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Humble Goal
Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
Kurt Vonnegut - Rules for writing a short story.

Our character - be it a hero, a villain, or somewhere in between - has a dream. An overarching Goal in Life that motivates him to get up in the morning and drive the plot forward.

However, it's nothing as ambitious as world domination, the creation of a utopia, or true love. It's something like a twinkie, a tuna sandwich, or a rug.

Played correctly, it can be a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming if he gets his wish, or a Tragic Dream if they don't.

Not to be confused with Mundane Wish; in a Mundane Wish, the character is offered anything he wants by a person of power, and chooses something simple. The Humble Goal is an aspiration internalized by the character, but he has to make it happen by himself.

A Super Trope of Call to Agriculture, where a powerful character only wants to be a farmer. Often the goal of an Action Survivor whose main goal is surviving so he can get back to his ordinary life. Compare Mundane Luxury, which is often the motivation behind this. Particularly common in stories where the characters or characters are stranded somewhere, and just want to get home.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

     Advertising  

  • Many commercials, especially cereal commercials, feature characters and mascots whose sole goal in life is to get whatever product is being advertised. These characters are often willing to go to ridiculous lengths to get these products. Most of the time, it comes off cheesy, but when done right, as in this Coca-Cola ad, it works.

     Anime & Manga  

  • In Nana, Misato states that her purpose in life is being a blast groupie.
  • Hayate the Combat Butler: Hayate's life goal is to have a small apartment with the necessary amenities and nobody chasing him.
    • It is in fact so humble, that when he reveals this goal in gradeschool it drives his teacher to tears.
  • Daisuke/Davis in Digimon Adventure 02 just wants to run a ramen cart. He gets it.
  • In Pani Poni Dash!, Ichijo claims her ultimate desire is to be a domestic kind of woman, like her mother. This is probably the most ordinary anything she ever did in the show.
  • One chapter of Gintama plays it for laughs by making the protagonist get dragged across a lot of trouble (good vs evil, mobs, gangster...) because his fan broke and he was trying to replace it.
    Gintoki: I JUST CAME TO BUY AN ELECTRIC FAN!
  • In Heaven's Lost Property, all Sakurai Tomoki really asks for is having a peaceful and normal life. Unfortunately for him, The Plot had different plans for him. Hilarious plans.
  • In Naruto, Shikamaru just wants to be an ordinary ninja who marries an average girl, having a son and a daughter, and eventually retiring to play Shogi and Go all day after his son is a ninja and his daughter is married. Unfortunately for him, the various circumstances he encounters force him to improve his skills, put himself at risk and challenge himself in order to survive.
  • In Bakuman。, Ogawa and Kato, in contrast to most of the other assistants who are fleshed out as characters, are satisfied with being assistants, and do not even attempt to get serialized.
  • In UQ Holder, main character Touta's big dream is to ascend to the top of the space elevator. This perplexes most other characters... while it is a bit expensive, getting up there only requires purchasing a ticket.

     Comics  
  • In the Fables spinoff Fairest, during Lumi's (aka. the Snow Queen) battle with Hadeon the Destroyer, she admits that her current goal in life is to simply live her own life with a possible romance with a roguish fellow. When asked why she has no dreams bigger than her "selfish needs," she retorts that as a woman who spent years trying to fulfill great and ambitious things, she's rather cynical of lofty goals, and wonders if maybe small dreams are the best kind to have.
    • Boy Blue is a veteran of countless battles in a Hopeless War and his Roaring Rampage of Rescue through the homelands gets him described in-universe as the sort of guy Errol Flynn only pretended to be in his films. The only problem is, while being a survivor from countless massacres may be testament to his badassery, it leaves him suffering from terrible Survivors Guilt from all the countless comrades he's watched die, and as such all he really wants to be is a functionary in some boring office job for the rest of his eternal life, with finally not having a romantic attachment blow up in his face being a nice bonus. When dying, he specifically requests that he not be buried among the soldiers, because he'd prefer to be remembered as a clerk and musician rather than a world-class badass. After meeting and giving reassurance the not-quite-dead Bigby in limbo, Blue says that it looks like his own personal heaven will in fact be something totally unremarkable that will fulfill his wish at long last.

     Film - Animated 

  • Scrat from the Ice Age movies wants nothing more than to enjoy his acorn in peace.
  • Spoofed in one of the adaptations of Pippi Longstocking. The pair of thieves who serve as the villains sing a song about how all they really want is an English bowler hat and a gold tooth respectivly. But then they start talking about all the things they'll be enjoying after they get their items, such as yachts, cars, and having lunch with royalty.

     Film - Live Action  

  • Tallahassee's twinkie obsession in Zombieland. Though it's revealed that he's obsessing with this in order to distract himself from the grief of his son dying.
  • In the original The Santa Clause movie, the reason Neil, Scott Calvin's ex-wife's new husband, says he stopped believing in Santa Claus at age 3: He wanted an Oscar Meyer Weenie Whistle in his stocking, and never got it. At the end, when Scott/Santa is flying overhead, Neil finally gets his gift.
  • In Fanboys, the main characters' goal is to see Star Wars: The Phantom Menace before it hits theaters. Only one of them does.
  • In Pirates of the Caribbean, Captain Barbossa may have many goals, but what he really wants is to taste an apple again.
  • The Big Lebowski: "All The Dude wanted was his rug back."
  • Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992) tagline: "Women want him for his wit. The C.I.A. wants him for his body. All Nick wants is his molecules back."
  • Dude Wheres My Car: All Jesse and Chester want is to find their car and get the birthday presents for their girlfriends inside.
  • Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle. Of course, the way to White Castle is not as straightforward as that.
  • Jack Burton from Big Trouble in Little China. All he really wants is to get his truck back.
  • Ice Cold in Alex: The title of the WWII drama comes from Captain Anson's yearning for a cold beer. To get it, he and his party have survive an arduous journey across the North African desert after being separated from their unit and reach Alexandria alive. Of course, this is of the "focus on something tangible to get through the horror" variety, as they'd have to cross the desert either way.
  • The Terminal - Tom Hanks' character just wants to get into New York to complete the autograph set of his father's favorite jazz musicians.
  • In Payback, Porter takes on the city's entire underworld to retrieve his $70,000 cut of stolen heist money. Everyone keeps assuming that he wants the whole $140,000, but he constantly insists that he only wants his original share. Everyone reacts with surprise at the low sum, and one mobster complains that he's got suits worth more than $70,000. In the director's cut, the head of the Outfit says she wouldn't get out of bed for that much money.
  • In Carry On Admiral (1957) (no relation to the Carry On films) all the nameless man wanted was his clothes back.
  • Hudson Hawk just got out of jail and wants a cup of coffee. And an honest job.
  • Similarly Lucas from French comedy Les Fugitifs and its remake Three Fugitives just got out of jail and wants to pawn his gold watch and become an honest locksmith. He succeeds by the middle of the movie, only to abandon his quiet life to save Jeanne/Meg.
  • Jackie Chan's character in the City Hunter movie is hungry.note  To the point of beating senseless the terrorist who stepped on a piece of bread. His last wish before the execution is to eat.note 
  • In Orson Welles's Mr. Arkadin, all Jakob Zouk wants—and all he was dreaming of in his years in prison—was a dish of goose liver with apples and onions. He gets killed before he can have it.
  • In The World's End, Gary King just wants to finish the Golden Mile pub crawl. It's taken to the point of psychotic obsession.

     Literature  

  • In Night Watch, the revolutionaries want a slogan that encapsulates what they're fighting for. After asking each of their members what they want, the result is "Truth, Justice, Free Reasonably-Priced Love and A Hard Boiled Egg". This culminates in a tradition of leaving a hard-boiled egg on Sergeant Keel's grave.
  • Poldarn from The Scavenger Trilogy wants to stay dry and not have people try to kill him. He doesn't generally achieve even this goal.
  • In Les Misérables, Little Cosette thinks that there would be nothing better in the world than to have a doll of her very own. Of course, Jean Valjean brings her the doll she's wanted — she at once clasps it and names it "Catherine."
  • The Bear's only goal in I Want My Hat Back is to get his hat back. Murdering the thief who stole it is secondary and only happened after he realises it was stolen, not lost.
  • All that Frodo and Sam really want in The Lord of the Rings is to settle down to a nice quiet rural life in the Shire. Unfortunately, the local Dark Lord has other plans.

     Live Action TV  

  • In Kung Fu, the reason Caine is on the run from the Chinese authorities: Master Po had one ambition: to visit a specific city. It's a small ambition but he still admonishes himself for having it — as a Shaolin Master, he shouldn't have any ambitions. Sometime after Caine graduates from Monk School he encounters his old master in that city — he finally got his wish. At that moment the emperor's nephew comes by on his palanquin, shoving Master Po off the road and (eventually) killing him. Caine kills the emperor's nephew in a fit of rage, and then must flee China.
  • In Glee, Quinn is the head cheerleader and one of the more popular girls in school but her goals in life are to marry Finn, become a real estate agent and settle to a quiet family life. In contrast Rachel wants fame and stardom.
  • Baldrick's life goals in Blackadder The Third revolve entirely around the acquisition of turnips. If he had a million pounds, he would buy a large turnip in the country and raise a family of little turnips.
  • The Mythbusters are testing the proposition that two interleaved phone books are inseparable by rational means. This culminates in chaining the books to a pair of tanks. Just before the mayhem starts, Jamie quips "I just wanted to make a phone call."
  • In Babylon 5, the Centauri are a planet full of scheming aristocrats, all of whom want power and the majority of whom are after the big chair. Except for Vir Cotto:
    Vir: All I ever wanted was a good job! A small title, nothing fancy... A wife I could love. Maybe even one who could love someone like me. I never wanted this!

     Music  
  • Next to You, Next to Me" by Shenandoah. The narrator is uninterested in material possessions like mansions, caviar, gold and diamonds. He just wants his girlfriend to come for a ride in his pickup truck, where they will eat barbecue chicken and listen to their favourite radio stations.

     Newspaper Comics  

  • In Calvin and Hobbes, Hobbes's wish is to have a sandwich. He achieves it. This is contrasted with Calvin, whose more extravagant wish for "a trillion billion dollars, my own space shuttle, and a private continent'' goes unfullfilled.

     Theater  

  • Played for camp in Reefer Madness: The Musical:
    I've taken a life,
    Been stripped to my essence,
    And to think all I wanted was swing dancing lessons!
  • In Les Misérables, (in English) Cosette sings about her Castle on a Cloud, where she wants to go — and the best thing there is that her mother will be waiting for her. In French, the song is about a doll in the shop window that Cosette wants so badly.

     Video Games  

  • In The Sims 2, it's possible to change a Sim's Lifetime Aspiration (instead of "Money", "Family", "Romance", etc.) to "Grilled Cheese".
    • The Pleasure Aspiration was introduced in the Night Life expansion. It revolves around simple joys, such as wearing pajamas, drinking "juice", and jumping on the couch.
  • Played for Laughs in Portal. If GLaDOS is to be believed, all Chell wants is cake.note  It's never revealed what she really wants, but since the game leads her to (temporarily) kill GLaDOS and escape Aperture's testing chambers, we'll assume it's that.
  • In Final Fantasy IX, Quina joins your party just to travel the world and sample new foods.
  • In Hakuōki, where the other Shinsengumi captains are occupied with grand ambitions and high ideals which prove unattainable, Harada Sanosuke admits in his route that his dream is to marry a woman he loves and live a peaceful life with her. This simple and humble dream is one of the reasons that Sanosuke has the most unequivocally happy ending in the game, where the others' endings are more bittersweet.
  • In Hatoful Boyfriend, what is Spoiled Brat Sakuya Shirogane Le Bel's lofty lifelong dream? He wants to be a professional musician.
    • The player character's wishes at Tanabata: Take Over the World (twice, either openly or ruling from the shadows), win the Mad Love of a fallen angel, or... become an artist. Naturally, the last earns you points with Sakuya.
    • Subverted by Oko San. He just wants pudding... but he's extremely particular about his pudding, and anything not up to standard is grounds for a temper tantrum.
  • In Vindictus, even though it is obviously not true, everyone assumes that the rookie completes the quest to become a paladin for some tea. Which Brynn never even gives you.

     Web Comic 
  • In Hero Oh Hero Burk's quests so far have consisted of finding a toilet and acquiring a giant pig for a mount (or to get the pig he found/defeated to grow giant again).

     Web Original  

  • Freeman's Mind postulates that all Gordon Freeman really wants during his haphazard trek through Black Mesa is to go home and get stoned. He really could care less about the whole alien invasion and marine retaliation if they would only stop shooting and/or biting him.
  • As Texts From Last Night puts it:
    423: I know. I just don't want anything else. I have no other desire. Just a ham sandwich.
    1-423: I honestly don't know what to make of that.
    423: A ham sandwich would be nice.

     Western Animation  

  • The plot to many South Park episodes involves the kids wanting something relatively mundane - say, getting the latest gaming system, or returning a rented video - but getting waylaid by assorted weirdness. In the case of Cartman, the means to getting to that goal might get a little intense.
  • In Megas XLR, all Coop wants to do with his giant robot is to cruise around, pick up chicks, and have fun smashing stuff. One episode has him craving a Mega Slush, but an annoying evil robot keeps destroying the places that serve them.
  • In The Flintstones, Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble were only going out for some groceries; they weren't expecting to have to help the enigmatic superspy Madame Yes defeat the sinister Doctor Sinister.
  • In the Duck Dodgers episode "A Lame Duck Mind" when they go into Dodgers' mind, they discover his greatest desire is to own a bait shop. Specifically a failing bait shop. He does have a hot trophy wife randomly there, but he doesn't seem interested in her.
  • At the end of Avatar: The Last Airbender, retired General Iroh is at the head of the army that conquers Ba Sing Se, the largest and best-defended city in the world. He is, rather unexpectedly, reconquering it from his own people. What are his plans once the job is done? He's going to re-conquer his tea shop, and play pai sho every day.

     Real Life  

  • One of "Bubble Boy"'s greatest wishes in life was to have a bottle of Coca-Cola. He never got it.
  • Harriet Richard Ames wanted a Bachelor's degree. A few weeks after she turned 100, and the day before her death, she received her diploma at her hospice bedside.


Gotta Kill Them AllGoals and Objectives IndexIn Their Own Image
Honor Before ReasonMotivation IndexI Just Want to Be Badass
Humble BeginningsHumility TropesHumble Hero

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