Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Thorny Side of Our Soul

2001 - Taken on black and white film with my first Reflex.
We're often charmed by a character's dark side.
What happens, instead, when the dark side is substituted by or coincides with a not-so-subtle evil tint? Dark and evil are not necessarily the same thing; Edward Scissorhands is dark, but not evil; the same goes for Bruce Wayne, Wolverine, Huck Finn, or Jane Eyre.

Just as we all have a dark side, so we all have a more or less developed evil character, a side of our soul that, in contrast with its padded and flannelly half, is prickly and spiny.  
This is exaggerated in fictional characters. Here, the personal and psychological traits are usually magnified for the conflict of opposites to be more shocking.
Yet, observe people's behaviors around you: your friends, your family members... yourself! Yes, dear, yourself! You're no Mother Theresa either!
You will find out that as good as the person standing before you might be, that person will not only present profound behavioral contradictions (which is just fine; after all, as Henry David Thoreau used to say, consistency is the hobglobin of small minds) but, at certain stages, will perpetrate a wicked plot in such vile and cunning ways as to be utterly unrecognizable even to themselves.
At least, I hope I'm not the only one who at times, upon waking in the morning, looking at my hands with the typical fixity characterizing disbelief, wonders, "What have I done"?

Psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung used to consider such manifestations as compensatory functions of the unconscious. These lie dormant as primitive forces, ready to rise and break all moral barriers in unpredictable ways. Only conscious integration of these functions can result in more or less balanced reactions to certain situations of momentary psychic weakness. 
It amounts to a constant struggle with our Shadow, and we all go through it daily: whenever we're being yelled at, whenever we line up at the post office or we're stuck in traffic, whenever we find we're being cheated on, or our bank charged extra fees on our credit card.
At times, instead, we more or less consciously decide to give some allowances to our Shadow, so we plan and get our elusive and little revenges.

We are all that and, potentially, even more than that!
How could the fictional characters we create sound believable without such important inner contrasts?
How could we sympathize with them if they lacked that nasty and tricky evil side we all share?

Have you ever had a glimpse, or have you ever been aware of this special you before?


  1. What a fine article - and yes - I often have the most appalling dark thoughts that make me stop: 'Where did that come from?' When I was younger they'd make me feel immensely guilty. (virtures of a catholic upbringing) but the key is whether you accept them or instead hold them to the light, and shrug

  2. Fascinating post, Jay. I think that's what makes some 'evils' very sympathetic. We know we're looking at ourselves.

  3. I've certainly had my moments of darker thoughts and they are usually associated with times when I've been hurt or wronged by somebody. Fortunately I've never responded to those calls from the darkness, but my mind has acted out scenarios that I could probably transfer to a fiction one day.

    I do enjoy stories where basically good people become involved in some very wrong situations.

    An A to Z Co-Host
    Tossing It Out

    1. Thank you Michael,
      You're right; accepting the existence of a potential evil side in us is the only way to control its flux and balance it out.

      Spot on!

      I'm glad you liked it.
      Yes, some evils are very sympathetic. Have you tried living with one, though?

      You seem to have found a way. I agree, the darkness and the evil that's in us very often come out when we have been wronged.

  4. If we don't admit this to ourselves we would be lying. Everyone has these thoughts at some time. Some are better at pulling it off "sweetly" than others, in a passive aggressive way. Who ME??? :)

  5. Forget the dark side, how about the hormonal side?? But joking aside, we have to be aware of our imperfections and learn to control our tendencies. After all, it can make the difference between hurting someone with nasty words or just walking away and cooling off. And awareness also makes us better writers, actors, artists.

  6. My shadow manifests itself once a month and always during a full moon! :-)

    Oh but seriously! As someone who thinks she can write a very story, albeit poorly (ahem!) I like how I am able to draw on a character's darker side and perhaps exaggerate a little or a lot - depending on the story. Makes for a more interesting plot device and moves the story onwards to who knows where!

    Personally, I know I am more than capable of being mean, moody, bitchy and vengeful when I want to be but the fact that I know this stops me from crossing that very fine line where such behaviour would be hurtful, selfish and just plain wrong - not that I should even go there but hey, I'm only human!

    Take care

  7. This is a fantastic post, Jay. I adore Jung, firstly. I'm also struggling with this right now with a character in a piece I'm working on. He's too evil, not enough dark. It's making him incredibly one-dimensional. I think I need to really start figuring him out, to see more of a balance-- "inner contrasts", as you wrote.

  8. Heather,
    Yes, admitting is the only thing to do.
    Are you really a passive/aggressive one?

    Welcome back!
    Awareness is the key, yes.
    But you made a point: hormones, libido... I might take Freud's perspective for the next one.

    My shadow manifests once a month, and usually when bills come round.
    What happens when you are bitchy, moody, and all that without actually wanting it?

    I'm happy you appreciated my post. I was hoping someone would. Yes, evil characters, on the other hand, are never pure evil; they have shades too and, certainly, a side of their character is capable of laudable actions. *Hitler, after all, loved his dogs.

    *I know what you're thinking, I know. Well, let's try to interpret right and see the analogy, huh? Because it's only an analogy.

  9. Such great examples you shared... *love Jane Eyre*

    There's something verrry compelling about a dark character--something almost sexy too, LOL. I love dark and tortured characters---and usually revolve my stories around them. There's so much you can play off of and expand---and I actually love opening that dark side inside me and letting the writing release it! ;)

    Great post, as always, Jay. :D

  10. Morgan,
    I agree, dark characters can be very sexy. I hope your dark character finds release only through your writing!
    Thanks for stopping by.