What motivates artists to take the liberty of creation in their hands, sometimes without giving any thought to the moral consequences of it?
Sometime back, I wrote a short story for a class assignment. The story was about two sisters, with a ten-year age gap. They get orphaned and the elder sister mostly brings up her little sister while quitting college to do so. The elder sister is a psychotic who’s very conflicted and controlling with regards to her sister. This leads to a rather dark end to the story, something that one might almost call hopeless and bleak.
It was an idea that I’d had in my mind for a few years that I had even begun to pen down, but somehow, I never got to finish it. Hence, for the class assignment, I decided to complete it, well more like re-write it. Anyways, after a fortnight of trying to bring myself to finish it and barely getting any work done, I managed to complete it just shy of the deadline.
Then, I asked a friend of mine to review and proof-read it. She did and though I’d already discussed the story and the characters with her and she knew what was to come, all she could say way, “What a sad story? Why would you create such a dark character? Are you that dark a person?”
I was shocked. I didn’t know what to say. And then I realised that my difficulty in writing the story may have come from a subconscious reluctance to give a definite voice to a character that repulsed me so.
What if someone somewhere was hopelessly low and read my story? What if I caused someone to lose hope to the point of it being catastrophic? What if I never thought about it? What if it occurred to me too late? What if I just didn’t care? I mean, as a writer and an artist, I strive to be creative about what I create but does that give me the right to unleash the horrors of such darkness?
The truth is, my writing doesn’t even need to be good for it impact someone like that. I don’t have to be a literary genius for the depth of darkness in the character to take root in someone. We all have a dark side to us that threatens to and occasionally even succeeds in take over the ‘good’ side. So even a moment of clarity can make it easy for the darkness to connect, so that one ends up retaining the bad guy more than the hero himself.
Sure, if the setting, the context or even the end of such a story has hope, it softens the blows. It makes it okay to have despicable people do horrendous things in the name of whatever comes to their fancy. In fact, so many stories, especially fantasy novels, thrive on the same premise. As long as there is a promise of a better tomorrow, the night can be as star-less as it wishes to be. Such stories then give one the right to hope, to believe in the power of love and healing and dreams and hope.
Take a character as iconic as Voldemort, for example. He is the complete package, an amalgamation of every cliche that exists for a villain. He is psychotic, has never loved, has been on a killing spree since he was a child and trusts no one. He is also manipulative, secretive, and takes delight in doing evil things for the sheer fun of it. Add to that the fact that he is hell-bent on killing a mere boy since the latter was an infant and in doing so seals his own fate, because hold your breath, the boy is the living example of love and hope. And yet, a character like him works because for every little evil thing he does, there will be someone who will be brave (and yes, belonging to Gryffindor) who shall choose to stand up against him. Even someone like the Joker cannot drain all the hope out of the viewer, because evil as he may be, in the end, he is defeated. And not just by Batman, but also by all the people of Gotham who, when it comes down to it, find that they are unable to blow off another boat to save theirs. You see, all these characters, these perfect representations of what we see as being evil and dark, all manage to leave us with some hope in the end because to their yin, exists an equally impactful yang, be it ‘The Boy Who Lived’ or ‘The Fallen Knight’.
But what if there is no hope?
What if the setting is bleak, the context is dark and the end is devoid of hope? What if there is no sun to rise tomorrow? What if there is no humanity left to shine upon? What if?
Does the darkness still serve it’s purpose then by becoming a sad song that releases one’s tears and with them, all the heaviness and sadness that was boiling within for days? Does it act as a trigger for one to empathise and in the process, let go of one’s own troubles? Or does it perhaps, make one more hopeful simply because suddenly, your troubles don’t seem as bad?
Or, does it become something else? Does the character on paper become an inspiration for the one in flesh? Does it become an excuse to give in to your own dark side, to unleash your own monsters?
Or, does it quite simply, give way to despair? So much so, that your nights and days are just an endless struggle to exist in a world devoid of laughter and beauty and soul? Does it make your existence seem hollow and meaningless?
When the impact is so unpredictable and loaded with so many possible consequences, do I then, have the right to make a moral judgement here? Does anyone? And who decides upon the righteousness of my moral judgement? Are my desires to be creative when I create more important than someone else’s right to hope? Do I have the right to create something or someone so profoundly dark for something as trivial as a class assignment? Do I have the right to conceive and give shape to a monstrosity and then go to bed and sleep as if nothing happened? Does obsessing and being depressed about it for a few days nullify the impact it could have?
Or, am I just overreacting?