What's wrong with Damon Salvatore?

Feb 07, 2012 02:39

This post is based on wild speculation. I agree that what I'm writing about is not the only possible explanation; it's guesswork, and I only hope it's logical.

The thing is, we don't know that much about Damon's backstory. We only get a few weeks before he was turned, and there is much more of Stefan and Katherine in 1864 flashbacks anyway. There is some “common fandom knowledge” about human Damon, but I happen to disagree with a good part of it. What we see is mostly a cute, emotional, loving boy destroyed by his vampire femme fatal, which sounds all too simple. Let us dig a little deeper, shall we?

Disclaimers and warnings: I think we can all agree that Damon is a terrible person. This is sort of the point of this post. It's an excuse-free zone, which logically makes it also a judgement-free zone. I'm not interested in feeling sorry for Damon, or saying that he had terrible childhood, so it's not his fault that he is a serial killer. I'm also not interested in having high moral ground over Damon, because it is equally counterproductive. What I am interested in is how Damon works. Oh, and also narratives. And the show's mythology.

Because everyone already knows I'm a history geek, and I don't have to warn for that, right?

What's Wrong With Damon Salvatore?

What I love about TVD vampires is that they're so deeply human they almost choke on it.

The mythology is beyond simple: vampirism was invented as a form of protection, and there is no demon or anything external replacing the person who's being turned. You remain yourself, only with a magnifying glass and a bit of hunger. There is no inherent monstrosity in vampires, and yet so many of them turn out to be bloodthirsty and ruthless, just like Damon, and no explanation is ever given. So I've got a theory.

Everything that's wrong with Damon Salvatore was already wrong before he was turned.

(Well, ok, that's a simplification. There is one thing that happened after he was turned. Hold on, I'll get to it.)

Damon Salvatore was born around 1840, give or take two years (according to The Vampire Diaries Wiki, he was born in June 1840, but I honestly don't know how they came up with this date). American Civil War begun on April 12, 1861, when the Confederates assaulted Fort Sumter. The State of Virginia seceded from the Union a few days later. Damon was 21 years old, Stefan - about 14. Damon got the grey uniform, Stefan stayed behind.

We first meet Damon in 1864, he is a soldier on leave, madly in love with Katherine, and ready to do truly terrible things. I think by now it's obvious that whoever does the flashback stuff in TVD, probably does the research while intoxicated, but let's play along for a moment and try to figure out some facts.

We know that initially Damon came to Mystic Falls just for a leave, and we know that his leave was prolonged after a while (or at least this is what Stefan thinks at some point). Giuseppe calls Damon a deserter, and Stefan defends his brother, implying that Damon did what he did on principle. I call bullshit.

Damon couldn't have been a deserter. If he was, George Lockwood would've shot him during the Founder's Party, and not had champagne with him and exchanged pleasantries. It was 1864, and things were bad for the South, so if Damon was officially marked as a deserter, there was no way for him to show his face in Mystic Falls. But Damon did leave the army, and he couldn't have done it legally (call me insane, I actually checked the laws passed by the Confederate Congress...), which means that there is no logical way to solve this puzzle. Unless we count Katherine in.

So my wild speculation is that Katherine compelled a few people, and then Giuseppe was told that Damon bribed his way out of the army. Officially, Damon was clean, and there probably was some totally untrue explanation Damon used in Mystic Falls. Giuseppe still considered him a deserter, but had no way to out him (you think he wouldn't if Damon was officially wanted for desertion?), Stefan tried to appease their father with whatever came to his mind, but Damon? Damon did it all for Katherine, and Katherine helped because she didn't want to part with her plaything just yet. Now, why would Damon do something like that?

I believe Damon was a bookish boy. Just look at his idea of love: no way it came from anywhere other than books. Let's see some random Byron (1788-1824) quotes to see what he might've read:

They name thee before me,
A knell to my ear;
A shudder comes o'er me--
Why wert thou so dear?
When We Two Parted

And when convulsive throes denied my breath
The faintest utterance to my fading thought
To thee, to thee, even in the grasp of death
My spirit turned. Ah! oftener than it ought.

Thus much and more, and yet thou lov'st me not,
And never wilt, Love dwells not in our will
Nor can I blame thee, though it be my lot
To strongly, wrongly, vainly, love thee still.

I Watched Thee

And they say reading is good for you... As a boy, Damon had his head filled with two glorious, beautiful and romantic ideas: love and war. There must've been war in the mix: a boy of his social status must've been fed with tons of heroic stories. Most probably, Damon went to war imagining it to be honorable and just. We all know how it must've ended. War is nothing like in the stories, not even close. Just look how bitter Damon is about Mystic Falls (by extension: about the South; this quote makes no sense, unless we assume it refers to Civil War), even after 145 years:

Stefan: You can't do this.
Damon: Why not? They killed 27 people, and they called it a war battle. They deserve whatever they get.
Stefan: 27 vampires, Damon. They were vampires. You can't just bring them back.
Damon: This town deserves this.
Stefan: You're blaming innocent people for something that happened 145 years ago.
Damon: There is nothing innocent about these people, and don't think for a second it won't happen again. They already know too much, and they'll burn your little grandwitch right next to us when they find out. Trust me.
TVD 1x09, History Repeating

So here we have Damon. He is in his early twenties, and everything he ever believed it was crushed. War is neither honorable nor glorious, it's dirty, and cruel, and terrifying. War is unjust, and civil war is even worse. What does it make our soldier Damon?

A murderer.

My guess would be that Damon was suffering from some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder when he came back home in 1864. What happened to him was similar to what happened to The Lost Generation of the 1920: his entire imaginary world was crushed by the reality of war. True, it's not the most typical experience in his generation, but since Damon is sensitive and prone to fitting himself into big narratives (=he really belived in the whole “Dulce et decorum...” stuff until the first battle), I think it's not impossible. So he got stuck, for over three years, in a horrible place, cold and hungry, catching lice and killing people. The books never said a word about lice, or hunger, or guilt. Damon knew his beloved heroic narrative was a lie, and he desperately needed something else to build his identity on. He came to Mystic Falls in April 1864, and he met Katherine.

So maybe not everything was lost? True, heroism was a lie, but what if love wasn't? So Damon tried love. And guess what? It turned out to be real!

I think that in 1864 Damon already believed he was beyond saving (in a moral/religious sense of the word). That's why no compulsion was necessary: it's not like Damon could judge anyone at that point. He was a monster, just like Katherine, and he was determined he would love her even if it kills him. He had to. He was a traitor, a terrible soldier, a disloyal brother and a disappointing son, so if he can't be a lover, he doesn't have anything to build his identity on. So Damon ended up having two very good reasons to love Katherine unconditionally: he was no better than her, and he needed to love someone in order to remain sane. He went human hunting with Katherine, and it's nothing he hasn't done before. Damon was lost already. Katherine was his only chance for a narrative.

And he fucked it up a bit.

Let us look at Damon right after he turned. Love worked, love turned out to be real - but Damon didn't manage to save Katherine from the tomb. He failed as a soldier, as a brother, as a son, as a citizen (I think he did think of himself as a deserter, even though I believe that officially he was clean) but he can still make it right as a lover. All he has to do is wait. And he has all the time in the world, right?

Here we get by the only thing that went wrong after Damon's transition: time. His human life ended at the point when he had nothing to lose (Then let me be killed!). Moreover, his “honeymoon” with Katherine was over, and his emotions were hightened, so all the issues he was ignoring for the few weeks in Mystic Falls, when he was desperately searching for a new narrative that would define him, just got out of control. Enter PTSD. Enter guilt. Enter poor impulse control. And the one new thing: enter a complete lack of social control.

Maybe Damon would've recovered had he had a normal life. But he didn't. He had a life outside of the society, and 145 years to waste. Suddenly, no one had any expectations, and Damon already did all the monstrous things (murder, desertion, adultery, fraud) before he became a monster. He had nothing to lose, because he was beyond salvation even before Guiseppe pulled the trigger, and from now on, whatever he did couldn't have any negative consequences for him (he could always walk away from trouble). He could even compel people, so he was powerful.

Being in this kind of situation would probably deprave most of humanity, and Damon never was the most moral of men. Narratives worked better for him than principles, even when he was human. Because what's wrong with Damon cannot be excused by any supernatural stuff. When he tells Elena she would've liked him in 1864, it's just him having a dramatic deathbed fantasy and idealising his human life.

Basically, Damon was fucked up even before he set his eyes on Katherine, and he has the Civil war and his own mindset to thank for that.

And also books.

ETA: intrikate88 made an excellent point about Damon, slavery and vampirism. Damon was a privileged boy when he was human, and his privilege didn't die with him:

I think also affects Damon is that he was a privileged white man from a rich family. They had slaves. It is not specified what Damon himself thinks of slavery but much of the popular opinion of the time ranged from thinking that it was a necessary evil to thinking that, as slaves were uneducated and lesser in many ways, it was the white man's responsibility to take care of his property. It is likely that a man in Damon's position would have imagined himself to be a fair and decent master who treated his slaves with kindness and provided for them, and it was simply necessary to have them as part of owning a household like that and for his position in society. I doubt he seriously gave any thought to overthrowing that system; there were plenty of Southern abolitionists, but Damon is more impulsive than reflective. Having this sort of unthinking power as a human translates very easily into having the same unthinking power as a vampire- except this time, he has it by his species, and not the color of his skin. There is no reason for him to stop taking until he has his fill, even at the expense of the lives of others, because there was never a perspective other than his to consider.

meta, damon omg damon, fandom: the vampire diaries

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