Alden Bell's "The Reapers are the Angels". Temple’s evilness and ethical behaviour

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2014

16 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Ethics and Evil
2.1 Seneca
2.1.1 Stoicism
2.1.2 How to master fate
2.1.3 Human nature
2.1.4 Ethical behaviour and value
2.2 Evil
2.2.1 ‘ Böse ’ and ‘Übel ’
2.2.2 Pleasure and Pain

3. The Reapers are the Angels
3.1 An evil post-apocalyptic world?
3.2 Temple
3.3 Moses and Maury

4. Conclusion - The Ethical and Mon-Evil Temlpe

1. Introduction

“The relationship between philosophy, literature and ethics has been troubling people for a very long time (really, and without exaggeration ‘since at least Plato ’).”, Robert Eaglestone begins is essay Navigating an Ancient Problem: Ethics and Literature (2003). The turn to ethics in the 1990’s proves that the “moral dimension” of literature (cf. ibid. 128) is indeed an interesting field of investigation. Literature has the ability to create worlds of perfection as well as devastation, where values can be virtuously hold high or where no values can be found at all. Literature functions as a transmitter of values (cf. Locatelli, 2008, 19) but nevertheless can also serve to destroy them by justifying a hero/ine’s action (cf. Hornung, 1996, 209).

In Alden Bell’s The Reapers are the Angels ethical behaviour is largely influenced by the most basic instinct: survival. The protagonist Temple lives in a world of zombies and these conditions coerce her to kill “meatskins” and grieve the loss of loved ones. The basic conception of ethics “What shall I do?” (cf. Schwerdtfeger, 2005, 14) is turned into the question: “why did I have to do that?” and most importantly “Am I evil?”. Temple is determined to answer this question with “Yes!”. However, she is not depicted as such a person.

This paper’s aim is to discuss her evilness and to conclude that she is in fact not evil at all. For that reason two basic questions follow: Why does she think so? and how is she characterised? In order to answer these questions first an ethical theory is needed which shows that Temple is living an ethical life. Seneca, a Roman philosopher, provides this theory. Furthermore, the term evil has to be explained and defined as far as it is possible. Lastly, I will discuss Temple’s killing scenes in The Reapers are the Angels and the two fellow, major characters Moses and Maury in terms of the before assembled theories in order to evaluate her evilness and to answer the above uttered questions.

2. Ethics and Evil

2.1 Seneca

Lucius Annaeus Seneca was born in Spain as a son of a Roman knight around the year zero. He became a successful philosopher and after Claudius, emperor of Rome, died, he was in charge of the empire between 54 and 59 A.D. as a consultant of Nero. However, to today’s philosophy he is more known as a writer of moral philosophy who succeeded in helping those in need of ethical advice for generations (cf. Schumacher, 1999, VII-IX).

2.1.1 Stoicism

Seneca adheres mostly to the school of stoicism but also takes other philosophers (e.g. Epicurus) into consideration. Central to the school of stoicism is the doctrine of logos, which refers to the sensibility of the world and humanity and means that reason is dominant in every part of life. Stoics believed that every creature is good by nature and that only insensible urges can disturb that order of reason and thus the ideal sage is someone without lust and desire and a human being bearing whatever fate awaits (cf. ibid., XXXI). Moreover, it is not important what but how it is endured.

Seneca develops his own view on stoicism and extends it with other philosophers such as Plato, Epicurus, and so on. To his moral philosophy it was essential not only to connect religion, philosophy and science but also to combine them in a practical-ethical life. In his opinion it is not enough to know virtue theoretically but to practise it and turn thoughts into action (cf. ibid. XLV).

2.1.2 How to master fate

To Seneca fate is only a force for those who cling onto it (Seneca, 1999, 130). This means that every creature should not fear fate and should not wait for bad things to happen rather live the best life they can in their given situation. Human beings should not desire bad luck but the courageous soul that bears it (cf. ibid. 105). Seneca encourages everyone facing problems to not be afraid because a good man simply is not afraid and does not complain and therefore the sage appreciates the problem and turns it into something good (cf. ibid. 18). He has the strong believe that fate avoids the coward as if to say: “Why should I compete with such weakness? I would not be able to go against him with my entire force. He is torn apart by a little threat. I would be ashamed to struggle with a human who is ready to loose at sight.” (ibid. 18/19). What Seneca is saying is that a human in trouble can be proud because fate would have never chosen a weak, cowardly person which in turn is an admirable characteristic. He constitutes that God does not coddle his people but wants to form them according to his idea by giving them difficulties as an inducement (cf. ibid. 21). The metaphor of a tree in the wind is pretty reasonable: only if the wind challenges a tree, it can grow deep roots and only then it can grow to be resistant and strong (cf. ibid. 23). This seems to be a wonderful consolation.

To accept one’s fate also means to accept his/her own mortality. Seneca often begs his friend Lucilius, who serves as an addressee in his moral letters, to welcome the thought of death because only if he really accepts the truth that everyone has to die in the end, he can be sure to live without fear.

2.1.3 Human nature

Stoics assume that every human being is good by nature or else they are foolish and wicked. However, Seneca says that there are layers in between. Creatures are born free but to be actually free, we have to give it to and demand it from ourselves. The same is true for goodness. Humanity contains it but it is necessary to want it with all your heart (cf. ibid. 125). If it was not like this every creature would be born with wisdom and then wisdom would not have the most precious characteristic: that it cannot be achieved by coincidence but only by a human’s own making (ibid. 146/147). This seems fairly reasonable since wisdom would not be anything special anymore and it would be the “new normal”. Furthermore, since Seneca establishes the thought that God and human beings are alike, a sage would not be superior to a God in one aspect: Fearlessness lies in the nature of God whereas a sage is fearless due to his own development (cf. ibid. 85). Moreover, this is only possible because without God there would not be any noble thinking at all. Devine, godly seeds are planted in every human being. However, it takes a good gardener to make these seeds grow into what they are capable of (ibid. 112). This is interrelated with the thought that every creature is good by nature but only on condition that a good person has to reflect and with that to help the seed to grow. This constitutes the difference to a bad person because this creature does not reflect and reason, which is why they are bad (ibid. 132).

Through a lack of reflection, Seneca comes to the conclusion, rage is also bad because it is a temporal disturbance of the soul and expressed by someone not in control of himself, which to Seneca is the least desirable situation of all. He asserts that the cause is the believe that something is unjust and that rage can be resolved by moral law due to it’s voluntary error in the agent’s character. Therefore, he pleads humanity should not defend rage and should not excuse for the lack of self-control by saying that rage was useful or inevitable (cf. ibid. 239-241). However, I disagree that rage is voluntary because it lies deep in us. If it fulfils evil characteristics Seneca says so himself: evil lies deep within us and we do not recover easily because we do not know that we are in fact sick. To remove evil and be healthy we need to learn moral habits by leaving immoral features behind (ibid. 78). To achieve this goal human beings have to acknowledge first that there is something wrong and as long as that does not occur he will not be able to develop to ethical perfection.

2.1.4 Ethical behaviour and value

According to Seneca there are different degrees of value. The first degree is described by values that are desired directly such as pleasure, peace and joy. The second only show in unlucky circumstances and are only desired when necessary: bearing pain and to suffer calmly for whatever reason (e.g. disease). The last degree of value is the outer appearance: to be modest and have a patient and noble facial expression (cf. ibid. 101). The value of ethical behaviour lies in itself: It is not a matter of (re-)payment but the payment for a good deed is the deed itself - that it is done (ibid. 128). Furthermore, the value of an action is not in the thing someone gave but in the will and attitude it entailed. Therefore, Seneca encourages to give easily, without hesitation and only that, which we ourselves want to receive (ibid. 199).

“Bald werden wir unseren letzten Atemzug tun. So lange wir aber atmen, solange wir unter Menschen weilen, wollen wir uns Menschlichkeit zur Pflicht machen! Mögen wir für niemanden ein Gegenstand der Furcht, eine Quelle der Gefahr sein! Verluste, Ungerechtigkeiten, Beschimpfungen und Kränkungen sollten wir verachten und alle diese kurzen Unbequemlichkeiten guten Mutes auf uns nehmen. Im Umsehen, sozusagen im Umdrehen tritt der Tod an uns heran.“ (ibid. 249). Although Seneca wrote so much and uses so many words to utter his believes, this quote seems to sum up Seneca’s philosophy in all his complexity: to not fear death because it is inevitable for everyone. Moreover, to be a good person while being still alive and to devote you to humanity, which according to Seneca means to be sensible and courageous in your ethical behaviour even though fate strikes with all its force.


Excerpt out of 16 pages


Alden Bell's "The Reapers are the Angels". Temple’s evilness and ethical behaviour
University of Koblenz-Landau  (Institut für Anglistik)
21st Century American Fiction
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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544 KB
Seneca, The Reapers are the Angels, Ethics, Evil
Quote paper
Eva Heuft (Author), 2014, Alden Bell's "The Reapers are the Angels". Temple’s evilness and ethical behaviour, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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