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
After the game, the king and pawn go into the same box.
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—everyone is 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 afterlives, then the trope is subverted. Put another way, this is An Aesop
that all differences among people are erased upon death.
This is also one reason Balancing Death's Books
is a viable option when Death comes to collect a soul: If everyone's equal, then there's no problem subbing one person for another.
See also Cessation of Existence
. Not to be confused with We All Die Someday
or Together in Death
Because this is a Death Trope
, there will be spoilers ahead.
Anime & Manga
- In Death Note, 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.
- The Danse Macabre of mediaeval Christian art was meant to evoke this trope.
- The Death trump, in some older tarot decks, depicts The Grim Reaper standing or riding over the severed heads of a king and a bishop as well as a commoner.
- 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.
- 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, despite 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, all right! The only place different social types can genuinely get along with each other is in heaven.
- Les Miserables (2012) contains the following lyrics:
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.
- 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". See also the original novel.
- In Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, the Grim Reaper makes it very clear:
You may be a king, or a simple street sweeper
But sooner or later you dance with the Reaper.
- 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 her 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.
- Referenced in the first chapter of The Luck of Barry Lyndon: "It was in the reign of George II that the aforesaid personages lived and quarrelled: good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now." Note that this lists another king not mentioned in the movie version.
- The M*A*S*H 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 toward the afterlife along with all the other dead - U.S. 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 following 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.
- Once he's fully gone 'round the bend and turned Axe Crazy, Eddie of Silent Hill 2 espouses this as part of the reason why he's gone on a killing spree.
Eddie: Maybe they're right. Maybe I am nothing but a fat, disgusting piece of shit. But you know what? It don't matter whether you're smart, dumb, ugly or pretty... It's all the same once you're dead!!
- The god Sithrak in Oglaf will supposedly treat everyone equally, by torturing them forever.
- Anubis in Gargoyles speaks with a pretty heavy level of responsibility regarding his job, and doesn't take kindly to being imprisoned by Emir. It's detailed in this scene:
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.
- 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.
- Similarly, in Jewish tradition, the deceased, regardless of socio-economic status in life, is dressed in a simple white shroud and prayer shawl, and buried in a plain, unvarnished pine coffin.
- A story from Ancient Greece claims that Alexander the Great once encountered Diogenes picking through bones. When Alexander asked what the philosopher was doing, Diogenes (founder of the Cynics) replied, "I'm looking for the bones of your father, but I can't tell them apart from those of his slave."