Hero or not?

Question: I'm curious, would the hero of the story still be a hero if he took pleasure in his enemies' pain? I mean, he is still a good guy, with good intentions and everything, but suppose he fights evil not only for doing right, but because he enjoys seeing the wicked suffer; extremely vindictive yet righteous as well. Can the main character be considered a hero if he is a genuine sadist towards his enemies (who are, in fact, genuinely evil)? Thanks!


Answer: There are plenty of examples of heroes who are less than morally perfect. A hero can be almost any type of criminal or killer, for example. The important thing is that he remain likeable. Often that simply means that he is more moral than the people he fights.

For example, take soldiers. Soldiers on either side in a campaign commit acts of violence. The essential difference between a hero and an enemy is that the hero is on your side. The hero commits violence for good reasons (protecting the side you identify with). At the same time, whatever violent acts the hero does, they are justified (rightly or not) by the perception that the enemy's acts are far worse, or that the enemy acts for unjust reasons. It's a matter of the reader's perspective.

That said, there are limits. Your character will not be likeable if he behaves sadistically towards his allies or characters that the reader perceives as innocent (for instance, baby enemies). In fact, if he goes out of his way to protect the innocent, he will be more likeable.

It also helps if the enemies appear to be less than human - more savage, demonic, soul-less, or machine-like.

Of course, the real test of the character is what happens after the conflict. Can a confirmed sadist adapt to a life of peace? Or must he leave in the end because there is no place for him in the better world?

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