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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 light and destiny with flowing cape versus the dark mustache-twirling, card-carrying force of pure malevolence. The Republic, The Alliance, The Federation and/or La Résistance, fighting for freedom and happiness, helping the helpless, and running soup kitchens, versus the Evil Empire of oppression and tyranny run by The Legions of Hell, greedy corporate scumbags, and an Evil Overlord with a Decadent Court. The Incorruptible Pure Pureness versus the Complete Monster. 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:

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, due mainly to the Animation Age Ghetto, as well as all-ages works and The Moral Substitute, the latter of which doesn't allow room for any moral ambiguity. Many stories that use Black-and-White Morality tend to lean towards the idealistic end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus 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 Dark Horse. 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.

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.



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    Asian Animation 
  • In Noonbory and the Super 7, the good guys are called borys, and the bad guys are called gurys. All borys are good and all gurys are bad, and there's no in-between. Oh, and characters with either label are stuck with it - no matter how many heinous deeds a bory commits or how many good deeds a gury does, neither can become the other.

    Comic Books 
  • A common element in Chick Tracts: the Christian protagonists are good while the nonbelievers are evil, or at least Jerkasses. This is the result of Chick's theology, which holds that either one has pledged themselves to his very specific idea of the Christian God or has thrown in their lot with the Forces of Evil, consciously or otherwise.
  • Steve Ditko was a Objectivist and fond of Ayn Rand's theories, which comes through heavily in his work.
    • The Mr. A comic lives and breathes this trope, being Ditko's interpretation of Ayn Rand's Objectivism in vigilante form.
    • The Question under Ditko was essentially a more marketable version of Mr.
    • Ditko's objectivism is, in fact, sometimes cited as the reason for his fallout with Stan Lee, although that has been disputed. Lee wanted their villains, in particular the Green Goblin, to be more three-dimensional, with their own struggles and moral grey areas. Ditko, on the other hand, didn't believe in moral grey areas and felt that their villains should be more representative of a faceless and objective evil.
    • Alan Moore's Rorschach is a Deconstructed Character Archetype for Ditko's characters, and to a lesser extent, Batman. Rorschach is also a Badass Normal detective who subscribes to a strictly Objectivist viewpoint, but his worldview falls apart when it meets reality and he continually engages in Psychological Projection, hypocrisy, denial, and a certain degree of madness. For example, Rorsachach despises rapists and often kills them in horrible, torturous ways without mercy... but earlier he has nothing but excuses for the Comedians' own rape of Sally Jupiter; according to him, the Comedian was an upstanding American patriot and war veteran (he was, in reality, a Sociopathic Soldier to the nth degree) who just suffered a "temporary moral lapse", and Jupiter is a "whore" and therefore had it coming. He also decries Ozymandias' plan to wipe out New York City in a gambit that will end the Cold War as evil while previously praising Harry Truman for dropping nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki for bringing a swift end to World War II. Rorsachach holds a worldview that is both rigid and arbitrary at the same time, and it makes him a terrible detective and a terrible person as a result.
  • Although The Ultimates (2002) as a whole runs on a Black-and-Gray Morality system, Hawkeye claims that the fight with the Chitauri was a black-and-white one. "Aliens who were in league with the Nazis, for God's sake".

    Fan Works 
  • Children of Time runs on Deconstruction and Reconstruction of multiple elements, Even Evil Has Standards, and there's one gut-wrenching case of Jumping Off the Slippery Slope. Nevertheless, the lines between Good and Evil remain painfully clear. The Big Bad and his Dragons are realistically Obviously Evil, and though the heroes' ethics are definitely put above the law, they are there and pretty strict.
  • Code Prime: Ironically, the story leans more toward this direction than the original Code Geass, owing to how the Autobots siding with the Black Knights has progressively made the Black Knights (and especially Lelouch himself) more heroic, while the Decepticons siding with Britannia has made the latter worse than they were in canon.
  • Dermabrasion: Discussed. Miruko admits that she prefers when this trope is in effect because she is happy when all she has to worry about is kicking villain ass. However, she also admits that Hawks has a point when he says that there are inherent problems with society and the hero system that result in people turning to crime and villainy that need to be dealt with. The fic repeatedly points out how morality is actually a very complex topic.
  • Elly Patterson of For Better or for Worse saw life in this matter in the fanfic The New Retcons. The two problems were that she could not handle anyone with different viewpoints from her and that her ideas of what 'black' and 'white' are were so twisted that they might as well be Blue-and-Orange Morality. This, among other things, contributed to Elly losing her mind for about two years.
  • In My Brave Pony: Starfleet Magic, Starfleet and the Unicornicopians are seen as good, while Titan and the various seasonal villains are evil, with very few exceptions.
  • Ojamajo Doremi: Rise of the Shadows: The Shadows are evil and trying to Take Over the World and exterminate their light halves. Said light halves are good and only act to defend themselves.
  • Dungeon Keeper Ami: The Dungeon Keeper world works by this trope, having only two sides for people to be on. The side of the Light Gods, which is Good, and that of the Dark Gods, which is Evil.
  • In Chrysalis Visits The Hague, this is subverted - Most of the ponies are adamant about the fact that Chrysalis is evil incarnate and they themselves are the defenders of all things harmonious. Suffice to say, the humans (Chrysalis' lawyer Estermann in particular) are quick to contest this.
  • In Lady Luck (Miraculous Ladybug), Marinette actually suffers from this, wholeheartedly believing in those she considers good and being distrustful of anyone she considers bad. She gets better as the story progresses.
  • In Loxare Hinder, it seems to be a recurrent mentality for any "big" hero: the Batfamily struggles very much with Jason's decision to murder criminals while Superman straight-up assaulted Red Hood because "killing is bad and mean, no matter the circumstances".
  • Zig-Zagged in Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. Many characters have different views regarding morality, with the story taking time to flesh out every side of the discussion and give everyone at least one validating moment. Ultimately Played Straight, as all the morally grey characters eventually either turn out to be better people than they appeared as or to have been Evil All Along.
  • Subverted in TFA Kaleidoscope, as Cybertronian propaganda treats the entire Autobot vs. Decepticon conflict as this. Autobots are good, Decepticons are evil. Ratchet dismisses this as lies and that the actual war was far more gray than anyone in high command wants to admit. Optimus even states that the Autobots were outright conquerors and tyrants before the war.
  • Izuku in Izuku Midoriya the Rabbit doesn't believe in this trope so much that he can't understand any concepts or beliefs beyond it; he literally cannot comprehend "Heroes" who only do their job for selfish reasons and not because it's the right thing to do. This, however, is Justified by the fact that Izuku is a rabbit with a minor case of Blue-and-Orange Morality who has a hard time understanding the more complex parts of human morality and behavior.
  • Oni Ga Shiku Series: Discussed. Majima comments that children tend to see the world in black and white after Izuku, who is very young at the time, asks him why the hero in a movie decided to save the villain's life. While Majima and Inko try to explain to him that people have both "good" and "bad" traits and that some people turn to evil because bad things happened to them or having good intentions (bringing up the villain in the movie as an example), it's obvious that the entire discussion flies over Izuku's head. Several years later, this worldview comes to bite Izuku in the ass when the news announces that Uncle Majima is dead, and specifically refers to him as a Yakuza Patriarch. Izuku is incapable or even refuses to see how the man who trains him to be a Hero and is always at his side being connected to a criminal organization and spends the whole week thinking they mean a different Goro Majima or that it's a nasty prank. It's a mark of Izuku's Character Development when by the end of that story arc, he takes a bullet to Save the Villain, much like the hero in the movie.
  • Deconstructed in Metal Gear: Green. As the HPSC enforces this trope, people who are arrested for stealing bread or even cash to feed their families are labeled villains, to the point where an individual will be forced to go to crime as the HPSC will not use villain reformation program. For Snake, this is moronic as a petty bread thief and a war criminal are two different types, yet painted the same. To him, this is more Black-and-White Insanity, and people who see it like that are going to have a very hard wake up call.

    Films — Animation 
  • 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. No Freudian Excuse is also given in Cars 2 (the villains are motivated by greed and a desire to prove superiority), Coco (Ernesto is a Glory Hound who not only stole his partner's compositions but poisoned him to prevent the truth from coming out) and Luca (the Barbaric Bully has no qualms in hurting child competitors to keep his winning streak alive). Monsters, Inc. only has one of its villains being justifiable (as opposed to Randall being a jerk bent on one-upping rival Sulley, Waternoose wants to solve an energy crisis, even if through a hurtful method that also requires kidnapping).
    • Hercules adds this morality in adaptation. Hercules, Zeus, and Hera become purely good. Hades becomes purely evil. In the original myths, they were a lot more morally ambiguous. The only grey character in the movie is Meg, who is just jaded and trapped in a Deal with the Devil. Partly this is due to Hercules drawing more inspiration from The Golden Age of Comic Books than the original myths, and in part due to the Values Dissonance of the myths being very difficult to translate into a film appropriate for children.
  • 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 it 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.

  • In religion, this idea is often called (Manichean) dualism. The original Manichean religion believed in an opposing God of Good and God of Evil who were constantly at war with one another. The world was also divided between the material world (evil) and the World of Light (good). When it was still around, Manicheanism was a rival to Christianity and Islam, both of which held that there was only one God who was omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and without equal and that the material world was good by virtue of having been created by that god.
  • The Theme Park Version of Christianity usually runs on this trope, regarding God and Satan as equal and opposite forces of good and evil respectively, often with human beings falling in one camp or another unless they decide to buck the system entirely. In reality, dualism of this nature is contrary to what actual Christians believe, largely because it would require a belief that God and Satan are equals, but also because it requires a belief in evil as a positive force, which would mean it was put into place by God himself, which would mean that God is not omnibenevolent. "Classical" Christianity doesn't actually believe in evil as such but rather regards it as a lack, misuse, or distortion of something good.note  Regardless, the Hollywood version is still a very enduring idea in pop culture, largely because it makes for a better story.

    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.
  • Princess: The Hopeful: The titular Princesses are exemplars and paragons of virtue, empowered by the Light (a Sentient Cosmic Force composed of hope, benevolence, and the desire to make the world a better place). Their opponents, the creatures of the Darkness, explicitly have no redeeming qualities whatsoever and may be killed without any moral qualms.
  • Thirsty Sword Lesbians: At least in the pre-made material, the good guys are pure good and the bad guys have zero redeeming qualities. No exceptions. The writing also strongly pushes for this type of morality; one would think that the Seeker playbook, whose hat is growing up in one such "bad guy" society, would be useful for humanizing them, but the playbook as written simply reinforces that the society is completely corrupt.


    Web Comics 
  • Axe Cop. Very evident as it is written by a six-year-old. There are good guys (who can do anything they want), and bad guys (who don't need to do anything bad apart from being bad to be such).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The World of Vicki Fox Vicki and her friends are all good characters with little to no flaws while Zephy is a complete Jerkass with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

    Web Original 
  • In The Fear Mythos, the character "Achromatic Morality" demonstrates this perfectly — the clue's in the name. In her words, "there are two sides. The side that I am on, which is righteous; and the side I am not, which is monstrous."
  • "Dhar Mann" videos usually have the protagonists as kind-hearted paragons that will usually not accept any help or money donations out of kindness to show how pure they are, while the antagonists are usually completely deplorable bullies or just assholes in general who go out of their way to bully and harass the protagonist until they either redeem themselves by the end or are reduced to groveling by a chain of contrived situations.


Video Example(s):

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


Noble Houses

House Goodguys has all noble, fair, and good people. House Badguys is all evil and oppressive.

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Example of:

Main / BlackAndWhiteMorality

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