Violence in Fiction

Violence is a recognized part of our society. There is no avoiding it. It appears in our lives and in our fiction. It has been a part of both throughout human history, even in stories too old to be written down. There are three broad reasons for the inclusion of violence in our fiction: to shock the reader and instill a sense of fear, anger, or sadness; to amuse the reader, as in slapstick comedy; or to punish a “bad guy”. The last is often understated (common in Disney children movies), as in Italo Calvino’s “The False Grandmother”, in which the ogre is killed with no bloodshed: “the Jordan River did not lower his waters, and the ogress was swept away in the current” (Tartar 19). Punishing the villain, brutally or simply, serves to wrap up the story and lends itself to a happy ending, satisfying for the reader and for the “good” characters – everyone gets what they have earned. Sometimes, as an ironic gesture, the villain receives the same punishment planned for the protagonist, as in the Brothers Grimm’s version of “Hansel and Gretel”.

Violence as a shock factor can serve many more purposes for the text. In Charles Perrault’s version of “Little Red Riding Hood”, she is eaten by the wolf as a means of introducing a moral, that “young girls […] are wrong to listen to just anyone, and it’s not at all strange if a wolf ends up eating them” (Tartar 13). Here the wolf is a metaphor for men, and the act of eating the girl serves to represent a variety of other dreadful acts, some of which may be too risqué to mention outright in a story directed at delicate feminine ears. In the Brothers Grimm’s “The Robber Bridegroom”, the violent butchering of the girl serves to demonstrate the robbers’ sinister natures and so horrifies the other characters that they are unified against them. In the Disney adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, it is Gaston, a rival of the Beast, who is the violent one, and his violent nature serves as a foil to the gentle side of the Beast.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Violence in Fiction

  1. looloo14

    The three categories you proposed for why violence is included in fiction seem to be spot on when defining the origin of violence. I think the first type could even gain a subcategory: violence for the purpose of instilling awe in the audience. Mostly in texts that are video based, I think it is a new concept that stems from the technological advances we have seen in the last two decades. Now, movies like 300 and even Gladiator show a type of non-stop violence that seems to have created its own cult. Viewers wonder at and even might admire the violence because it is done in such an artful manner.

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