Black and White Morality

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"By G'Quan, I can't recall the last time I was in a fight like that. No moral ambiguity, no... hopeless battle against ancient and overwhelming forces. They were the bad guys, as you say, we were the good guys. And they made a very satisfying thump when they hit the floor."
G'kar, Babylon 5 -- A Late Delivery from Avalon

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:

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 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. 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 Grey Morality, Black and Grey Morality, White and Grey Morality, and Morality Kitchen Sink. Also see Shades of Conflict and Greying Morality.

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 Grey Morality, Black and Grey Morality, or even Blue and Orange Morality.

Examples of Black and White Morality include:


Advertising[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Good luck finding any political campaign commercials anywhere which suggest that it is possible to disagree over an issue without being monstrous, or at the very least stupid.
    • Campaign commercial? Just about any commercial. Brand loyalty is Serious Business.


Anime and Manga[edit | hide]


Comics[edit | hide]

  • Most comic books set in the Golden Age (World War II or thereabouts) have this sort of moral code.
  • Steve Ditko's 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. A.
      • And the aforementioned Rorsarch is basically a Captain Ersatz of Q and A.
      • 'There is black and there is white, and there is wrong and there is right, and there is NOTHING in between', as Alan Moore's adolescent band once sung, in reference to Steve Ditko.
  • A common element in Chick Tracts, the Christian protagonists are good while the nonbelievers are evil, or at least a Jerkass.


Film[edit | hide]


Literature[edit | hide]

  • The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion: Broadly speaking. The respective villains Sauron, Saruman and Morgoth are evil, and those who oppose them are good. On a closer level this is not so - Sauron, Saruman and Morgoth's Orcs are Exclusively Evil, but their human forces are not, which is lost on many a critic. More than one character notes how they must be manipulated or forced to do their will.
    • Broadly speaking. See the quote at the top of Grey and Gray Morality. The Silmarillion in particular tends to be white, grey and black. (Surely people like Feanor, his sons, the Noldor in general, Thingol, Turin, etc. cannot be thought of as all black or all white.)
    • Outside of the Silmarillion there are many other examples. Gollum, Lobellia and Denethor (in the book, the movie plays him as more of a straight forward villain) are anything but clean cut good or bad guys. Despite its lighter tone The Hobbit averts this a lot more than its darker sequel. Thorin is for the most part noble but also a greedy, proud jerkass who would risk a war to hang onto his gold while Beorn is kind and friendly but kills an Orc who had already surrendered and puts its head on a pike.
    • Indeed, it would probably be best to say that Middle-Earth has Black and White Morality, but only as extremes- Eru and the Valar are pure good; Morgoth and his directly corrupted minions are pure evil; most of the non-divine characters lean strongly one way or the other, but aren't "pure". This ties in to temptation being a major theme of LOTR in particular.
    • Completely and utterly averted in The Children of Hurin. Turin is well meaning but also a morally ambigous Jerkass who blows over the Moral Event Horizon when he murders a lame man in cold blood, his Lancer Androg is a serial rapist and murderer and the group's traitor, Mim the Dwarf is a Woobie Anti-Villain whose actions are motivated by the relentless persecution his people suffered from the Elves as well as Androg's cruelty. Even after his betrayl he inists that Turin be released unharmed.
  • Inheritance Cycle: The Varden and Elves are good, The Empire is evil.
    • Eragon tries to give this a significant amount of thought, as a number of characters point out that he's fighting because other people told him to, however right they may be. After a significant amount of angst, Eragon comes to the bizarre and defeatists conclusion that he has to cross the ocean to train the next generation of riders. He left behind civilization, everything he fought for, the chance to shape the creation of the next major golden age, and the chance to get in Arya's tight leather pants.
  • Harry Potter starts out this way. Dumbledore is the Big Good, Harry and his friends are the heroes, the other students are generally nice except for the Slytherins, and Voldemort is the Big Bad. As the series goes on, it adds more and more shades of gray with turncoats on both sides, a corrupt government opposing Voldemort, heroes paying evil unto evil, and Harry discovering that his father and Dumbledore both have Feet of Clay.
  • Redwall: If you're a mouse, otter, vole, badger, hedgehog, squirrel, or lapine, you're good. If you're anything else, you're evil. (Except for cats and birds - they're case-by-case.) If you're a fish, you're dinner.
  • The Symphony of Ages series: Rhapsody and those who love her: Good. Those who don't love Rhapsody: Evil.
  • Sword of Truth: The heroes are good and noble, and always right, while the villains all Kick the Dog like they're in an international dog-kicking competition.
  • Taylor Anderson's Destroyermen series. The American/Lemurian alliance is good, the Grik and any Lemurians or humans who don't support the alliance are bad.
  • In the Tortall Universe it's true that expressing any disdain for peasants is a clear sign that someone's a villain, specifically in The Song Of The Lioness Prince Jonathan wants to be a great king and his cousin Duke Roger of Conte wants to murder him and anyone who gets in his way.
  • Catherine firmly believes this in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. She grows wiser.
  • The Dresden Files tends to avert this - the wizards and muggles are, after all, human, and so many of the magical creatures have no sense of morality or even disdain the concept that it can be hard to remember that in the earlier books, the fights between literal agents of Heaven and Hell were much more commonplace. The books also imply (by way of Sanya) that angels and the like aren't really Good of themselves, but rather its their actions that make them Good, and that they'd still be Good if you replaced "angel" with "superpowerful aliens that look like angels". Despite that, even angels can be harsh and militaristic, with job descriptions such as "general" and "spook". Very evil is still evil and depraved, though. However, this is fairly true to the source material, and fits the Dresdenverse quite adroitly.
    • Uriel does invoke this, assuring Harry that the Archangel likes Star Wars over Star Trek because of this trope, and because it makes him "feel young". Despite the fact that "Mr. Sunshine" existed since before Creation, given the way that the superpowerful beings of the Dresdenverse interact with time, this is a slightly bizarre statement.
  • Sisterhood series by Fern Michaels: Almost all the good guys are handsome/beautiful, and the bad guys are either ugly as sin or ordinary-looking. The choices the characters make are unambiguously good or evil. The characterization of the characters is either totally good or totally evil.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Power Rangers and Super Sentai: Rangers and their friends are good; even the shady ones have an excuse: street-level hoods? Stealing to survive and help other homeless! Guy working with the mob? Screwed them all over to help an orphanage of Littlest Cancer Patients! Professional thief? ...Okay, that one was just glossed over, but he's probably one of those guys who's legitimately hired by companies to test security.
    • Special mention must go to Power Rangers Dino Thunder's Mesogog, who, while still black, was a particularly grey shade of black, as he is the sole villain of the series to not carry an evil business card. He was a dinosaur hybrid who wanted to wipe out us filthy mammals and restore dinosaurs to their rightful place as the dominant creatures, and so thought what he was doing to be right, although his methods and manner make it dark enough to still be evil. Its grey, but only in comparison to the villains whose goals are stated to be "to be as evil as possible, nyahaha".
    • The grayest Power Rangers villain is Ransik of Power Rangers Time Force. He wanted to take over the world in the present, because in the future, the mutations that result on rare occasion from the genetic engineering process that normally allows for perfect Designer Babies for all are shunned to a degree that would make the mutants of X-Men count their blessings. Ransik's entire gang is gathered from the homeless mutants. He cackles as much as any past villain whose title is "Your Evilness" when causing mayhem, but he's got a reason for his hate and his motivation isn't simply greed or the evulz like many of the others.
  • Lost: While it's unclear whether either character has purely good or purely evil motivations, the entire series has boiled down to an epic, eternal conflict between Jacob, the representation of white and seeming "good guy," and the aptly named "Man in Black," better known as the Smoke Monster, the representation of black and alleged "evil incarnate."
  • Charmed: Witches are good. Demons are bad. More specifically, anyone who are allies with the Charmed Ones and they like them, they are good. Anyone else is bad. Even the neutral ones because you can't trust anyone who is neutral.
    • Also, all witches after they first get their powers, must decide if they are good or evil within 24 hours.
  • Burn Notice, through and through. Westen and his allies are good, his antagonists are always evil. The villains of the week are almost always dog kicking assholes, if not outright complete monsters. If that wasn't enough the true antagonists, the shadowy organization behind the burn, has absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever. As for Westen's crew, they are always seen by everyone as perfect and never wrong, even though Westen himself has largely selfish motivations for what he does.
    • There is, of course, the little issue of Michael accidentally getting Jesse burned.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff Angel both play with this. Each starts out as a clear-cut example, but later seems to drift to somewhere between this and Black and Gray Morality, with the protagonists usually doing the right thing, but not always, and most of the antagonists remaining dog-kicking villains. Also, despite usually being portrayed as good in the sense that they're well-meaning, the heroes of both shows often encounter situations that are portrayed as morally gray, leading them to disagree with each other on what the good course of action is.


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • It's a common misconception that World War II was a case of this. In actually it was closer to Black and Gray Morality if only due to Joseph Stalin fighting on the Allied side, the Japanese internment camps operated by the United States and Canada(Through their internment camps were far more comfortable and humane, in comparison the hellish treatment received by those unfortunate to be captured by the Japanese.), and continuing moral debates regarding the bombing of Dresden, as well as the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  • The American Civil War is often seen as the heroic Union soldiers fighting to free the slaves from the "evil" Confederates. While it is true that Lincoln freed the slaves, the war itself was about much more than just the issue of slavery and there were quite a few Southerners who objected to it (including General Robert E. Lee). Also the typical idea of "freeing" slaves was a lot different from the modern one, in that even the most committed of abolitionists often argued that slavery, as bad as it was, did ultimately benefit the blacks. Racism was also still a huge issue on both sides.
  • A lot of early 20th century propaganda tried to give this impression towards major conflicts. Britain and Canada both tried to build up the Germans as monsters in World War I, World War II saw numerous propaganda films about destroying the Nazis, and throughout the Cold War there were American propaganda films demonizing the "Reds" (the Soviet Union).

Religion/Mythology[edit | hide]

  • In religion, this idea is often called (Manichean) dualism:
    • God is good, Satan is evil. (Christianity)
    • Ahura Mazda is good, Ahriman is evil. (Zoroastrianism)
    • Abba deRabutta is good, Ahriman is evil. (Manichaeism)
  • The Hollywood version of many mythologies tends to fit this; the real mores of such cases tend to be much more, subtle.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • Most Dungeons and 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 Exclusively 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.
  • 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.
  • In Blue Rose your Character Alignment is either Light Is Good, 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.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Early Video Games with Excuse Plot or plot with little-to-no cutscenes are likely to be this. Even Bad Dudes do not seem to be any kind of bad other than Badass.
  • Link, Zelda, and their allies are good; Ganon and his followers are evil.
  • Super Mario Bros.: Mario is good, Bowser is evil.
    • Averted in later spin-offs, as Bowser developed over time and he became increasingly Affably Evil to the point that in most modern games he's less evil then simply misguided and greedy.
    • Played brutally straight in the main series, though; in both Galaxy games Bowser is as one-dimensionally megalomaniacal as ever. Probably because their one attempt at giving him more "complexity" was Super Mario Sunshine, which included narmy voice acting ("How dare you disturb my family vacation!") and introduced The Scrappy, Bowser Jr.
    • Also played straight by the one-off villains in the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series. Okay, not quite Count Bleck, but Fawful, Dimentio, the Shadow Queen, Cackletta, and the Shroobs are portrayed very much to the extreme end of the evil scale.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog: Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles are good; Robotnik is evil. Shadow and Rouge border on the Grey morality, though.
  • Galaxy Angel: The Transbaal Empire is good; The Val-Fasq are evil.
  • Gradius: Planet Gradius is good; Bacterion, Venom, and Salamander are evil.
    • But what about the Gradian government? Before the Northern Cross War that inadvertently killed nearly of the Wreekians, the Gradius government avoided contact with them because they were primitive. After the Northern Cross War, the Gradius government didn't do much at all for the poor Wreekian survivors; they only wanted to use their ESP power. This would put the Gradian government on the grey morality.
  • Rather brutally deconstructed in Grandia II; see the page for more details
  • In the first two Warcraft games, the Orcs are evil and the humans are good, but by Warcraft III and World of Warcraft, while there are still undeniably evil forces like the Burning Legion and Scourge, it becomes less clear whether the Alliance or the Horde has the moral high ground.
  • As pictured above, Queen Elincia and the Herons are good, but Mad King Ashnard is evil. However, his steed isn't evil, just Brainwashed.
  • It has always been the trait of the Command & Conquer:Red Alert series, where the Allies are good and the Soviet Union is evil. They are later joined by a new evil side, Empire of Rising Sun.
  • The first Knights of the Old Republic game.
  • Subverted in Golden Sun: seemingly present during the first game, but the second game deconstructs it by having you play the antagonists of the first game, and having the final boss be the mentor from the first game.
  • In Pokémon Red and Blue and Pokémon Gold and Silver. The main character is good, Team Rocket is evil.
    • The later core games avert this though, with the evil teams having more reasonable and even sympathetic motivations. The exception is Ghetsis of Team Plasma, whose villainy neighbors Cipher proportions. And on that note, Cipher from Pokémon Colosseum is far more evil than anything before them and a sight more evil than just about anything since.
  • Played with in Touhou. On one hand, the series as a whole follows White and Grey Morality at worse, with copious amounts of Dark Is Not Evil and Good All Along preventing the series from having any true villains. On the other hand, the character Shikieiki Yamaxanadu possesses the ability to "distinctly judge anything to be Good or Evil", meaning that she literally sees the world in Black and White Morality. As she is the resident Judge of the Dead whom decides the ultimate fate of every deceased soul in Gensokyo, she gets a lot of mileage out of this.
  • Dragon Quest series uses this regularly. The heroes are good. A giant dragon and a badly skinned mage are evil. Many other villains are even beyond that.
    • Psaro the Man Slayer subverts this partly. He hates humans because they harmed his girlfriend. But going into the arena and beating random fighters to death isn't that nice of a thing to do either. None of his underlings are ever good.
  • Star Fox and the Cornerian army are good. Andross, Anglar Emperor, and their armies are bad. The Aparoids were created solely to be The Virus, and were nothing but evil and trouble.


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • 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).


Web Original[edit | hide]


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Really, about every children's cartoon ever made fits this trope. The Smurfs? Good (except carnivorous ones). Gargamel? Bad. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe? Good. Skeletor? Bad. G.I. Joe? Good. COBRA? Bad. Thundercats? Good. Mum-Ra? Bad. Rinse and repeat as necessary.
  • Transformers: Autobots are good, Decepticons are evil (except in Shattered Glass, where it's the other way round).
    • Though in Transformers Animated some of the Autobots are selfish, corrupt, or incompetent, though not in the main cast. Sentinel Prime,we are looking at you. Likewise, while "sympathetic" might be stretching the portrayal of the Decepticons as a whole, they are at least clearly motivated (most of them want to reconquer Cybertron, but some have other motivations).
    • And in the IDW comics Continuity, the conflict has its origins in Gray and Grey Morality, as the Decepticons were a group that were rising up against the corrupt government that preceded the Autobots.
    • Many Transformers continuities play with and partially subvert the idea, going right back to the Marvel comic series in the 1980s. It is always with individual characters though so the trope is played straight for the overall factions even if the individuals within the groups don't necessarily all adhere. Also, the trope is played painfully straight whenever Unicron is involved, usually with "Unicron = BAD Those who fight him = good"
    • The new book Exodus also establishes a whole lot of gray in the origins of the war and looks like a subversion, but later on plays this trope straight.
  • Captain Planet and the Planeteers was famous for this trope. The bad guys were not only bad, they tended to put together their absurdly complicated plots strictly For the Evulz. Abiding by the EPA's regulations probably would have been cheaper than some of the crackpot pollution schemes these guys concocted.
  • Ben 10 is mostly this trope, but the main hero's character flaws can push it into Black and Gray Morality.
  • Kim Possible and friends are undoubtedly the good guys, but it's her foes that really exemplify this trope. Every one of them describes themselves as an evil villain, sometimes worrying if they're being evil enough. Evil supervillainy appears to be a whole subculture in their world.
  • Surprisingly subverted in Avatar: The Last Airbender. At first, the set-up seems to make the Black and the White quite clear: the Fire Nation is the Exclusively Evil Empire embarking on a campaign of world conquest, and those who fight against them are good. Then the writers seem to spend the entire remainder of the series picking this stark divide to pieces in every direction, with an abundance of quite likable and sympathetic Fire Nation characters and an abundance of utterly loathsome Earth Kingdom and Water Tribe characters. The Fire Lord and his daughter remain the clear bad guys, and Team Avatar the clear good guys, straight until the end, but beyond that the series drifts closer to Grey and Grey Morality than almost any other children's show you could name.
    • And even some of the main characters, primarily Katara, come close to crossing the line more than once.
    • Zuko alone is a subversion. It seems like the moral the show's trying to send is that life isn't so straightforward and it's important to remember that. Even Azula, the magnificent bitch, gets sympathy. After being betrayed by her friends, abandoned by her father, and given way too much power for her to handle, she has a mental breakdown that all stems from a perceived lack of love from her mother.