Created By: sarysa on May 12, 2017 Last Edited By: sarysa on May 22, 2017
Troped

The Shut-In

A character who virtually never leaves their house or home.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
trope
http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/misshavisham_bw_movie.jpg
One of the earliest shut-ins.

It's not the least bit uncommon for people to avoid going outside in Real Life, and fiction follows through by giving us an assortment of house hermit characters. They tend to come in three flavors:

  • The self-imposed shut-ins who for whatever reason (typically agoraphobia) cannot bring themself to go outside, or simply do not want to do so.
  • Those with a condition that prevents them from going outside. Extreme obesity, extreme photosensitivity, or being bedridden and likely near death are the most common reasons.
  • Those who are kept against their will their entire lives, typically by family. Often ends up being a family's Dark Secret or Secret Legacy.

Since most fictional characters need to eat to live, shut-ins who are still ambulatory and aren't captives may go outside to buy the most necessary of supplies, but otherwise remain in isolation.

Subtropes include:

  • Hikikomori: More or less the same as agoraphobic. Although the word has connotations specific to Japan, as a trope it effectively covers agoraphobia as a whole.
  • Madwoman in the Attic: The tragic, non-consensual form of The Shut-In.
  • Gilded Cage: Usually befalls a young person, almost Always Female, who is given a luxurious lifestyle but is otherwise denied any socializing outside of interactions with her servants.

Compare The Hermit, Reclusive Artist, and Crazy Survivalist. Compare and contrast You Are Grounded, which is typically short and doesn't include school. NPC Scheduling, especially in older games, may make characters look like shut-ins, but that's just due to the simplistic AI. Compare Convenient Coma and the like, where being a shut-in is merely a side effect of being unconscious and therefore completely incapable of going anywhere. Prisoners and rare cases like Truman who are prisoners in wide open spaces don't really count, as they still have interactions with peers of their social standing within their microcosm. Prisoners in solitary tend to fall under Go Mad from the Isolation and/or Punishment Box.


Other Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Film - Live Action 
  • Benchwarmers: Howie is terrified of the sun and of other people, so he lives in a very small room in his brother's house. He overcomes his fear by the end of the movie, however.
  • The Dark Knight Rises: Eight years after the end of The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne has spent most of those eight years as a complete recluse, not interacting with anyone but his butler, Alfred. The police finally got organized crime out of Gotham, so the city doesn't need Batman anymore — and Bruce is still too heartbroken over Rachel Dawes' death to interact with the world in his civilian persona. But Bruce Wayne's withdrawal allows Bane's agents to establish a foothold in the city; by the time Batman comes back out of retirement, it's almost too late.
  • I Am Sam: Annie, the elderly neighbor who babysits Sam's daughter Lucy when Sam works, is an agorophobe who had not been outside in years. When testifying on behalf of Sam to his fitness as a father in his custody battle, her credibility is attacked with a lawyer bringing up this psychological condition.
  • Nim's Island: Alexandra Rover is agoraphobic and never leaves her apartment. When Nim writes to her explaining her trouble, Alexandra forces herself to go out and find her.
  • The Others: The kids cannot go outside because of a genetic disorder (Xeroderma pigmentosum), as they might be exposed to sunlight and die. Once they realize they are already dead, they get to enjoy sunlight for the first time.
  • That Darn Cat!: In the remake, an elderly woman complains she never goes anywhere. We find out at the end that this is literally true. When her floor (someone else's ceiling) is destroyed, she falls through still in her armchair. She's happy, though: "I finally left my house!" Why she never leaves her house is left up to the viewer.

     Literature 
  • Final Girls: In a PTSD sort of example, one of the main characters is unable to cope with leaving the house at all after the events they've been put through. They were essentially forced to live a horror movie.
  • Great Expectations: Miss Havisham was jilted on her wedding day and spent the rest of her life shut up in her mansion, still wearing her wedding dress, as the house decays around her.
  • Nero Wolfe: The titular character will only leave his brownstone if there is no other alternative. The reason: He's an extreme bookworm.
  • Sherlock Holmes: Mycroft Holmes, elder brother to legendary detective Sherlock Holmes, appears in four of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories. In every case, Mycroft seems to live his entire life at the Diogenes Club, despite having even greater powers of observation and deduction than Sherlock.
  • Tantei Team KZ Jiken Note: Nanaki is this in the beginning due to the application of On One Condition — he's required to stay in his family mansion until 20 as a condition of inheriting the family estate. Unlike most examples of this trope, he doesn't see it too much of an issue, despite The Team found the whole idea appalling. Rendered moot eventually due to the bankruptcy of his father.

    Live Action TV 
  • 30 Rock: In the episode "Gavin Volure", the eponymous character (played by Steve Martin) fakes being this trope. It turns out he's actually a white-collar criminal under house arrest.
  • Barney Miller: In one episode, Wojo arrests a man after the man's landlord complains of non-payment of rent. The man hadn't left his apartment for 20 years; shortly after coming to the precinct, he dies.
  • Better Call Saul: Jimmy McGill's brother Chuck suffers from electromagnetic hypersensitivity, and at the beginning of the show, he is revealed to have been a complete shut-in for years, aided by his assistant Ernesto. At the beginning of the show, his house is merely devoid of technology and he wraps himself in a tin foil blanket. Throughout, he ventures outside a few times but sometimes falls back harder. Near the end of season 2, he converted his living room into a Faraday cage.
  • Murder, She Wrote: In "Threshold of Fear", Jessica investigates a mystery involving her agoraphobic neighbor who has not left her apartment in 5 years.
  • Seinfeld: In the pilot (but not the series) Kramer is said to never leave the building.
  • Sherlock: While generally averted with Mycroft Holmes, whose character was changed considerably from the novel, he was portrayed as morbidly obese shut-in who was barely able to move in The Abominable Bride.
  • Star Trek: In the Star Trek franchise, including the Expanded Universe, most emergency holographic personnel cannot leave whatever room they are designed to serve. This was the Emergency Medical Hologram's fate in Star Trek: Voyager, though later on an EMH Mk II was able to roam a prototype ship in the Alpha Quadrant, the Prometheus. Mobile emitters like The Doctor's grant holographic personnel true freedom.
  • The Twilight Zone: The episode "Nothing in the Dark" featured an old woman who has refused to leave her apartment for years after seeing Death take a young woman. She believes that if she stays in the apartment that Death can't reach her. Unbeknownst to her, she was right, but she unwittingly invited Death in anyway.

    Video Games 

    Webcomics 
  • Jack (David Hopkins): Used very nastily in the story arc "Two For You". A loser is offered what looks like a sweet deal — free room and board in a premium-luxury apartment as an advertising promotion, "So well cared for that you'll never have to leave this apartment again!" Of course there's a catch: he's unwittingly sold his soul in exchange for a "Matrix"-type illusion, and then he loses even that.

    Western Animation 
  • Family Guy:
    • Brian has to do community service for a misdemeanor, so he's running Meals on Wheels, bringing lunches to elderly people who can't go out. He meets and falls in love with an old lady who used to be a great singer but got dissed in a review and hasn't left her house in years. He sings an Emmy Award-winning song to her, convincing her to leave her house — and she's immediately hit by a car.
    • A one-episode gag involves Peter Griffin's unnamed hairless twin, kept in captivity by family his entire life. At the end of the episode, the twin escapes and unconvincingly tries to replace Peter.
  • Gravity Falls: In the episode "A Tale of Two Stans", it's revealed that Stan refused to leave his brother's house for several days after he inadvertently shoved him into an interdimensional portal, until he ran out of food. When he went to buy food from a nearby store, the people there gave him the idea to impersonate his brother in order to make some desperately-needed cash by inviting them to the Mystery Shack, thus averting this trope.
  • Kim Possible: Wade, a genius hacker who occasionally helps the main characters, never left his house during the majority of the series. He was only seen outside in late season 3 and season 4, and no reason for his prior status was ever given.
  • King of the Hill: A one-off King of the Hill gag featured a ghoulish looking kid who is homeschooled and never leaves the house, being plastered to his computer while awake.
  • The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: In one episode, Piglet is too afraid to leave his house after getting carried away by the wind during a storm. The others try to get him to come outside again, but it takes Pooh getting caught in another storm for Piglet to snap out of it and go save his friend.
  • The PJs: Juicy's parents can't leave their apartment because they're too obese to go through the door.

    Real Life - General Examples 
  • The real life psychological condition known as agoraphobia can result in even young, otherwise healthy individuals never going outside, sometimes even with the aid of a friend or family member buying them food.
  • Those who are bedridden to the point that they couldn't withstand being aided into a wheelchair and wheeled around outside are another tragic group of shut-ins.
  • Those who are extremely photosensitive or burn with mere seconds of sunlight exposure tend to range between night owl and complete shut-in. Albinism is more known, and more often portrayed in media. (i.e. Heroic Albino and Evil Albino) Xeroderma pigmentosum is an extremely rare example which generally isn't indicated by skin pigment, but victims' ability to repair skin is compromised.
  • Those who hold the record for obesity are invariably subjected to this fate.
  • Those with severe video gaming addiction may never leave the house, especially if they have an enabler who buys them supplies. Overlaps with agoraphobia are common.
  • While electromagnetic hypersensitivity is generally agreed to be the symptom of a mental illness rather than an actual physical ailment, the way sufferers handle it is very real. Self-treatment ranges from going outside with tinfoil linings to being a complete shut-in with one or more rooms converted into a Faraday cage.
  • Extreme cases of perfume intolerance may cause sufferers to become a shut-in and/or move to out of the way places.
  • There have been cultures throughout history (some lasting to this day) that prohibit girls who have entered puberty from going outside. As the role of women at the time (especially the higher class ones) is mostly to "be and look attractive", they're kept inside so they'll learn only from what the family would allow and preventing them from looking "filthy" by interacting with people outside, especially the commoners/working class people. Strong overlap with Gilded Cage.

    Real Life - Specific Examples 
No living examples, please! However, exceptions may be made for shut-ins (usually former) who speak openly about their own situation.

  • The Collyer brothers were compulsive hoarders who eventually gained fame. This fame led them to shut themselves in their houses until the first died in a freak accident, causing the second, dependent on his brother, to starve to death.
  • Howard Hughes shut himself inside his Desert Inn suite for long periods of time. He purchased the Desert Inn writ large, along with a number of other casino hotels for often trite reasons...such as to remove a neon sign that shone through his drapes. After his nine year stay in said suite, his drapes were found to be rotten and never opened.

Community Feedback Replies: 35
  • May 19, 2017
    sarysa
    Well, that was fun. Please check the list on the bottom and let me know if you have any info about that "The Fortress" entry, or if you disagree with any of the rejections.

    edit days later, saving this part for archival purposes:

    NOTE: This is a remake of this necro which was abandoned ages ago and has next to no content. I have used most of the examples listed in that thread, and reimagined it as a Super Trope. Obviously, I'll remove "(Mk II)" from the name if it qualifies for launch.
  • May 13, 2017
    Getta
    • There are cultures in a few countries (mostly in the past, though a few still exist nowadays) that prohibit girls who have entered puberty to go outside. As the role of women at the time (especially the higher class ones) is mostly to "be and look attractive", they're kept inside so they'll learn only from what the family would allow and preventing them from looking "filthy" by interacting with people outside, especially the commoners/working class people.
  • May 13, 2017
    Arivne
    • Examples section
  • May 13, 2017
    NightShade96
    • In the Gravity Falls episode "Boyz Crazy", it's revealed that the members of the boy band Sev'ral Timez are clones that are locked in a giant hamster cage when they're not performing at concerts by their greedy creator. When Mabel and her friends free them, they have no idea how to even drink a glass of water, as they've been provided food and water by their creator up to that point.
  • May 13, 2017
    sarysa
    @Getta: Added.

    @Arivne: I guess I got off easy, given the length of the article. :)

    @NightShade96: I don't think that qualifies. They go out, albeit in a highly restricted fashion.
  • May 13, 2017
    NightShade96
    ^ Oh, that's fine. I have two possible examples:

    • In The Others, the kids cannot go outside because of a genetic disorder (Xeroderma pigmentosum), as they might be exposed to sunlight and die. Once they realize they are already dead, they get to enjoy sunlight for the first time.
    • The concept of both Plants Vs Zombies and Plants Vs Zombies 2 Its About Time revolves around the player being trapped in their house by zombies, and defending their front lawn against said zombies using various plants. The player is provided with advice and supplies by their neighbor Crazy Dave.
  • May 13, 2017
    sarysa
    ^ I think that falls under NPC Scheduling. You don't see them leave the house because the interface is simplified, but those plants can't just magically appear.
  • May 13, 2017
    NightShade96
    ^ Fair enough. Also, I added another example.
  • May 13, 2017
    sarysa
    ^ Third time's the charm. Added!
  • May 13, 2017
    NightShade96
    ^ Great!
  • May 17, 2017
    sarysa
    Well, given how this one has a sordid 4 year history, it's come along nicely. I don't feel like seeking out another token example for a bump so I'm deliberately bumping this time.

    Any final thoughts? Criticisms? Hoping to be able to get this out the door so I can focus on other TL Ps. ;)

    Also, I have a Playing With written up and ready.
  • May 17, 2017
    NightShade96
    ^ Looks good to go. You'll need three more hats though.
  • May 17, 2017
    Skylite
    [[Literature/Final Girls]] has one of the main characters unable to cope with leaving the house at all after the events they've been put through — they were essentially forced to live a horror movie.
  • May 17, 2017
    SamCurt
    Now I'm wondering the possibility for Hikikomori to be merged into this, should this be launched.

    This comes from Fighteer's recent comment on an ATT regarding Late For School, where he mentioned "I hate to use the ugly "w" word here, but this feels like yet another case of people trying to claim some kind of special privilege for anime tropes just because they are so stylized and formulaic."

    The spirit of such a statement would need a review of any difference between Hikikomori and this, and if substantially similar, that trope should merged into this. In particular, "shut-in" is the standard English translation of that term.
  • May 17, 2017
    Getta
    ^ technically Hikikomori isn't limited to Japanese examples, as long as those people behave like the trope expects.
  • May 17, 2017
    Getta
    ^ technically Hikikomori isn't limited to Japanese examples, as long as those people behave like the trope expects.
  • May 18, 2017
    sarysa
    @Getta: Done

    @Sam Curt: I actually disagree because Hikikomori seems to be far closer tied to agoraphobia than this. Shut-ins are a vernacular term to refer to people who don't leave their house, and the reasons can vary wildly.

    @Skylite: Added, but what is the character's name?

    @Night Shade 96: ...yep. I tried to be all subtle and sneaky about asking people for those, rather than blurting it out. ;)

    Nuked the section at the end about what I rejected from the old TLP's comments, though I'll keep this last line around since I really have no clue what "the fortress" is. I guess the troper who submitted it no longer hangs around here.

    • The warden in The Fortress has never left his quarters in his entire life. (what is "the fortress"? I google it in quotes with warden and get some unrelated Dragon Age entry)
  • May 18, 2017
    MetaFour
    Film:
    • The Dark Knight Rises is set eight years after the end of The Dark Knight, and Bruce Wayne has spent most of those eight years as a complete recluse, not interacting with anyone but his butler, Alfred. The police finally got organized crime out of Gotham, so the city does't need Batman anymore—and Bruce is still too heartbroken over Rachel Dawes' death to interact with the world in his civilian persona. But Bruce Wayne's withdrawal allows Bane's agents to establish a foothold in the city; by the time Batman comes back out of retirement, it's almost too late.
  • May 18, 2017
    sarysa
    ^ Added!
  • May 19, 2017
    jamespolk
    I support merging Hikikomori into this trope. Japanese slang names for tropes that are not exclusively Japanese are silly.
  • May 19, 2017
    Getta
    ^ I support anti-Japanophobe.
  • May 19, 2017
    sarysa
    Am I a Japanaphobe? o.o On the contrary, I've consumed so much Japanese media (and learned a little of the language) that I'm sensitive to cultural nuances.

    Guess I need to clarify my argument. The way I see it, Hikikomori covers:

    • Agoraphobes

    Excluding the above, The Shut-In would cover:

    • Bedridden
    • Immobile obese
    • Those with a skin condition like albinism, Xeroderma pigmentosum, and others.
    • Those with addictions that are fully doable in the house, like video game addiction.
    • Electromagnetic hypersensitivity
    • Perfume intolerance (actually knew a person who was a shut-in for this reason, I had to bathe with a specific soap and launder my clothes with non-scented everything before meeting them)
    • Unspecified insanity. (i.e. Havisham)
    • Deformed family members in older works, period works, or parodies of those two.
    • Probably a lot more than that. It's a catch-all after all.

    That said, some of the entries will need to go for being better covered by hikikomori. Spongebob, Simpsons, and Monk. Maybe the Kim Possible one but probably not, since agoraphobia is only a fan theory.

    IMO merging Hikikomori into this would be as silly as doing so with Madwoman In The Attic.
  • May 19, 2017
    SamCurt
    OK, my position is as follows:
    1. Certainly there's a bright-line distinction between this and Hikikomori, but what is unclear is whether it's necessary to distinguish the two.
    2. Even we're not merging Hikikomori into this, I request TRS to rename that trope, for two reasons:
      1. No reason to use a Japanese name for a non-Japanese concept; and
      2. "Hikikomori" actually refers to this supertrope. What is described in Hikikomori is merely a sub-type of it which happened to be common in Japan. Case in point: The example of Tantei Team KZ Jiken Note in the draft is referred as "Hikikomori" in the original text, but that example is clearly not an example of Hikikomori.
  • May 19, 2017
    Getta
    ^ What would we call it then? Agoraphobia? Reclusive Disorder?

    "Hikikomori" actually refers to this supertrope. —- Case in point: The example of Tantei Team KZ Jiken Note in the draft is referred as "Hikikomori" in the original text,

    That literature must've been misusing the term then cuz - quoting Wikipedia -

    More recently, researchers have developed more specific criteria to more accurately identify hikikomori. During a diagnostic interview, trained clinicians evaluate for:[4] [5]
    • spending most of the day and nearly every day confined to home,
    • marked and persistent avoidance of social situations,
    • social withdrawal symptoms causing significant functional impairment,
    • duration at least six months, and
    • no apparent physical etiology to account for the social withdrawal symptoms.

  • May 20, 2017
    jamespolk
    "I support anti-Japanophobe."

    Japanophobe? Because one thinks an English-language wiki actually should be written in English? I just created a page for a live-action Japanese film today!

    Look, we have a trope, Hikikomori, which has a name derived from anime fan jargon. This name will be comprehensible to only a very small percentage of the readers on the forum. That would be OK if this were a trope exclusive to anime, or even exclusive to Japanese media, but it isn't; the concept of the "shut-in" is universal. As such, the trope should have an English-language name.

    Additionally this name is an artifact of early wiki history when anime fans were massively over represented in the user base. If a trope called "Hikikomori" were being proposed now, it would get a different name before it launched.
  • May 20, 2017
    jamespolk
    As for names I like either The Shut In or The Agoraphobe.
  • May 20, 2017
    Getta
    ^^ What about Trope Names From The French or Trope Names From Other Languages? Should we change them all too because they're not the all-encompassing English?
  • May 20, 2017
    NightShade96
    • In the Gravity Falls episode "A Tale of Two Stans", it's revealed that Stan refused to leave his brother's house for several days after he inadvertently shoved him into an interdimensional portal, until he ran out of food. When he went to buy food from a nearby store, the people there gave him the idea to impersonate his brother in order to make some desperately-needed cash by inviting them to the Mystery Shack, thus averting this trope.
  • May 21, 2017
    jamespolk
    ^^Trope Names From The French seems to list a lot of phrases that are in common use in English, and in fact has several words/phrases that are English now and probably shouldn't be on that list, like The Coup and Film Noir and Grande Dame.

    Hikikomori is unintelligible to 99.99% of the population. It is a name that has meaning only for a very very small slice of the general public. It describes a concept that pre-dates anime by quite a bit and is found in art all over the world. It's an awful, awful name.
  • May 21, 2017
    sarysa
    @jamespolk: Hikikomori does make up the majority of legitimate agoraphobia cases, though. Regardless of early TvT's anime bias, Japanese media basically "owned" it through storytelling and then exploited the hell out of it...probably much due to Japan's own isolationist history, as the page's image suggests. That said, perhaps The Agoraphobe, Agoraphobe, and Agoraphobic should redirect to Hikikomori.

    Oh, and there's no way this TLP should have the word "agoraphobe" in the title. Agoraphobia is as narrow as electromagnetic sensitivity, as it is roughly an acute, persistent form of social anxiety. I spent all the effort recreating it because it was a clear catch-all that was needed.

    @Getta: 100% agree with your stance on foreign language names, heh.

    @NightShade96: Added.
  • May 21, 2017
    Getta
    ^^ Japanophobe confirmed.
  • May 21, 2017
    Basara-kun
    I agree with OP about this is the Super Trope of Hikikomori, as well with jamespolk about that term is mostly exclusive for Japan. I think if this is released, the Japanese examples (anime, visual/light novels, videogames made there, etc) should stay with that term and the Western/non-Japanese examples should be moved here. Also, hat added, this must be an official trope IMO
  • May 21, 2017
    Getta
    ^ There's one thing I agree with jamespolk though... and that's "Hikikomori isn't limited to Japanese examples". Agoraphobia could at least redirect to it.

    Then again, when we have Typhoid Mary as a trope when its real term is "asymptomatic carrier", what'cha gonna do?
  • May 22, 2017
    SamCurt
    My opinion is the current discussion on the title of Hikikomori belongs to TRS, not here, since it has no direct relationship with this trope.
  • May 22, 2017
    sarysa
    Alright. Nuked the redundant examples, changed title to its final form, will let this sit overnight for any final issues then launch it tomorrow. :)

    I'm glad it got to 5 without me voting on my own. I added the sixth hat to prove it, hehe.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=e3exl91picfcn6xxqxufvbe4