"When a free man dies, he loses the pleasure of life. A slave loses his pain. Death is the only freedom a slave knows."
Being a slave sucks, whether born to it or Made a Slave
. For some, dying is the best alternative.
This isn't about being willing to fight to the death for freedom. If these characters have fought, this trope is when they lose, and still choose death
over being enslaved again. Do not expect a Rousing Speech
, for the most part, since the bittersweet nature of this trope usually goes against the "rousing" part. It Has Been an Honor
is likely, though.
Happens in many Real Life
American slave narratives.
Compare Better to Die Than Be Killed
, Dying as Yourself
, Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!
(when one is willing to fight to the death for freedom), It Has Been an Honor
As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
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Anime and Manga
- The Hork-Bajir war cry in Animorphs is simple: "Free or dead!".
- Aurion Redeye in The Iron Tower Trilogy by Dennis L. McKiernan. He is given a choice by an emissary of an evil wizard to choose between "Slavery or Death". He says, "You tell your master that Aurion Redeye chooses freedom!" The emissary does not like this and responds with, "Then you choose death." Aurion Redeye is eventually killed in a siege and his tomb says, "Who chose freedom."
- The Discworld book Going Postal has an odd example of this trope. A golem who has been active for so long that it counts as 'alive enough' is destroyed and its spirit finds its way to the place between life and afterlife. Death tells it that by moving on it will reach the afterlife, but the Golem is content to simply sit down in the boundary and stay there. Death asks it why, since there is nothing to do here. The golem simply replies that makes it perfect. With there being nothing there, there are no orders, no commands, no imperatives, and nothing to do. In other words, a state of perfect freedom.
- In To Kill a Mockingbird, Mrs. Dubose is determined to break her morphine addiction before she dies, despite adding withdrawal symptoms to her chronic pain.
"Did she die free?" asked Jem.
"As the mountain air," said Atticus. "...—I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs. Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew."
- One of the stories in Exiled: Clan of the Claw ends this way, after the Mrem slave drinks poisoned wine in order to convince his Liskash master to drink it as well.
Liskash: You die as well!
Mrem: I die free. I die for my people. You just die.
- Tam Elgrin in Enemy Lines I: Rebel Dream is implanted with a Yuuzhan Vong bioform that causes great pain if he fails to follow the directives given to him, or even think rebellious thoughts. This pain can build to lethal levels, and he knows it. After a small rebellion where he resists killing a scientist (Danni Quee), he's plagued with pain, and eventually decides he'd rather die than continue following the directives of the Yuuzhan Vong, so he reverses an earlier bit of sabotage he'd performed, and ends up collapsing a short distance away thanks to the pain quickly building up. At this point, he accepts he's about to die, but at least this way he dies on his own terms. He survives thanks to the intervention of New Republic medical staff and the Jedi Cilghal, but it's the thought that counts.
Tam:: I've won. I don't have to do what they say. All they can do is kill me.
- In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Dobby, a house-elf who feels forever indebted to Harry due to freeing him from the abusive Malfoys, sacrifices his life by leaping in front of a throwing knife meant to kill Harry. Harry is crushed by the guilt, and digs Dobby's grave by hand, rather than dig a grave quickly and easily using magic. He even carves a headstone for the grave, which reads "Here Lies Dobby, A Free Elf".
- In Tim Powers novel On Stranger Tides, the deaf bocor Woefully Fat partly subverts it by being already free, but he still wants to die on Jamaican soil, where he was born before being separated from his mother.
- Stargate SG-1: The motto of free Jaffa, the ones who've realized their "gods" are just Puppeteer Parasites: "Shel kek nem ron!" Translated: "I die free." (Also used as a passcode between the free Jaffa.)
- In particular, "I die free" is almost a catchphrase of Teal'c's, used whenever he's set to make a Heroic Sacrifice.
- Played with in an early episode, where Teal'c says this for himself and his Master, Bra'tac, as their fighter drifts powerless in Earth orbit after stopping a Goa'uld invasion. O'Neill (in another fighter) chimes in with "Or not," as a Shuttle shows up to rescue them.
- A non-Teal'c example is Gerak: having previously become a Prior, he agrees to cure the disease that the Ori have unleashed on Earth, knowing full well that if he does, the Ori will kill him:
- Mentioned a few times in Roots.
- Robin of Sherwood, after his men take their first losses in fighting.
Robin: Listen to me. Our friends who were killed, they'll never starve, or be tortured or chained in the dark. They're here with us, in Sherwood, and they always will be because they're free.
- In the Doctor Who serial Castrovalva, when the denizens of Castrovalva (a time/space trap created by the Master to destroy the Doctor) rebel against the Master, destroying the trap and themselves: "You made us, man of evil, but we are free!"
- In Spartacus War of the Damned, Spartacus' last words.
"Do not shed tear. There is no greater victory than to fall from this world a free man."
- In 19th-century Irish song "The Minstrel Boy", the Minstrel boy and his harp. He tears out its strings before he dies.
"And said, no chains shall sully thee
Thou soul of love and bravery:
Thy songs were made for the pure and free
They shall never sound in slavery!"
- In the Filk song "Some Kind of Hero", spacer Molly is proud to have died free of the drug addiction which had grounded her.
"And if any old shipmates should ask after Moll
You just tell 'em she finally died clean!"
- It's most of the purpose in The Protomen's musical verse. Die free, or live under tyranny.
- Chronopia: The Firstborn humans would prefer to die fighting than be taken prisoners, as they have a really dark past of being enslaved by the other races, and will do anything to never be slaves again.
- Legacy of Kain:
- Blood Omen: "We shall die today as heroes, lest we live tomorrow as slaves!"
- And in the first Soul Reaver, Melchiah is openly relieved that, with his death, he is no longer trapped in his rotting carcass of a body. ("I am released...")
- Matriarch Benezia in Mass Effect counts as this. She refuses medical help after being shot by the hero because she would fall under the big bad's mental control again.
- Shepard can convince Saren that this is the only way to be free of Sovereign's control. If he agrees, Saren commits suicide and thanks Shepard.
- The Extended Cut of Mass Effect 3 brings the whole thing full circle with Shepard invoking this word for word in the Refusal ending.
- The Control ending for Mass Effect 3 has the rewritten Catalyst, now programmed with Shepard's mind state that with Shepard's death while reprogramming the Reapers, his/her mind is "now freed."
- Before entering his final battle in Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core Zack utters: "The price of freedom sure is steep". It was that or be killed by the army.
- If Arcade is a prisoner of the Legion, the epilogue of Fallout: New Vegas reveals that he eventually took his own life rather than face life as Caesar's slave. He does this by disemboweling himself, a nod to the fate of Cato the Younger at Utica.
- Dragon Age II: Hawke's mother Leandra says this as she dies, free of the horrific spells and magic that had been done to her. Free to return to those of Hawke's family who have since died.
- Anders invokes this trope at the end when he blows up the Chantry. He believes it's better for Kirkwall mages to die fighting for their freedom than live under the Cricle.
- In the final mission of Warcraft III, Thrall said to Archimonde (who was about to kill him): "Our spirit is stronger than you know, demon! If we are to fall, then so be it! At least now we are free!" In the previous two games in the series, the orcs had been More Than Mind Control servants to the demons. Then he teleported away, so this may not count...
- A better example might be Thrall's friend Grom, who dies in battle against the demon Mannoroth, who originally corrupted the orcs. As he lays dying from his wounds, he remarks that at least he was able to free himself, to which Thrall responds, "No, my friend.. you've freed us all." (It's worth noting that Grom killed Mannoroth in the battle. What killed him was the fact demons explode when they die.)
- In Borderlands 2, Angel asks the player character(s) to end her suffering as her own father has kept her imprisoned as a living power source to charge a key necessary to unlock a superweapon. She is so desperate to be free of her situation that she sends the protagonist(s) extra ammo as they destroy the systems keeping her alive.
- In Mega Man X5'', most of the bosses you fight have already been infected by the Maverick Virus, and they know it. They challenge X/Zero to the death, fully aware of the consequences.
- In Super Robot Wars, Shu Shirakawa does not have a will of his own because he is controlled by Volkruss. So instead, he goads the heroes to kill him, which they do. This allows the villains to revive him, at the cost of annulling the link between him and Volkruss. He then uses this opportunity to start his rebellion against the evil god.
- Older Than Feudalism: In 73 AD, a band of Sicarii rebels took refuge in the fortress of Masada, and the Romans, against whom the Sicarii were fighting, laid siege. When the siege was about to break, the Sicarii leader, Eleazar, convinced his followers that death was preferable to being either enslaved or slaughtered by the Romans. They committed mass suicide.
- The 1981 TV miniseries version of this story, starring Peter Strauss as Eleazar ben Yai'ir, definitely includes a Rousing Speech.
- In the 2002 documentary about the siege of Masada, narrator Peter Woodward specifically uses the phrase "Rousing Speech" when describing the speech Eleazar gave to convince the Sicarii, to whom suicide was a sin, normally, that dying by their own hands was preferable to capture by the Romans. Considering the treatment the Romans usually gave defeated rebels (crucifixion), the defenders may have been onto something. Modern Israeli generals point out that the Jews committing suicide didn't do anything to the Romans. Samson bringing the house down on the Philistines, on the other hand...
- The Jewish taboo against suicide was dodged by killing each other. The soldiers drew lots to decide who would kill each other, until only one was left, so that only one person would have to die by their own hand.
- A similar thing was done earlier in the war at Jotapata. In that case their leader, Josephus, rigged the selection so that he'd be the last man standing and then surrendered.
- The exact last words of hacker Jonathan James.
- Spartacus, the man who traveled across Italy freeing slaves from every town he encountered. When the Romans finally defeated him, they offered a chance for the slaves to get off. The 1960 movie's ending made the story famous enough that it named a whole other trope, but it is also a perfect example of this; the fact that (whether they actually all claimed to be Spartacus as in the film or not), they ended up choosing to be crucified over being spared but spending the rest of their lives as slaves.