Master of Arts
Date of Award
Psychologists have demonstrated that a tendency to favor altruists while wanting to punish selfish actors develops in infants even before they learn to speak. Anthropologists and evolutionary psychologists theorize that an intense desire to see altruists rewarded and exploiters receive their just comeuppance evolved as an emotional adaptation to group living. For a group to enjoy the survival advantages of cooperation, some mechanism must be in place to prevent free-riders from benefitting from the exploitation of trusting others. Strong reciprocity, the urge to punish or reward individuals based on their treatment of others, evolutionary critics theorize, lies at the heart of human interest in narrative. The history of literature, however, is replete with examples of characters who were intended to be bad but who managed to win the favor, even the adoration of readers. This study examines two such characters, Satan from Milton’s Paradise Lost and Tyler Durden from Palahniuk’s Fight Club, and shows that these supposedly bad characters direct most of their bad behavior toward still worse characters and thus win the sympathy and admiration of readers by engaging in an altruistic form of punishment.
Dennis J. Junk (2012).
Hierarchies in Hell and Leaderless Fight Clubs: Altruism, Narrative, and the Adaptive Appeal of Bad Boys.