Created By: yisfidri on March 14, 2013 Last Edited By: yisfidri on June 2, 2013
Troped

Let the Past Burn

The story ends with a fire destroying the house, along with all it represents.

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Trope
Sometimes, a house or other building is central to a story. Usually it is the residence of the protagonist or antagonist. It may have a significant history, either special or sinister. It may even carry a family curse. By living there, a character may be unknowingly tying themselves to the past, or to their old ways.

Then that building is burnt down, destroying those memories of the past with it.

The huge material loss suffered by the owner of the house is generally peripheral to the story, with the real point of the trope being that the fire symbolizes letting go of the things from the past that were tied to the house, and being able to finally embrace the future.

One or more characters, dead or alive, may be burnt along with the house. A villainous or deranged character who lights such a fire is likely to perish in this way - perhaps with the hero trying unsuccessfully to save them.

This trope is almost always an Ending Trope, as it gives an effective close to the story and symbolically lays the past to rest. Tends toward a Bittersweet Ending. It is used particularly in Gothic Literature.

Simply having a previously unmentioned or unimportant house burn down is not sufficient for this trope. Examples should make clear the value of the building and/or the significance of the fire, to avoid being considered a Zero-Context Example.

Related to, but distinct from, Kill It with Fire and Fire Purifies, which are about fire as a weapon for killing. Also related to Burn Baby Burn, which is about burning smaller significant objects.


Examples:

Anime & Manga
  • The Elric Brothers' Origins Arc in Fullmetal Alchemist ends with them burning their late mother's home where they grew up before they go out on a quest to get back Al's body (which was lost in an attempt to resurrect their mom in that very house).
  • Jojos Bizarre Adventure: Jojo's house burning down marks the end of the first arc of the first part of Jojos Bizarre Adventure, and the Genre Shift from Glamorous Manly Elizabethan Melodrama to Glamorous Manly Supernatural Horror-Adventure.
  • This type of ending was used at least more than once in the 1988 anime Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics. The Bluebeard episode ended this way, and Hansel & Gretel had the witch's house get struck by lightning and burn down, and the kids reunited with their father the next day.

Comic Books
  • At almost-not-quite the end of The Dark Knight Returns Alfred burns down Wayne Manor so that nobody can discover that Bruce Wayne was Batman, then kills himself by throwing himself into the blazing, collapsing ruin.

Film
  • Done at the end of What's Eating Gilbert Grape. The protagonists light the house on fire to burn along with their deceased morbidly obese mother who is on the top floor, as this is the only way to dispose of her body without public humiliation. In this case the fire symbolises protection.
  • The James Bond film Skyfall has the titular manor burning down during the ending battle (with, of course, lots of explosions and such). This is very symbolic, as Bond has linked it throughout the movie with his childhood, and certain... psychological baggage he's carried with him from there.
  • In Batman Begins, the film's Darkest Hour is when Ra's al Ghul incapacitates Bruce Wayne, then sets Wayne Manor on fire and leaves Bruce to die there. Continuing his father's legacy (in this case, making Gotham a better, safer city) is one of Bruce's major motivations. Bruce is convinced at that moment that he's completely ruined Dad's legacy, and the destruction of his father's house is a very concrete representation of that.
  • In What About Bob?, Dr. Leo Marvin's lakeside vacation house in New Hampshire is a symbol of his financial success at the cost of strained relationships with just about everyone. (His daughter calls the trip there "another vacation that isn't a vacation", and his neighbors--the Gutmans--hate Dr. Marvin because they were saving up to buy that house.) At the end, Dr. Marvin tries to kill Bob with explosives, but ends up burning down the house instead. This is the straw that finally breaks Dr. Marvin, and in the next scene he's more or less catatonic. And in the next scene, Bob unintentionally shocks Dr. Marvin back into full consciousness. Whether or not Dr. Marvin learned anything from the ordeal is an open question.
  • Office Space: Milton burns down the Initech building in revenge for the company's shabby treatment of him, in the process destroying Peter's letter of confession about embezzling money from the company. Everyone just assumes the arsonist was also the embezzler, and Peter gets off scot-free...and finds a new job in the field of construction, where one of his projects is cleaning up the remains of the building.
  • The ending of Citizen Kane is a loose example, differing only in that the whole house isn't burnt.
  • In Time Bandits, the family home burns down at the end. Shortly after the parents pick up the rock of evil that was found in the wreckage and both disintegrate, leaving the boy an orphan.
  • Braindead ends this way, presumably destroying the remaining zombies.
  • Django Unchained: Ends with Django and his wife leaving an exploding slave plantation, on horseback determined to live a free life.
  • In the film Andersonville after the defeat of the Raiders their base was burned, symbolic of the end of their reign of terror.
  • Forrest Gump eventually does Jenny a favor by having her abusive home demolished.
  • In Andersonville after the defeat of the Raiders their base was burned, symbolic of the end of their reign of terror.

Literature
  • Mr Rochester's first wife sets his house ablaze at the end of Jane Eyre - and the shame of his dark secret is burned along with it.
  • Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca ends with the Creepy Housekeeper Mrs Danvers going over the edge and setting Manderley on fire. All that symbolically remains of Rebecca is burned down along with the house. In some adaptations Mrs Danvers also burns.
  • Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Fall of the House of Usher" ends this way, and the curse of the Usher family is brought to closure through the destruction of the house, as well as the protagonist's love interest.
  • Tobacco Road ends with the squalid house burning down with Jeeter and Ada and everything they had, from a fire set by Jeeter to clear out the fields for planting. This was dropped from the play.
  • At the end of Monstrous Regiment, the Boarding School of Horrors is burned down by two of those who'd been through it.
  • Prince of Persia: The Graphic Novel ends its 9th-century storyline with the usurper burning down the royal palace with himself rather than surrender it to Prince Guiv. Much of the 13th-century storyline is set in the ruins of this palace.
  • Toward the end of the Warrior Cats book Rising Storm, a dry summer and young humans messing around results in a forest fire, badly burning ThunderClan's territory, including their camp. Three of the Clan are killed in the fire, and while they do return, it takes a long time to recover and rebuild.
  • The haunted hotel in The Shining burns up and dissolves into nothingness.

Live Action TV
  • The second season of The Walking Dead ends with the barn of walkers being burned during the attack on the farm.
  • In-universe example: in Just Shoot Me! this is how Dennis' student film The Burning House ends.
  • An episode of Arrested Development ends with Michael and his son, George Michael burning down the family banana stand while they watched as a means of putting the days where they miserably had to work there behind.
  • M*A*S*H: Psychiatrist Sidney Freeman convinces Col. Potter to let the camp make a bonfire, burning many non-essential items which represent the stifling Army lifestyle. "You have to let them go crazy once in a while to keep from going crazy." Freeman himself tosses his fatigues into the blaze.
Coincidentally, just before the final episode was filmed the MASH set burned down.

Video Games
  • The plot of Lucius is set in motion by a character performing satanic rituals in the basement of Dante Manor, which results in Lucius' soul becoming the property of the devil and him murdering the inhabitants of the house. During the final level, Lucius burns Dante Manor to the ground, along with the last of his victims, his father Charles.
  • In Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance II, a dragon torches Firewind Manor in a bid to kill your character. This coincidently wraps up the sub-plot concerning the Ghost of House Felldane, who wished to see the Manor destroyed to hide the evidence of the depravity his descendants have succumbed to.
  • At the end of Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned, Johnny and his fellow gang members burn down the gang's clubhouse. Considering that they've just killed the gang leader Billy for attempting to turn states' evidence, it can be seen as a symbol of the gang dissolving for good.
  • Possibly a villainous example in Bioshock that is more in the spirit of If I Can't Have It: When the government threatened to nationalize a forest he owned, Andrew Ryan burned it down. This marked the beginings of his plan to secede from the world.
  • At the end of 5 Days a Stranger, the mansion as well as the recently re-animated body of the then-unnamed DeFoe child is burnt down, freeing those that had been trapped within. Except for AJ and Philip Harty, who were dead before the fire started.

Visual Novel
  • Umineko: When They Cry: It's revealed that a huge stockpile of hidden explosives were used at the end of the second day of the Ushiromiya murder mystery which creates a huge crater on the island and destroys their mansion, the family members, and any evidence with it. Episode 4 and episode 8 of the visual novel suggest that it would be much better to forget about the incident, and let the hype, driven by the media, die so that relatives of people who died can move on.

Western Animation
  • In The Simpsons episode "Grandpa vs Sexual Inadequacy", Homer and Abe begin arguing after visiting the farmhouse where they lived before moving to Springfield. They resolve the feud at the end of the episode, as the farmhouse burns to the ground.
    • In another episode where Homer decides to stop going to church his house burns down and Springfieldianites of various religions help him out: his next door neighbor Ned (Chirstian) pulls him from the burning fire while volunteer firemen Krusty (Jewish) and Apu ("Miscellaneous") put the fire out. This convinces Homer to start attending church again.
  • In the Superjail! third season finale, the Warden manages to burn down his entire prison to the ground with Jared, Ash, and others inside.
  • In the episode of Dan VS "Dan Vs. The Family Thanksgiving", Elise's Parents' house gets burned down after Dan storms out of the celebration. While everyone else is upset at how the day ended, Dan is suitably happy with the house burning down, making everyone spend the night together in a hotel.

Community Feedback Replies: 46
  • March 14, 2013
    Astaroth
    • In The Simpsons episode Grandpa vs Sexual Inadequacy, Homer and Abe begin arguing after visiting the farmhouse where they lived before moving to Springfield. They resolve the feud at the end of the episode, as the farmhouse burns to the ground.

    • In Lucius, the protaganist burns Dante Manor during the final mission, along with the last of his victims, his father.
  • March 14, 2013
    yisfidri
    Thanks.. added them. I will add any more suggestions that are offered too.
  • March 14, 2013
    Koveras
    • The Elric Brothers' Origins Arc in Fullmetal Alchemist ends with them burning their late mother's home where they grew up before they go out on a quest to get back Al's body (which was lost in an attempt to resurrect their mom in that very house).
  • March 14, 2013
    TheHandle
  • March 14, 2013
    TonyG
    On Just Shoot Me this is how Dennis' student film The Burning House ends.
  • March 14, 2013
    Astaroth
    • In Baldurs Gate Dark Alliance II, a dragon torches Firewind Manor in a bid to kill your character. This coincidently wraps up the sub-plot concerning the Ghost of House Felldane, who wished to see the Manor destroyed to hide the evidence of the depravity his descendants have succumbed to.
  • March 14, 2013
    grapesandmilk
    • The second season of The Walking Dead ends with the barn of walkers being burned during the attack on the farm.
  • March 15, 2013
    Prfnoff
    In the last chapter of Tobacco Road, the dilapidated Lester house burns down with Jeeter and Ada and everything they had inside. The fire had been set earlier by Jeeter to clear out the fields for planting. This final scene was dropped from the play.
  • March 28, 2013
    Arivne
    I have a bad feeling that some tropers are going to think that this is about any house burning down at the end of the work.

    Several of the examples given thus far say nothing about what the building represents or its significance in the work.

    It might help to have a separate statement at the end that says that any example that doesn't make that clear will be considered a Zero Context Example.
  • May 4, 2013
    arbiter099
    How does Burning Down The Past sound?

    This shouldn't be just about houses of course, but any building or big thing that's traumatic being physically destroyed by fire to provide some resolution.
  • May 4, 2013
    TooBah
    • The latest James Bond film, Skyfall, has the titular manor burning down during the ending battle (with, of course, lots of explosions and such). This is very symbolic, as Bond has linked it throughout the movie with his childhood, and certain... psychological baggage he's carried with him from there.
  • May 4, 2013
    MonaNaito
    Ooh. I really like Burning Down The Past. My one concern is that it suggests the burning is done purposely, but that's not necessarily the case.
  • May 4, 2013
    yisfidri
    How about Let The Past Burn ?
  • May 4, 2013
    MorganWick
    If we broaden it, does the ending of Citizen Kane count?
  • May 4, 2013
    arbiter099
    may be related to Fire Purifies
  • May 4, 2013
    MetaFour
    We also have Burn Baby Burn for disposing of objects smaller than houses.

    • In Batman Begins, the film's Darkest Hour is when Ra's al Ghul incapacitates Bruce Wayne, then sets Wayne Manor on fire and leaves Bruce to die there. Continuing his father's legacy (in this case, making Gotham a better, safer city) is one of Bruce's major motivations. Bruce is convinced at that moment that he's completely ruined Dad's legacy, and the destruction of his father's house is a very concrete representation of that.
    • In What About Bob, Dr. Leo Marvin's lakeside vacation house in New Hampshire is a symbol of his financial success at the cost of strained relationships with just about everyone. (His daughter calls the trip there "another vacation that isn't a vacation", and his neighbors--the Gutmans--hate Dr. Marvin because they were saving up to buy that house.) At the end, Dr. Marvin tries to kill Bob with explosives, but ends up burning down the house instead. This is the straw that finally breaks Dr. Marvin, and in the next scene he's more or less catatonic. And in the next scene, Bob unintentionally shocks Dr. Marvin back into full consciousness. Whether or not Dr. Marvin learned anything from the ordeal is an open question.
  • May 4, 2013
    arbiter099
    would this count? Bioshock: When the government threatened to nationalize a forrest he owned, Andrew Ryan burned it down. This marked the beginings of his plan to secede from the world.

    This is more in the spirit of If I Cant Have It than anything else though. So not sure if it fits
  • May 4, 2013
    morenohijazo
    • At the end of Grand Theft Auto IV The Lost And Damned, Johnny and his fellow gang members burn down the gang's clubhouse. Considering that they've just killed the gang leader Billy for attempting to turn states' evidence, it can be seen as a symbol of the gang dissolving for good.
  • May 4, 2013
    randomsurfer
    At almost-not-quite the end of The Dark Knight Returns Alfred burns down Wayne Manor so that nobody can discover that Bruce Wayne was Batman, then kills himself by throwing himself into the blazing, collapsing ruin.
  • May 5, 2013
    Adbot
    Video Games
    • At the end of 5 Days a Stranger, the mansion as well as the recently re-animated body of the then-unnamed De Foe child is burnt down, freeing those that had been trapped within. Except for AJ and Philip Harty, who were dead before the fire started.
  • May 5, 2013
    Chabal2
    At the end of Monstrous Regiment, the Boarding School Of Horrors is burned down by two of those who'd been through it.
  • May 5, 2013
    Dawnwing
    Does this count?

    Literature:
    • Toward the end of the Warrior Cats book Rising Storm, a dry summer and young humans messing around results in a forest fire, badly burning ThunderClan's territory, including their camp. Three of the Clan are killed in the fire, and while they do return, it takes a long time to recover and rebuild.
  • May 5, 2013
    Karalora
    Office Space: Milton burns down the Initech building in revenge for the company's shabby treatment of him, in the process destroying Peter's letter of confession about embezzling money from the company. Everyone just assumes the arsonist was also the embezzler, and Peter gets off scot-free...and finds a new job in the field of construction, where one of his projects is cleaning up the remains of the building.
  • May 5, 2013
    Prfnoff
    • Prince Of Persia The Graphic Novel ends its 9th-century storyline with the usurper burning down the royal palace with himself rather than surrender it to Prince Guiv. When Guiv is fleeing the burning palace, he looks back at one moment and a vision of Layth and Guilan briefly appears amid the flames. Much of the 13th-century storyline is set in the ruins of this palace.
  • May 5, 2013
    yisfidri
    What about the name? House Fire Resolution? Burning Down The Past? Let The Past Burn (Down)?

  • May 5, 2013
    Korodzik
    Does this count, even though it's not fire?:

    The Polish novel Gnoj (Dung) ends symbolically with the protagonist's house (where he spent his horribly traumatic childhood), along with his terrible family, sinking into a pit of dung.
  • May 8, 2013
    Chernoskill
    Hm... In Time Bandits, the family home burns down at the end, but it doesn't really represent anything... Or does it? After all, shortly after the parents pick up the rock of evil that was found in the wreckage and both disintegrate, leaving the boy an orphan. I'm really not sure how this could be interpreted or if there's any connection at all.
  • May 27, 2013
    arbiter099
  • May 27, 2013
    randomsurfer
    In another Simpsons where Homer decides to stop going to church his house burns down and Springfieldianites of various religions help him out: his next door neighbor Ned (Chirstian) pulls him from the burning fire while volunteer firemen Krusty (Jewish) and Apu ("Miscellaneous") put the fire out. This convinces Homer to start attending church agin.
  • May 27, 2013
    TheTitan99
    Hmm... Not sure if this has enough relevance, though it does have a house fire ending!

    • In the episode of Dan VS "Dan Vs. The Family Thanksgiving", Elise's Parents' house gets burned down after Dan storms out of the celebration. While everyone else is upset at how the day ended, Dan is suitably happy with the house burning down, making everyone spend the night together in a hotel.
  • May 28, 2013
    sunlitgarden
    Braindead ends this way, presumably destroying the remaining zombies.
  • May 28, 2013
    Stratadrake
    I saw this title and thought it was about a bill being passed through Congress. I must have politics on the brain. Think we can do better in the title area before launch?

    If you want a pun, we can always go with something like Fiddle While Home Burns.
  • May 29, 2013
    arbiter099
    So, any consensus on title? We have: current, Burning Down The Past, Let The Past Burn, and ^
  • May 31, 2013
    yisfidri
  • May 31, 2013
    Edenmod
    Seconding Let The Past Burn.
  • May 31, 2013
    Larkmarn
    • An episode of Arrested Development ends with Michael and his son, George Michael burning down the family banana stand while they watched as a means of putting the days where they miserably had to work there behind.
  • May 31, 2013
    yisfidri
    Title changed and examples added. Not sure about the Polish novel Gnoj - yes it has a similarity to this trope, but without the fire. Including it would necessitate broadening and redefining this trope perhaps too much. I do think it would belong in Quicksand Sucks though.
  • May 31, 2013
    glisglis
    How about "Burning Down the House" as a trope name? It references the eponymously titled song by the Talking Heads. The subject matter is also very close to the sense of what you're getting at in the definition.
  • June 1, 2013
    Stratadrake
    Does it have to occur at the end of the story? Noting the FMA example in particular because it is established quite early in the series as a whole (and the viewer's mind).
  • June 1, 2013
    xanderiskander
    I'd change the description around some. Especially the second line, and the 4th paragraph to something else because, although it's a very common type of ending this doesn't really have to happen at the end of a story to signify destroying a sinister past.

    I'd change the second line to: "Then that building is burnt down, destroying those memories of the past with it."

    Film
    • Django Unchained: Ends with Django and his wife leaving an exploding slave plantation, on horseback determined to live a free life.

    Visual Novel
    • Umineko When They Cry: It's revealed that a huge stockpile of hidden explosives were used at the end of the second day of the Ushiromiya murder mystery which creates a huge crater on the island and destroys their mansion, the family members, and any evidence with it. Episode 4 and episode 8 of the visual novel suggest that it would be much better to forget about the incident, and let the hype, driven by the media, die so that relatives of people who died can move on.
  • June 1, 2013
    Sackett
    • In the film Andersonville after the defeat of the Raiders their base was burned, symbolic of the end of their reign of terror.
  • June 1, 2013
    yisfidri
    Is it to be Let The Past Burn or Burning Down The House? I'd personally go with the former, but like to hear other opinions too.
  • June 1, 2013
    arbiter099
    I like the current name. The trope is about something significant burning, not just a house and the second name seems ripe for that kind of misuse. Plus it sounds like it could be some sort of theater jargon.
  • June 1, 2013
    Generality
    While it's not quite the end, Forrest Gump eventually does Jenny a favor by having her abusive home demolished.
  • June 1, 2013
    DennisDunjinman
    I distinctly remember this type of ending being used at least more than once in the 1988 anime Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics. The Bluebeard episode ended this way, and I think Hansel & Gretel had the witch's house get struck by lightning and burn down, and the kids reunited with their father the next day.
  • June 1, 2013
    randomsurfer
    • MASH: Psychiatrist Sidney Freeman convinces Col. Potter to let the camp make a bonfire, burning many non-essential items which represent the stifling Army lifestyle. "You have to let them go crazy once in a while to keep from going crazy." Freeman himself tosses his fatigues into the blaze.
    Coincidentally, just before the final episode was filmed the MASH set burned down.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=3uwuffqoqki9w1aal7vu6xg3&trope=LetThePastBurn