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Systematizing evil in literature: twelve models for the analysis of narrative fiction

  • Daniel Candel EMAIL logo
From the journal Semiotica


While there are interesting connections between literature and evil, there is as of yet no systematic collection of models of evil to study literature. This is problematic, since literature is among other things an evaluative discourse and the most basic evaluative category is the polarity of good versus evil. In addition, evil shows important affinities with basic narratological principles. To initiate a discussion of models of evil for the analysis of literature, this article organizes a dozen models of evil into four groups. The first consists of a core model which coincides with basic narratological elements in character analysis and narrative tension. The second group contains two pre-modern models of evil, defilement and moral-natural evil. The third group takes its cue from personality theory and proposes the five-factor model of personality and an enriched “dark triad,” and, to balance description against narration, a model which categorizes kinds of murder. The last group organizes six models around the thematic opposition between nature and society, an opposition which forms the backbone of Western philosophy and narrative. To test their validity, the models are applied to a series of literary examples/characters, above all Grendel (Beowulf), Browning’s “My Last Duchess,” and Carol Oates’ short story “Heat.”

Corresponding author: Daniel Candel, Universidad de Alcalá, Alcalá de Henares, Spain, E-mail:


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Received: 2020-07-16
Accepted: 2021-01-11
Published Online: 2021-08-13
Published in Print: 2021-09-27

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