Though legends and stories are often analyzed in terms of the virtues and victories of the hero, the often-overlooked villains present characters and actions of equal importance. Many readers of the Harry Potter series have studied the motivations, actions, and consequences of heroes like Hermione and Harry, but the character of Voldemort possesses traits that are equally worthy of study and critique. Tom Marvolo Riddle (Voldemort) could be considered a simple villain on a quest for power, but when the ethics behind his actions are analyzed a much more intriguing character arises. By looking at his motives, means, and consequences, Voldemort is revealed as a man motivated by an insatiable lust for control, driven to unspeakable acts of depravity and desperation, consequently leading to the splintering of his soul and the loss of his life.
Although Voldemort’s rise to greatness and immortality could superficially be seen as a mere quest for power, it is more accurate to say he is motivated by a desire for control. One of the first aspects of control Voldemort sought is control over his death. While the lives of mere mortals were prey to the whims of fate and chance, Voldemort sought to control his life and death by creating Horcruxes, thus ensuring that he could never truly die. Voldemort is also motivated by a desire to have greater control over his magic than any other wizard. Though most magicians were content to let the wand choose the owner, Voldemort sought out and chose his own wand, the Elder Wand, to guarantee that his control of magic was absolute. Additionally, Voldemort is strongly motivated by a need to control his followers. Though other leaders such as Dumbledore and Harry allow their allies freedom to do as they wish, Voldemort exercises control over all the actions of his minions, even having Wormtail cut off his own hand to resurrect Voldemort. Likewise, while Harry frequently consults with and defers to both Ron and Hermione, Voldemort makes all major decisions on his own and seldom let any of his minions exercise any degree of self-will. In light of this, Voldemort is clearly portrayed as a man who is motivated by an intense desire for control over himself, his abilities, and his followers.
Though Voldemort’s desire for control was, by itself, a mere personality flaw, the means by which he achieved this control resulted in his becoming an evil person. For example, Voldemort’s desire to control his death was something many people shared, including the three brothers who first received the Deathly Hallows. However, while others sought to control their death through benign means such as the Deathly Hallows or the Philosopher’s Stone, Voldemort attained immortality through the malignant process of murdering innocents and splitting his soul. Furthermore, though Voldemort was not the first to seek the magical power of the Elder Wand, his methods were certainly the most violent. Even the noble Dumbledore yearned for the Elder Wand, but while Dumbledore defeated the evil wizard Grindelwald to achieve the wand and never used it for evil, Voldemort tortured Gregorovitch, ransacked Dumbledore’s grave, and even slew Snape in his attempt to find and master the wand. Additionally, Voldemort’s desire for control over his helpers was not entirely unique. Harry also required great sacrifices from his allies, but while these sacrifices were freely given out of respect Harry’s love and loyalty, Voldemort’s peons obeyed him out of fear and trepidation of his power and wrath. Therefore, even though Voldemort’s desire for control was shared by others, his means of achieving that control set him apart as evil.
Like his methods, the consequences of Voldemort’s actions set him aside as an evil individual. As with all actions, Voldemort’s methods resulted in both immediate and prolonged consequences for himself and for those he interacted with. Voldemort’s creations of the Horcruxes resulted in the immediate preservation of his life but the ultimate destruction of both his living body and his soul. Furthermore, it led to the immediate death of many innocent people and the eventual death of many more in the battles that followed his resurrection. By seeking out and obtaining the Elder Wand, Voldemort immediately gained power and authority, but eventually lost not only the wand but also his life to Harry Potter. Additionally, his search for the wand resulted in the immediate suffering and death of many individuals and the eventual death and suffering of many more. Finally, Voldemort’s cruel treatment of his followers resulted in their prompt and nearly absolute obedience, but eventually led to the hate and desertion of many, including the Malfoy family. Moreover, Voldemort’s mistreatment resulted in the death of several of his followers as well as Draco’s decision to lie about Harry Potter’s capture. Many of Voldemort’s actions resulted in the immediate or eventual death of many people, thus leading to his label as an evil individual.
Voldemort, though obviously a person regarded as ethically evil, presents an interesting study of motives, means and consequences. Despite the fact that he became one of the most powerful wizards of all time and achieved many of his goals (albeit for a short time), Voldemort ultimately ended with less than any other wizard, lacking even a full soul. Though his motives were not evil in and of themselves, the means by which he achieved them and the results of his actions earned Voldemort his nefarious stigma.