I want to talk about this ridiculous notion that I’ve been hearing of some villains deserving redemption arcs because it really baffles me. Especially considering, when most of the time they are talking about characters they find attractive.
Just because you can relate to a character or have some of the same trauma doesn’t mean that the villian that suffers the same trauma deserves a redemption arc. Because unlike you – they may not see the need to become better or to change. They may not see anything wrong with hurting people and being the monster.
I think a good trait about a villain is one that you can relate to – one that you can see parts of yourself in. But does that mean every villain deserves a redemption arc? No.
Azula always chose to hurt people even when she was given a chance not to, Draco Malfoy called Hermione the wizarding equivalent of a racial slur and bullied people despite knowing it was wrong – and he was so cowardly that he claimed that he was on both sides during the battle of Hogwarts to save his own skin, Kuvira was a fascist, Severus Snape let his love turn into an obsession (and isn’t attractive by any means should one have read the books – twice as ugly as a gargoyle with greasy hair and yellow nails and teeth isn’t what I’d consider appealing)- Lily didn’t owe him a relationship just because they were friends and he wanted something more. These are just a few examples that I can think off of the top of my head.
Very rarely do I see characters that aren’t attractive being fought for to receive a redemption arc or being appreciated for the one’s that they do have. Dudley Dursley despite being a side-character in the Harry Potter series has more character growth than Draco Malfoy and deserves a redemption arc more than Draco ever could.
But I think the idea that anyone “deserves” a redemption arc is dangerous. Just because you relate to a character doesn’t mean that they’re going to change and become the people you wish you could be. Just because you have the same trauma doesn’t mean that you’re the same person as these characters.
I do think that sometimes the characters that deserve the redemption arcs the most are the ones that everyone pushes to the side and ignores. The ones that aren’t conventionally pretty or the ones that make bad decisions that they truly end up regretting and are sorry for are not the characters I see people advocating for, and I find that really sad.
A villain shouldn’t be able to sway you just because of pretty privilege or shared trauma. A character should win you over because of their growth, their understanding of what they did was wrong, and the the redemption that takes place afterward.
Because forgiving these people has real world consequences. Remember that not judging a book by their cover also applies to people. Some of the prettiest people have the ugliest souls. Trust people when they show you their true colors whether they’re a character or real life person.
Linda M. Crate’s works have been published in numerous magazines and anthologies. She is the author of seven poetry chapbooks, the latest of which is: the samurai (Yellow Arrow Publishing, October 2020). She has also authored two micro-collections, and three full length poetry collections.