There is a certain story arc that is not uncommon in many stories and real-life events, where the protagonist or essentially a group of people set out with what seems to be a just and noble cause.

They usually end up somewhat achieving what they wanted, but they end up getting corrupted, and they lose sight of their initial selves and their initial cause. Immediately the Russian Revolution and Animal Farm come up. Their noble cause was to create a fairer world where all people were equal, but they ended up doing a lot more harm to themselves.

I can also think that Breaking Bad, while not exactly literature, has that story arc where, at first, he wanted to leave something for his family and was a good person. By the end, he becomes quite evil and admits that he is doing it for himself.

I am trying to find a word or phrase that describes such story arcs or personalities. If anyone can also recommend anything like this including literature, or shows, I would appreciate it.

Edit: There is one more element I think, where the protaganist/s still think they are doing the right thing even though they are in fact evil.

  • It's a central element of Arthurian myth, from Thomas Malory to TH White, starting with a heroism which establishes a noble and egalitarian society of knights, but is corrupted by personal betrayal, greed for the treasures such as the Grail, and external influences, until almost everyone dies. The notion of man's fall from happy easeful life to toil and pain is found in the Book of Genesis, Hesiod, and many other religions: in Christianity it's called the Fall of Man, and Fallen Hero is another common term (including on TV Tropes).
    – Stuart F
    Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 20:43
  • This reminds me of like Darth Vader. I mean, I know he kind of turns good back at the end but like the same vibe, ya know? Commented Feb 18, 2022 at 19:43

1 Answer 1


"Faustian" or "Faustian bargain" may be the word your looking for.

From the Encyclopedia Britannica:

Faustian bargain, a pact whereby a person trades something of supreme moral or spiritual importance, such as personal values or the soul, for some worldly or material benefit, such as knowledge, power, or riches.

To take your example, Walter White sets out to help his family, but is naturally corrupted by the iniquities of the drug trade.

However, the word Faustian adds the element of a pact, which your examples don't necessarily include. Though, I would argue that in most instances there is at least some kind of implicit pact made, such as White putting aside his morals in favour of whatever benefits he may reap for his family through the drug trade.

Some examples of the Faust myth end in tragedy and some do not, such as Goethe's interpretation of the tale.

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