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What do we mean by redemption? - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
What do we mean by redemption?
mctabby has a poll up about whether several different characters will live/die and be redeemed or not. Several commenters talked about whether some of them needed to be redeemed, per se.

"Redeemed" is a tricky kind of word with a lot of different meanings, and a lot of confusion with other concepts. Dealing with Anakin in the SW fandom, I got a lot of confusion between the concepts of being redeemed and being absolved--"Why should he get redeemed? It's not like you can bring the dead back to life!" Of course, that would refer to absolution, being wiped clean of a sin, rather than redemption. In the Christian sense of the word, redemption is a change in spiritual status--salvation granted to the sinner, and that's probably the closest to "absolution" that the word gets. It doesn't make the sin go away; it cleans up the sinner's soul. (That's why I have issues with people who commit crimes and then claim redemption and don't want to be punished for their crimes because of it. The crimes don't go away. My own belief is that the truly redeemed sinner is always a penitent. Not in a maudlin way--"Oh, I shall accept lashes for all of eternity!"--but in the practical way of working to repair the damage he's done when it's possible, and taking responsibility for his own actions.)

Looking at the definitions of redemption, the one thing all of them have in common is that they are acts of intervention, whether human or divine, and are about freeing someone or something that is being held--whether it's redeeming the savings offered by a coupon when you buy the product or redeeming a hostage by paying a ransom or redeeming the soul of a trapped sinner, redemption is a process of "buying back." Peter Pettigrew has a life debt, and by "paying" it, he redeems his life.

But what about someone like Percy, who hasn't exactly gone dark side on anyone, but has done awful things to his family emotionally? Does he need redemption? In the sense of being freed from the evil of Voldemort, no, but the books are pretty clear that Voldemort isn't the only evil thing there is in the world. Percy let his pride and ambition drive him into being blind to Voldemort, and as a result of this he let them drive him to hurt his family. So yeah... his debt is building up, and sooner or later, he'll need to redeem it.

Draco strikes me as the one who needs redemption most classically, not because he's done the worst things (though three attempts at murder aren't something to be sneezed at), but because he's gotten himself trapped. There are hooks in him from many directions. He did accept some of them perfectly willingly, and some are there because of what his parents did, but Voldemort has gotten him wound up in them until he feels there is nowhere else to go and nothing else to do. He made it his identity, and he's a hostage to it... and unlike his father, he doesn't seem especially glad of this. He's someone who needs a little outside intervention, and he strikes me as the one most likely to be redeemed in the classic Christian sense, in a symbolic way (maybe someone--Snape?--dying to save him). If he then goes right back to being an un-humbled prat, then it would be problematic, but the more likely scenario is that being redeemed would humble him and he would be a penitent.

What about dead characters, though? What about Anakin? What if Peter dies paying his life debt to Harry? What if Snape really is genuinely guilty of killing Dumbledore, and dies saving Draco? What if Percy spends three years being a prat only to die protecting Ron? They can't exactly be penitents after that, and how can you make assumptions of what would have happened if they'd lived? Does a single good deed, if it's the sacrifice of one's own life, pay for everything?

I don't know. It's certainly enough to bring up a lot of interesting questions about a character throughout his life, because an act like that doesn't come out of nowhere, any more than an act of betrayal does. If you're willing to give your life to save someone good from someone bad to whom you've sworn fealty, what does it mean about who you are and what's been inside you all along? To me, it's an interesting question, and I think that the act of a villainous character doing such a thing in itself does make me rethink everything that went before it--not to make the person's actions good, but to see how he got to where he ended up. Whether or not the person would have been able to withstand the pressure to fall back into old habits had he lived is a different sort of thing, and I think it probably depends on the person.
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murasaki99 From: murasaki99 Date: January 7th, 2006 04:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
Some of these questions become a bit more resolved if we use the Buddhist or Hindu frame of reference. In their world view there isn't so much 'good' or 'bad' (although any practitioner will certainly call an evil act by its name) as there is karma - action. All actions have consequences. Good deeds and evil deeds are written on the eternal record. Death does not end that individual's story - instead after some time, the person is reborn and that is where the karmic record comes into play. Supposedly, each life is the result of the previous karma and the person has the choice to work to resolve the debts built up - or build up more. Build up enough bad karma and a person ends up in hell - but Buddhist hell isn't any more permanant than a mortal life is. Hell is where you pay off bad karma and eventually get reborn in the physical world to try again. Same for ending up in heaven, it's not permenant either. The only way to avoid rebirth on the wheel of life is to achieve enlightenment, at which point all the ties of karma are slipped and the person rises beyond all that.

Sorry, looong explanation and there is much more to it than that; I'm no big expert on the topic. But suffice it to say, using that world view, every person is the author of his/her own redemption, all it takes is the will to do so. Then again, having a teacher point the way is also a good thing. Using a SW metaphor, I'd say Qui-Gon had that one figured out, and so did Obi-Wan, later on.

In the karmic view, if you do wake up one day and repent of your evil deeds and begin to repair them, so much the better, it means your karmic burden will be lessened. But if you die untimely, it's still possible to repair things, it just may take more than one lifetime. The point of view is shifted compared to the western/christian view of everything having to be resolved in one finite lifetime.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 7th, 2006 07:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have written my answer to this twice, and still had it a couple thousand characters too long.

I think what it comes down to is that you could give me a case where I knew a character had repented and that redemption had been granted. You could also give me cases where I didn't believe a character had repented or where I really doubted redemption had been given (arguements about whether redemption wasn't possible in a situation are things I can't answer in under a few thousand characters. Suffice it to say I can accept that in theory but prefer to believe there's always hope in specific application).

The tricky part is that you could give me a scenario where I'm not sure whether or not a character repented or whether or not a character was truly redeemed. Take a story where Percy realizes he's wronged his family and wants to set things right. However, at the last minute, he chickens out. He rationalizes his position and becomes even worse. No redemption, right?

Take the same beginning. Have Percy to not back down. He goes back to his family. He takes a stand against the Minister even when it means losing his job. In the end, he dies a hero's death saving his family. Looks redeemed to me.

Now, take the same beginning and have Percy killed in a freak accident before he can either chicken out or stay true to the bitter end. Was he redeemed? Or not?

If I could argue with certainty that, allowed to live, Percy would chicken out or if I could argue with equal certainty that he would have stayed true to end, I could give you a sure answer.

But what if he really was betwixt and between? What if he had made a beginning but might - or might not - have stayed the course? Then, I don't know. I may believe that God would know and could judge him fairly (and I know which answer I would hope for) but I don't know.

This is part of the problem with Anakin's story. You could argue forever where you saw him on this scale. Would he die to save his son from a man who had just betrayed him to his death but would he have still blown up inhabited planets without a flicker of conscience if he'd lived? Or did that one act represent a desire to atone for everything? Or was it a betwixt and between moment that could have played out in a thousand different ways if he'd lived?

I've had to cut a few thousand characters on the nature of repentance and redemption along with my views on how they interact, so I hope that's enough of an answer.

etrangere From: etrangere Date: January 8th, 2006 02:07 am (UTC) (Link)

came from daily_snitch

I think one of the problem is that when we judge a characters not only on a morality scale, but also from their role in the story. As heros and villains.

Talking about Percy needing redemption is a good sign of this. That Percy hasn't sided with the main character doesn't make him evil, nor do I think he's done such awful thing to his family - they had a very big argument that led to embitterment, big deal. So did Sirius, and I'm sure he treated his parents much worse than Percy did his own - does the fact Mr and Mrs Black were Pure Bloodist make this any less of a betrayal of his own family ?
With Snape the thing is differently complicated. Snape became a DE and we can assuming committed crimes as part of them. Then he sought redemption by committing to Dumbledore and becoming a spy. And he was still ready to do it by GoF. Dumebldore's murder ambiguity is mostly either that Snape never did truely repent, or that at some point gave up on the idea, or that he did kill Dumbledore at his own request. If that so, how do we judge that murder ? Like euthanasia ? Is it any less a crime for being requested - ordered ? I've read only a couple of fics that touched on that issue from this point of view.

People were talking about Draco as needing redemption from much earlier than HBP, which does disturb me. Bullying, insulting, mocking and being a little snotty brat is bad enough, but it's not exactly the kind of crime i associate with the idea of needing redemption. Bullies don't repent, they grow up beyond their silly behaviour. Eventually, if they especially victimized someone, they might consider appologize to them.
As of HBP, Draco was lucky he didn't do any long term damage to anyone. He doesn't have grevious responsabilities, especially to Katty Bell, and to any children who was endandgered by the DE who assaulted Hogwarts but that's it. It's not a debt that is impossible to pay in a lifetime. In many ways what will be meaningful for Draco is not redemption, it's finally picking a side for himself, and choosing between DE or OotP.
ani_bester From: ani_bester Date: January 8th, 2006 06:20 am (UTC) (Link)
Ohh I'm getting to love your essays!

My thoughts on it are this, dying does not get you redeemed if the dying was not a result of a redemtive frame of mind. And that probably makes sense.

I'll use Peter as an example becuase I 've thought the most on him. If Peter changes sides because Vodlemort is loosing and then does trying to save Harry, he's not redeemed. If the onlyr eason he saves Harry is becaus eof the Life Debt, I don't think he's redeemed. It sounds compulsory (Snape certainlya cted on it without any sol changing recognition of the son not being the father!) Peter's "turn to good' would be nothing more than his normal MO. Run to the person with the biggest guns. If he does something like that, he's not redeemed.

If he has some kind of change in his priorities, if he finds the courage to not do literally anthing to save his own skin, then I think he's redeemed no matter what he does. Personally, I think it would be simply redemptive for him to turn himself in and accept punishment as his cowerdice seems to be fear of death and fear of facing recrimination for his actions. So turning hismelf in knowing what he'll face, I think, would show a major change in his character and is thus redemtive. He doens't need to save any lives or become some big hero.

Now, I do think he can die and redeem hismelf. He fears death, so if he knowingly puts his life on the line for the greater good/another person (without the life debt invovled or any other form of force), that's again redemtive.

I think you saw that a bit with Anakin. Anakin also feared death, but in the end, he was willing toaccept that to save his son and destroy the evil he'd help to create. So he's redeemed. His debt to society is in no way re-paid, but that doesn't change the fact that he redeemed himself IMHO.

I think there's a big difference in redemptiona dn paying a debt to society. Peter can get caught, got and suffer a Dementor's kiss. According to law, his debt is then re-paid, but he's not redeemed.

I liked you point on Percy, btw. I do like JRK showing the bad in the suppossed good through him and the minsitry. I hope he apolgies. I don't think Percy eneds to do anythgi heroic or amazing, he jsut needs to admitt he made a mistake and apologize for being an asshole, which as of book 6 he still doesn't seem to want to do. Poor guy.

Anyway, no I don't think one good act repays a debt. Dying, to me certianly doe snot repay much at all. One needs to work I think, to make up for it, and you can't do that dead. Heck, in the case of characters like Peter, I don't think that kinda debt can be repaid no matter what he does. He treachery will always be there but he can save his soul (assuming it's not fed to a dementor, in Peter's case I think I might forgive suicide. I'd rather die than suffer a dementor's kiss, personally)
bluedragon716 From: bluedragon716 Date: January 8th, 2006 08:10 am (UTC) (Link)
"Does a single good deed, if it's the sacrifice of one's own life, pay for everything?"

This raised a lot of interesting questions because of everything that surrounds Lily's death in canon. Obviously she didn't have a debt to pay Harry and so was not redeeming herself, but her death, and her choice, did have very considerable repercussions. The love that protected Harry came from Lily and her willingness to die for him. JKR has said that this love-protection happened, not only because she died for him but because had the choice not to. I don't remember where exactly it was said but there was also something along the lines of James didn't transfer love shield power because he died fighting and Voldemort was going to kill him anyways whereas Lily had the option to live. Her's was a true self sacrifice.

This is interesting if you take it into considertion with someone like Pettigrew. As you said, an act like choosing to save Harry and die himself wouldn't come out of nowhere. And obviously there is some power that comes out of a person's complete self sacrifice. Even if his death wouldn't give Harry the same protection as Lily's did, I think there would be a magical reaction. We've seen a lot of magical bonds that are formed because of a person's nobler qualities (Lily's love, Harry's mercy.) So, unlike in our world, where someone's death doesn't actually transfer anything to the living, in a case like Pettigrew's I think it would balance something out between him and Harry, like levelling the accounts or something because Harry's gift/loan/extension of a magical bond of mercy would be repaid by Pettigrew's sacrifice and the magical bond that goes with that.

I do hope that was coherent because it's rather late. Your essay was as though-provoking as ever.
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