sorry, can you go into the distinction you make between redemption and atonement?
Mm, okay, so I guess the first thing is that I’m still looking for a term that I really actively like, as opposed to don’t dislike, for the general concept of “character works to become a better person after doing a lot of bad shit, in a way that preserves the dignity and personhood of everyone involved”. I’m a touchy picky weirdo about language and concepts when it comes to things that relate to “you did bad things and/or are a bad person” in most respects.
That said - the main thing I’m trying to get at with distinguishing redemption and atonement (for lack of a better term), is distinguishing views and narratives focusing on external decrees of one’s moral state, often invoking consciously or subconsciously the idea of a prior “morally purer” version of oneself that needs to be returned to; and those that focus on the nitty gritty details and aspects of day to day living that go into becoming a person who does less harm to others. Redemption conjures more this idea of striving toward a standard that some third party has set, where after you meet that standard, you get to be all shiny squeaky clean like you were before you did Bad Stuff, and your personality and conduct might well just slide mysteriously into decency with minimal conflict after a single Grand Gesture symbolizing your moral about-face, not so much effort otherwise required. Atonement, to my view, makes you think more of an ongoing effort put in, one little bit at a time, to repay others for the wrongs you’ve done, and learn more beneficial ways of viewing the world and acting in it compared to those that led you to your past actions.
Specifically, posts like this one and this one I think get into a bit more detail on the concept of redemption, and how that sort of hidden conceptual baggage about morality makes attempts at writing “evil character becomes good” stories fall flat. Also related is this one that I wrote the other day, if on a slightly different aspect of the whole issue.
And that’s not at all to imply that trying to write an atonement arc instead (much less just switching vocabulary and calling it that) is necessarily going to avoid these issues? Whereas a bad redemption arc makes me think of an author who just decrees “okay yup you’re Good now” without changing the character’s behaviour (or changing it in a way that seems more like a stock photo of The Contrite Bad Guy than the original character), a bad atonement arc makes me think of enforced public shaming and self-debasement used as a punishment gauntlet the character needs to pass through in order to “deserve” to think of themselves as not Horrible Bad Evil all the time.
Which tbh is why I’m still not crazy about that particular term, or really any terms that are widely understood in a broad sense to mean, “you did bad shit before and now you’re doing good shit explicitly to make up for your past”? There’s a really fine line to walk in the way our cultural mindset is scaffolded, when it comes to the relationship between past harmful deeds and desired/attempted future beneficial ones, I think. It’s too easy to fall into desiring punishment rather than improvement. and while awareness and reflection and motivation regarding harm you’ve previously caused is absolutely vital and necessary for improvement, that aspect is something I tend to shy away from emphasizing when I talk about narratives - simply because in many other places, it does get a lot of play and tends to get tangled up in really nasty ideas about being deserving of kindness or basic human decency, and a person’s worth depending on how well they can conform to pedestal-izing narratives.
…this got a bit away from me, but I hope that makes my thoughts on the matter clearer? Thanks for asking!