Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Heroes and Heroism: The Moral Center vs. the Moral Grey Area

Now this right here is one of my favorite tropes. We’ve talked about the brawny heroes and the brainy heroes but what about the moral center? The moral center is often defined as the most virtuous of the heroes, always working to do what is right, no matter what. They have a very defined sense of justice and morality, and often have firm convictions. They will always stand up for what they believe, for good or for ill.

These are often very emotional characters at heart, and they keep the group together through tough times. They are very empathetic and caring, but often get flack for being too soft. In contrast, they also can get flack for being too harsh, if they judge others based on how the measure up to their convictions.

So what then is the Moral Center’s greatest enemy? Simply put: a moral grey area. This is the kind of situation that comes along and there is no easy answer. The situation doesn’t fit perfectly into the box set up by their beliefs and they must figure out how to overcome it, with mixed results. In this case, there are two possible outcomes- Either their values are changed forever, or their values ultimately triumph.


Aang, for example, a moral, airbending monk from Avatar: the last Airbender, most confront his aversion to killing people when he is tasked with killing the Fire Lord. Is it alright for him to break his beliefs if it means getting rid of a dangerous threat?


This show, in fact, has more than one moral center, as Katara often finds herself as the heart of the group, keeping everyone positive and together. But she is tested when she must face the man who killed her mother and choose between the revenge she so badly wants and what she knows is right.


Then there is Alphonse Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist. 


He is the moral center to his brother’s ambitious, intellectual nature, but he will do anything to help his brother and him return their bodies to normal. But will he be willing to sacrifice others for their cause?

These kinds of tough situation really show what your character is made of and if their beliefs are more flimsy than they let on, they will likely crack. Or perhaps they will stand strong under the pressure. This archetype is also great for observing the moral grey areas of everyday life, because while absolutes are easier to understand, we can’t pretend that everything fits into simple boxes. And that’s just one reason why I enjoy this archetype so much.


On Friday we’ll take a look at two characters who are truly changed by their confrontation with the moral grey area. Until then, happy writing!

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