AVENGE, REVENGE-both imply to inflict pain or harm in return for pain or harm inflicted on oneself or those persons or causes to which one feels loyalty. The two words were formerly interchangeable, but have been differentiated until they now convey widely diverse ideas. AVENGE is now restricted to inflicting punishment as an act of retributive justice or as a vindication of propriety: to avenge a murder by bringing the criminal to trial. REVENGE implies inflicting pain or harm to retaliate for real or fancied wrongs; a reflexive pronoun is often used with this verb: Iago wished to revenge himself upon Othello.
What drives people to act in revenge?
A perpetrator’s actions challenge some aspect of the victim’s identity, such as his masculinity, his standing in the community, his success in monetary matters, or his fidelity in his marriage. There are many more examples, but it gets personal, hits home, invokes his “fight” survival mechanism and aggression results. Sometimes revenge starts in passive aggressive forms; the derisive comment, a social payback, a takeover in business in various forms, a nasty substance slipped into a drink, etc. But the aggression can escalate to—murder. The threat to the victim is eliminated by the death of his enemy and his identity can then be restored because the source of his challenged identity is gone. The perpetrator’s opinions and aspersions die with his death.
Betrayal is another aspect of revenge. Any broken contract is perceived as betrayal. Emotional betrayals are more prone to violence, but usually those murders are considered crimes of passion. Premeditated murder is more complex and controlled. There is a temporary detachment from emotions, at least while revenge is conceived. The mechanical brain takes over to plan murder. The revenge is justified by the victim on the grounds that the perpetrator wouldn’t have committed the wrongdoing in the first place if he had a conscience, so there is no need to take the high road and confront the perpetrator, which would lead to more abuse or ridicule. Revenge negates the need to take a higher moral road. The victim acts with stealth to enact revenge—making that motive all the more compelling for the writer.
In the case of actual wrongdoing, the victim may be portrayed by the writer as avenging a wrong. People respond positively to avenge because it balances the scales of justice, like heavenly avenging angels, who enact “an eye for an eye,” compensating the victim. Avenge is measured through a continuum in which “0” represents a neutral, balanced relationship. As soon as a wrong is committed, the perpetrator zooms to “10” on the continuum and knocks his victim to “-10.” When the victim fights back avenging the wrongdoing, he knocks the perpetrator and himself back to “0” on the scale of justice and thus they are now even again—the victim of the original wrongdoing has gained equality. But of course, revenge, which usually involves a heinous act that is twice as bad as the original wrongdoing, just reverses the perpetrator’s and victim’s positions.
Is revenge one of your favorite motivations, too?