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Damsel in Distress

"Why is she always the one getting kidnapped? I'm the princess!"
Amalia Sheran Sharm, Wakfu

A character, usually female and nubile, is portrayed as helpless and in danger in order to put the cast in motion. In particular, the cast is unified, putting aside differences in pursuit of the rescue.

This works if the damsel in distress is a beloved character, but can be very annoying if the audience wouldn't mind her dead, or sees the helplessness as Character Derailment. An Action Girl who becomes a damsel in distress is likely a Faux Action Girl, though not always; if they can reclaim their Action Girl credentials after being freed, they were just experiencing Badass in Distress after being thrown a Distress Ball.

Don't expect people to cut her some slack, even if she logically would not have the power or abilities necessary to help. In more other works the damsel is more likely to rebel one way or another, which can either help or make things worse. The screaming associated with this trope has largely been replaced with getting angry and telling her captors to put her down, but she will still scream when they throw her off a building.

Sometimes the character gets kidnapped for the sake of her good looks or royal blood, but in other works she's more likely doing something that is a threat to the party that kidnaps her (reporters are common), which allows her to look smart and independent before she needs to be saved. Alternatively, she can end up prisoner as a Heroic Sacrifice; realizing that there is only enough room to get all the children on the transport, or attempting to free other prisoners (which may or may not succeed before her capture) are popular.

Generally expected to give The Hero a Smooch of Victory when he rescues her. Unless he doesn't.

This is a type of Living MacGuffin. Chained to a Rock is an ancient form; Girl in the Tower and Hypnotize the Princess came later. Damsels in distress are often Bound and Gagged, especially where Author Appeal is concerned.

If the kidnapper in question is particularly nasty, expect an I Have You Now, My Pretty situation to occur. If the character does not become a Damsel Scrappy but still is constantly captured, they are a Designated Victim. A more sexist version is the Disposable Woman.

For the Gender Flip, see Distressed Dude. See also Distress Ball, Standard Female Grab Area, Determined Widow, I Have Your Wife, The President's Daughter, Save the Princess. If the girl is actually faking this for her own benefits, depending on her purposes she's either a Deliberately Distressed Damsel or a Decoy Damsel. A typical damsel that rescues herself is a Damsel out of Distress. If she has a strong spirit despite captivity than he/she is a Defiant Captive.

Not to be confused with the 2012 comedy film Damsels In Distress.

This item is available in the Trope Co. catalog.

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  • Child Ballad King Estmere. The king goes wooing on the recommendation of his brother, and arrives to find the lady is being forced to marry. He rescues her.
  • Child Ballad The Maid Freed from the Gallows has the heroine about to be hanged if she is not ransomed. Various relatives arrive and declare they are there to see her hanged. Finally, her true love arrives and ransoms her. (Most American versions of this ballad feature a Gender Flip version, of a man about to be hanged, but this is the older variant.)
  • In the Child Ballad Sir Aldingar, the queen.

    Fan Fiction 

    Music Videos 
  • Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video had this twice, in the movie the Michael and his date are watching at the start, then again the date's dream. It's implied that it happens a third time once she wakes up.


Code EmergencyI Have Your IndexDamsel Scrappy
Conveyor Belt-O-DoomBound and GaggedDeath Trap
ChickificationGender Dynamics IndexDisposable Woman
The IngenueIndex of Gothic Horror TropesFriend to All Living Things
Conveniently Timed Attack From BehindIndex to the RescueDeus ex Machina
Daddy's GirlOlder Than FeudalismA Date with Rosie Palms
Curb-Stomp BattleJustForFun/Tropes of LegendDarker and Edgier
Damsel ErrantCharacters as DeviceDamsel Scrappy
Cool CrownPrincess TropesDamsel out of Distress
CuckoldWomen Are DelicateChickification
Cute Sports Club ManagerLove InterestsDark Mistress
CurseFairy Tale TropesDances and Balls
Curiosity Killed the CastHorror TropesDangerous Key Fumble
CrossdresserDouble StandardDeadly Bath
CrunchtasticUndead Horse TropeDeath by Childbirth
Damsel ErrantAlways FemaleDamsel out of Distress
Cyber CyclopsAdded Alliterative AppealDanger Deadpan
Cure Your GaysWe Are Not Alone IndexDead Air
Super Mario 3D LandImageSource/Video GamesSuper Mario 3D World
Hypocritical HumorOverdosed TropesThe Rival

alternative title(s): Jones The Cat; Damsels In Distress; Distressed Damsel
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