Black and White Morality

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"If half an onion is black with rot, it is a rotten onion. A man is good or he is evil."
Melisandre of Asshai, A Clash of Kings

Good versus Evil. White hat versus black hat. The shining knight of destiny with flowing cape versus the mustache-twirling, card-carrying force of pure malevolence. The most basic form of fictional morality, Black And White Morality deals with the battle between pure good and absolute evil.

This can come in a variety of forms:

  • Motivation: The villains never have a sympathetic motivation for their actions. There aren't any Well-Intentioned Extremists, and The Mole will show his true colors once he's unmasked. Rather, their intentions are entirely for the sake of Evil (and may involve taking over or destroying the world). Likewise, the forces of good never have any evil, ulterior motives for their deeds, as they do good because it's The Right Thing To Do.
  • Choices: All major choices that the heroes are faced with are either unambiguously right or wrong. There are no real grey areas at all, and when a Sadistic Choice is presented, there's always a third option. Furthermore, the heroes will always make the right choice, unless they're about to learn An Aesop or pull a Face–Heel Turn.
  • Characterization: The good guys are good, and the bad guys are bad. If there are any morally ambiguous or grey characters around (such as an Anti-Hero or Worthy Opponent), they will eventually shift firmly to one side or the other. They'll either switch to the side that matches their actual perceived alignment, or turn fully good or fully evil. Minor characters may maintain some degree of neutrality, but the major characters will all be on one side or the other. Occasionally there will be a short scene explaining the neutrality is inherently evil (or, very rarely, good). To avoid an Author Tract, some writers prefer to claim that being neutral is similar to supporting the stronger side. However, as the Neutral Neutral page on this Wiki will show, the reasons for being neutral number in the double digits, not including Lawful Neutral and Chaotic Neutral, or any combination thereof.

Stories using this trope usually have a Hero Protagonist and a Villain Antagonist, though this is not always the case. They're also where you're most likely to find Beauty Equals Goodness, although there are stories with black and white morality where appearance doesn't reflect morality.

While it shows up in stories of all kinds, Black And White Morality seems to occur frequently in media marketed for kids. Many stories that use Black And White Morality tend to lean towards the idealistic end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism, but this doesn't necessarily have to be the case - in a more cynical Crapsack World, there is more black than white, but the white can at least take a sour form. Works that use both Adaptational Villainy and Adaptational Heroism, or Historical Villain Upgrade and Historical Hero Upgrade for different characters are also deliberately employing this trope to make the moral conflict simpler. Of course, usage of Black and White morality in stories won't always end up sparkling white: this moral alignment is often associated with clichéd writing and propaganda.

Of course, the prevalence of this moral system may lead to the belief that Good is Boring. Thus, the aforementioned grey spots in a setting like this are a common Ensemble Darkhorse. Badass Decay occurs when the dark horse is whitewashed to conform to the prevailing system.

Compare Grey and Gray Morality, Black and Gray Morality, White and Grey Morality, and Morality Kitchen Sink. Also see Shades of Conflict and Graying Morality. See Black and White Insanity when this sort of thinking by characters is presented as a sign of mental instability in the story.

Please note even in a world where the moral lines are sharply drawn, there may still be characters or organizations that are presented as being 'grey'. A general rule of thumb as to whether or not black-and-white morality is present is that the heroes are almost always considered to be in the right, while the villains are always 'wrong'. Of course, the audience might disagree with the author's moral compass. Moral Dissonance occurs when a character with a black-and-white moral system is unaware that they're not always following their own values well (all-too-possible in Real Life).

If general attitudes on issues addressed change and/or the story is introduced to a very different culture, it may be viewed as Grey and Gray Morality, Black and Gray Morality, White and Grey Morality or Blue and Orange Morality.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Comics 

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animated 
  • The Disney Animated Canon uses this all the time. Pixar uses it pretty frequently too, though their villains are more likely to have sympathetic motivations.
    • The true exception to "sympathetic motivation" is A Bug's Life, where Hopper says that keeping the ants under control is more important than just getting food from them.
    • Hercules adds this morality in adaptation. Hercules, Zeus and Hera become purely good. Hades becomes purely evil. In the origional myths they were a lot more morally ambiguous. The only grey character in the movie is Meg. This is one side effect of being Hijacked by Jesus.
  • In the Compilation Movie Once Upon a Halloween, a villain is plotting to do something evil while her magic mirror tries to talk her out of while showing her clips of various Disney movies. In the end the villain decides she doesn't want to go through her plan anymore, but the mirror kills her anyway for even attempting it in the first place.
  • In Epic all Boggans are completely evil without any redeeming feature, while all the Leafmen and their allies are good.

    Multiple Media 

    Professional Wrestling 
  • This was the general rule in pro wrestling from the 1920s all the way up until the 1990s, with the exception of a face sometimes cruelly retaliating because "the heel deserved it" (which was never portrayed as a bad thing). The "Attitude" Era and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) tweaked this calculus quite a bit, but the standard formula has never truly gone away. Even today, you are far more likely to see Good Versus Good or Evil Versus Evil than you are to see a feud with shades of gray/grey.
  • In Mexican wrestling (known to the locals as lucha libre), there's no such thing as a tweener. One is either a good guy (technico) or a bad guy (rudo), period.

    Religion/Mythology 
  • In religion, this idea is often called (Manichean) dualism:
    • God is good, Satan is evil (Christianity and Islam).
      • Of Christian faiths, Calvinism deserves special mention. In Calvinism, human beings do not have free will to make decisions, and can only be capable of redemption through the grace of God. Thus not only are acts either good or evil, but human beings are, despite any attempt outside of God to be otherwise, evil.
    • Ahura Mazda is good, Ahriman is evil (Zoroastrianism).
    • Abba deRabutta is good, Ahriman is evil (Manichaeism).
    • Devas are benevolent, Asuras are corrupted (Hinduism).
    • During Ragnarok, the final battle is essentially between the forces of good and chaotic evil (Norse mythology).
  • The Hollywood version of many mythologies tends to fit this; the real mores of such cases tend to be much more, subtle.
  • Conspiracy Theories (a mythology of a kind) tend to follow this trope very well. The conspiracy is always purely nefarious and the people behind it are always blatantly trying to benefit themselves at the expense of the world. Anyone cast as resisting the conspiracy is a glorious hero deserving of the greatest reverence. If said hero has died, especially under circumstances deemed suspicious, then that hero is also a martyr killed for have gotten too close to exposing/destroying the conspiracy. There are never gray areas in conspiracy theories. Everyone in the know is either completely for the conspiracy or completely against it.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Blue Rose, your Character Alignment is either Light, Shadow or Twilight (neutral). There's a magic artifact used to make sure only light-aligned people get to become nobles in The Kingdom of Aldis.
  • Most Dungeons & Dragons settings: People who go "ping!" on Detect Good are good. People who set off the paladin's slaydar are evil. (People who don't trigger either are either using Undetectable Alignment or are the resident shade of grey, the neutral alignments).
    • Playable races (such as humans, elves, dwarves, and such) tend to be good, while orcs, goblins, and other 'monstrous' humanoids tend to be Always Chaotic Evil. There are plenty of exceptions, though, with a number of villains from PC races showing up from time to time. The occasional good orc or goblin may make an appearance as well (especially in Eberron, which subverts a lot of the common expectations about alignment and race).
    • There is a Succubus Paladin created on the Wizards site a while ago that detects as Lawful, Good, Evil and Chaotic via the sundry detect spells. This is because Demon are MADE of Evil and Chaos, while Paladins are philosophically Good and Lawful.
  • The RPG Over the Edge is very much Black and Grey Morality, but a drug in the setting called "Zorro" (short for "Zoroaster") induces delusions of black and white morality in the user.
  • Talisman: The "Lightbearers" alternate ending in the Blood Moon expansion changes the nature of the normally free-for-all game into a cooperative one, where every player must choose a character of good alignment. The players cannot fight each other, and instead can assist each other in combat against the forces of evil, freely exchange items, and work together to win the game as a group before time runs out.
  • In Torg in the sub-universe of the Nile Empire, based on pulp fiction tropes, everyone is either good or evil...until one of the evil scientists of the Nile Empire accidentally infects himself with a meme virus based on the plays of Anton Chekov and becomes the sub-universe's only Neutral character.
  • Invoked in The Dark Eye by a kind of the Fair Folk, who decided to split into a "good" and an "evil" kingdom faring war against each other to learn more about human behaviour and values.

    Theater 

    Web Comics 
  • Falcon Twin's Evan views the world in this manner, in keeping with the teachings of his church. This causes considerable friction with the rest of the party's Black and Gray Morality.
  • In Game Over Tales: Crouching Ostrich, Hidden Vulture, the ninjas' only aim is to kill the "dragon rider", whose main reason to kill the ninjas is to not die.
  • Sonichu functions in this way: Villains are rarely given any motivation beyond taking something that belongs to Sonichu or Chris Chandler or conquering something important to them, and Sonichu and Chris fight mainly to reverse this damage. Slaweel Ryam, in particular, fights Chris merely because she dislikes him. As the characters in the comic are reflections of the author's real-life struggles and the author has a huge ego, he cannot bear to give significant flaws to any of his heroes or redeeming traits to any of his villains.
  • Parodied in the Sluggy Freelance Torg Potter parodies (of Harry Potter, obviously), where the wizards casually talk about people being good guys and bad guys, including the bad guys proudly identifying as such. You're supposed to have bad guys, apparently — even among students, where they are all sorted to the Wunnybun ("Slytherin") house. Gandledorf ("Dumbledore") even explains the Wunnybun students need to be treated badly enough to remain antagonistic because if treated well, they might become good, and then his paperwork would get all messed up.
  • Hark! A Vagrant parodies this trope as it's used in classic literature with the character of Goodman Brown. Anytime Goodman sees another character doing something remotely bad he chalks them up as purely evil. He gets called on it, but ignores them.

    Web Original 

Alternative Title(s): White And Black Morality, Good Versus Evil, Good Vs Evil

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