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Revenge Is Not Always Sweet

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Ever since mankind was created, it seems that revenge has come along with it. The Code of Hammurabi, the code of law from the sixth king of Babylon, was put into practice around 1760 B.C., making it the oldest recorded set of laws in human history. The code is rooted firmly in the belief in an eye for an eye; revenge was written all over it. Revenge is present in international politics, within one’s nation, in our homes, in our schools and in our personal relationships. Even in the civilized world we live in, revenge seems to play an important role in society. The United States is one of the few countries that allows the death penalty and implements it. People have different reasons and excuses of why the death penalty works, but yet again, isn’t this an act of revenge from one human being to another? The most recent act of revenge is nine-eleven. The United States argues that the war in Iraq was to fight terrorism, when in reality, they are looking for the one responsible to get the revenge millions of Americans ask for. Revenge is not always sweet; on the contrary it leads to a bitter life. No one is perfect, so why should any person waste his or her life trying to destroy another?

Instead, people must attempt to forgive others. Through characters in several classic novels, words from leaders of the world, and through scholars’ researches, I will prove my point that revenge leads to self-destruction. Why do people seek revenge? According to a National Geographic research, the brain images suggest that humans feel satisfaction when they punish others for wrongdoings. “A person who has been cheated is left in a bad situation, the person would feel even worse if the cheater does not get her or his just punishment,” said Ernst Fehr, director of the Institute for Empirical Research in Economics at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. Fehr and his colleagues agree that the feeling of satisfaction that people get when they punish someone may be the base that keeps society calm and together. Later on, Fehr did an experiment, where people played a game of exchanging money. The rules were that, if one player made a selfish move instead of a mutually beneficial one, another player could punish the player. The majority of players elected to impose a penalty even when it cost them some of their own money.

By doing this, Fehr and his colleagues found that it activated a region of the brain where research has shown that this region is involved in enjoyment or satisfaction. Knutson, a Stanford psychologist, said that: “instead of cold calculated reason, it is passion that may plant the seeds of revenge”(Roach). When seeking for revenge, human beings act with their heart, not with their minds. They do it because they were hurt at some point. In the novel Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, the life of Heathcliff Earnshaw perfectly portrays an example of how revenge can destroy a life. As a young boy, Heathcliff was adopted by Mr. Earnshaw to live with his family in Wuthering Heights. The Earnshaw children, Catherine and Hindley, were not too keen on this idea. As time passed, Catherine accepted Heathcliff as a friend, and they even fell in love. This amiable relationship did not develop between Heathcliff and Hindley. Quarrels would constantly arise between these two until one day, when Mr. Earnshaw decided to send Hindley away to college.

Hindley left with a feeling of resentment towards Heathcliff, and after his father’s death, he returned to get his revenge. He took advantage of his power to treat Heathcliff like a servant, and this enraged Heathcliff who one day decided to leave Wuthering Heights and reappeared a successful man. Heathcliff used his money to bribe Hindley. He then fell in these traps because he had fallen into alcoholism and gambling and needed the money to buy drinks and make bets. All this time, Heathcliff was enjoying himself seeing Hindley destroy himself little by little. At the end, Heathcliff seems to be the winner because Hindley dies and Heathcliff inherits all his possessions, but in reality he feels empty and unloved. Heathcliff died lonely and unhappy, because he wasted his entire life watching other people fall (Bronte). This novel portrays the perfect example of a never-ending cycle of revenge. Hindley was acting immature when he sought revenge, but Heathcliff’s counteractions were as childish as his opponent’s.

Every character of the novel is harmed directly or indirectly, because of the need to seek revenge. In the end, Heathcliff not only destroyed his life, but the lives of everyone around him. In the novel, The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the character Roger Chillingworth dedicates his life to destroy his wife, Hester Prynne, and the man with whom she committed adultery. This man is Arthur Dimmesdale, the priest of the town. In the progression of the story, Chillingworth realizes that Dimmesdale is the adulterer. At this point, Chillingworth decides to make Dimmesdale’s life a living hell. Chillingworth takes advantage of the fact that Dimmesdale suffers from severe stress and heart problems, using psychological tactics to pressure Dimmesdale into feeling guilty, without Dimmesdale being aware that Chillingworth had knowledge of his secret. In all this turmoil, Chillingworth, physically and psychologically, appears to have become the devil. The expressions of his face have hardened, and his words are those of a madman.

His desire to get revenge on Hester and Dimmesdale destroyed his appearance and his conscience. Everything he does, says, or has become is a direct result of his urge to get revenge. The thought that revenge would complete him overcomes his senses, turning him into a fiend (Hawthorne). Sometimes, while we are trying to destroy someone, we do not notice that we are destroying ourselves along the way. At times, it is better to move on because in the end walking away could be less painful than staying for a fight. Even though most of the novels portray revenge as self-destructing, some do not. For example, in The Count of Monte Cristo, Edmon Dantes was a successful merchant who went to Marseille to marry his fiancée, Mercedes. Two jealous and envious men accuse Dante of being a Bonapartist traitor. Another men, Villefort, in order to clean his dirty hands, sends Dante without a trial to a life imprisonment. After fourteen years in prison, Dante becomes friends with Faria. He later gives Dante the map to a treasure in Monte Cristo.

When Faria died, he had the chance to escape the prison. Dante begins his journey to Monte Cristo and finds the treasure. He later returns to Marseille to get his long-waited revenge. Disguised as the rich Count of Monte Cristo, Dantès takes revenge on the three men responsible for his unjust imprisonment: Fernand, Mercedes’ husband; Danglars, a wealthy banker; and Villefort. After several events, Dante succeeds in his revengeful plan. At the end of the novel the author explains how Dante found peace in his mind. He was now ready to be happy again (Dumas). The novel is full of pain and suffering, and it feels good as the story develops to see how the bad guys sink. Even though the avenger is “the good guy” in the story, and we sympathize with the things he does to the villains, is it true that he could have lived happily ever after? It seems that while he was in captivity he lost his heart and feelings. He grew to be a monster and that is the reason why he was cold as a stone. Moreover, it is said that people who seek revenge have a dark and bitter past. Even though these are fictional novels, they have a big impact in our normal day-to-day lives.

Fiction books often mirror our simple lives. Although they are presented in a more dramatic plot, the main theme could be related to a part in someone’s life where they thought revenge was the answer. In most cases, revenge destroys the avenger. Different scriptures and religions coincide that revenge is not the answer. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good unto them that hate you, and pray for, them who despitefully use and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). The Qur’an states, “And if you punish, you shall inflict an equivalent punishment. But if you resort to patience, it would be better for the patient ones.” (Sura 16:126). Confucius, a Chinese philosopher, said, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” What he means by saying this is that revenge not only affects the victim but also the avenger. It is a journey of darkness, deception and self-bitterness. “An eye for an eye would make the whole world blind,” said Mahatma Gandhi; he states that the reason the world is full of bad things, is because man have the natural urge to seek revenge and we have a crooked world because of this.

Many examples of what Gandhi means are: World War II, war in Iraq and Nuclear bombing in Hiroshima. These events shook up the world, and honestly fighting for peace has not worked in the past; why would it work now? With these quotes and sayings, we can see how people from different time periods and religions agree on the same thing; revenge only leads to self-destruction. People who are in favor of revenge argue that others should be punished for the things they have done. William Shakespeare said, “If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?” (37). With this statement, he argues that for every action there is a counteraction in return. So if someone wrongs us, we must hurt him or her in return. I believe that Shakespeare is wrong. Some times it is better to let go, because as he said, one action leads to another one; that will only lead us into a never ending cycle, and therefore, self-annihilation.

Research done on revenge show that the parties involved in this act have harmful consequences. Organizational research shows that even a tiny act of revenge could produce results that are equally destructive from both the avenger’s and the organization’s point of view. Another study showed that workers thought that retaliation was unprofessional. They reported cases in which they did provoke a counter vengeance, and stated that getting even failed to resolve the problem that led them to exact revenge in the first place. Statistics show that 12.1 percent of people believe revenge is not worth it. Also most of the people agree that revenge is childish and immature (Boon). A study by Peter Fischer shows that psychological and behavioral responses to revenge are linked with their background and how much they have been hurt in the past. People with more scars from their past are more likely to seek revenge. This once again proves my theory that people who seek revenge are dark and bitter. However, some studies also show that revenge may have good outcomes.

For example: some people said that revenge has given them power and control; others claim that getting even cause a desired change in the other person; some believe revenge has been constructive, but stating that getting even worked and restored his or her reputation (Boon). It is acceptable to punish someone for doing bad things, but only if our real intentions are pure, and our main objective is make the other person a better one. An example is when we are kids, our parents punish us and we learn from our mistakes, that is how we differentiate good from bad. When people seek revenge to hurt the other person, it is not acceptable. Because of the sources used in this essay: characters in several classic novels, words from leaders of the world, and through scholars’ researches; it has been proven that revenge only leads to self-destruction. All the examples used helped readers to adapt to their own situations.

People may not have the desire to seek revenge or may convince themselves not to do it, but the ticket to freedom is forgiving the other person’s wrongdoings, even if he/she does not ask for it. This is what will truly set a person apart from living a healthy life that can be dedicated into helping others, not hindering his or her urge to progress. Conflicts and deceptions will arise throughout our lives, creating grudges and resentments. We must have concrete morals in order to get rid of any negative feelings and dispose any revengeful feeling in order to avoid self-destructing our lives. The best revenge we could ever have is to continue our journey while improving ourselves along the way.

Works Cited

Boon, Susan D., Alishia M. Alibhai, and Vicki L. Deveau. “Reflections on the costs and benefits of exacting revenge in romantic relationships.” Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science/Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement
43.2 (2011): 128-137. PsycARTICLES. EBSCO. Web. 24 July 2011. Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights. New York: Bantam Classics, 1981. Print. Dumas, Alexandre. The Count of Monte Cristo. New York: Bantam Classics, 1984. Print. Fischer, Peter, S. Alexander Haslam, and Laura Smith. ““If you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” Social identity salience moderates support for retaliation in response to collective threat.” Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice 14.2 (2010): 143-150. PsycARTICLES. EBSCO. Web. 24 July 2011. Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: Bantam Classics, 1981.Print. The Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical books. New York: Collins, 1989. Print. New Revised Standard Verses. Holy Qur’an. Trans. M. H. Shakir. Elmhurst, NY: Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an, n.d.. Roach, John. “Brain Study Shows Why Revenge Is Sweet.” Nationalgeographicnews.com. 27 August. 2004. 24 July. 2011. . Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2009.Print.

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