Archive for February, 2012

The Joker



There will be spoilers in this Blog, just warning you!


The Joker – you might scoff as you see that I have included in him a blog about literary villains. But scoff not. I will explain why The Joker has as much right as Heathcliff or Moriarty to be included in this blog. The Graphic novel or comic is still or should be a part of the literary canon, well not all comics, but Batman especially has some amazing comics/graphic novels. The stories are fantastically diverse and the character development is brilliant, I would even argue better than some of the classics. Because of the length of the books themselves they are very easy to read rather than wading through a so called classic that is like 800 hundred pages whereby 20 of them is just about setting one scene; you get straight into the action. Yes, some implied knowledge of the characters is required, but who does not know who Batman or arguably the most famous villain of all time next to Darth Vader: The Joker.

The Joker is the villain I am going to explore because you can never truly know him or the way his mind works just through reading. Yes, he is mental, but is he really mental or is he a genius? I would argue that as mad as he is, he is also clever. This guy is also seriously twisted, going as far in what is probably Batman’s greatest graphic novel ‘The Killing Joke’. For example, he paralyses Barbara Gordon by shooting her in the base of the spine before stripping her and taking photos of her naked body on a Polaroid camera. The Joker then captures Commissioner Gordon himself and once again strips him and locks him a cage. Before I carry on, I think the stripping is a way of causing humiliation whilst torture additionally takes place. But to add horror to the already disturbing situation, The Joker gives Gordon the photos of his naked daughter – Barbara. This is the true evil and madness of The Joker, he is so very sick but also a genius; it is the perfect way to completely destroy Gordon’s psyche.

Of course, with any superhero-genre literature the hero saves the day. Although Batman knows he should kill The Joker, he cannot bring himself to do it however. Like in the case of Sherlock and Moriarty, they need their rivalry to exist; they are Ying and Yang of each other. This could be said to be demonstrated in the way that Batman wears all Black and The Joker has bleached white skin caused by an accident that caused him to go mad. His motivation seems to imply that, much like his sociopathic / psychopathic brain, he wants the world around him to be in chaos; by causing destruction it must sooth him to see the world and its inhabitants in a similar state to his own being. All of the Batman villains seem to have a mental illness and through some of the villains this is portrayed very well, especially through The Joker, who seems like he might legitimately have ever mental illness.


Defining the Villain in The Outsider

“Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know.” This dispassionate utterance, the opening line of Camus’ The Outsider, immediately captures the cool impassiveness that is Meursault.  Meursault’s indifference to the world and to others in it, is what marks him as an ‘outsider’ in society, and is ultimately what leads to his condemnation as a soulless criminal. He has committed murder, incontestably; firing five shots into the chest of an Arab, in broad daylight, can leave no one in doubt of this fact. However, it is his lack of remorse, and perhaps more significantly, his lack of grief over the death of his mother, that has a far greater influence in his sentence. To put it another way, Meursault is sentenced to death because he refuses to exhibit the emotional reactions that society expects of him. In the afterword to the novel, Camus highlights this point, declaring that, “the hero of the book is condemned because he doesn’t play the game.” I certainly agree with the premise here, and yet something struck me as misplaced when I read this sentence: hero?

While I undeniably found Meursault questionable as a villain, the idea of him as a hero seemed to me, to put it mildly, a bit of a stretch. He killed a man at close range and with no remorse, he exhibited no concern for the woman being beaten by his “mate”, he felt no “disgust” towards Salamano’s abusive treatment of his dog, and he didn’t cry at his mother’s funeral. Surely these are no less than the deeds of a bona fide, black-hat-wearing villain? Okay, not quite, when we take the whole picture into account, but a hero?

In the same afterword, Camus describes Meursault as someone who “refuses to lie”, someone with “the passion for absolute and for truth”. While this may, at first sound rather honourable, the defiant actions of a lone man who refuses to bend to society’s warped and imposed demands, in practice, and certainly within this novel, the effect was something quite different. Ordinarily when we think of concepts such as ‘truth’ and ‘honesty’, we may do so with highly moral connotations in mind. Yet, for Meursault, ‘truth’ holds no such connotation; it seems merely to be his default position, almost as if within the chronic apathy of his mind, he just can’t see the point in lying.

When recounting interactions between himself and his girlfriend, Meursault states, “she asked me if I loved her. I told her that it didn’t mean anything but that I didn’t think so.” The straightforward bluntness of this answer demonstrates not only Meursault’s strict and unfrivolous adherence to the truth, but his innate lack of empathy; if he is aware of the emotional effect this statement may have on his girlfriend, then it would apparently seem he just doesn’t care. That Meursault felt it ‘didn’t mean anything’, suggests his indifference towards the idea of love and reflects his somewhat nihilistic and benign attitude towards the value of human experience, towards life in general.

Meursault certainly doesn’t speak his truths from any moral high ground, yet neither does he seem to be acting with immoral intent when his truths are hurtful. It seems most accurate to describe Meurasult’s viewpoint as ‘amoral’, and this is perhaps why his status as a hero, or as a villain, becomes so difficult to define. He is neither black nor white, and a person who dwells in the gray waste land of indifference is arguably unworthy of either praise or condemnation for any of their actions towards other beings. But then, I’d venture he wouldn’t really care what anyone thinks anyway.

Heathcliff- The Villain of Wuthering Heights 


Another post on this blog has suggested that the character of Heathcliff in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights should not be considered the villain of the novel. He is just a confused man, enraptured by passion. I entirely disagree, to the point where this blog post is a rebuttal of the previous one.

Wuthering Heights is not a novel full of likeable characters by any means. I found it impossible to feel any sympathy for anyone as the story progressed. However, there was one character who I thought, if anyone, was the villain of the piece, the ‘dark skinned gypsy’ Heathcliff.

If anything, it is Heathcliff’s actions which make him a completely reprehensible character. From attempting to strangle dogs, to imprisoning young Cathy and Nellie at the Heights, very few things that Heathcliff does are what can be considered good.
How is it possible to empathise with a character that digs up the rotting corpse of their adoptive sister and possible lover? Of course, therein lies the whole incestuous element to the story. Despite being essentially brother and sister, it is heavily implied that the two engage in a sexual relationship behind Edgar Linton’s back, his son looking suspiciously like Heathcliff. And indeed in the second half of the novel, Heathcliff becomes obsessed with the idea of owning both Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights, which involves marrying his son and Cathy’s daughter, who are blood cousins, their other parents being siblings. How can someone believe that Heathcliff is not the villain in this text, the man who forces an incestuous relationship upon his son and niece?

It is not just his actions that make Heathcliff a despicable person. Brontë seems to despise him too or at least uses language in the text to create that image. Some seem to consider him a misdirected Romeo, but he is described as a ‘monster’, ‘Satan’s imp’ and it is even asked ‘Is he a man?’ which seems to question his true humanity due to the heinous acts he commits. Even after death, Heathcliff’s malignant aura takes a while to vanish, the ‘stunted firs’ and ‘sharp thorns’ eventually being replaced by flowers, growing on the side of the Heights. This seems to confirm that Heathcliff’s awful actions were not learnt from elsewhere, but were a part of him, something which made the earth he stood on a colder and more forbidding place.

In conclusion, it should be very difficult for someone to actually feel any real sympathy towards Heathcliff. Despite his ‘soul’ mate leaving him for another, his actions before and after this tragedy do not win himself any favours whatsoever. He certainly isn’t a stereotypical villain, but I would argue against him being simply a man mistreated and misunderstood.


Villainy and Society in American Psycho

Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho is perhaps renown for its brutal and gruesome discourse. Patrick Bateman is the psychopathic, or schizophrenic protagonist who narrates to us his life working on Wall Street during the financial boom of the 80’s.

Bateman is a violent schizophrenic sociopath who sadistically murders friends, prostitutes and lovers in the most horrific ways possible. His acts of villainy truly disgust us, (I remember having to stop reading it because I felt rather nauseous) but he embodies something that we all recognise – he embodies the greed and ego of the modern day consumer- something we all can perhaps empathise with. He embodies the need to spend money and the need to be successful in a Capitalist Consumerist society.

Ellis constantly reminds us of Patrick’s obsession with materialism and success through using obsessive listing of his designer belongings, ‘I’m wearing a double-breasted suit, a silk shirt with woven stripes, a patterned silk tie and leather slip-ons, all by Gianni Versace,’ which occurs every time Patrick changes clothes or notices what somebody else is wearing (which, as you would imagine, is rather often). This almost incessant attention to detail not only pinpoints Patrick’s mental illness, but the materialist weakness of judging others by their possessions, ergo their financial situation.

Ellis also uses listing when Patrick is committing murder, ‘I take out the axe that I stashed in the shower, pop two five-milligram Valium, washing them down with a tumbler full of Plax, and then I move into the foyer, where I put on a cheap raincoat I picked up at Brooks Brothers…’ Linking ferocious murder and consumerism through use of the same stylistic technique parallels the ideas of brutality and greed. Is Materialist greed as vulgar as murder? Is there perhaps something rather psychotic about the need to spend money for an ego boost?

Is Patrick a villain? Even though he is incredibly affluent, the majority of people from all social classes spend money on things they don’t perhaps need in order to be appreciated by other people, for example, many young people may own an iPhone rather than a brand of phone that is cheaper and not so popular. Why? Because, in a materialist society there is a need to be seen as affluent, or more affluent than you actually are. Patrick embodies this very common personality trait, one perhaps of greed. Is he a villain, then? Or is there something villainous within us all, within this need for the material?

If you consider serial murder to be ethically wrong then yes, in a pragmatic sense Patrick is a villain.  However at the end of the novel we are introduced to the mind-boggling twist that brings ambiguity to the entire plot. We are left wondering if Patrick ever committed any of the acts at all, or if society overlooks such acts of villainy to maintain equilibrium so that we can all go about with our lovely lives and buy more stuff. Either way, Ellis’s satire of modern Capitalist consumerist society is comedic (black comedy to say the least) but powerful. It forces us to look critically at society, and inevitably, ourselves.

Feminism and the Villains of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Trilogy

Spoiler Alert – if you are intending to read any of the books, there are references to major plot lines throughout.

Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest) has recently gained widespread attention mainly due to the release of David Fincher’s critically acclaimed 2011 film adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

Being quite a feminist myself, I have always read the books as being, well… feminist. Stieg Larsson pays close and focused attention upon violence against women, from the sexual exploitation of the female protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, to the trafficking of women all over Europe. The villains in the novel are perhaps the key medium in the trilogy that allow we, the readers, to interpret Larsson’s novels as a voice for women who have faced sexual violence or exploitation.

Advokat Bjurman- Salander’s guardian from the first novel of the trilogy- sexually blackmails Lisbeth. After the second blackmail, she gains her revenge by threatening to hand out a recording of the abuse she was victim of ‘to every newsroom in Stockholm,’ and tattoos various profanities over his body. While her revenge is perhaps unrealistic, (it is a crime fiction novel, we expect the hero to embody almost superhuman or exaggerated qualities) the character of Bjurman, a rapist who has access to many vulnerable young women, commits the violence that Larsson wants us to pay attention to. By creating disgusting villains like Bjurman, the subject of sexual violence is kept, quite brutally, alive.

Perhaps the archetypal villain of the trilogy is Lisbeth’s own father, Alexander Zalachenko (whom dominates the plot of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest). He abused Lisbeth and her twin sister as children, and beat their mother so horrifically she was left in a care home with severe brain damage. As the final installment of the trilogy continues, we eventually learn that Zalachenko controls a massive criminal empire that specialises in the trafficking of women throughout Europe at a huge profit. Zalachenko is not only an embodiment of domestic abuse and sexual violence, but sexual exploitation on a massive scale.

The Millennium Trilogy is crime fiction. Hyperbolic characterisation is perhaps expected, like Lisbeth Salander, who becomes a kind of feminist superhero. Zalachenko, however, is not a hyperbolic villain. His criminal empire is highly realistic. Statistics taken from the International Justice Mission show that 32million dollars are made annually as a result of trafficking, and 80% of the victims are women. As hyperbolic a character as Zalachenko may seem, he represents a reality. Sexual trafficking is the most profitable criminal empire in the world- not the drug trade and not the arms trade.

Stieg Larsson keeps the need for the abolition of sexual exploitation of women alive through the villains in the Millennium Trilogy, and also includes chapters full of feminist statistics. The third novel of the series, for example, begins:

“It is estimated that some six hundred women fought during the American Civil War. They had signed up disguised as men. Hollywood has missed a significant chapter of cultural history here – or is this history ideologically too difficult to deal with? Historians have often struggled to deal with women who do not respect gender distinctions…”

Through this use of statistics and misogynistic villains, Larsson has created perhaps one of the most important pieces of feminist literature in recent years, so that a contemporary audience can be aware of the misogyny and violence against women that still diseases culture today.

To view the International Justice Mission Statistics and the rest of the site, click here.

Heathcliff- A villain created out of his own mistreatment in childhood?

It has been seen that Bronte’s villainous character of Heathcliff is nothing more than a man driven by revenge and having the enjoyment of being able to manipulate the people around him like puppets. But is this truly the workings of an evil man? Or is it the end product of a society that pushed different people away? I think Heathcliff is a misunderstood character treating the world in the same way he was treated, as an outsider and an outcast, not mattering to anyone.

During the novel, in Heathcliff’s younger days he is considered to be a possession of the family, a type of family pet. ‘He is a dark-skinned gypsy in aspect, in dress and manners a gentleman’ this quote proves that even by appearance he is different to everyone else in the novel. Even in society today we judge people by their looks, imagine looking different then going into a close community such as the one in Wuthering Heights the difference will always cause people to misunderstand and therefore mistreat.

Looking through the novel, you can recognise that the older he gets the more sinister and manipulative Heathcliff becomes. However when he shows his weaker side we see that he is just a man scorn and out of luck, ‘Heathcliff could weep on a great occasion like this’. In this context the great occasion is that of when he lost Cathy completely, due to her death. But the events leading up to him losing Cathy just prove that he is a man tormented by class and his history. This is proven when Cathy chooses to marry Edgar, a man of social stature and wealth.

This then brings me onto the point that Heathcliff isn’t really a villain just a victim of falling in love with a woman who is more inclined to marry for wealth then following her heart. Proving that he was naïve into believing she loved him, we see how Heathcliff was manipulated by a young girl wanting a little bit of fun to boost her ego.  This also shows where Heathcliff developed the tools to become a manipulative man, allowing the audience to see that his behaviour is learnt and not just the workings of a ‘monster’.

Even in his name he is different, simply characterised as ‘Heathcliff’ in first and last name. We see him not belonging to anyone, being alone in a world that thrives on companionship. This breaks the conventions of social patterns, whilst also his name was inherited from that of a dead son providing Heathcliff with the presence of a ghost. No longer present or mattering.

I feel much sympathy for the character of Heathcliff, with everything he has had to deal with throughout his life in Wuthering Heights it’s no wonder he is a little bit disturbed. I am not giving him an excuse for the actions he has taken but I think people should keep an open mind when characterising him as a villain. He isn’t the stereotypical villain he is just a man mistreated and misunderstood.

Mad Scientist or Altruistic Saviour of the Earth?: Crake as a Villain in Oryx and Crake.

Atwood certainly presents us with an interesting character in Crake. His evil deeds should surely rank him up there with the most evil of villains in literature; wiping out the vast majority of the human population through means of an organ liquefying, eye rupturing, hemorrhagic virus is no saintly deed. And yet he presents us with an unsettlingly redeemable excuse for his actions: the human race was rapidly destroying itself and the planet anyway; his means were severely drastic, yes, but didn’t something have to be done?

And after all, it’s not like he intended to leave the planet completely devoid of human life; well, humanish life anyway. He did create a small group of genetically modified super-humans to inherit the planet. And perhaps these ‘Crakers’ are an improved version of humanity; in them Crake claimed to have eliminated all tendencies towards racism, sexual abuse, social hierarchy and territoriality, along with the need to create weapons, clothing, structures, gods, icons or money; so what if they eat their own faeces and wouldn’t know joke if it slipped on a banana skin?

Caecotrophs aside, it is perhaps possible to view Crake’s intentions as those of an altruistic visionary, willing to do whatever it takes. But this notion is a rather disturbing one. Scientific genius he may be, but Crake’s vision, like his personality, is somewhat flawed in what it is lacking. Along with the negative aspects of humanity, he also claimed to have done away other unnecessary things such as love, art and literature; he swears he’d have done away with dreams too, if he could. Described in the thoughts of Snowman as, “placid… animated statues,” these Crakers seem to be a mere echo of humanity.

Crake himself displays a severe lack of emotion. One notable display of this is his description of his mother, dying from a virus that it is later suggested he may have created: “It was impressive… Froth was coming out.” ‘Impressive’ is hardly the adjective we would expect here, ‘horrific’ would perhaps be more appropriate. ‘Impressive’ suggests an admiration of the virus and, more unnervingly, perhaps even pride in his own success. He makes no utterance of sympathy or regret.

Crake’s lack of emotion, combined with that quiet but assured sense of narcissism, perhaps hints towards a fundamental lack of humanity, and may well put one more in mind of a monster than a man. This is echoed after Crake’s demise with the description of his skull: “Crake’s empty eye sockets look up at Snowman, as his empty eyes, once before. He’s grinning with all the teeth in his head.” In comparing the ‘empty eye sockets’ to Crake’s once ‘empty eyes’, Atwood is perhaps alluding to the void in Crake where compassion and humanity may be found in others. The verb ‘grinning’ suggests Crake as being, at least to Snowman, gleefully triumphant in death; elated that his plan has succeeded. The imagery created here, of this empty grinning skull, has a macabre and demonic effect.

It is Crake’s lack of ability to see the horrors in his actions, the ease with which he justifies mass genocide, that for me make him a true villain. I cannot consider Crake’s actions to be any less than monstrous atrocities. And yet I found myself left with a disturbing question at the end of the novel; is the planet in Atwood’s imagined future in some ways better off because of them?