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A Tragedy of Impulsiveness
"The Council was divided. Mine was the deciding vote. They killed him. I was furious. I never knew myself capable of such rage. All I could see was death."
Delenn, Babylon 5

A Tragedy Of Impulsiveness is when a tragedy is caused by someone's impetuousness or irrational impatience. This trope's power comes from the fact that if characters had thought before they acted the tragedy could have been avoided.

From seeing enemies where there are none, to jumping in a swimming pool before checking for water, to messing with the Mad Scientist's machines, acting without considering consequences can cause catastrophic calamities.

This is most likely to be caused by Leeroy Jenkins, or any Hot-Blooded character in general. If the character is normally more stable, chances are this happens during a Moment of Weakness.

Related to Green-Eyed Monster, Third Act Misunderstanding, Plethora of Mistakes, What an Idiot, Cycle of Revenge, and Nice Job Breaking It, Hero. See also Fawlty Towers Plot, which is this trope's comic cousin—caused by (often impulsive) compounding lies and blowing up in the liar's face (typically causing embarrassment rather than death or suchlike).

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime 

    Comic Books 
  • The "Home Schooling" arc of Runaways starts off with Victor Mancha deciding to hack a Russian computer, despite not really understanding what was on it (he doesn't speak Russian), in order to steal music files, all in hopes of impressing Nico so that she'd take him back. His actions result in a drone crashing into the Runaways' house, killing Old Lace and causing poor Klara Prast to go berserk with terror, trapping everyone inside the wreckage of the house with her vines. The crash also attracts a paramilitary unit to their house, some of whom are accidentally killed (or at least severely injured) by Klara. And finally, Chase's shady uncle shows up, because it turns out the house belongs to him. The Runaways are thus once again forced to... run away.
    • The whole arc, which was hated by the fans and led to the series' cancellation, could also be seen as an out-of-universe version of this trope, as it came about because series editor Nick Lowe really wanted to have Gert Yorkes brought back from the dead, and didn't seem to care how Kathryn Immonen went about doing it.

    Films — Animated 
  • In Frozen, Anna's recklessness as a child when Elsa pleaded with her to slow down when using her powers eventually resulted in Elsa isolating herself from everyone including Anna. During the post-coronation, Anna pressured Elsa to give her an answer why Elsa was cutting her off in public which caused Elsa to accidentally reveal her powers in front of everyone. And because Anna was so trusting of a complete stranger, Hans was able to manipulate her and was in a prime position to usurp the throne.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Alpha Dog is a good example. Johnny Truelove and his gang of drug dealers has a grudge against Jake Mazursky, who owes their leader money. While driving down the street, they notice Jake's little brother, Zack, walking alongside the road. Without stopping to think of the consequences, they kidnap him in order to teach his brother a lesson. Even afterward, Zack preferred hanging out with his kidnappers to going home. He liked the gang and was perfectly willing to tell the police that he'd run away. They eventually realize what dire consequences, namely hard time, their actions could actually have, so they kill the boy. A tragic ending that could have been avoided had one of them actually stopped to think "Hey wait, killing a 15 year old kid might get us into some trouble!". All of the gang involved wound up in prison for kidnapping and murder.
  • The entirety of The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is this, especially at the beginning, where Terrence McDonagh jumps in water to save a prisoner without checking how deep it is, thus screwing up his back, getting him promoted and addicted to cocaine.
  • Carlitos Way: Carlito Brigate himself is pretty level-headed, but his lawyer friend David Kleinfeld dooms the entire cast by impulsively killing his mob boss client during a jailbreak. This might be a subversion, though, as Carlito suspects that Kleinfeld planned to kill the mob boss all along and played Carlito himself for a fool.
  • Death Sentence: In the beginning of the film, Nick Hume is outraged when he learns that Joe Darley, the murderer of his son, Brendan, would be sentenced to only 3 to 5 years of jail time. He proceeds to take matters into his own hands by forcing the District Attorney to drop the case and ultimately get revenge by killing Joe himself. Thus, this action results in a Cycle of Revenge, with Billy (Joe's brother) and his gang of killers going after Nick.
  • How the story begins in The Machinist. Prior to the events of the film, Trevor Reznik kills a boy in a hit-and-run accident when he tries to light a cigarette while driving. As a consequence, he has hallucinations about several individuals to cope with it.
  • Played for Laughs in The Naked Gun, where Frank Drebin shoots five actors ("Good ones!"), because he thought that they were killing a guy. It was just a production of Julius Caesar.
  • In Scarface (1983), Tony Montana's aggressiveness certainly didn't win him any allies, but you know he's doomed when he calls off the hit on the journalist by killing Alejandro Sosa's henchman, Alberto the Shadow. It was for a good reason, but if he'd thought out his actions he could have avoided the situation without antagonizing the only person who could have fixed the mess he was in. Then later, instead of trying to fix the situation, he kills Manny Ribera (his best friend), in a fit of rage, driving Gina (his own sister), to try to kill him.
  • In the original film Scarface (1932), no drugs are involved, but Tony Camonte ends up killing Guino Rinaldo (his best friend), when he thinks the guy's abusing Cesca (his sister). Turns out they married in secret because his sister knew Tony would never approve. Oops.

    Literature 
  • From Agatha Christie:
    • Death on the Nile: Had Simon Doyle let the rock fall on Linnet Ridgeway instead of instinctively pulling her away, he and three other characters would have still been alive by the end of the novel.
    • The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side: Marina Gregg's poisoning of Heather Badcock was unpremeditated and carried out in a fit of murderous rage. Had the means to do so not been immediately at hand, she would have had time to calm down and the tragedy would not have occurred. For that matter, if Heather had listened to her doctor and not been a star-struck fan, the tragedy that prompted the murder would never have occurred.
  • One of Dale Brown's novels touches briefly on an in-universe aversion; apparently the US Air Force has quite an extensive background certification process for pilots wishing to take a posting where they may be called upon to deploy nuclear weapons (which seemed to happen at least once in every volume at one point in the series), which is temporarily suspended in the event of personal crises like getting divorced. Brown being a former Air Force pilot himself, and the absence of any large and faintly glowing craters where US towns and cities used to be, suggest that this is Truth in Television.
  • The Fuck-Up by Arthur Nersesian: The book is about a guy doing one of these things after the other, starting small and gradually escalating Up to Eleven until his whole life is a horrible mess. The Freudian Excuse is that his girlfriend broke up with him in the beginning of the book and it upset him so much that it made him act stupid, then all the mess that ensued continued to make him more emotional and stupid.
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Harry had been told many times not to trust his visions, and then completely forgets that Snape had means to contact Sirius. If he had gone to Snape before attempting to contact Sirius himself (and getting caught by Umbridge in the process), the whole misunderstanding/deception that led to Sirius's death probably would have been prevented.
    • Even if their mutual distrust and loathing would have prevented Harry from talking to Snape, there was a forgotten Chekhov's Gun that he'd buried in the bottom of his trunk: a device which would presumably bring let him bring Sirius to him (and which he'd refrained from using because he thought it would be dangerous for Sirius to reveal himself). It turned out to be a two-way mirror, which would have been a far better communications method than the fireplace he'd used before—and therefore a far better method of verifying Sirius's status.
  • Probably the ur-example: The Iliad (Paris stealing Helen, Achilles and Agamemnon fighting over Briseis, etc.).
    • The Odyssey has some examples, too (like most of the sailors' deaths), but it isn't really a tragedy.
    • And of course The Aeneid, which is sort of a Roman crossover fanfiction to the other two, has its fair share as well.
  • Upton Sinclair's The Jungle: Jurgis Rudkus beat up his wife's boss after finding out that he was raping her via coercion, which indirectly led to all the tragedy of the rest of the book. Even a modicum of thought would have told him that beating the guy up was a bad idea which would only end with horrible consequences.
  • Zakath's backstory in The Malloreon involves him having his fiancee executed and discovering afterwards that she was not part of the conspiracy to kill him.
  • In Mystic River, Silent Ray (Brendan Harris' brother) and John O'Shea were the ones responsible for Katie's (Jimmy Markum's daughter) murder, which occured because of a Deadly Prank via a loaded gun. John was holding the gun to scare Katie when it went off by accident. Fearing that the victim would tell someone, Silent Ray beat Katie up with a hockey stick. Afterward, John killed her on the spot.
  • In Native Son, Bigger Thomas accidentally kills Mary Dalton by suffocating her with a pillow while trying to prevent her from being observed in the same room as him. He feels no remorse for her death, but realizes that if he is caught he is likely to be sentenced to death for not only murder but rape. He unsuccessfully attempts to avoid this fate with increasing desperation and impulsiveness.
  • While there was certainly enough kindling and fuel to set the world aflame in A Song of Ice and Fire, the reader can point to three impulsive acts that caused the conflagration that metaphorically (and in the case of the Riverlands, literally) burned Westeros down: Jaime tossing 7 year old Bran out the window in order to silence him. Catelyn mistakenly arresting Tyrion based on the false belief that HE had tried to kill her son Bran. And finally Joffrey going off script by calling for Ned Stark's execution which prompted all out war.
    • Before the events of the story Ned's older brother Brandon Stark, noted for being Hot-Blooded, was enraged when Prince Rhaegar Targaryen abducted his sister Lyanna. Brandon marched into Kings Landing with a handful of men openly demanding the prince "come out and die." The Mad King did not take kindly to this threat, executing Brandon's noble entourage and all their fathers. Brandon himself died alongside his father in a cruel execution. The fallout from this was all out war and rebellion.

    Live Action TV 
  • Delenn in Babylon 5, as shown in flashbacks during "Atonement" and "In the Beginning", gave the deciding vote to declare war on the humans during a spurt of grief and rage. She spends years afterwards trying to make up for it.
    • Later, Lennier commits such a tragedy in "Objects At Rest" when he is overcome by jealousy towards Sheridan. As Delenn comments immediately afterward,
    "There are moments when we all become someone else, something other than what we are. It takes only a moment, but we spend the rest of our lives looking back at that moment in shame."
    • And when she says it, we get the idea she's thinking of her own past moment of impulsiveness as well.
  • House: In the Season 7 finale, "Moving On", Gregory House himself loses his temper after seeing Lisa Cuddy talking with Julia and her husband in her house, because he overheard the couple suggest to Cuddy about having Jerry Barrett as her suitor. He proceeds to crash his Dodge Dynasty car into his ex-girlfriend's house in retaliation for her breakup with him. His moment of irrationality lands him in prison in Season 8.
  • JAG: In "Father’s Day", Corporal Wetzl runs a tank over his CO’s tent, claiming to be distracted about the divorce from his drug-addicted wife and impending custody hearings on their infant son. Frustrated by the countless lies spun in court and in the media by his wife and her lawyer, he takes action of his own, commandeering a tank with his son inside. He blows up a TV van and gets into a stand-off. Eventually Harm and Mac manages to get him to surrender by bringing his grandmother on the spot.
  • Guy killing Lady Marian in Season 2 of Robin Hood is what cause the death of many other characters throughout Season 3 when she puts herself between King Richard and Guy of Gisborne's sword. This in itself is not the deciding action, but when Marian impulsively (and unnecessarily) tells Guy that she "would rather die than marry you!" and that she's in love with Robin Hood, Guy kills her in return, leading to one death after another in Season 3.
  • The Shield: In Season 5, Lt. Jon Kavanaugh had plans to arrest the Strike Team for harboring a fugitive (none other than Curtis Lemansky). He proceeds to put the aforementioned plan into action by persuading David Aceveda to feed circumstantial (and completely false) evidence to Vic Mackey, telling him that Lem was planning to sell out to the IAD by revealing the information about the Money Train Heist. Shane Vendrell, upon learning this, tries to persuade, Lem, his friend and fellow team member to agree with his relocation to Mexico. When Lem refuses, Shane acts on the misconception about his friend's betrayal and throws a grenade into Lem's car, killing him.
  • Narrowly averted with Vala in Stargate SG-1. When battling the dragon (It Makes Sense in Context), Daniel figures out that the key to victory is to speak the name of the person who set up the whole quest in the first place: Morgan Le Fay. Vala then charges out into the middle of an open field to confront the beast while shouting "Morgan Le Fay!" not realizing that they need to use Morgan's name in Ancient, Ganos Lal. It is only Daniel's quick thinking that saves her.
  • The Wire. In season 2, Ziggy Sobotka loses his temper after being insulted one time too many by Glekas and shoots Glekas to death and wounds a stock boy. Ziggy immediately regrets the decision and confesses to the crime. His actions further result in The Greeks cleaning out Glekas's store before the detail can raid it, and Ziggy's peril is used as leverage to buy Frank's silence, which ends in Frank's death.

    Music 
  • You Lost My Memory by Skyclad ("...because of mere trivia misunderstood").

    Myth And Legend 
  • Extremely common in Greek mythology in general, though, so who knows what the actual Ur Example is...
    • Pandora's Box, proof that curiosity killed the Classical utopia.
    • Persephone's six pomegranate seeds.
    • Hera deliberately invokes this, causing an Unstoppable Rage to fall upon Heracles (who was already a guy infamous for his temper tantrums).
    • Arachne and her poorly-thought-through tapestry subject.
    • Orpheus getting too excited and looking back before his beloved made it out the underworld.
  • Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit. Also, the Cain and Abel plot where the older brother kills his younger brother out of jealousy.

    Theatre 
  • Le Cid (adapted from the same story El Cid is) may be the poster child for this. Two old military officers have an argument that degenerate so much that Don Sanche wants a duel to death with the Count. As he is too old for this, he puts his son in charge of this. And he does. Seriously, couldn't the Count try to arrange things with Don Sanche rather than duel to death with his daughter's fiancé, which means whatever the outcome of the duel is, her heart will be broken?
  • The Lieutenant of Inishmore — because when you tell Mad Padraic that his cat is doin' poorly, and it turns out to be Blatant Lies, he's not going to listen to reason, he's not going to be kind to that other cat you picked up, and in fact the only thing stopping him from killing the men he holds responsible is three more men with guns barging in on the little house.
  • Oedipus the King: Prior to his arrival back to Thebes and becoming a king, the eponymous character killed (unbeknownst to him) his father for basically cutting him off at the crossroads. He married his mother completing the other half of the famous complex at leisure though.
  • Similar to the Romeo and Juliet example below, in West Side Story, Tony tries to stop a fight, but Bernardo (his girlfriend's brother) kills Tony's best friend Riff, and an enraged Tony kills Bernardo.
    • And later after that, Anita tries to deliver a message for Tony from Maria. But harassment from the Jets lead to her blurting out that Chino killed Maria in a moment of hatred. Needless to say, this lie leads to the Downer Ending of the play.
  • William Shakespeare:
    • Hamlet: In Act 3, the eponymous main character, after blowing his first chance to kill Claudius, strikes out blindly when he thinks he has Claudius again, only for it to turn out that he's actually killed Polonius, the father of the woman he loves, which sends his entire life straight to hell for him.
      • Hamlet is also an inversion, as it is Hamlet's failure to make up his mind to act that causes much of the tragedy.
    • In Much Ado About Nothing, several characters invoke this trope by making Claudio believe Hero died of grief after he jilted her. She's actually quite alive.
    • In Othello, the title character, with only circumstantial evidence and testimony from Iago, the Manipulative Bastard, believes that his wife, Desdemona, is cheating on him. He proceeds to have Cassio, her supposed lover, killed, and ultimately kills Desdemona himself. When the truth is revealed, it drives him to suicide.
      • A common joke amongst Shakespeare buffs is that had the impulsive, quick-to-anger Othello and the ponderous, witty Hamlet been placed in each others' plays all of the problems would have been solved by the end of the first act and nothing would have gone wrong at all. Sort of negates the point of tragedy, though.
    • Romeo and Juliet: In Act 3, Romeo's friend Mercutio fights Tybalt (Juliet's cousin) for Romeo's honor, and dies before Romeo can stop the fight. An enraged Romeo immediately kills Tybalt. More drama ensues, including Romeo's banishment, which causes his mother to die of a broken heart (this isn't stated until the last scene, but it chronologically happens at this point in the death pileup). In Act 5, when Romeo gets to Juliet's tomb, he comes across Count Paris, who's guarding the tomb. Without provocation other than being attacked for trying to vandalize the Capulet's tomb, he kills Paris in a fight, and then kills himself in front of Juliet's grave (thinking she's dead), causing his lover to kill herself.
    • The later acts of Twelfth Night threaten to turn into this. Sir Toby and Fabian bait on Sir Andrew to attack "Cesario" on sight. This backfires on them when they meet up with Cesario's identical twin brother, Sebastian, who, unlike Cesario, is a good fighter. Anthony, who loves Sebastian, enters the fray, which gets him into trouble with the local Duke, who is the "real" Cesario's employer. And the Duke loses his temper when he finds out that his beloved, Olivia, has married Cesario. This being a comedy, however, things work out all right.

    Video Games 
  • Dead Island: Jin, if you weren't so determined to help out a gang even the police could not control you would have avoided being pack raped.
  • Usually in Sengoku Rance, Rance's instincts are spot on, and doing the first thing that leaps to mind works out pretty well for him. The exceptions are generally anything involving Miki, the Demon King, such as when she suggests he try to shatter the ice holding his slave, Sil. If you let him follow her advice, Sil dies.
  • Sonic Lost World: Sonic's tendency to smash first and ask questions later is nastily deconstructed in this game:
    • First, he recklessly charges in and kicks the Cacophonic Conch out of Eggman's hands, completely ignoring Tails' warnings to stay back and not even caring about what it does. As it turns out, said conch was a Restraining Bolt Eggman was using to control the Deadly Six, thus allowing the Deadly Six to turn on Eggman and usurp his plans and operations.
    • When Sonic, Tails, and Eggman learn that the Deadly Six are using Eggman's life-sucking machine to drain their world dry, Tails immediately states that Sonic's first instinct would be to smash it, which he doesn't even bother to deny. Eggman quickly calls him out on it and explains that smashing it would cause an explosion that would incinerate everything within a hundred miles of ground zero.
    • Later in the game, Sonic's impulsiveness ends up triggering a trap, but gets Tails captured instead. Suffice it to say this was an eye-opener.
    • In a metaphorical sense, this extends to the gameplay itself. It's much less about speed as it is about puzzles and slower platforming, what with the new controls and level design. There are even stealth sections, like the owl in Silent Forest, and there's a hell of a lot of tight platforming. Going too fast in this game will cause Sonic to die... many, many times.

    Visual Novels 
  • Implied to be the case with the Axe Ending in Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors: Clover works out a plausible but completely wrong solution to who killed :her brother and acts on said misconception, killing both suspected murderers and the protagonist's Love Interest before turning on the protagonist himself. Averted in the True Ending, where the protagonist befriends her and inadvertently stumbles across a crucial clue that indicates her brother is still alive.
  • Corpse Party D2: Depths of Despair opens with one, leading directly from one of the endings of Corpse Party PC-98: Ayumi and Satoshi try to resurrect their fallen friends mere hours after they escaped the cursed school. For bonus points, the spellbook they're using isn't even fully translated. This goes about as well as you'd expect.
  • Kouji suffers this in one of the endings of Saya no Uta. After discovering that his girlfriend was chopped up by Saya and Fuminori and literally Stuffed In The Fridge to be eaten, he impulsively calls Fuminori and tries to take him and Saya on alone, instead of calling Occult Detective Ryuko to set-up a better plan (which leads to a different ending.) Since Kouji loses the fight with Fuminori and Saya in both endings, without Ryuko around to pull a Big Damn Heroes moment, he gets killed instead.

    Web Video 

    Western Animation 

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