Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil
Slavery. The Other Wiki
defines it as a system under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold, and are forced to work. It's not just bad. It's literally treating them as less than a person for the sake of having a servant you don't have to put on a payroll. And, naturally, this practice opens the door for many other horrible things
to be done to the souls unfortunate enough to be enslaved.
In many works, owning or otherwise dealing in slaves is treated by either the protagonists or the narrative or both as a qualitatively different level of evil than "lesser" crimes. In these works, a Well-Intentioned Extremist
or Punch Clock Villain
may be offered the opportunity for a Heel-Face Turn
even if their crimes include murder
, but a slaver will never be redeemed
, and Laser-Guided Karma
find them. Even other villains
will recoil from the monstrousness of their crimes.
In short, these works or characters treat slavery as a Special Kind of Evil
Note that in technical terms, the word "slavery" applies only to systems in which people may be bought and sold as property, not to other systems of forced servitude such as debt bondage, Indentured Servitude
, serfdom, etc. Some works and characters will consider all of them equally heinous and dismiss such distinctions as hair-splitting
. Others will consider some forms of forced servitude to be more or less acceptable than others. For the purposes of this trope, either attitude counts as a valid example.
Compare Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil
, which depicts rape rather than slavery as a more heinous form of evil. Note that it's unimportant whether a particular example of this trope depicts slavery as more or less evil than rape in particular, or even deals with rape at all; what's important is that slavery is depicted as qualitatively worse than other, "lesser" forms of evil. Both tropes can (and sometimes do!) exist within the same work.
Contrast Happiness in Slavery
, where (at least in-universe) the slaver isn't such a bad guy after all. See also Sex Slave
, the effective combination of both tropes.
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Anime & Manga
- A persistent theme in Magi - Labyrinth of Magic. Na´ve Newcomer Aladdin is appalled at the idea of one person owning another and immediately tries to free the first slave he meets. Each time the topic of slavery comes up, it's treated as a horrible thing to do. Even minor villains who've dabbled in slave trading themselves are so shocked by a country's leader selling his own people into slavery as collateral for the massive debt they owe to another country that they perform a Heel-Face Turn of sorts.
- In One Piece, a manga centered around pirates who make a living robbing and killing (although the protagonists never seem to get around to much of that), slavery is treated as an especially terrible crime. Examples include:
- Nami being tricked into indefinite indentured servitude by Arlong.
- The case of the World Nobles who treat practically everyone as animals.
- Boa Hancock and her sisters whose experiences as slaves deeply traumatized them.
- The country of Dressrosa with half its populace being enslaved by Doflamingo via the Devil Fruit powers of one of his crew to turn people into toys.
- In The Sandman, the immortal Hob Gadling experiences (justified) White Guilt for centuries for being an influential early slave trader who help establish the system that made the slave trade an economic powerhouse in the 17th through 19th centuries. He did it at the time because it was just kind of what you did, and quit the trade relatively early after Dream advises him that "it is a poor thing for a man to own another", but he gets to witness first-hand the consequences of his actions throughout history.
- In Star Wars, The Empire makes a practice of enslaving non-human species. This is not touched on much in the films, but in the Expanded Universe it is treated as on par with, if not worse than, their habit of blowing planets up. One of the ways that Tatooine is marked as an outlaw planet in The Phantom Menace is the fact that slavery is legal there. And the one redeeming trait that allows Han Solo and Chewbacca to make the transition from drug-dealing pirates to heroes of the Rebel Alliance is that they will never, ever transport slaves, or have anything to do with a slaving plot (and if they find themselves involved with one inadvertently, they'll either wash their hands of it immediately or try to find some way to free the slaves).
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Captain Jack Sparrow might be a fast-talking, double-crossing, morally ambiguous pirate, but as revealed in a deleted scene, he will never stoop to slavery, and it was, in fact, what got him branded as a pirate in the first place. This puts him ahead of Cutler Beckett, who has no such qualms.
Beckett: I contracted you to deliver cargo on my behalf. You chose to liberate it.
Sparrow: People aren't cargo, mate.
- Django Unchained mentions this when Django is talking about posing as a black slaver in the pre-Civil War South. He mentions a black slaver being considered "Lower than the head House Slave, and that's pretty fuckin' low!" amongst the slave population. And Django should know: he executes Calvin Candie's smarmy house slave without remorse.
- Goodbye Uncle Tom showcases, with little sympathy, just how depraved the owners and workers of American Slavery were.
- Guardians of the Flame features a group of gamers who get transported into the bodies of their characters in a fantasy world. Once they deal with the initial problems that brought them there, the protagonists devote themselves to eradicating slavery from the world.
- Averted in Harry Potter with the house-elves, a Slave Race with Happiness in Slavery as its hat. Mistreating them is considered a Kick the Dog moment, but owning one is not, as nothing makes them happier than serving a kind master, and they consider freedom a Fate Worse than Death. Contrast the mistreatment of Kreacher by Sirius Black, which earns him a Karmic Death, with Dumbledore's treatment of the Hogwarts house-elves. It's unclear whether they belong to him directly or "to the school", but they certainly report to him. He treats them with unfailing kindness and respect, and when an outlier among them asks for pay and time off, he happily obliges, initially offering more than the house-elf is willing to accept.
- Robert A. Heinlein hated slavery and sometimes pointed out how evil it is in his novels.
- In Citizen of the Galaxy, one of the main characters, Colonel Richard Baslim, hated the slave trade and lost an arm and a leg rescuing a shipload of people from a slaver compound.
- In Time Enough for Love, Lazarus Long said that in his long life he's sold almost everything except slaves and calls slave owners "subhuman". He also "spaces" (shoves out an airlock without a spacesuit) a planet's chief slave trader.
- In Washington Irving's "The Devil And Tom Walker", Tom Walker makes a Deal with the Devil in which he sells his soul in exchange for great wealth. Upon gaining his ill gotten wealth, Walker considers what enterprises he should invest in, but when Old Scratch (who in this story is said to be the patron of slavers) proposes that he should become a slave dealer, he decides he wouldn't have any part in that because "he was bad enough in all conscience".
- In the Nantucket Trilogy, the Republic of Nantucket takes a very dim view of slavery, as shown by the fact that almost all of its major warships are named after Civil War heroes or abolitionists. Given that one of its most prominent citizens is a former slave, this probably shouldn't be surprising. Naturally, the Big Bad, of the series, William Walker, heavily employs slavery in his empire.
- Provost's Dog, which takes place before the rest of the Tortall Universe, explores the brutality of slave work and just how cruel slavedrivers can be. It's also almost assured that any slaver will have kidnapped people to sell (particularly children), which is illegal. Mastiff in particular focuses on it and the host of secondary evils that happen in slavery's shadow.
- The Reynard Cycle: In addition to being the home of a fanatical doomsday cult that worships dragons, brainwashes soldiers into becoming near automatons, and being world renowned for the skill of its assassins and torturers, Glycon tolerates and practices slavery. After zealotry, this practice is usually the second thing that someone will decry about the place. Before the whole dragon thing even.
- Zig-Zagged in A Song of Ice and Fire:
- This is just about the only thing that absolutely every faction in Westeros can agree on. Interestingly, "smallfolk" (peasants) are considered to "belong" to whatever lord claims dominion over the land they call home, and that land can and does change hands due to conquest, marriage, or royal decree. No one seems to have a problem with this, not even most of the smallfolk. Technically, this is serfdom rather than slavery. Indeed, Tyrion Lannister who becomes a slave after his ship to Yunkai is captured notes that slaves in Essos are to some extent treated better than smallfolk in Westeros and as far as he's concerned being a peasant in Westeros is being a slave in all but name.
- The other (arguable) Westerosi exception is the Ironborn, who capture thralls (indentured servants) in battle. However, they are not, strictly speaking, property as they cannot be bought or sold, and their children can be freed if they pledge themselves to the Drowned God. Victarion Greyjoy showcases the Ironborn take on this trope in A Dance with Dragons when he captures a slaver ship: he slaughters the slavers and then "frees" the slaves- he gives the female pleasure slaves to the crew as concubines and makes thralls of the male slaves. He also slaughters the male pleasure slaves.
- Essos, on the other hand, has a thriving slave trade. Some are mistreated, others are much better off than their Westerosi smallfolk counterparts. The one exception is Braavos, a city founded by runaway slaves to escape the dragonlords of Valyria. It uses its wealth and influence to curtail the slave trade in other cities; even a corrupt magister like Illyrio Mopatis has to hide his involvement in it for this reason.
- Jorah Mormont is exiled from Westeros for attempting to sell a Night's Watch deserter as a slave. In a bit of an aversion, he expresses no remorse for his crime, but is treated relatively sympathetically by the narrative. In A Dance with Dragons, Jorah ends up being sold into slavery himself. If this causes him to reconsider the severity of his crime in any way, he's shown no sign so far.
- Last but not least, Daenarys most definitely believes this, and dedicates herself to wiping out the slave trade in Essos. She also explicitly considers arranged marriage, including her own Perfectly Arranged Marriage, a form of slavery. This is her main bone of contention with the Dothraki culture of her late husband, as the Dothraki are particularly notorious for conducting Rape, Pillage, and Burn against their enemies and enslaving the survivors, a practice she forbids as soon as she has the authority to do so. However, she does not hold Mormont's one-time crime of slave trading against him, even as she deals with other slavers more harshly than any other enemies. She also later relents on her total opposition and allows people to sell themselves into slavery in exchange for food, board, and protection, but not for people to be forcibly made slaves by a parent, husband, or by capture.
- In the Star Trek: Voyager novel The Black Shore, the crew of the Voyager discover the seemingly-idyllic world of Ryolanov. At first, they think it's a wonderful planet... but then they discover that its society depends heavily upon slavery. They are suitably horrified.
- Sadeas in The Stormlight Archive has an army of unarmed slaves that he uses as bait for enemy archers. This is one of the biggest parts of his Moral Event Horizon.
- Uncle Tom's Cabin. The central theme of the book as Tom is forced to endure various trials and tribulations after being forced to leave his family due to his initial master suffering financial hardship. This is especially portrayed by the slave owner Simon Legree who treats his slaves in the cruelest manner possible to break them in both body and spirit.
- In Vorkosigan Saga, Brothers in Arms when one character points out that a clone is property of it's commissioner on some planets Miles points out that, "Even on Barrayar (a planet just coming out of a period of isolation from technology and known for oligarchy, political instability and quarrelsome nature)no human being may own another."
- The Wheel of Time:
- This is the Seanchan's hat. Protagonists who will make all sorts of other compromises in the fight against the local God of Evil will still balk at allying with them because of their practice of enslaving magic-users in the most dehumanizing way possible.
- The Aiel have a custom in which those who are ritualistically captured in battle (a process much more difficult, and therefore considered more honorable, than simply killing them) voluntarily submit to a year and a day of servitude. They are not property and their service cannot be bought or sold (although it can apparently be "donated" in some way to Wise Ones, female clan elders), and non-Aiel cannot be captured in this way as they do not follow the Aiel's strict Code Of Honor. When a renegade Aiel faction begins capturing non-Aiel and refusing to let them go after their year and a day is up— treating them as slaves, in other words— it is considered a major Moral Event Horizon by the rest of the Aiel.
- Myst: The Book of D'ni introduces us to a beautiful land called Terahnee, where even the ordinary citizens live in unbelievable opulence. However, this is quickly found to be because they enslave the natives of the Ages they Write links to, and these slaves are treated with unbelievable barbarity. To salve their consciences, the Terahnee train themselves not to see them and rarely mention them. Atrus et al. find this out almost too late—and it would have been too late had not the D'ni, Rivenese, and Averonese been carriers for a bacterium the Terahnee had no defense against.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation:
- In "The Measure of a Man", there is a hearing to determine whether the android Data should legally be considered a person or the property of Starfleet. The admiral adjudicating the hearing is on the fence, until Picard suggests that declaring him property would be tantamount to slavery. The mere suggestion of this is enough to have her err on the side of caution and judge that even if she is unprepared to declare definitively that he is a person, she is unwilling to declare him property either.
- In "The Most Toys", Data is captured by a Collector of the Strange and treated as just another piece of property. This is the only villain whom the Technical Pacifist Data ever attempts to kill in cold blood, as opposed to self-defense.
- The Borg, for a certain definition of slavery anyway.
- In Breaking Bad, a show full of all kinds of terrible people, the Neo-Nazi gang led by "Uncle" Jack is established as a Darker Shade of Black when they capture Jesse and treat him as a slave, forcing him cook meth in terrible conditions.
- In "Serenity", during The Reveal of River, Mal's first thought as to why Simon has a naked girl in a cryo chamber is that Simon is engaged in human trafficking, and calls him out for it.
- In The Teaser of "Shindig", Mal finds out that the guy he and Jayne are playing pool with just made a boatload of money selling slaves to a terraforming operation. He picks the guys pocket, stealing his ill-gotten gains, then beats the crap out of him in the ensuing Bar Brawl.
- Lost Girl, Bo is is disgusted to learn that Lauren is not an employee of the Light Fae but a slave. From that point on, she is determined to set Lauren free and draws a weapon when the new Ash refers to Lauren as his property.
- Played with in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, where slavery is part of everyday life. There is an underground organization, the Twin Lamps, that believes in this trope, though. The trick is, the Dunmer were granted a legal exception to the Empire's slavery ban as one of the terms of their surrender, but Imperial influence is gradually reducing its popularity. Background conversations in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion indicate that King Helseth of Morrowind has ended the practice.
- In Mass Effect, slavery is one of the few practices that the Citadel Council, no stranger to other shady dealings, treats as absolutely unacceptable in any race which seeks membership or formal diplomatic relations with the rest of the galactic community. It is one of the main reasons the Batarians, who make a regular practice of it, are so despised among the rest of the galaxy. Ilium, however, subverts it by having a system of "indentured servitude" which is basically a consensual form of slavery, complete with the ability to buy and sell a person's contract (read: the person). A Paragon Shepard is none too happy with this system either (though that can also be played as coming from a certain history with slavers).
- In Fallout 2, being involved in slave-catching raids not only lowers your karma but gives you a special perk of infamy, with which many NPCs will refuse to deal with you. The other crimes that give you this measure of infamy are child killing, destroying entire settlements and robbing graves.
- Fallout 3: The slavers of Paradise Falls are so evil that waltzing into their home and slaughtering the lot of them counts towards good karma.
- ''Fallout: New Vegas presents Caesar's Legion. Led by a genius megalomaniac manchild that fancies himself "Caesar", they practice particularly brutal slavery. Women get it particularly harsh, being used as pieces of meat and broodmares until their uteruses figuratively fall out from overuse.
- Zig-zagged in Dwarf Fortress: Slavery is one of the ethics that different civilizations can have different opinions on. On the one hand, the human civilizations see it as acceptable, unlike most other civilizations (the dwarves included). On the other hand, there isn't any coding in place for Indentured Servitude or other such practices. The only civilization to actually act on these ethics are the goblins, who send out babysnatchers to steal children from other civilizations. And then raise them as their own, with only rudimentary (as of DF2014) coding in place to make them act differently from goblin children.
- Averted in the Civilization series, where the instalments that even have slavery treat it as simply another mechanic effect. Notably, in Civilization III, the 'Emancipation' state on labour provides unhappiness bonuses on all non-Empancipated civilizations, but does so equally to slave states as it does to feudal serfdom systems, caste systems, and primitive tribalism. You can also switch back from emancipation to slavery with little effort, and doing so may be preferable if you need to rush something important.
- Carver's settlement in the third episode of season 2 of Telltale's The Walking Dead seems to get this treatment. The Big Bad of the first season was very sympathetic and tragic in comparison to Carver who treats most of the survivors under his command as tools to be used and disposed of. Naturally, the episode ends with his brutal, bloody death at the hands of Kenny. Episode 5 of the same season also reveals that the entire settlement was completely wiped out and abandoned from the incoming herd of zombies in the Jane ending.
- Slavery is "banned, reviled, and in practice non-existent" in all civilized countries of Tales From My D&D Campaign, but the Kua-Toa are enthusiastic slavers and rely heavily on slave armies and slave labor to sustain their Enemy Civil War. The fact that the Illud faction of the Kua are still slavers is considered one of the strongest proofs that they are Not So Different from their Deluvian cousins. Unfortunately, since the Illud/Deluvian conflict is the only thing keeping humanity alive, there's not much that can be done about it.
- The Equestrians from Void Of The Stars having this as central to their beliefs.
- Averted for laughs in Freeman's Mind. Gordon thinks that slavery is actually a good idea, it's just that it got too intertwined with racism. He proposes that the lottery should be used to pick out who gets to be a slave. Of course, since it is Gordon who's making these claims, he's not really a good voice of reason