It is a common trope in fiction for the ‘villain’ and the ‘hero’ to be two sides of the same coin. Sometimes this is in the form of ‘what if the hero’s life had gone a different way could they be the villain?’ or, alternatively, it can be the hero and the villain sharing similar traits or motivations.
For instance, if we look at stories where there is some oncoming disaster there are often two characters who both want to save the world; one is the protagonist/hero whose motivations appear good, perhaps they want to save everyone with no ‘collateral’. The other is the antagonist/villain who is ruthless, they want to save everyone but they are less optimistic and more practical than the hero and think you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. On the surface they are both trying to do something ‘heroic’ but their approaches are different, one optimistic and the other cynical. It isn’t so much the goal that forms the antagonist but their personality that brings them into conflict with our protagonist. If we flipped the story around the antagonist could become the hero who is impeded by the optimistic and ‘impractical’ nature of our original hero. Quite often, but not always, this trope features an optimistic scientist in opposition to a cold military leader.
The alternative is that our hero is someone whose life could’ve gone in a different direction and made them the villain. Victor Frankenstein and The Creature are an example of this in Frankenstein, because both men are eloquent and intelligent but Victor rejected family while The Creature was rejected by his family, Victor his ‘father’. This case is further complicated by the fact that Victor isn’t a hero, he is the protagonist of the story because he is telling the story, even when we hear The Creature’s side of the story it is filtered through Victor. (We could also add that the story is again filtered through another character who listens and writes it down but let’s keep it simple for now). However, we may argue that The Creature is villainous because he is not only painted this way by Victor but he is pushed to extremes by Victor. The Creature’s primary motivation is that he wants love and family, a common motivation, but Victor thwarts this at every turn. He creates The Creature and rejects him and thus ensues a series of rejections that could’ve been avoided.
This further builds into the idea of the villain as reflection of the hero; The Creature, the ‘villain’, searches for love and family and is constantly rejected while Victor, the ‘hero’, has love and family constantly rejects that love and family. This creates two characters that are mirror images of each other which brings them it conflict.
When we write characters we don’t have to say that there is one trope that we must stay within, we can mix and match elements or we may simply write characters that happen to cross these tropes without thinking about it, which is fine as well. We don’t have to have a grand plan or intend a deep message. In Frankenstein we can’t be sure that Mary Shelley intended to make Victor and The Creature reflections of each other or make us wonder what would have happened if things were different in their lives, this is only an interpretation. Whether you chose to create parallels in your protagonist and antagonist or not people will make their own interpretations.
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