Beyond Black and White: Why Women Are Attracted To Morally Grey Characters in Literature (2023)

As a reader, have you ever found yourself inexplicably drawn to a character who is morally ambiguous, even downright villainous, instead of the picture-perfect hero of the story? If so, you’re not alone. Many women every day find themselves irresistibly attracted to dark characters, despite (or perhaps because of) their flaws and shady pasts. That’s why a particular type of character has gained popularity in recent years: the antihero. These characters are not the typical, cookie-cutter heroes that we often see in books but are morally grey characters that do not always make the right decisions yet somehow manage to capture the hearts of female readers everywhere. But why are women so attracted to these antiheroes? Let’s explore this phenomenon by closely examining some popular antiheroes in recent literature and other readers’ thoughts.

For instance, many readers claim that women are attracted to men who display both dominant and prosocial traits, which can include elements of moral ambiguity. They suggest that women are biologically programmed to seek out mates who can protect and provide for them but also exhibit behaviors that indicate they are willing to take risks and break the rules when necessary. Also, in addition to this, many book bloggers suggest that women are drawn to antihero characters because they offer a more complex and nuanced view of masculinity. Perfect, heroic characters can come across as one-dimensional and boring, whereas morally ambiguous characters provide a greater sense of depth and realism. This complexity can make the characters more relatable and exciting to readers, particularly those tired of reading about flawless, idealized heroes.

However, it is essential to note that the attraction to morally grey characters in literature is not always straightforward. While some readers may be drawn to these characters because of their complex personalities, others may be attracted to the idea of “fixing” them or being the one who changes them for the better. This can lead to a problematic view of relationships and the belief that a woman is responsible for changing a man’s behavior. Despite these concerns, the popularity of morally grey characters in literature remains high. In fact, many modern romance books feature morally ambiguous heroes redeemed by the love of a good woman. This trope is often called the “redemption arc” and has become a staple in the genre. For example, Rhysand from Sarah J. Maas’ “A Court of Thorns and Roses” series and Roma Montagov from Chloe Gong’s “These Violent Delights” duology are current antiheroes that display this idea.

Beyond Black and White: Why Women Are Attracted To Morally Grey Characters in Literature (1)

Rhysand is the High Lord of the Night Court, and when he is first introduced in the series, he is portrayed as a dark and dangerous character. He is seen as the antagonist, and his actions are often questionable. However, as the series progresses, readers learn more about Rhysand and his motives, and it becomes clear that he is not entirely evil. Rhysand’s character is complex, and he is not easily defined as a hero or a villain. He does morally questionable things but also has a sense of honor and loyalty. He is willing to do what it takes to protect those he cares about, even if it means making difficult decisions.

So why are women so attracted to Rhysand? One reason is his loyalty and devotion to the protagonist, Feyre. Despite his initial villainous appearance, Rhysand fiercely protects Feyre and puts her safety above everything else. He also treats her with respect and equality, which is not always seen in male-female relationships in literature. Another reason women are drawn to Rhysand is his vulnerability. Readers learn about Rhysand’s tragic past and hardships as the series progresses. He is unafraid to show his emotions and is willing to be vulnerable with those he trusts. This vulnerability adds depth to his character and makes him more relatable. In addition, Rhysand’s charisma and confidence are also attractive qualities. He is a powerful and confident leader, and his charisma draws people to him. He also has a sense of humor and can be charming when he wants to be, allowing readers to can’t help but be drawn in further.

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As for Roma, he is a popular antihero, the second son of a powerful crime family in 1920s Shanghai, known for his cunning, intelligence, and ruthlessness. Roma is a prime example of a morally grey character beloved by women because of his conflicting actions and beliefs. On the one hand, he is loyal to his family and people and will do whatever it takes to protect them, even if it means committing brutal acts of violence. On the other hand, he is also a romantic hero who is deeply in love with the female protagonist, Juliette Cai and is willing to sacrifice everything for her.

This allows us, as readers, to easily fall for his character despite Roma’s violent tendencies. Every action and decision he makes reveals his vulnerability proving that Roma is not invincible and has weaknesses like everyone else. As a result, making him more relatable and human. Another reason is his complexity. Roma is not a one-dimensional character. He has conflicting emotions and desires, which makes him more exciting and intriguing to women who often encounter men who prefer to hide their true feelings behind stoicism.

That’s why, in the end, despite both Rhysand and Roma’s many flaws, these two have managed to capture the hearts of female readers as morally grey characters. Their vulnerability, complexity, and charm make them stand out from your average “goody two-shoes” hero and correlate with what readers claim: women are naturally attracted to men who exhibit both dominant and prosocial traits that sometimes include elements of moral ambiguity. In addition, women are drawn to the complexity and nuance that these characters bring to the story, as opposed to one-dimensional heroes.

The vulnerability and relatability of antiheroes like Rhysand and Roma Montagov make them more attractive to female readers. While some argue that this attraction to morally grey characters can lead to problematic views on relationships, the undeniable appeal of these characters cannot be ignored. Their charisma, complexity, and vulnerability make antiheroes irresistible to women in literature. Therefore, whether it’s the desire for a partner who can provide protection and stability or the fascination with complex and flawed characters, there is no denying that these characters hold a special place in the hearts of many readers. So, the next time you read a book with a morally grey character, don’t be surprised if you find yourself falling for them. After all, it’s just as they say, “A hero would sacrifice you to save the world, but a villain would sacrifice the world to save you.”

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Work Cited:

Bunch, Erin. “There’s Actually a Scientific Reason Why You’re Attracted to ‘Bad Boys’.” Business Insider, Business Insider,

Cheney, Dina. “Psychologists Say That Converting a Bad Boy into a Nice Guy Is a ‘Generally
Impossible Situation.’” Good Housekeeping, 2 Nov. 2021,

Ehrlich, Lara. “Allure of the Antihero: Why we’re drawn to characters who act badly—and what that says about us” The Brink, 26 April 2016,

Guillaume, Jenna. “Why are we so obsessed with male villains?” ABC Everyday, 30 May 2021,

Soni, Krisha. “Burn down the World for You: The Appeal of the Morally Gray Character.” The
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“Why I Love Morally Gray Characters.” Reader Voracious, 14 July 2021,

Wright, Jenae. “The Psychology On Why Villains Are So Attractive” Social Cognition, 10 July 2020,

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phenomenon. Independent.


Why are morally grey characters attractive? ›

Human beings are flawed. We struggle with pain and sometimes the confusion of not knowing what is right. Real humans rarely act inconceivably evil or wholly in pursuit of the greater good. That's why some readers are fascinated by characters in the moral gray area.

Why do writers prefer GREY characters? ›

The correct answer is – Fiction writers often prefer to create grey characters rather than black and white characters because they believe that it makes the characters more complex, relatable, and realistic.

What does morally grey symbolize? ›

Morally gray characters are those whose behavior discourages readers from identifying them as purely evil or purely good.

What are morally grey characters in English literature? ›

For more inspiration, let's give an honorable mention to some of the best morally gray characters known to modern literature:
  • Sang Woo, Squid Game.
  • Veronica Sawyer, The Heathers.
  • Stefan and Damon Salvatore, The Vampire Diaries.
  • Boromir, The Fellowship of The Ring.
  • Lord Varys and Peter Baelish, The Song of Ice and Fire.
Oct 14, 2022

Why do people like GREY characters? ›

They're more relatable.

Morally grey characters are more relatable than traditional heroes or villains because they have flaws and make mistakes, just like real people do. Readers can see themselves in these characters, even if they don't always agree with their actions.

Why do people like morally ambiguous characters? ›

These characters sometimes give us an insight into our own dark side or show us that redemption is possible. Morally ambiguous characters can start off with good intentions and then be driven to evil by others or by society, or they can start off evil and come to redeem themselves.

Who are the morally grey female characters? ›

Other morally gray female characters include Anna Karenina from Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, Summer from 500 Days of Summer, Emma from Jane Austen's Emma, Rue from Euphoria, and many more.

Should white authors write black characters? ›

While people may argue that white authors shouldn't write characters of color due to their limited understanding of their culture, doing so anyway can be beneficial, as it increases the much-needed representation of people of color in the media.

What are GREY characters rather than black and white? ›

Conclusion - Grey characters present a challenge to the readers, allow a sense of unpredictability and present a moral challenge. Hari Singh and Anil are created as grey characters.

What color represents good morals? ›

In moral judgements, we need to know what is right or wrong. Therefore, we predict that there are metaphorical associations between these colours and moral concepts: green may be associated with morality, and red may be associated with immorality.

What is the opposite of morally grey characters? ›

The morally grey character may have “reasonable” intentions, and an over-arching logic to their questionable actions, but a straight up villain goes into the situation with the intent of destruction or malice.

What do morally grey characters do? ›

What Are Morally Grey Characters? Morally grey characters operate beyond the dichotomy of good versus evil. They're not motivated by that age-old battle. Instead, these characters will usually make the choice to pursue their own ambitions over those of the greater good or evil.

What are the negative traits of grey? ›

Various Effects of Gray Color

It is associated with detachment and unemotional nature and tends to make you aloof and indifferent to those around you. If you use too much of this color, then it will suppress the energy that is crucial for your survival and lead you to a state of depression.

What is the personality of a grey character? ›

You are practical and calm, do not like to attract attention and are simply seeking a contented life. With gray as your favorite color, you are the middle of the road type, cool, conserved, composed and reliable.

Why do people love anti heroes? ›

Villains and anti-heroes are often complex characters with richly detailed psychological backstories, which helps fans connect to them. Dark characters act on impulses many of us have but cannot act on, which allows fans to explore what that might be like in a safe way.

How do moral values affect character? ›

Moral values set boundaries that help an individual demonstrate appropriate behavior towards self and others. In other words, when a person has moral values, he/she tries to distinguish between right and wrong and make choices that are respectful and thoughtful of all life and the environment.

Can morally ambiguous characters actually make people feel better about their own actions in the real world? ›

“Morally ambiguous characters,” she says, “can actually make people feel better about their own actions in the real world. We call this term morality salience, which is making people aware of their own moral actions” and how our standards influence our engagement with morally complex characters.

Is Loki morally grey? ›

Starting as a villian and slowly reforming, Loki has always been morally grey (being the God of Mischief and all) so I liked seeing him in a leading role here, not quite playing the hero but still attempting to save the day nonetheless.

Why do people support Black authors? ›

Through the power of storytelling, Black authors help us understand their struggles and triumphs, as well as their everyday life experiences. By celebrating and supporting Black authors and publishers, we make room for authentic storytelling that reflects Black experiences, identities, and voices.

Are there any black characters in Harry Potter? ›

Blaise Zabini is a Slytherin who is introduced in the sixth Harry Potter book as he runs with Draco Malfoy's crowd. He was a Black person who was known for being incredibly good-looking and quite vain.

What is the importance of Black authors? ›

Books authored by Black individuals are more likely to eschew biases and stereotypes. They are also less likely to exoticize Black bodies. Not only tales of Black struggle and racism, but Black literature also celebrates the wholeness of the Black experience.

What is the perfect grey between black and white? ›

In photography, painting, and other visual arts, middle gray or middle grey is a tone that is perceptually about halfway between black and white on a lightness scale; in photography and printing, it is typically defined as 18% reflectance in visible light.

Does black and grey compliment each other? ›

Black + Gray

Black and gray is a classic combination that works if you want to set a cool, sober, calming atmosphere in any room.

How many shades of GREY are there between black and white? ›

Black and white photos is not only black and white but obviously also a lot of grey. Everything between pure black and white is a shade of grey, actually it exist more than 500 different shades of grey, however the human eye can only distinguish between around 30 of them!

What color reflects innocence and kindness? ›

WHITE. White symbolizes goodness, innocence and purity.

What color represents trauma? ›

Green: fever (anemia). The color of trauma, death, and disease finds visualization in Edvard Munch's paintings.

What is the psychology of the color black? ›

The Psychology of the Color Black

For those who wear it with integrity and leadership, black conveys self-control, self-discipline, and even protection. Indeed, the color black can evoke feelings of safety and covering. The color black also absorbs negative energy.

Is Deadpool morally grey? ›

For over 25 years, Deadpool has been a morally ambiguous character in Marvel Comics.

What is the difference between morally grey and anti hero? ›

Morally grey: A character who does too much bad to be a good person, but does too much good to be a bad person. Sympathetic villain: A character who is a bad person, but whose backstory/character arc makes you feel sorry for or sympathetic towards them. Anti-hero: A character who does bad things to achieve a good goal.

Is it good to be morally gray? ›

Final Words on Morally Grey Characters

Morally gray characters are neither purely evil nor purely good. These characters can be the MC, the villain, or as small as a side character. The one thing people love about morally grey characters is that they can keep the reader/audience guessing what they are about to do.

Is Draco a morally grey character? ›

For the purpose of this post we're going to be looking at three morally gray anti-heroes in specific. Kaz Brekker (my all time favourite heartthrob), Sandor “The Hound” Clegane and Draco Malfoy. These characters are all near and dear to my heart. They are all undoubtedly evil.

Is Severus Snape morally grey? ›

He is morally grey, because he has done good things for good reasons and bad things for bad reasons.

Who are the grey characters in Harry Potter? ›

  • Unidentified student.
  • Natsai Onai.
  • Sebastian Sallow.
  • Garreth Weasley.
  • Phineas Nigellus Black.
  • Eleazar Fig.
  • Abraham Ronen.
  • Aesop Sharp.

Is Loki actually gender-fluid? ›

Loki's gender fluidity is a part of Marvel's long history

That changed in 2011, when Thor introduced Hiddleston as the conniving Loki, who sparred with Chris Hemsworth's Thor for the crown of Asgard.

Is Deadpool morally GREY? ›

For over 25 years, Deadpool has been a morally ambiguous character in Marvel Comics.

Is female Loki evil? ›

She has the same personality and powers – shapeshifting, creating illusions, other sorcery and magic – as the male version of the character. She is tricky, cunning and sometimes acts as a villain, sometimes as an antihero and occasionally even a hero.

Is Dumbledore a morally grey character? ›

Over time, he was shown to be a much more morally grey character than Harry or readers realized when the books were first coming out. While Dumbledore was supposed to be Harry's mentor, and he thought he could trust him, Dumbledore allowed Harry to be in many dangerous situations.

What is the difference between morally GREY and anti hero? ›

Morally grey: A character who does too much bad to be a good person, but does too much good to be a bad person. Sympathetic villain: A character who is a bad person, but whose backstory/character arc makes you feel sorry for or sympathetic towards them. Anti-hero: A character who does bad things to achieve a good goal.

Is Kaz Brekker morally grey? ›

Kaz Brekker

Kaz Brekker is, hands down, the #1 morally grey character. He's got it all! The tragic, traumatized past.

What mental illness does Severus Snape have? ›

Schizoid personality disorder

Some people type Severus Snape as someone with Schizoid personality disorder. People with Schizoid personality disorder don't enjoy or want social relationships and don't really have close friends.

Was Snape's father abusive? ›

Overview. Tobias Snape was a Muggle man who married pure-blood witch Eileen Prince. He is the father of Severus Snape, and in general seems to be rather abusive and unpleasant.

Why does Snape always wear black? ›

He has very pale skin. If you are super pale, the colour of whatever you wear reflects off your skin, so blue makes you look cyanosed, green nauseated and so on. Black, charcoal, chestnut and white are pretty much all you're left with.


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