Redemption Stories

by Linda Rodriguez

I’ve been thinking of redemption narratives lately—plots where
someone, usually a charismatic male character, who has been of dubious morality
redeems himself, quite often as an act of love for a major female character.
Redemptions plots are powerful storylines that crop up in every genre—literary,
mystery/thriller, science fiction, fantasy, adventure, western, and of course,

Dickens’ Tale of Two
is the major redemption story of the debauched wastrel lawyer,
Sidney Carton, redeeming his sins by sacrificing himself to save an innocent
man, all from his overwhelming love for Lucie Manette. On a more recent note—and
in another genre altogether—in Buffy the
Vampire Slayer
, evil vampire Spike loves Buffy so deeply that he seeks out
a sorcerer to bring back his soul and all the torments of the damned that come
with it, redeeming himself and sacrificing himself at the end of the series to
save the world so that Buffy won’t have to. 
In many mysteries and thrillers,
alcoholic or disgraced protagonists and major characters make sacrifices,
including the ultimate one, in an effort to redeem themselves. Lawrence Block’s
entire masterful Matthew Scudder series is the story of an alcoholic ex-cop’s continuing
search for redemption after he causes the death of a young girl.

The sinner who repents his sin and sacrifices himself in
some way to try to make amends has been an enduring and powerful narrative
throughout history. As writers, we probably don’t make use of it as often as we
should. I’m a big believer in hope, and a redemption story offers a sense of
hope, even when there are no real survivors at the end. If someone has sacrificed
in an attempt at redemption, all has not been lost.

I look around sometimes after listening, almost in despair, to
the news and think that’s what we need more of in this country, true redemption
narratives—people willing to make real sacrifices to make amends for the wrongs
they’ve committed. Instead we have people who won’t even admit they’ve done
wrong when they kill someone.

Do you have favorite novels or other kinds of stories that
are redemption plots?

6 replies
  1. clpauwels
    clpauwels says:

    I think this is why I prefer fiction over (most of) real life: redemption, sacrifice, justice…instead of a continuing abdication of responsibility and increasing inhumanity. Thanks –

  2. Linda Rodriguez
    Linda Rodriguez says:

    Cyndi, I think that's one thing we fiction writers can and should be offering–some sense of hope, some vision of a better way.

  3. lil Gluckstern
    lil Gluckstern says:

    I just thought of a great movie from the 80's-it was The Verdict with Paul Newman.
    Very fine, and he did make it through.

  4. kk
    kk says:

    My answer to "what is your favorite — fill in the blank" is almost always something from JANE EYRE. In this case the redemptive answer is of course Mr. Rochester. I seldom reread anything–so many books, so little time being my mantra–but JANE EYRE is the exception. 4-5 times, I am not sure how many times, but lots. Also BLACK BEAUTY and several spy tales by the great John le Carre. That's it. Anyway, Mr. Rochester was not a hopeless case by any means but he did need improving. And so he did, for the love of a good woman. Natch!


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.