Bastard Angst YKTTW Discussion

Bastard Angst
A character's illegitimacy gives them a hard time and may drive them to seek distinction.
Motion To Discard Description Needs Help Tropeworthy? Needs Examples
(permanent link) added: 2014-06-10 09:21:09 sponsor: hbi2k edited by: Synchronicity (last reply: 2014-10-25 10:30:07)

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This draft has been declared Up for Grabs by the OP, hbi2k. I've retooled it to fit Bastard Angst as suggested in the comments. —Synchronicity

Indices: Characterization Tropes, Sadness Tropes, This Index Has Had a Hard Life, Prejudice Tropes

Illegitimacy (or bastardy) is the status of a child born outside marriage.

Fictional characters born out of wedlock are often portrayed as conflicted about their status, for several reasons:

  • The lack of inheritance and support. Historically, children born out of wedlock receive little to no inheritance (or at least far less than their legitimate siblings). The mother and child may also receive very little support from the father. note 
  • Societal belief that their extramarital birth affects their character. Historically and in fiction with a historical or quasi-historical setting, bastards were often assumed to be of poor character, either by virtue of being "tainted" by sin of lust or out of jealousy of their legitimate siblings, hence the trope Bastard Bastard. (The increasingly-common subversion to that trope is Heroic Bastard).
  • Because of the above, they are ostracized by the community and often treated poorly (especially compared to the legitimate children, if they are shown at all). Some of this survives to the present day, as "bastard" is considered an insult to a person's character.
  • If at least one of the bastard's parents are present in a work, expect a mention of how the extramarital affair resulted in a strain on their marriage. This is less common in settings where one is expected to have extramarital affairs (eg. concubinage).
    • If the mother is the wife, she may grow resentful of her child due to the resident Double Standard — a man may father illegitimate children without much societal consequence but a woman is Defiled Forever. Sadly, this is Truth in Television as historically, women have been subject to violence at the hands of their families for giving birth to bastards in the name of honor. See also Child by Rape for a darker way this can play out.

Because of any combination of the above, bastards in fiction often feel the need to prove — be it to society, their parents, or themselves — that the circumstances of their birth have no effect on their ability to become a valuable a member of society. Out of a desire to overcome the societal stigma of being illegitimate, they seek to be recognized and do this by attempting to achieve fame and glory. Depending on how heroic the bastard in question is, this may or may not play into Ambition Is Evil. This is especially likely if the bastard in question is older than their legitimate siblings.

If the child's parents are royal or noble, expect an attempt to usurp the estate. This may be of their own volition or traitorous members of the court manipulating them in order to seize power for themselves. More idealistic settings with more sympathetic bastards will get them a sizable inheritance at the end, if not make them the Unexpected Successor to the whole shebang. In more modern settings, bastards usually strive for distinction in their field of interest.

If the child's illegitimacy isn't public knowledge, steps may be taken to ensure that they come off as legitimate.

The Bastard Bastard and Heroic Bastard may both experience this, as well as the Child by Rape and Son of a Whore. Compare Half-Breed Discrimination, in which a character faces much of the same prejudice and dislike on a societal level. Has nothing to do with being a Magnificent Bastard, Manipulative Bastard (although a bastard with the right temperament can certainly grow into one), or You Bastard.


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     Anime and Manga 
  • Seta Soujirou of Rurouni Kenshin is a darker take on this trope — his entire stepfamily was abusive towards him for his illegitimacy, which caused him to snap and kill them all.
  • Attack on Titan has Krista Lenz, aka Historia Reiss who's the illegitimate child of the most powerful nobleman in the series. Because of this, the character was sent to away and grew up isolated and lonely, with the few neighbors acting cruel — to say nothing of the character's mother showing nothing but hatred for them, all the way until her traumatic death. After all that, said character joined the military under a false name in order to get away. Although they're kind and nice, other characters note that the character's actions seem deliberately suicidal than outright helpful, and point out that they only joined the military looking for a glorious way to die.
  • Kallen from Code Geass. Because her biological father's wife could not bear children, Kallen was adopted into her noble father's household. Her biological mother got herself hired as a maid and eventually turned to drug use. This made their relationship extremely strained, although they make up by the finale.
  • Tamaki from Ouran High School Host Club is the illegitimate son of a Japanese man and a French woman. His Evil Matriarch grandmother brought him to France in exchange for paying for her financial troubles and forbade him from ever having contact with her again. Despite this, his grandmother still treats Tamaki like crap, always reminding him that he's "filthy."
  • Maid-Sama! has Usui, the product of an illicit affair between a British man and a Japanese woman. As a result, he has a strained relationship with his biological family and avoids bringing them up as much as possible.
  • One Piece: Ace is the bastard son of Pirate King Gold Roger, and as such he has a big stigma put on him. All his life he always wonders whether he deserves to be born because of this.

  • Shows up in Wilkie Collins's novels.
    • The titular "dead secret" and reveal of The Dead Secret is that protagonist Rosamund is actually an illegitimate child passed off as an heiress. This causes much internal and external conflict, as her husband refuses to accept her inheritance.
    • In The Woman In White, Glyde is revealed to be illegitimate. He knew about this, and went to great lengths to conceal it in order to preserve his title and estate.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire has several bastards, but the ones who exhibit this trope the most are:
    • Jon Snow grew up as an outsider among his legitimate family, especially by sort-of stepmom Catelyn. Partly because of his bitterness about this and for lack of better career options, he joins the Night's Watch in order to make a name for himself. Notably, when offered legitimization and the chance to inherit Winterfell, he declines, claiming it belongs to Sansa.
    • Ramsay Snow goes to great lengths to prove to his father that he's just as sick a bastard as the rest of his family and deserving of the family name, including torturing, mutilating and brainwashing a family rival. It's implied he murdered his legitimate brother to get where he was, too.
    • Downplayed with Mya Stone, who is aware of being King Robert's bastard. She angsts about her baseborn birth making her unable to marry the minor lord she fell in love with, but other than that she's pretty happy where she is.
  • In War and Peace Pierre Bezukhov is the bastard of one of the wealthiest, most powerful counts of Russia, who, upon his death, legitimizes him. He was educated in Paris, and came back with very liberal ideas that make him a big outsider in the Russian aristocratic circles.
  • Pierre Tartue/Lumen in the Arcia Chronicles comes from a bastard bloodline of the Lumens—one of the two clans vying for the throne of Arcia from book three onwards. He does a lot of very unsavory things to cover up his illegitimacy both before and after he usurps the throne, and hates being reminded that he is still a bastard.
  • A downplayed version in A Civil Campaign is when Count Rene Vorbretten is threatened with an succession suit because an ancestor was a bastard thus clicking complicated tangles in local laws. An added public relations difficulty was that the father was a soldier in an invading army.
  • Stragen from The Elenium is hypersensitive about his illegitimate birth.
  • Comes up often in the works of William Shakespeare. Edmund from King Lear, John from Much Ado About Nothing and Philip from King John are often freely labeled "the Bastard" and it causes them much angst.

     Live Action TV 
  • Reign's Sebastian, king's bastard, is usually caring and supportive of his legitimate siblings. But when he becomes attracted to Mary, Francis's betrothed, who plots to make him king for other reasons, he seizes the opportunity. Later, in an attempt to prove himself beyond his familial connections, he seeks to defeat the Darkness ravaging the countryside. In a moment of introspection in the series finale, he admits that he fell into this trope, telling Kenna that he continuously needed to feel like he was "enough."
  • Don Draper of Mad Men experienced this, being the bastard son of a whore. When his biological father died his stepmother made life miserable for him, spurring him to take over a dead man's identity and become the Manipulative Bastard he is in the show.

    Tabletop Game 
  • In the Ironclaw novella Scars main character Danica is the illegitimate daughter of a grey fox noble. One day she got in a fight with one of her half-brothers and accidentally scratched him, her father reacted by having her declawed (normally done to serious criminals and slaves) and threw her out on the street, where she was found and raised by a Bounty Hunter. Dani's father tuns out to have been the recently deceased High King Fidelio d'Rinaldi, and she recognizes the mad "impostor" she was hired to capture as the real Prince Fedrizzio by the scars she gave him when they were kits.

  • The reason for Elphaba's terrible home life in Wicked: her father favors her younger siblings because he's pretty sure she isn't his daughter.

     Video Games 
  • Sandor from Might and Magic: Heroes VI is the eldest-but-illegitimate son of Duke Slava of the Griffin Duchy, and is overlooked to become the next duke in favour of his younger brother Anton. He decides to leave the politics of the Duchies behind him and find a new life as a Barbarian Hero among the Orc tribes of the Pao Islands.

     Real Life 
  • Brothers Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth were the result of an extramarital affair of actor Junius Brutus Booth. This spurred them to make names for themselves, becoming rival actors. Edwin became a noted Unionist, while John, well, grew up to assassinate Lincoln.
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