Created By: kjnoren on July 15, 2013 Last Edited By: kjnoren on September 11, 2013
Troped

All Are Equal In Death

All are treated or shown as equal in death, no matter their looks or their status

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YKTTW notes

Reverted trope name to All Are Equal in Death. Some minor edits of the description. Comments on the title are welcome. No Launching Please

Introduction

Who was the fool, who the wise man,
who the beggar or the emperor?
Whether rich or poor, all are equal in death.
—Anonymous, Vierzeiliger oberdeutscher Totentanz

Death comes to all of us, and we will all be treated equally by and in it. It doesn't matter if you're a master or a slave, a sinner or a saint, man or woman, a bishop or knave, white or black — we are all treated the same. Either the funerals or the afterlife (if any) must be the same for everyone, whichever is used last in the work.

It's an old theme in medieval art with the Danse Macabre, which reminded the living that death comes to all and that all earthly glories will vanish, but it can also take other expressions.

Note that this goes one step further than that everyone is going to die — everyone must be treated the same as well. Even a statement that everybody is judged the same way implies a weakening of this trope. If everyone has the same funeral, but then go to different afterlifes, then the trope is subverted. Put another way, this is An Aesop that all differences between people are erased upon death.

See also Cessation of Existence. Not to be confused with We All Die Someday or Together in Death.

As a Death Trope, there will be spoilers ahead.

Examples

Art
  • The Danse Macabre of mediaeval Christian art was meant to evoke this trope.

Comics
  • Death from The Sandman is a rather benevolent version of this trope, she never misses the opportunity to say that everybody dies at the end, but for the same reason and since she knows everything about everyone, she never hates anyone, they are all the same to her but because she knows them all.

Film
  • The Seventh Seal ends with the deceased characters — from a range of walks of life — forming a Danse Macabre on the horizon.
  • In the end of Glory, all the men of the 54th that were killed in the assault on the fortification are shown being dumped in a mass grave by the Confederates, white officers and black enlisted alike.
  • In the end of Gangs of New York all of the victims from the Draft Riots get the same barebones burial, in spite of their race, nationality, social class, or gang alliance.
  • Part of the really dark alternate ending of Heathers, that was changed after Executive Meddling. After Veronica kills J.D., stopping him from blowing up everyone in the school, she ignites the bombs herself. All the kids, no matter their clique, appearance, or background, are then shown interacting peacefully in heaven. The trope is lampshaded in the film, when J.D. says:
    Let's face it, alright! The only place different social types can genuinely get along with each other is in heaven.

Literature
  • The Grimm Godfather Death about a man looking for a godfather for his newborn, and asks Death to do so for this reason (having previously rejected God for giving to the rich and not to the poor and the Devil for tempting men).
  • In the Chalion series by Lois McMaster Bujold every soul is picked up by one of the gods at their death, regardless of status or faith, and which god is shown in a miracle at their funeral. Then explored in the third book, where certain souls are shown to be impossible for the gods to pick up, and the trouble is about how to make them pickable again.
  • Also a theme of the Lois McMaster Bujold's short story "Aftermaths", showing the crew of a space ship that is out reclaiming the dead bodies after a space battle.
  • Invoked in-universe in The Elenium, when Sparhawk has to sneak into the catacombs under the Cimmura Cathedral.

Live Action TV:
  • The Series/MASH episode Follies of the Living - Concerns of the Dead is told from the POV of a dead soldier. At the end of the episode he walks down the road towards the afterlife along with all the other dead - US soldiers of various ranks, North Korean soldiers, civilians, etc.
  • Bones: In "The Titan on the Tracks" a rich industrialist faked his death, then was beaten severely by his accomplice in order to cover his (the accomplice's) participation. The follwoing takes place in his hospital room:
    BRENNAN: When can we talk to him?
    DOCTOR: Any time you want, as long as you don't expect a response. This man has severe brain damage. Off the record, he's not going to wake up. Best case scenario, he spends the rest of his life hooked up to feeding tubes.
    BRENNAN: This is one of the richest men in the country.
    DOCTOR: Most of the time, that might mean something. Not now.

Webcomics:
  • The god Sithrak in Oglaf will supposedly treat everyone equally, by torturing them forever.
Community Feedback Replies: 50
  • July 15, 2013
    TwinBird
    This was part of the theory behind Charon's obol, wasn't it? Since death came to everyone, the fee was one anyone could afford.
  • July 15, 2013
    DracMonster
    This is the primary theme of the Danse Macabre.
  • July 15, 2013
    Antigone3
    I would vote for Death Makes Us Equal.

    Invoked in-universe in The Elenium, when Sparhawk has to sneak into the catacombs under the Cimmura Cathedral.
  • July 15, 2013
    OlafMerchant
    Literature

    • Discworld's antropomorphic Death is pretty non-partial, and even tries to make the experience as pleasant as possible for the person involved, regardless who or what you were in life. Except maybe Rincewind, whom he at least actively chases after in the earlier books.
  • July 15, 2013
    kjnoren
    Discworld is sorta a weird example, since I think the souls there end up exactly in the afterlife they expect they will come too. So while everyone meets Death, what happens after is different.

    @Twin Bird: interesting theory, that I've never heard of or thought of before.
  • July 15, 2013
    paycheckgurl
    In the end of Gangs Of New York all of the victims from the Draft Riots get the same barebones burial, in spite of their race, nationality, social class, or gang alliance.
  • July 16, 2013
    DAN004
    Many religions are like this, by the way. Except for the "saint and sinner" part, that is.
  • July 16, 2013
    kjnoren
    Yes, but here I'm looking for the specific ways they express or show that, like the Danse Macabre of mediaeval Christian art.

    I'm also less interested in "Death comes to all of us" than in "We are all equal in/to death". Which might be splitting hairs, but explains the trouble I couldn't put my finger on with the Discworld example - Death comes to all, but he doesn't behave the same to everyone. He does fit his behaviour to the person.

    Perhaps it is better expressed with a trope name like All Are United In Death, or We Are United In Death?
  • July 16, 2013
    DAN004
    Not that I'm complaining about anything, by the way... Just that you may add a bluff about the religion thingy above. I'll reword it a bit: "In a number of religions (Abrahamic especially), you are not judged by your gender, wealth, race, or position - but rather, what you do in your life, good or bad."

    The title we have now is okay.
  • July 16, 2013
    Chabal2
    A Grimm fairy tale about a man looking for a godfather for his newborn, and asks Death to do so for this reason (having previously rejected God for giving to the rich and not to the poor and the Devil for tempting men). The son becomes a great doctor, bringing men back from the dead until Death has had enough and takes him as well.
  • July 16, 2013
    kjnoren
    ^^ I do not really want generalities here - I'd prefer actual scriptures or stories or proverbs that support the trope, not an entire set of religions. For that matter, even "you are judged solely by X" is arguably a weakening of this trope.

    ^ Thanks! This is apparently Godfather Death or Der Gevatter Tod in German. It also seems to be an adaptation by an older fairy tale, like many other of the Grimm tales. That said, this trope is only used in the beginning of the tale.
  • July 16, 2013
    ACarlssin
    Possible page quote: "You might be a king or a little street sweeper, but sooner or later, you dance with the Reaper." -- The Grim Reaper (rapping), Bill And Teds Bogus Journey
  • July 16, 2013
    RoseBride
    Death from The Sandman is a rather benevolent version of this trope, she never misses the oportunity to say that everybody dies at the end, but for the same reason and since she knows everything about everyone, she never hates anyone, they are all the same to her but because she knows them all.

    Possible page quote too from her: "You lived what anybody gets, Bernie. You got a lifetime. No more. No less."
  • July 16, 2013
    DAN004
    @ kjnoren: Okay, clear enough.
  • July 18, 2013
    kjnoren
    Webcomics:

    • The god Sithrik in Oglaf will supposedly treat everyone equally, by torturing them forever.
  • July 29, 2013
    randomsurfer
    In an episode of MASH told from the POV of a dead soldier, at the end of the episode he walks down the road towards the afterlife along with all the other dead - US soldiers of various ranks, North Korean soldiers, civilians, etc.
  • July 29, 2013
    kjnoren
    Good one! That would be Follies of the Living - Concerns of the Dead.
  • July 29, 2013
    RoseBride
    Don't know if this counts but in the Death Note manga finale it is revealed that the rule of "no heaven and no hell" for those who use the note actually means that there is no afterlife for 'anyone' which Light had already figured out. This was not the case of the anime tough.

    That being said, I think this is related to Cessation of Existence and The Nothing After Death
  • July 29, 2013
    kjnoren
    ^ I don't know any particulars of that work, but I'd say it only counts if it makes a specific showing where everyone is treated the same. So it might be an example, but going only from what you write I wouldn't include it.
  • July 29, 2013
    RoseBride
    mmm, well the specifics would be that from the beginning after Ryuk told Light that there were absolutly no repercussions for a human using the death note, except that they wouldn't go either to heaven or hell, and that's pretty much it. It's not until the final chapters were Light is defeated by Near, and Ryuk writes down his name in his notebook were he has a flashback of him telling Ryuk that he understood it, that htere was really no heaven or hell, when someone dies just dies there is no afterlife regardless of what they did in life or the death note usage; and he yells a Ryuk that he doesn't want to die which has a touch of irony considering that Light had long since fancied himself as the "the god of the new world" anyway this got way too long so I'll just leave two links for the two pages that I think sumerize it: 1 and 2
  • July 29, 2013
    Elbruno
    This example seems relevant, but I'm not really sure if it would exactly fit this trope.

    Video Games:

    • Ghost Trick has a variation that covers beyond humanity. Barring those granted with the powers of the dead, be they human or not, all souls of the dead are equal. Since souls communicate by directly beaming their thoughts, there's essentially no difference between species while they are in the ghost world, at least beyond the form they take and the possible lack of understanding of more human concepts. This comes in handy when Sissel encounters a dead Missile.
  • July 29, 2013
    Chabal2
    This line from Dawn Of War Retribution: "In mere hours, billions will die. Innocent, guilty, strong and weak, honest and deceitful, ALL of them!!!"

  • July 30, 2013
    randomsurfer
    This is near-death so it might not count.
    • Bones: In "The Titan on the Tracks" a rich industrialist faked his death, then was beaten severely by his accomplice in order to cover his (the accomplice's) participation. The follwoing takes place in his hospital room:
      BRENNAN: When can we talk to him?
      DOCTOR: Any time you want, as long as you don't expect a response. This man has severe brain damage. Off the record, he's not going to wake up. Best case scenario, he spends the rest of his life hooked up to feeding tubes.
      BRENNAN: This is one of the richest men in the country.
      DOCTOR: Most of the time, that might mean something. Not now.
  • July 31, 2013
    kjnoren
    ^ Yeah, I think that's a separate but related trope - that everyone is equal given some circumstance, or where wordly belongings serve no purpose at all.
  • August 2, 2013
    DracMonster
    ^I think it probably does count, since a permanent coma is dead for all intents and purposes.

    This would make a good page quote, from a Dutch printed version of the Danse Macabre:

    Who was the fool, who the wise man,
    who the beggar or the emperor?
    Whether rich or poor, all are equal in death.
    --Anonymous, Vierzeiliger oberdeutscher Totentanz
  • August 2, 2013
    Abodos
    I can't remember the exact source, but I recall Isaac Asimov once grimly called death "the Great Equalizer" in an interview toward the end of his life as his health was failing.
  • August 2, 2013
    Tardigrade
    Film: The Seventh Seal ends with the deceased characters -- from a range of walks of life -- forming a Danse Macabre on the horizon.
  • August 2, 2013
    kjnoren
    Thanks for the quote, Drac Monster! That's much more fitting than the ones with "everyone dies". I'm still unsure about the Bones example, seems more like a case of belonging to a supertrope.
  • August 14, 2013
    Paradisesnake
    Fixed a spelling mistake in the Oglaf example (it's Sithrak, not Sithrik).
  • August 17, 2013
    Morgenthaler
    • This was part of the really dark alternate ending of Heathers. After Veronica stops J.D. from blowing up everyone in the school by killing him, she is revealed to have finally accepted his vision and ignites the bombs herself. All the kids from whatever clique, appearance, or background are then shown interacting peacefully in heaven. The studio considered it a really bad message to send, and Veronica ends up rejecting J.D.'s plans. This is even alluded to in the film, when J.D. admits this is his goal:
      J.D.: Let's face it, alright! The only place different social types can genuinely get along with each other is in heaven.
  • August 22, 2013
    kjnoren
    Bump.
  • August 24, 2013
    CrypticMirror
    The Discworld actually plays with this a little, for the symbolic act of reaping Royals get the sword instead of the scythe, after that they are all the same though.
  • August 24, 2013
    ralphmerridew2
    "After the game, the king and the pawn go in the same box."
  • August 25, 2013
    kjnoren
    ^^ I'm not sure Discworld is a good example, because differences aren't erased. Death does frequently take moral stances in how he approaches those he picks up, and all go on to different afterlives.

    Real life:

    • Islamic funeral customs are, as defined in Sharia law, austere and egalitarian. The body is washed in a ritual way, and then shrouded in simple cotton cloths. The grave should be marked with only a simple marker, if any, and no casket should be used. See the other wiki for more details.
  • August 25, 2013
    FastEddie
    Equal In Death sounds more like a name than dialog.
  • August 25, 2013
    Omeganian
    The Eleusinian Mysteries, which the Greeks believed would give a person the way to a happy afterlife, were open to all Greek speakers except for murderers - even slaves.
  • August 26, 2013
    Arivne
    Changing the name to Equal In Death so the trope doesn't get nuked for having a "sounds like a line of dialog title".
  • August 26, 2013
    kjnoren
    Bah. I don't like willy-nilly editing of trope names in YKTTW, I can't see how Death Makes Us Equal sounds a lot like dialogue (neverless a stock phrase), and I can't say I like Equal In Death as a trope name either.
  • August 26, 2013
    DAN004
    All Are Equal In Death (the trope's very first title) can work.
  • August 27, 2013
    Arivne
    ^^ "I can't see how Death Makes Us Equal sounds a lot like dialogue..."

    The reason is that when a personal pronoun like "I", "me", "we" or "us" is in the title it makes it sound like someone is saying it. The word "you" has the same effect if it's being directed toward another person.
  • August 27, 2013
    kjnoren
    Thinking more about it, the trouble I have with that guideline is that it's used as "don't do this subjective thing" instead of "work towards this subjective thing". "Don't do this" is great when "this" is defined, but just causes trouble when "this" is subjective.

    I'm open for other ideas about a trope name - I thought both All Are Equal In Death and Death Makes Us Equal were workable trope names, but hardly great ones.

    That said, I think the trope name here needs to express the following:

    1. This is not We All Die Someday 2. It applies to everyone 3. When in the state of being dead, we are all equal
  • September 5, 2013
    kjnoren
    Any more examples?
  • September 10, 2013
    insaneenough
    Personally, I would call it "Death Comes for Us All"
  • September 10, 2013
    kjnoren
    ^ That would be a misleading trope name, much more like We All Die Someday. The two tropes are very much different.
  • September 10, 2013
    Alucard
    Anubis in Gargoyles speaks with a pretty heavy level of responsibility regarding his job, and doesn't take kindly to be imprisoned by Emir. It's detailed in this scene:

    Emir: Hear me, Guardian of the Gate. I demand a favor.
    Anubis: I grant one boon, mortal. And it will be given to you as it is given to everyone - when your time has come.
    Emir: You took from me my only son, Anubis, two years ago, in a pointless car accident.
    Anubis: Death is always pointless. That is the point.
    Emir: Don't toy with me, jackal god! I want my son back! I will make you give him back!
    Anubis: What you ask is unthinkable. Your son has passed. Let him rest. Death comes to us all.
    Emir: Not anymore! With you trapped here forever, death has no sting! No one can die, and so my threat is very real.

    Later on the dialogue goes like this

    Emir: I demand reparation! My son was cruelly and unfairly taken from me!
    Anubis: On the contrary, death is the ultimate fairness. Rich and poor, young and old, all are equal in death. You would not like to see the Jackal God play favorites. Think what you are doing: all over the world there is birth, but no death. Our planet cannot support so many lives at once.
  • September 10, 2013
    SpocktorWho
    Going back to the Death Note debate, Ryuk literally says, in the English translation anyway, "Death is equal." Everyone is treated exactly the same upon death in that universe, because they all go to Mu - nothingness.
  • September 10, 2013
    errorladen
    The movie version of Les Miserables updated some lyrics to make things more succinct and cut down on lines sung by background characters. Among the changes:
    Gavroche: This was the land that fought for liberty
    Now when we fight, we fight for bread.
    Here is the thing about equality:
    Everyone's equal when they're dead.
  • September 10, 2013
    kjnoren
    ^^^ Thanks! I'm probably going to stick with only the second quote, since that has everything needed for this trope.

    ^^ Thanks! I couldn't make heads or tails of the earlier writeup about Death Note.

    ^ Thanks!

    I will launch in about 12 hours, if someone has some more comments.
  • September 10, 2013
    Morgenthaler
    • The epilogue of Barry Lyndon reads "It was in the reign of George III that the aforesaid personages lived and quarrelled: good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now".
  • September 11, 2013
    kjnoren
    ^ Seems like that is a direct quotation from the novel the film was based on, where it appears in chapter 1. Though that says it was the reign of George II, not that I think it matters much - both the film and the movie seems to be set under the overlapping period of their reigns.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=g2b331t81m9rybteu6i7haak&trope=AllAreEqualInDeath