Revenge and the Moral Dilemma

The planning cycle and the cost of vengeance are only a few examples of revenge aspects. Being a time-consuming and dangerous procedure, plotting vengeance will need considerable preparation on the part of the assailant. Most of the time, it involves more serious offenses like murder or getting somebody convicted rather than a simple “slap on the cheek.” For the assailant, getting pleasure and even closure from seeing their offender suffer is what matters most. The phrase “revenge is a dish best served cold” accurately sums up the process of planning revenge.

Deep indignation and the obsessional need to exact the same kind of harm that was perpetrated upon them are common characteristics of personal revenge. Some people, though, find themselves in the midst of pursuing retribution without having planned it. For instance, in the movie Collateral Damage, a family father named Arnold Schwarzenegger loses his wife and kid in a bombing, which motivates him to pursue justice for his lost family. He is frustrated by the official inquiry, however, since the offender is still at large. As a result, he embarks on a search for the bombing’s planner in Colombia. Even when the offender and his wife pass away, the family man is left without them, which brings us back to the cost of retaliation—the loss of humanity and the absence of fulfillment (Aquino, Tripp, and Bies, 2006).

Personal vengeance may serve as a metaphor for the injustice done to another person; for example, if you stole something significant from someone, they may want to take it back from you. Other examples entail accepting what has been given, in contrast to collateral harm, where the retaliation was opportunistic. For instance, Sarah Paulson and Kiera Allen portray mother and daughter in the psychological horror thriller “Run (2020),” where the mother purposefully feeds the daughter the medications that leave her bound to a wheelchair. The daughter seeks to flee the mother after learning about this truth. In the end, the mother (Sarah Paulson) is confined to a bed, and the daughter (Kieral Allen) continues to give her the same medications that kept her sick. Chloe grins as she departs to take advantage of her newly discovered independence away from her mother, despite the fact that she has not fully recovered from her actions of retaliation. Whether it is fulfilling or not, the cycle of retaliation has moral ramifications, which Sommers (2009: p. 9) divides into moral responsibility and honor culture, have two sides.

When characters are faced with moral ambiguity, they employ retribution as a moral problem. For instance, characters in books and movies are required to behave in others’ best interests. However, there are times when individuals must balance the negative effects of getting even against their moral principles for the sake of the larger group of people and circumstances. The avenger has little to no time to consider or feel remorse about the next course of action in literal fiction or philosophical books. The moral concept of seeking vengeance relies upon separating punishment from revenge, where the seeker of punishment tries to inflict suffering as retribution for a specific conduct while the assailant is devoted to a certain narrative (usually justice) (Zaibert, 2022). As a result, the characters’ use of retribution to construct a moral foundation reflects a broader comprehension of moral philosophy.

Showing what they stand to lose when they carry out their retribution is one more way that characters have exploited it as a moral conundrum. For instance, Edmond Dantés pursues vengeance on those who betrayed him after being released from jail in Alexandre Dumas’ “The Count of Monte Cristo” (Alexandre, 1901). However, while he makes preparations for his retaliation, he muses about the value of his quest, particularly the cost to his morals. The victim utilizes psychology to mock those who betrayed them as part of their vengeance, which is the basis for the conclusion. Edmond Dantes had to give up his need for revenge in order to prioritize morality. Characters may thus suspend their goal along the road and employ moral difficulties to exact vengeance on the ideology in tales and genres.

Seeking Revenge

Revenge impacts not just the targeted foes but also anyone around and whatever else they choose. Some people desire political vengeance or the careers of their opponents in business. In diverse tales, the assailant exhibits creativity, and the unique elements infuse a certain amount of enjoyment. In American literature, retribution is portrayed as an impending confrontation between the national imagination and history, according to Wiggins (2013). These stories help explain the wider societal demand for vigilantism. For instance, the stories will use retribution to satisfy human instincts for pleasure while moving the standard self-worth scale to structural justice-related factors. Despite this, the characters look for a strategy that will have the desired impact on their foes. These methods will include force, sabotage, deceit, and legal action.

The most common kind of retaliation used by characters to harm their foes is violence. Characters in action movies often shoot their foes to feel good about injuring them. Some, though, will choose the tortuous route in order to make their adversaries suffer. In the majority of movies and literature, a protagonist seeking vengeance does not necessarily defeat their foe but instead demonstrates that they would harm them if they had the want to. In other cases, those seeking retribution may end up becoming the culprits if they leave an irreparable scar on their victims. There are sporadic instances of this occurring, however. The rape-revenge genre is examined by Keating (2022), which analyzes sexual assault and how the victims desire retribution rather than even justice. They contend that getting even is a common plot strategy in movies. Characters were designed to embody rape-revenge roles with less censorship limitations and growing feminism starting in 1970.

“Return to Sender,” a psychological thriller that depicts horrific retaliation by a female who had experienced a brutal sexual assault, is a well-known rape-revenge movie. When Miranda’s assailant is released from prison and comes looking for her, Rosamund Pike’s character takes vengeance by using violence. By earning the attacker’s confidence, it was clear that the victim planned her assault each day. The viewer eventually finds out that the victim was not your typical victim; rather, she was a psychopath who had killed her parents and had surgically removed William’s (the attacker) genitalia. The movie is one of several where the victim seeks extra-vigorous retribution.

Another strategy used by characters to get retribution and one that appeals to most people is sabotage, which often results in physical harm. In the workplace and in enterprises, this kind of retaliation takes occur when irate workers strive to exact vengeance on their superiors. With his explanations of vengeance, which are sometimes seen as an effort to subvert the retribution traditions, Hamlet brings the superstar of revenge to life. He does, however, include sabotage as one of the steps leading to the execution of retaliation. Some of the characters are aware that there is no one method to get even, while others might choose to sabotage. Retaliation may take several forms, including verbal or violent, public or private, direct, etc., according to Jackson, Choi, and Gelfand (2019). When sabotage is difficult, characters will choose covert retaliation.

When lower-class characters from a story’s storyline are involved, overt retribution is often avoided since they may never have the means to pay for it. Covert retaliation is frequent in situations involving work teams with uneven power, such as in managers and employers, according to Jackson, Choi, and Gelfand (2019). It is crucial to notice that people with low status may seek out misplaced retribution by attacking their coworkers. Sometimes, sabotage and covert retaliation are quite similar. For instance, when workers desire to undermine their employer, they may use destructive tactics like often skipping work or working slowly, which eventually harms the company. Such retribution is typical in certain film genres and it often depicts the business world.

On the other side, several tales and motion pictures have portrayed retaliation from a political standpoint, with the storyline centering on terrorism. In acts of terrorism, neither the assailant nor the assailant want revenge (Jackson, Choi, and Gelfand, 2019). For instance, terrorists assert that American troops stationed in the Middle East committed human rights violations that must be atoned for by destroying their country of origin. Such transferred vengeance is classified as covert vengeance and has been characterized as abhorrent and unacceptable.

Because manipulation also causes harm to the targeted party, it serves the same purpose as other forms of retaliation. The same retribution impact may be attained by emotional, physical, or psychological manipulation, each of which is carried out in a different but comparable way. Characters that are adept at manipulating emotions will do so within the confines of their character arcs and development. The goal of authors is to employ emotional manipulation as a weapon for the retribution of the protagonist. Characters may plan or conspire against their targets in order to manipulate their emotions. The narrative of the television series Succession makes excellent use of plotting. In order to retain the people they desire near to them so they may use them to carry out their retaliation, the characters make promises to one another and attempt reconciliation. By keeping them close and minimizing the harm they are likely to provide to the retaliation operation, the objective is to destroy them. Eyes on the prize, as they say.

Physical, psychological, and other components of behavioral change are all a part of emotional manipulation. In particular, characters that have mastered the ability of manipulating emotions will often be passive-aggressive. Teenage movie Mean Girls became well-known after its premiere and is still well-remembered by many. Regina George (Rachel McAdams) was a notable character who used passive-aggressiveness to manipulate emotions. Although the film’s narrative does not center on getting even, it does show emotional manipulation, which can be just what a character seeking vengeance needs. Regina used passive aggression to coerce others into serving as her go-betweens and maintain her popular status despite the arrival of the new girl. Regina may stand in for the movie’s overarching idea of passive hostility, which can be applied to revenge situations.

Legal action serves the common society’s need for retribution. Characters are supposed to use the legal system to prosecute their foes in order to bring them to justice. Prison Break is a well-known TV drama in which Wentworth Miller plays Michael Scofield. Because Wentworth lacks killer blood, the show leans more on legal action. In addition, he is a genius who frees his brother from jail in order to find the true killer of the Vice President. The major goal of the retaliation was to find the person who set up Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell) and either bring them to justice or have them put to death, as was planned for Lincoln. Characters often seek legal action to demonstrate their morals and readiness to behave morally.

While some people would prefer to let law police handle things, they know they may not get their way and end up taking matters into their own hands. A major plot twist can be seen in the movie Salt (2010), where Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) kills the person who framed her right away by strangling him with the chains that were holding her hands. The audience had expected Evelyn Salt to reveal the real culprit and reveal the truth. Although taking legal action may not always be satisfactory, some characters do so in order to get their way and maybe move on.

Lastly, because vengeance is almost a part of human nature, characters do not need to justify it or its reasoning. When someone is injured, their first thought is usually how to get their opponent back. In movies, it almost always occurs right away as the victim plots their retaliation. Jackie Chan, for instance, portrays Quan, a foreigner whose daughter perishes in the explosion in London that was later determined to have political undertones. He is ostracized when he seeks information as a matter of justice, but he has plans to get them back. To demonstrate what he was prepared to do if he did not get support for his quest to bring his daughter’s case to justice, Quan exploded the liquid bomb with a lemonade hue. This kind of retaliation is more overt and conveys the anguish of losing a loved one. Similar movies include protagonists who explicitly seek vengeance against those who they believe caused their misfortune.

By outlining a character’s background, it is important to take the reason for the vengeance into consideration. The backstory of a character is usually revealed at the conclusion of most novels and genres to provide reason for vengeance. For instance, vengeance is justified in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein by describing how it came to be. Despite being a kind guy with good intentions, Frankenstein’s efforts to advance science led to his downfall. In the book, a scientist refers to himself as a creator, i.e., as God, the creator who created a creature but rejected it. Retaliation was born as a result of the creature’s neglect and rejection by its creator and society. In this instance, the protagonist depicted vengeance as a component of ego and ambition predicated on social approval (Shelley, 2022). Frankenstein, however, wanted to murder the monster for killing his family, while the monster wanted to kill Frankenstein for causing him to be isolated and rejected by both society and the creator (Shelley, 2022).

In conclusion, the topic of vengeance on its own is one that keeps a novel moving since occasionally writers add details to the plot to make sure the character accurately represents them. Retaliation is rather contentious even if it may be comforting. The tactics used in its implementation, as well as its moral and ethical ramifications, are extensive. Retribution, whether achieved by violence, sabotage, trickery, or legal action, is a common theme in tales that play with psychological concepts and human nature. retribution is a common theme that allows writers to be creative and necessitates that readers pay great attention to any parts of retribution that are explicitly or subtly conveyed by the characters.


Alexandre, D. (1901). The Count of Monte Cristo. Рипол Классик.

Aquino, K., Tripp, T. M., & Bies, R. J. (2006). Getting even or moving on? Power, procedural justice, and types of offense as predictors of revenge, forgiveness, reconciliation, and avoidance in organizations. Journal of applied psychology91(3), 653.

Aubrey, B. (2003). Critical Essay on” The Count of Monte Cristo.” Novels for Students19.

Jackson, J. C., Choi, V. K., & Gelfand, M. J. (2019). Revenge: A multilevel review and synthesis. Annual Review of Psychology70, 319-345.

Keating, M. (2022). Victims and Survivors in the Rape-Revenge Narrative: A Comparison of Black Christmas (2019) and I May Destroy You (2020). CINEJ Cinema Journal10(1), 59-88.

Sommers, T. (2009). The two faces of revenge: moral responsibility and the culture of honor. Biology & Philosophy24, 35-50.

Wiggins, K. (2013). The New Revenge Novel. Studies in the Novel45(4), 675–692.

Zaibert, L. (2022). Punishment, Revenge, and the Nature of Moral Philosophy. In Conflict and Resolution: The Ethics of Forgiveness, Revenge, and Punishment, 101-117. Cham: Springer International Publishing.


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