Created By: Melkior on May 15, 2013 Last Edited By: Melkior on May 31, 2013
Troped

Tools Of Sapience

A character who is otherwise nude is shown to be a person by carrying tools or similar accessories

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
This trope is all about creatures (humanoid or otherwise) who are denoted as "people" by their use of accessories such as tools, regardless of the characters being otherwise nude.

A pet animal might commonly wear a collar, but would not normally wear a coin pouch, tools, a weapon or a timepiece. Accessories of that kind would normally be a clear indication of "personhood" for the wearer, regardless of the character being otherwise nude.

The heroic space explorer is on an alien planet which seems to at least be able to sustain life as we know it. Perhaps the explorer is a scientist examining a soil sample outside her space tent. Suddenly there's a noise and the explorer looks up to behold one of the weird native lifeforms staring at her from the edge of the clearing.

"I wonder what that animal wants?" thinks the explorer. Then she realises: The creature, although otherwise nude, is wearing a belt holding a small sack, a hammer and a dagger!

The heroic space explorer is about to make First Contact!

If the character uses the accessories for their intended purpose, this would be an even more decisive indicator that the character is a person and not an animal.

This is a subtrope of Funny Animal but this trope occurs when the being is initially presumed to be non-sapient by both protagonists and audience and the being's sapience is revealed by its artifacts.

Related to both Half-Dressed Cartoon Animal and Accessory-Wearing Cartoon Animal but this trope is not limited to cartoon characters and is limited to non-clothing accessories.

Examples

[[folder: Film - Live Action]]
  • Chewbacca of the Star Wars franchise wears a bandolier over his shoulder, which helps visually affirm that he's a technology-using alien and not some sort of bipedal beast in spite of his only vocal sounds being grunts, growls and roars.
  • Averted in "The Cat from Outer Space" (1978). An alien that looks like a cat is stranded on earth. His super-computer / communication device looks like a glowing cat collar so he is mistaken for a common cat.
[[/folder]]

[[folder: Literature]]
  • In the Honor Harrington universe, the Treecats of Sphinx (small, six-limbed arboreals) were originally thought to be nonsentient. It began to dawn on the human colonists that they were wrong when they were seen to use stone-age tools (chipped stone hand-axes and woven nets).
  • In Alice in Wonderland the main story begins when Alice sees a rabbit with a pocketwatch and waistcoat and follows to investigate.
  • In A. Bertram Chandler's short story "The Cage", survivors from a crashed starship (on a planet where clothes don't survive due to some aggressive fungus) are captured by aliens and put in a zoo. Attempts to convince the aliens they are sentient by making baskets or demonstrating mathematics fail. But when they build a cage and put an alien mouse in it... well, only sentient beings are bastards enough for that.
  • In the Fuzzy novels, the first indication that the Fuzzies were sentient was their use of sharpened sticks to kill invertebrate prey.
  • One of the countless hominids on Ringworld was a borderline-sentient species which, while unable to use fire in their aquatic habitat, did use flaked stone tools (a borderline example since it is never stated whether or not the species wears clothes).
  • In Tarnsman of Gor Tarl meets a Nar, a member of the Spider People, who wears only a Universal Translator strapped to his thorax.
  • Inverted in David Brin's "Uplift Series" when humans are considered inferior to whales and dolphins because we are unable to do things without using tools.
  • In Anne McCaffery's "Decision at Doona", human settlers on a new world encounter a village of intelligent cats. Both species assume the other is pre-sentient due to the primitive living conditions in each other's colonies. The aliens decide the humans are intelligent based on a child's ability to play games.
[[/folder]]

[[folder: Film - Western Animation]]
  • In "Lilo and Stitch", Stitch is mistaken for a dog after he looses his laser guns (despite having six limbs) and then Lilo later realizes that Stitch is intelligent when he does things like riding a bike and building elaborate models of San Fransisco.
[[/folder]
Community Feedback Replies: 27
  • May 15, 2013
    Larkmarn
    Title makes it sound like Stock Costume Traits.
  • May 15, 2013
    Melkior
    I've changed the title for now, but I'm open to suggestions for a better title.
  • May 16, 2013
    captainpat
    Please see Example As Thesis. Say what the trope is before going into hypothetical examples.
  • May 17, 2013
    EdnaWalker
    Bump?
  • May 17, 2013
    Melkior
    I re-ordered the description so that the generic example comes after the main explanation instead of before.
  • May 18, 2013
    Stratadrake
    How about Tools Of Sapience as a title? It is, after all, about tools or items that indicate a creature has person-like intelligence.
  • May 20, 2013
    Melkior
    ^ I like that. Title changed.
  • May 20, 2013
    MattStriker
    Literature
    • In the Honor Harrington universe, the Treecats of Sphinx (small, six-limbed arboreals) were originally thought to be nonsentient. It began to dawn on the human colonists that they were wrong when they were seen to use stone-age tools (chipped stone hand-axes and woven nets).
  • May 20, 2013
    Generality
    Alice In Wonderland begins when Alice sees a rabbit with a pocketwatch and waistcoat and follows to investigate.
  • May 22, 2013
    Nazetrime
    Possibly related to Accessory Wearing Cartoon Animal?
  • May 22, 2013
    Melkior
    ^ Relationship to cartoon animal tropes has been included.
  • May 22, 2013
    Omeganian
    In A. Bertram Chandler short story "The Cage", survivors from a crashed starship (on a planet where clothes don't survive due to some aggressive fungus) are captured by aliens and put in a zoo. Attempts to convince the aliens they are sentient by making baskets or demonstrating mathematics fail. Then they build a cage...
  • May 22, 2013
    Melkior
    Is that supposed to be "A. Bertram Chandler's short story" or "a Bertram Chandler short story"? What you have at the moment is grammatically incorrect one way or the other. But thanks for the example.
  • May 22, 2013
    SharleeD
    • In the Fuzzy novels, the first indication that the Fuzzies were sentient was their use of sharpened sticks to kill invertebrate prey.

    • One of the countless hominids on Ringworld was a borderline-sentient species which, while unable to use fire in their aquatic habitat, did use flaked stone tools.
  • May 22, 2013
    randomsurfer
    In Tarnsman of Gor Tarl meets a Nar, a member of the Spider People, who wears a Universal Translator strapped to his thorax. It is implied that there are other sentient species on Gor, but (with the exception of the Priest-Kings and the Kurii) we've never met any.
  • May 24, 2013
    Melkior
    ^ don't see how the second sentence relates to the trope or is required at all. Mentioning that the Nar is otherwise nude would relate to the trope and be relevant. ^^ The second example doesn't mention clothing. Are the aquatic creatures normally nude?
  • May 24, 2013
    Stratadrake
    I'm not sure clothing (or lack thereof) is technically a requirement, but you're right that it is most definitely the first visual indicator of sapience.
  • May 24, 2013
    SharleeD
    ^^ The book doesn't say if the aquatics wore clothing or not. They don't actually appear in the story, they're just mentioned by one of the characters.
  • May 25, 2013
    Melkior
    ^^ Should the trope be expanded to include both the wearing of clothing and the use of tools regardless of being otherwise nude?
  • May 25, 2013
    Stratadrake
    I'm not sure. If it's wearing clothes, it's already safe to assume it's sapient. If it's not, tool use is the sign you look for.
  • May 25, 2013
    SharleeD
    Judging from the description, wearing clothes would mean a creature is already disqualified for this trope. It's for when tools have to indicate sapience because they aren't otherwise wearing anything.

    Film
    • Chewbacca of the Star Wars franchise wears a bandolier over his shoulder, which helps visually affirm that he's a technology-using alien and not some sort of bipedal beast.
  • May 25, 2013
    Stratadrake
    That's a good way of phrasing it.
  • May 26, 2013
    Melkior
    ^^^ & ^^ That's what I was thinking when I created the YKTTW for the trope. I feel that expanding the trope to include clothes-wearing would be like People Sit On Chairs - too obvious and universal to be a trope. Let's keep it as "nude but carrying artifacts".
  • May 26, 2013
    Stratadrake
    @Sharlee: Also note that in Chewy's case he only speaks in Wookiee vocalizations, so without the tool use one might assume he's just some alien pet/animal instead of Han's copilot.
  • May 26, 2013
    herbides
    Movies
    • In "The Cat from Outer Space" (1978) an alien that looks like a cat is stranded on earth. His super-computer / communication devise looks like a glowing cat collar so he mistaken for a common cat.
    • In "Lilo and Stitch" Stitch is mistaken for a dog after he looses hi laser guns (despite having six legs) and the Lilo later realizes that Stitch is intelligent when he does things like riding a bike and building elaborate models of San Fransisco etc.

    Books:
    • In David Brin's "Uplift Series" this is turned on it's head when humans are considered inferior to whales and dolphins because we are unable to do things without using tools.
    • In Anne Mc Caffery's "Decision at Doona" human settlers on a new world encounter a village of intelligent cats. Both species assume the other is pre-sentient due to the primitive living conditions on each other's colonies. The aliens decide the humans are intelligent based on a child's ability to play games.

  • May 28, 2013
    Melkior
    I think this trope is about ready to publish, but I'd like some hats first so I know others agree. Please?
  • May 31, 2013
    Melkior
    Unless I see valid objections, I intend to launch this trope on or soon after 3 June.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=j552xazjr9t42dcesuw6gv0i&trope=ToolsOfSapience