Michaeline: Monsters and Revenge

Three ladies in togas dancing under a tree bearing golden apples.

Golden Apples cause such a lot of problems . . . the Goddess of Discord, Eris, wasn’t invited to a shotgun wedding, so she threw an apple inscribed “For the Fairest” into the party. One thing led to another, and pretty soon, you had the whole Trojan War happening. Vengeance — it snowballs. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Why are monsters so powerful? Well, for one thing, they are a vehicle for vengeance. They want to do in whoever made them a monster; their victims want their revenge in turn, and before you know it, you have a cycle of violence and vendetta. Not many of us have met a Frankenstein or an Adam, but we’ve all experienced injustice and unfairness. It’s an extremely powerful, extremely relatable emotion. As they say, revenge is sweet.

The act of revenge is fueled by anger, and “hate gives us a similar high to cocaine”. OK, my source for that is a Cracked.Com article, but en comoedia, veritas. (I won’t provide a link because the article peeks through anti-Muslim doors that I don’t want to open, but you can google it if you like.) Anyway, I’ll link to National Geographic, which explains a brain-imaging study done in 2004 about how the brain rewards people who choose revenge.

However, as we all know, revenge isn’t simple. Another old saying goes: revenge is a dish best served cold. Revenge conducted in the heat of the moment is often something stupid with major consequences. Revenge takes a lot of time, commitment and emotional investment – emotional investment that might be better spent elsewhere. Another chestnut: If you want revenge, dig two graves. “Pursuit of revenge is likely to be destructive to the pursuer as well as to their object,” the Oxford Treasury of Sayings and Quotations says. And this Psychology Today post mentions a paper (by Kevin Carlsmith et al) that suggests that people who don’t take revenge actually feel better long term – better than people who choose the revenge.

The PT post goes on to say that Mario Gollowitz thought that revenge could be satisfying when the offender understands the connection between their act and the retribution. It’s not as good if seemingly-random bad stuff happens to a bad guy – the old “Karma is a Bitch” bumper sticker.

Although, reading down to the comments of the PT post, one woman mentions that she found it extremely satisfying to turn in a guy for falsifying his qualifications after the guy harassed her and another woman. She went through the proper channels about the harassment first, but her company only gave the guy a slap on the wrist. Her next actions were anonymous, and she obviously seems satisfied with the results. Perhaps this is something to do with the justice involved in vengeance . . . she’s not just getting back for herself, but protecting future co-workers. Or maybe taking action gave her the confidence to leave the company with such a toxic culture for women. At any rate, she’s satisfied.

In a different comment on the same post, someone talks about the consequences of taking non-institutional vengeance – he got revenge on a manager who “threw him under a bus” for a business miscalculation by exposing an affair the manager was having with his secretary. The commenter was outed, and although he wasn’t fired, he said “it was made clear that no manager would ever trust me to work for them.”

You see, vengeance is tricky. The offender (or their colleagues) may feel the punishment is too harsh, and so another vengeance cycle is set into motion. Where does it end? How does it end? There’s certainly enough emotion there to propel a whole novel or even a series.

And revenge is a tool both the heroes and villains can use, no matter who the “monsters” are. Something to think about when you are writing your monsters, human or otherwise.

4 thoughts on “Michaeline: Monsters and Revenge

  1. Personally I like George Herbert’s approach (“Living well is the best revenge”), but it doesn’t make for a good story, does it?

    I can think of two instances where I indulged in a little gentle payback (nothing drastic, just giving people the bread-and-butter they deserved instead of the cake they expected), and both times it left me feeling diminished. I can also think of one instance where I resisted the temptation (to the amazement of the person involved) and as your Psychology Today link suggests, years later I still feel good about that.

    The arch-villain in my WIP isn’t seeking revenge, he just wants the world back the way it used to be. He’s absolutely certain right is on his side, and he’s prepared to inflict any amount of collateral damage to achieve his goal. I’m thinking of him as a kind of supernatural Javert – his entire being is tied to his worldview, and if (when) that’s shattered, it will destroy him.

    • Yeah, in real life, vengeance isn’t my thing. I think it contributes to a cycle of bad behavior, generally. And it never seems to convince anyone that “What They Did Was Wrong.” It just makes me look like an asshole for bringing it up. I basically subscribe to the theory that most people need to follow their own way to damnation. Not a great story, at all.

      But living well is the best revenge? Well, that does sound like an interesting story! I’m doing some research on the Goddess of Strife today, and Hesiod (according to Wikipedia, LOL) says there are two goddesses of strife. The lousy one that creates wars is one. But the other one promotes a “wholesome” rivalry — I guess this isn’t “living well is the best revenge” but rather a corollary: “living well is a good way to show up a rival”. I think they are very, very similar, although vengeance is connected with justice and often has disastrous results, while friendly rivalry is connected with jealousy and often has good short-term results (as long as it doesn’t go overboard — keeping up with the Joneses can be disastrous, or it wouldn’t be a Wise Old Saying).

      I’m very interested in what people do when they’ve been wronged, though. How do they get closure? How do they restore a balance (to the universe, and to their own soul)? Vengeance is one path. Cold-blooded balancing of the scales is another path. Finding a win-win solution is the path I like best, especially if the errors/offenses have sprung from human nature, and not active vindictiveness and meanness.

  2. Pingback: Michaeline: The Monster’s Transformational Power – Eight Ladies Writing

  3. Pingback: Michaeline: What I’ve Learned About Monsters – Eight Ladies Writing

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