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Justice and Vengeance: What Is the Difference? Essay

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Updated: Apr 25th, 2021


Justice and vengeance are two words which seem to have the same meaning, but in reality, they have an entirely different meaning. Webster’ dictionary defines justice as “the administering of deserved punishment or reward; the administration of what is just according to law,” and vengeance as “the infliction of injury, harm, or humiliation in return for an injury or offence.” Many people believe that in vengeance, there is no love, unlike in justice.

In today’s society, people tend to seek vengeance instead of justice. When people are wronged, they desire to take revenge without considering the consequences. The difference between these two deeds is that justice is administered according to the society’s law, but with a vengeance, one tends to take the law into their own hands, and rage controls those deeds instead-of love that governs how justice is sought.

Vengeance vs. Justice

Vengeance only punishes people who what they did and mostly it is unruly and outside-the-law thus causing feuds. If carried out properly, justice teaches the wrongdoer the wrongs of his/her deeds, provides reparation to the victim and stops further quarrels. Justice is founded on civilization accomplishments of humanity, on law, legitimacy and philosophy and after a just trial and revealing the unknown.

Vengeance is merely retribution, at times without ethical and just grounds, and it is fierce. It does not take into account the guilt, and mostly it is not fair. Vengeance is basically a response based on emotions and does not make the offended feel better, but on the contrary, it makes matters worse. Justice punishes the offender fairly according to the law and makes him/her realize his/her wrongs hence making the victim feel much better. Justice involves the law, while vengeance involves one’s emotions.

Some people prefer vengeance than justice. Most people feel strongly coerced to rectify wrongs, to see unfairness rectified compellingly, directly and determinedly. Mostly, people are driven by an inner fervour for order and at times, driven by an injustice experienced or seen (Parnell, 43). It is deep-rooted and feels like a coercing need. Many people tend to be vengeful because they don’t trust that the law will punish the perpetrators as they deserve.

The distinction between vengeance and justice is universal. Many doctrines support the idea of justice and affirm that all people should seek justice instead of vengeance. For instance, in Christianity, vengeance is not allowed. Christians are not allowed to take matters into their own hands or have vengeful hearts. To them, vengeance is a sin and its only God who can judge, condemn and grant justice.

However, they respect the laws of the land and accepts that laws can determine what is just and what is not and also prosecute the wrongdoers. Muslims also support justice, and they believe that people should not offend God, and they should not also offend their fellow human. Vengeance is also seen to be sinful and improper. Just like Christians, Muslims are encouraged to forgive those who wrong them and not take matters into their own hands.

They also have their own laws that prosecute the wrongdoers so as to bring justice in their land. People should not be driven by their emotions because anger and rage cannot solve problems. The compelling feeling inside the victim is what drives them to seek vengeance. They desire to inflict pain to those who have offended them and make them feel what they have felt or experienced. This feeling is humane, but people should learn to control their feelings so that justice can be administered.

Even after offenders have gone through trials and persecuted, some victims do not feel that justice has done. For example in a case where a person has murdered someone, even though the murderer can be jailed all their life, sometimes one feels that that is not enough and that they should be killed just like they killed. Long-term imprisonment does not seem like a fair punishment for a murderer. Many people believe that murderers should be hanged to die in cold blood.

Some people believe that vengeance is making victims feel better compared to justice; they believe “eye for an eye” is the best approach to solving problems (Sandel, 84). In every society, there are different laws, and these laws ensure that justice is administered: these laws are, however, different. Different countries have different methods of administering justice.

court of law determines who ought to be punished and who shouldn’t. There are procedures followed, and with evidence, the offender is convicted. In different laws, the ruling spirit is justice and not vengeance. In the perception of justice, punishment is a fundamental part. Any crime is a form of injustice to society. The objective of all punitive systems is to punish wrongdoers and guard society against re-occurrence of crimes.

Nonetheless, if societies were to depend only on penalty and punishment, they would not succeed. An atmosphere of healthy ethics, faith and morals ought to be the norm, where right behaviours are encouraged by all people, and illegal behaviours are opposed. Contemporary societies come up with justice systems that are used for arresting criminals and troublemakers, and for administering penalties believed to be consistent with the committed crime.

These justice systems are organized and fair to all; often, they are precise in choosing the intention of integrity, and inclined towards what is considered just and fair. In a flawless viewpoint, this kind of system is acceptable and satisfactory to both the victim and the society. Criminals learn from their mistakes and agree that they were punished fairly. The victim also feels that justice prevailed and that he/she does no longer feel the desire to revenge. But in reality, this perfect attitude doesn’t exist. Mostly victims feel that wrongdoers were not adequately punished and after trials and persecution, they still feel compelled to revenge. Wrongdoers, on the other hand, feel that they were punished unfairly and that they did not deserve such prosecution. Even when justice has been delivered; some people always feel unsatisfied with the judge’s decision.

Some even think that society needs both vengeance and justice. Every legal system ought to be morally just; they should punish those who are guilty and come up with an ethical duty to gratify the victims’ needs as they can feel avenged. Mostly this is never the case that’s why people chose vengeance instead of justice. Most victims do not feel avenged by the justice systems. In different films, there have been themes of vengeance and justice, where characters are taking matters into their own hands.

They are driven by rage and the desire to make the offenders go through similar pain and anguish. Mostly in these films, there is no justice; there is vengeance. Whenever a character is wronged, the first thing that comes into their mind is vengeance and not justice. People do not mostly seek for justice; they seek for vengeance. They believe that, through vengeance, they will be emotionally satisfied (Nowrasteh, The Stoning of Soraya M).

In Hamlet film, a great price was paid for Hamlet to exact his vengeance. Ophelia was rejected, went mind and then died, good friends were used, manipulated and killed. Polonius was scorned and later killed; Laertes was driven to kill and to violate others; a mother was punished then murdered. In this film, it’s obvious that Shakespeare wants to show his viewers how a person’s sense of fairness and justice can be distorted and corrupted when vengeance is the driving factor.

Vengeance does not prevent further clashes; it brings added problems and destruction. Victims’ initial intention is to seek justice, but they end up seeking vengeance, thus complicating matters further. For example; when the play begins, Hamlet is portrayed as a normal young man even though a little bitter. When he had of his uncle’s betrayal, he tries to seek-out justice for killers of his father, but in the process, this intention was lost.

He planned his close friends’ execution and wanted Claudius to drink from a glass that was poisoned. Even though the people around him give him reasons to seek justice, he is overwhelmed by a desire to get revenge, and he ends up killing all his loved ones. By the time the film ends, Hamlet is left without anything, realizing that his vengeful attitude had so much to do with his loved ones’ death. At the end of the film, the viewer is not left with the thought that justice prevailed.

Rather, they are left with a bad feeling, a bloody ending of the consequences of vengeance. Hamlet’s intention is driven by vengeance instead of justice; this feeling becomes an inner conflict which creates a path for all incidents taking place in the entire film. Hamlet sought vengeance to avenge his father’s death. Through soliloquy, the viewer gets to know Hamlet’s feelings towards justice. He is torn between justice and vengeance, and after going great struggle, he internally tries to justify his vengeful ways (Branagh, Hamlet).

Vengeance makes people feel worse because mostly, they end up doing evil things. Hamlet for instanced killed his loved ones in the name of avenging his father’s death; justice always prevails. In the “To Kill a Mockingbird,” there are issues of vengeance and justice. The story outlines the experiences of two brothers (scout and Jem) through the Tom Robinson trial and their father’s struggles in maintaining his justice. In the end, Tom is declared guilty by the law. This film is not about the triumphant end of the just or the vile vengeance against wickedness. Rather it’s peculiar to reveal the significance of justice together with acceptance, optimism and forgiveness. Through this film, viewers learn that “Courage isn’t a man who holds a gun, but it is when a person fight for what is right despite whether they win or not (Mulligan, To Kill A Mockingbird).”


All countries should preserve their justice systems, and they should not allow their citizens to evade their protocol to achieve their personal satisfaction. Taking matters into your hands is illegal, and a system that does not allow this kind of fulfilment is a true kind of justice. People should not be allowed to go against the justice system to gain personal fulfilment. This can cause havoc in the country because, in vengeance, there is no protocol or even rules.

Victims who are denied this fulfilment are against a justice system that did not fulfil their emotional needs. Acting on emotions is very dangerous because most people are never in their right minds. People are always advised to make decisions when they are calm and relaxed. Emotions are never involved when administering justice unlike vengeance; only fairness and what is morally right is considered. Citizens’ discontentment can crumble a society from within, but justice does not mean granting the emotional needs of all citizens. Some people will always feel dissatisfied with justice systems no matter the efforts done.

Works Cited

Hamlet. Dir. Kenneth Branagh. Columbia Pictures, 1996. Film.

Parnell, Jaime. The impact of attitudes towards justice and vengeance: differences in justice – vengeance motives and NFC in mock jurors rendering non-life, life and death sentences in a heinous murder trial. USA: Central Queensland University, 2001. Print.

Sandel, Michael. Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? USA: Penguin Books Ltd, 2009. Print.

To Kill A Mockingbird. Dir. Robert Mulligan. Universal Pictures, 1962. Film.

The Stoning of Soraya M. Dir. Cyrus Nowrasteh. Roadside Attractions, 2008. Film.

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