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Dumbstruck
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A Heroic BSOD intense enough to crash your language software. Which is to say, a character experiencing trauma or severe emotional stress loses the ability to speak.

How long this lasts varies. Sometimes the moment passes quickly, but other times the character remains silent until his or her emotional wounds are healed. Character with great suffering in their backstories, e.g. a Broken Bird, may be introduced as speechless and then begin to speak again to show that they are recovering. Epiphany Therapy may be involved.

See also Sarcasm Failure and Angrish.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Rose in the 2003 anime adaptation of Fullmetal Alchemist.
  • Misato from Neon Genesis Evangelion, after surviving the Second Impact and seeing her dad getting killed by an Angel, spent many months like this. When they're in college Ritsuko speculates that Misato talks so much to make up for lost time.
  • Kisa from Fruits Basket goes mute from being bullied at school and ignored by her only friend (and love interest).
  • Koji Nanjou in Zetsuai 1989 goes mute after he's in a nearly fatal motorcycle accident. He's in a coma for a while and does come out of it, but when he wakes up he can't talk. This is a problem because he's a singer by profession.
  • Death Note: One of the effects of Mello's kidnapping of Light's sister Sayu is leaving her unable to talk. And walk. And do pretty much anything, really. By the end, she's starting to get better.
  • Casca from Berserk suffers the loss of her speech as well as her memory as part of Going Mad From The Revelation after she is raped by Femto during the Eclipse.
  • Played for humor in One Piece; when the Strawhat Crew's bounties are updated after Enies Lobby, Sanji is so upset with the picture on his (they couldn't get a photo, so it ends up as a Gonk version of him) that he stops speaking intelligibly for a while.
  • In Full Metal Panic!, Sousuke was shown to have temporarily become mute when he was 3-4 years old, during his backstory. This being after he watched his mother (who died protecting him, telling him that he must survive no matter what, and "fight") fall to her death. He does end up being able to talk after he sees Kalinin (who had been constantly visiting him, trying to cheer him up and coax him to talk) slip and fall. Sousuke finally asks him if he's okay, and Kalinin is overjoyed.
  • In the very first episode of Fist of the North Star, Lin was like this due to seeing her parents get murdered right in front of her by bandits (most likely Zeed's men). Kenshiro cures her of this using one of the healing techniques of the Hokuto Shinken.
  • Chapter 10 of Magical Record Lyrical Nanoha Force reveals that Lily Strosek used to be able to speak, but the emotional damage from her life as a lab experiment eventually made her unable to project her voice.
  • Young Clare in the Claymore Flashback Arc.
  • Phoebe and Rita Rossi from Ashita no Nadja.
  • Jeremy in A Cruel God Reigns after Greg rapes him and whips him with a belt for the first time. He goes mute for about a day before Ian snaps him out of it by grabbing his arm.
  • As part of the epic poker game in Jojos Bizarre Adventure, D'arby tries to call on a hand that he knows he'll win... but nothing comes out. (Jotaro has, through epic bluffing, convinced D'arby that he may well lose... and if he does, he's obliged to reveal the secret of Dio's Stand, for which Dio will certainly kill him.)

    Comic Books 
  • In The Powerpuff Girls story "Sounding Off" (Cartoon Network Block Party #37), Blossom gives Bubbles and Buttercup the silent treatment as a means to make them solve their own problems. But during a battle with a monster, Blossom is suddenly rendered mute when the monster grabs her.

    Fan-Fic 
  • Vegeta's shock at the end of Trunks' New Look messes up his gift of speech badly. He quickly snaps out of it, though.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the film Amy, a young girl feigns deafness and doesn't speak after her father is killed.
  • The character known as Grace in Dead Again starts the movie only able to talk in her sleep, but not at all while awake. It turns out she's having Past Life problems.
  • Halloween. Dr. Loomis said that after stabbing his sister to death and being institutionalized, Michael Myers "hasn't spoken a word in 15 years."
  • In Jumanji, ever since Peter and Judy's parents died, the former apparently stopped speaking except when he screamed when the bats chased him down the stairs, but he talks around his sister.
  • Karel from The Search is a little boy who was a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps. He was so traumatized that after the war all he can say is "Ich weiss nicht" ("I don't know"), which makes things hard for the UN workers trying to figure out where he comes from and where he belongs.
  • Scrooged. The Tiny Tim stand-in is a little boy who hadn't spoken since he saw his father killed five years earlier. In the Ghost of Christmas Future's flashforward, he's ultimately institutionalized for it. After the Scrooge stand-in's change of heart, the boy ultimately whispers "God bless us, everyone" at the close.
  • In Uncle Dad, Debs has apparently not spoken since her mother died.
  • Helen, the unspeaking young woman in Hitchcock's The Spiral Staircase, is considered mute, but actually has not spoken since childhood, due to an early trauma. Her silence is an essential part of the film.
  • In The Others, Lydia is mute. Grace finds out this was caused by Lydia finding out that she and the other servants had died.

    Literature 
  • This is the plot of the E. L. Konigsburg book Silent to the Bone. The character who's silenced is accused of dropping his little sister and nearly killing her. However, this seems out-of-character for him, and his best friend tries to work with him to make him speak again. In fact, it was a negligent nanny. However, I believe the boy had a crush on her, so he kept silent.
  • In the Larry Niven story The Defenseless Dead, a brother and sister were kidnapped by organleggers. When they were released, the sister couldn't speak because of psychological trauma inflicted by the kidnappers.
  • In Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, Spartan-III Lucy-B091 was one of two survivors of a 300-soldier mission. At age 12. She hasn't spoken a single word in the 7+ years since - "Post-Traumatic Vocal Disarticulation", they called it.
  • Rosilda in Swedish author Maria Gripe's ...och de vita skuggorna i skogen (translated to Spanish, but not English).
  • The YA book Speak is about a teenage girl who after being raped has stopped talking almost completely, the main manifestation of her depression.
  • Marina in John Marsden's So Much To Tell You, who stopped talking after a disfiguring acid burn. The only time she speaks is at the end when she gives the Title Drop to her father. This is continued in the P.O.V. Sequel Take My Word For It, although she gets more dialogue after the above has occurred.
  • In Crysis: Legion, when Dr. Gould describes the true purpose of the Nanosuit as "gay rape on hanging flies", even the nearby wounded are stunned into silence. It Makes Sense in Context, but still...
  • Katniss has a short bout of this in Mockingjay after Prim dies
  • In Hannibal Rising, a young Hannibal Lecter is rendered mute after witnessing his beloved little sister Mischa being murdered and cannibalized by starving Nazis during a brutal winter in World War II.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The girl in Firefly, in the village that kidnaps Simon and River; River reads her mind, leading to the village wanting to burn her as a witch and the trope-naming Big Damn Heroes moment.
  • The hybrids which control the Cylon ships in Battlestar Galactica appear to (at least some extent) show this phenomenon. One of the original Cylon models (Leobin aka 2) theorizes that their seemingly nonsensical rambling is actually highly complex and coded prophecy. Later, Baltar and Diana (and later still Baltar and Rosalin) interpret a random statement about 3 seeing 5 as Diana (model 3) seeing the final five. Eventually, this is proven true.
  • Felipe in the 1990 New World version of Zorro. In Isabel Allende's novel version, Bernardo's fate is similar, but his muteness is a choice rather than an affliction.
  • One of a couple of possible explanations for Ike's muteness in The Young Riders.
  • In an episode of I Love Lucy, Fred (a notorious penny-pincher) is completely unable to speak after realizing he wasted hundreds of dollars on a lemon.
  • In one episode of Barney & Friends, Kathy is afraid of an upcoming doctor visit, and has to be cheered up before she can talk.
  • When Buffy is brought back from the dead at the beginning of Season 6, her uncanny silence (in a character famous for her Bond One Liners and Deadpan Snarker commentary) shows that she is Not Herself.

    Music 

    Theatre 
  • In one stage adaptation of The Turn of the Screw, Flora has stopped speaking after whatever it was that happened with the previous governess (heavily implied in this version to be sexual abuse).

    Videogames 
  • Garnet is like this for a while near the end of Final Fantasy IX. Combined with Fake Difficulty here, as she is your only healer for about two or three somewhat tricky dungeons (your other healer has been kidnapped by the Big Bad) and Garnet being mute means that her magic fails to activate every three or four turns.
  • Pilika in Suikoden II.
  • In Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates this happens to Chelinka after the twins survive a monster attack that kills their dad. She eventually recovers from it, and is able to speak again.
  • Max in Shining Force and its remake Shining Force: Resurrection of the Dark Dragon
  • In Assassins Creed II Ezio's mother Maria goes mute after witnessing the deaths of her husband and two of her sons and being abused by the city guards who arrested them, and spends much of the next 20 years praying beside her bed. Should the player gather 100 feathers she begins to speak again, and by the time of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood has recovered.

    Webcomics 
  • Haley was like this for a long time in The Order of the Stick. She wasn't actually mute, she could just only talk in cryptograms which changed every comic.

    Web Originals 
  • Nessiah lost all of his functionality and wound up an Empty Shell for quite some time as part of the long process of recovering his health and sanity in Dept Heaven Apocrypha. Although he's been improving steadily, his ability to speak has been the last to return. As of this writing, he's in speech therapy.
  • Uwe Boll's Alone in the Dark traumatized The Nostalgia Critic enough that he had to review the movie through a text-to-speech program on his laptop. Since he didn't want the whole review to go like that, Linkara and Spoony volunteered to help him.

    Western Animation 
  • Paramount's 1963 Modern Madcap "Crumley Cogwheel" has the titular character a drone in an office pool who is called into the boss's office because in the twenty years he's worked for the company—Michigan Nuts And Bolts—he has never asked for a raise. His timidness leaves him tongue-tied and incapable of rational speech, so he is given a week to ask for a raise or be fired. Cogwheel apparently finds the courage through liquid courage...he gets drunk during a lunch break, interrupts a board meeting and forcibly demands a raise.
  • In The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh episode "Luck Amok", Tigger's attempts to rid Piglet of his "bad luck" end with him getting traumatized with a wide-eyed look on his face. He remains that way until the very end.

    Real Life 
  • Maya Angelou, who wrote I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, spent five years of her childhood nearly mute, believing that if she spoke, her words would be responsible for someone getting killed. This came about due to a traumatic incident when she was eight, when she was sexually abused and raped by her mother's boyfriend and she confessed what had happened to her brother, who told the rest of her family. The boyfriend spent one day in jail, but was found beaten to death four days after his release. Angelou credits her teacher Bertha Flowers for helping her to speak again, as well as introducing her to the classics of literature that would later serve as the foundation for her later career as a writer, poet, actress and civil rights activist.
  • Torey Hayden's biographical book Murphy's Boy (later adapted into the film Trapped in Silence) is based on a real-life case of this.
  • James Corbett encountered someone like this when he was assigned to hunt down a maneating tiger by The Raj. She was a woman who tried unsuccessfully to save her sister from a tiger, and ended up witnessing her sister's death before being chased by the tiger herself. Her family told Corbett she had not spoken since the attack, which took place a year before Corbett met her. She began speaking again after Corbett killed the tiger and showed her its skin, although Corbett himself was skeptical that this was the only factor in her recovery.
  • This can happen, temporarily or permanently, as a result of brain damage or illness, and is known as aphasia. It can often happen due to stroke, but can also be brought about temporarily by migraines or epilepsy.


Dull Eyes of UnhappinessSadness TropesDysfunction Junction
Desperation AttackDespair TropesHeroic BSOD
Dissonant SerenityMadness TropesEmpty Eyes
Dramatic EllipsisSilence TropesElective Mute

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