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October 01 2010

The Soul in Buffy and Angel. Part one deals with how the soul is portrayed, part two examines the implication of that portrayal.

These two entries are part of a thesis on the Soul in Popular Fiction. The author has already covered Harry Potter and will be going on to include Star Wars and His Dark Materials. Click here to see the entries so far.

I'm really bothered by the equation of the soul with the capacity to love. Partly because Spike and Drusilla's seems real, underneath their perverse natures in other ways. Partly because 9specualtion in the absence of havign seen any of her high shcoolr elationships) Harmony's feelings for Spike come across as the most genuien she's ever felt. Mainly because, "love" has so many meanings, depending not just on context but on who is using the word. Like "conservative," "democratic," "b***s***," "traditonal," "genuine," its meaning varies so much that using it so bluntly is obfuscation.

Second, the idneitfication of "caring" with "conscience" to "demonstrate" that attaching conscience to the soul isn't the real Buffyverse position is IMHO to mis-use both words.
Thoughtful and interesting analysis. I do strongly disagree with the conclusion of part one though--namely, the idea that soul=ability to love--and particularly with this statement:

"Ultimately, the third aspect of the official definition of the soul [i.e., the capacity to love] receives no major challenge".

I can think of at least one major challenge to this idea: when Drusilla comes back into Sunnydale in S5, and she and Buffy end up tied up in Spike's crypt. Buffy angrily declares that Spike is a vampire, and incapable of loving. Drusilla turns her head, and says sadly, "Oh, but we can, you know."

In isolation, that statement could go either way: maybe Drusilla's right and Buffy's view of vampires is naive--or maybe Drusilla only thinks she's experiencing love, because she's incapable of knowing what the real thing is like.

But taken in context of Spike's earlier relationship with Drusilla, and later relationship with Buffy, this seems like a very major challenge to the idea that vampires can't experience love. I'm thinking particularly of the Judge's comment that Spike and Drusilla "reek of humanity" because they "share affection and jealousy." Also of the moment when soulless Spike has been tortured by Glory because he refuses to reveal who the Key is, and Buffy kisses him. "What you did for me and Dawn ... that was real."

Of course, Darla does equate having a soul with the ability to love--but maybe that has to do with her individual experience, and is not universally true of vampires. (After all, when Wolfram and Hart made her human, she seemed incapable of love, even though at that point she--presumably--had a soul.) And who knows? Maybe she was wrong. Maybe, if she had survived Connor's birth, she would have still loved him. Since no other vampire mother existed, it's not like she (or we) could really know that for sure.
Extremely interesting analysis - it shows that this is not a simple meta or a musing on the topic , but actually a thesis - if only be the sheer volume of the material analyzed and by the systematic approach to the canonical texts.

Loved the conclusions very much. I seldom encountered a text , either printed or posted on line on the subject of souls in Buffyverse that is so close to my own take on the matter.

Especially the part about ability to love truly and the distinction between perception of love that the soulless vampire has about their feelings compared to that of them after gaining a soul. Darla is an excellent subject for this kind of analysis. I only wish the author delved deeper into the example of Elizabeth and James - they are my personal favorite iconic vampire couple.
Of course Spike loved Drusilla; aside from recalling him saying he did on "Angel", I also recall a flashback scene (again, I think on "Angel") where in the past as still just "William" (but a vamp) he walks in and finds Angelus banging Dru -- the look on Spike's face was more than just a simple, "you knocked up what's mine", but the ultimate look of betrayl in love.

And of course his feelings of "love" drove him to go GET a soul, thinking that would put him in way better standing with Buffy (especially considering her "souless thing" comment).
Spike is just a big problem for the 'you need a soul to love' thesis. To defend it you have to say his love was twisted or selfish. But (a) so is a lot of human love; and (b) I defy any sober person not pre-committed to the thesis to look at Spike's choice to be tortured in order to protect Dawn as a result of some twisted or selfish reason. There is no sub-human way of being that genuinely self-sacrificing. He expected to die. There was not going to be any conceivable return on that investment. I'd go forward to argue it's hard to see the twisted selfishness of sticking around after Buffy died to fight with the Scoobies and take care of Dawn. I suppose you could say he did so snarkily. But snark does not a case for subhuman status make.

Interesting essay. There just isn't an ironclad law about how souls work, so I think the author is asking a question that can't be answered. Mostly that's because 'the soul' is a plot device and it bends to fit the needs of the story at the moment. But to put a positive spin on it, the shifting characteristic of the soul and especially the question of what demons can and cannot do without it challenges our idea that there are ironclad laws that let us easily sort people into "good" and "bad" piles. The demons in early Buffy were metaphors for personal issues, and thus unproblematically evil and slayable. When they become persons it's far more challenging to understand what function the metaphor of demon plays, and the show begins to explore the problem of what it means to have a story about persons who are demons without validating our tendency to demonize persons.
I appreciate the author's statements on ethical ambiguity, since the soul was originally a religious concept, and the Buffyverse's strongest and most resounding statement on religion is "maybe." Angel carefully constructs an ethical system that requires no god at all, and then Kate points out a miracle.
Oh, wow. That's mine. I never thought I'd get linked here...

You guys have a lot of good objections, especially regarding Spike's ability to love pre-soul. I do address this briefly in the footnotes, but looking back, I probably wasn't as thorough as I should have been.

Basically, I think that Spike is a self-deluded romantic and that romanticism is not the same thing as love. He thinks he can love, yes, but I'm not convinced that he ever evolves beyond "Crush," which, well... I don't think you can call that love (for either Buffy or Dru). As for allowing himself to be tortured for Dawn, I think there might be any number of explanations for that that wouldn't necessarily fall under the label of love (loyalty, honor, ego, spite, romanticism, trying to show up Angel, etc.).

I admit that Spike is a difficult case, though. He changes so much and he's so emotionally confused that it makes him very much open to interpretation. That's why I went with Darla as my "hard evidence."

All this is assuming, of course, that the soul portrayal is completely consistent throughout. ;-)
Beautiful article. Its writer has the makings of a fantastic ethicist.

A lot of the concepts that make the Buffyverse vampires with souls so interesting are neatly corralled here: the soul doesn't make a person good but does provide the foundation for choosing it, love works differently when it has a conscience behind it, Angel is indeed Angelus but is also more than Angelus.

Bookmarking this blog. She(?) has a remarkable knack for picking out wording that makes me go "YES! That's exactly what I meant to say about it!"
See I could go for the deluded romantic angle except for the the fact that Spike, post-soul, never intimates in any way that his feelings pre-soul were shallow or delusions or that suddenly he knows what love really is because of the soul. What he does get with the soul is clarity of mind and self-loathing (as do Angel and Darla). More than the ability to love, in the Buffyverse the soul is much more closely attached to self-awareness.
[ edited by tranquillity on 2010-10-02 00:03 ]

[ edited by tranquillity on 2010-10-02 00:12 ]
tranquility, that's assuming that Spike does end up loving Buffy immediately after he gets his soul. If (as I am arguing) he never really loved her before, it seems unlikely that he would have an epiphany the day after he gets his soul about the nature of love.

I like your comment about self-awareness, and I think it has some interesting implications, but I think that Darla and Drusilla are both supremely self-aware even without souls.
I think that Buffy assumes one cannot love without a soul. I do not think that it is necessarily the case. The example given of Darla not knowing real love until knowing the love of her child could be given of many souled women.

I see no reason to believe that Spike's love for Buffy is any less real than that of many humans for the object of their affection.

I don't think there is a clear concept of 'soul' in either series, which is problematic when so much weight is given to its presence.

I've often thought that Angel may have multiple personality disorder - Angel, Angelus and Liam.

Excellent essay though, on a difficult topic.
Fantastic essay, but I don't think it's correct to assume Spike never loved Buffy because he is deceiving himself about his emotions. Spike's character is developed largely from his relationship and feelings for Buffy. When we treat early seasons Spike as a well-developed character, we do so through the lens of the later seasons, that is, we take into account his later seasons developments when we judge him. We wouldn't really know who he was if it wasn't for his feelings for Buffy.

So when has Spike demonstrated a tendency to blow his emotions out-of-proportion, outside of his feelings for Buffy? Even if he does, we wouldn't know, because his feelings for Buffy are presented as legitimate. Read: presented. You can analyze otherwise, but we are meant to believe hes genuine. Buffy is the only example we have of this, if it is an example, and you can't use an example to prove itself.
I think that Spike loved Dru once, too. And his mother. He turned her out of compassion because of her illness.

Perhaps the question isn't 'What is a soul?' but 'What is love?'
Hmm, see I think Spike turning his mother is a fantastic example of how he couldn't love without a soul. He loved her with a soul, and he thought he loved her without one, but that "love" ended up killing her (twice).

I do think that Spike is more of a commentary on love (and what love is not) than on the soul, but the only reason I think that is because the question of the soul is so thoroughly answered by other characters. I have been given no reason to doubt Angel or Darla when they say that love is contingent upon a soul, but I have been given reason to doubt Spike (think about Cecily, the episode "Crush," and Spike's attempted rape). Therefore, Spike's feelings for Buffy, while certainly strong and possibly very close to love, must always be viewed with skepticism if the Buffyverse is to hold together coherently (which it may not). Part of what makes Spike such an interesting character is that he is trying to be good with an evil nature, trying to love without the capability to do so. If soulless love were possible, Spike's character would lose much of his depth.

Thanks for the comments, guys. I might end up doing a re-write to clarify this point.

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