Shawn: I must have sent [Jack] like fifteen letters, and I never got a single thing back. So I knew that he didn't want to have anything to do with me. And he still doesn't.
I never got any letters. [...] My mom must have thrown them away without showing them to me.
When a character is angry that another character never answered any of his letters, only to discover that a third character had been intercepting them. This can work the other way, as well, with a character angry that he never got
any letters from someone, and the same explanation.
This trope often plays out entirely within families, with one parent hiding the other parent's letters from their child, or intercepting letters the child writes. This is probably because it's easy to believe that a parent would have this kind of access to a child's mail, while adults would presumably get and send all of their mail directly.
This trope also applies to intercepted calls, emails, texts, or any other form of indirect communication. The relevant part is the misunderstanding.
Also, unfathomably, but usually necessary to the plot, the person who intercepted the letters has kept them, often for decades, instead of throwing them out, so we get a scene where the letters are finally delivered.
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Anime and Manga
- In My Girl, Kazama Masamune had been constantly writing and sending letters to his ex-girlfriend, who despite both of them being very much in love still, had moved away and cut off all contact with him. He discovers later she had received every letter, written a reply for each one, telling Kazama just how much she missed and wanted to be with him, then stored that answering letter away and never sent any of them.
- In Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, Matoi, Nozomu's biggest Stalker with a Crush is shown to read his mail and throw it out before it reaches him. There's a joke on one point about the mailman having a bit of a crush on her because he always sees her/chats a bit when he delivers the mail.
- In Sailor Moon Rei is upset when she discovers that Usagi has received no replies to the letters she's been sending daily to Mamoru whilst he's been going to college in the United States. Turns out the reason for this is not so much that someone has been intercepting the letters, but because he's dead.
- In Ojamajo Doremi, Aiko discovers that her estranged mother had made several attempts to contact her, but all of her letters were hidden by her father.
- In the Quantum and Woody comic book, Woody eventually stumbles across the many letters with child support checks his father had sent; his mother was too proud to cash them or mention them, but not too proud to pawn his beloved guitar.
- In the Mass Effect Fan Fiction "Who Saves the Hero", chapter 29, Shepard is revealed to be in trouble because (among other things) she retained her military position in the System Alliance while she was a Spectre (during ME1), when she was supposed to resign her commission within one month. The reason why this didn't happen was because Udina kept the message saying so from Shepard, so that the SA could maintain a hold over her.
- Some Harry Potter fanfics suggest that Harry Potter was regularly sent owls with fan-letters before he started attending Hogwarts, but he never received them because they were intercepted by the Ministry.
- Fridge Logic dictates that this didn't happen canonically; Harry was raised by the Dursleys for his own safety, and if his address was public, that would defeat the point.
- Yes, but owls and other birds seem to be able to deliver a letter without an address anyway. It's done after book 3 at least.
- In How I Became Yours, Mai intercepted all of Zuko's letters to Katara during the three-year Time Skip, and also prevented him from learning about his and Katara's unborn son until the start of the story. This is supposed to be seen as evil, but Mai gives the fairly compelling argument that she did so in order to prevent an international incident.
- In the movie Heavyweights, the evil camp counselor Tony had hid all the boys letters to make sure they never reached their parents.
- Inverted in Sunset Boulevard: Norma Desmond receives hundreds of fan letters a day, but it turns out they were all written by her dutiful and unconditionally loving butler Max to cushion her from the realities of being discarded by the Hollywood star system and forgotten by her fans.
- In the movie Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken, Sonora namechecks the trope nearly word-for-word when Al asks her why she never answered his letters. She later finds the letters where Al's father, from whom he'd been estranged at the time, had hidden them after intercepting them.
- The eeeee-vil granddad from Over the Top refused to meet Lincoln Hawk (or was it Hawks?) halfway by hiding all the letters Linc sent to his estranged son.
- In Be Cool, Raji has been deleting Elliot's answering machine when he finds out that Chili has been getting him acting auditions. Chili proves his treachery when he gets Elliot to check the messages on his cell phone, where he finds duplicates of the deleted messages.
- In the made-for-TV version of Gullivers Travels, Gulliver's wife tries to write letters to Gulliver, who has been committed to an asylum, but Bates, the man who was trying woo Gulliver's wife until he returned from his travels after 8 years, intercepts them. The stash of letters are found by Gulliver's son.
- In The Notebook, Noah sends Allie one letter a day for a year, but they are never received until years later because of Allie's mother.
- In Single White Female, when Allie's ex Sam shows up, hoping to reconcile, he asks why she never responded to the letter he sent. When rifling through her roommates things, she finds it
- In Of Mice and Men Curley's Wife (she has no other name) thinks this happened when the man she had met at a dance hall who said he was from Hollywood and could put her in the movies never sent her any letters. She thinks her mother intercepted them.
- In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Dobby intercepts all Harry's mail in order to dissuade him from going back to Hogwarts. However, when he tries to use "none of your friends even cared enough to write" as an argument it just tips Harry off to his involvement.
- Used in the Nicholas Sparks novel The Notebook where Alli expected to hear from Noah after she moved away but her parents didn't want them to have contact with each other.
- Subverted in Lords and Ladies: Mustrum Ridcully complains that Granny Weatherwax never answered his letters. She replies that she never got the letters (which, since this would have been when you "posted" a letter by handing it to a dwarf going in the right direction, doesn't necessarily imply a malicious interloper). Ridcully replies that he sent them to her magically, and it turns out she did get them, she just didn't see any point in replying since they'd made their choices.
- This trope pops up as well in Going Postal, where the postal service has stopped working because of a letter sorter making new letters so the main character Moist von Lipwig delivers a single letter, turns out to have been sent by the male party of former lovers... Now both widowed, so they hook up.
- In The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime, Christopher's mother is sending him letters, but his father claimed she was dead and hid them from him.
- In The Color Purple, Nettie promises to write her sister Celie, but as time passes Celie doesn't receive any letters, so she assumes Nettie is dead. Later, she discovers that her abusive husband has been hiding the letters.
- In the novel A Fistful of Sky, Gypsum LaZelle's mother uses harmful magic on her while the rest of her family is away on vacation. Gypsum calls her father's cell phone every night to plead for help, but he never picks up. When he finally gets back he claims to have never received any calls, and Gypsum realises that her mother tampered with her phone.
- An strange variation in Gabriel García Márquez's Chronicle of a Death Foretold, when Angela Vicario begins to write compulsively to the arranged husband who dumped her, after realizing she had fallen in love with him after all. She keeps writing a daily letter, for about seventeen years, without having any response and eventually without expecting one. When he finally comes back with her, he carries several thousands of unopened letters with him — he just couldn't get himself to read them.
- In the novel Grass and Sky, Timmi is angry at her grandfather for never having answered her letters, until she finds his letters to her in his house, marked "Not Accepted at This Address". Her father had been sending them back because he disapproved of the grandfather's alcoholism.
- In L. M. Montgomery's Jane of Lantern Hill, Jane deduces that her grandmother had intercepted the letter where her father asked her mother to come back to him. Her grandmother admits it.
- In Ender’s Game, its unknown whether it's standard-operating procedure to prevent letters from home to go through, but it's certainly one of the ways they isolate Ender. Eventually, a letter gets through from his loving sister Valentine, but Ender realizes that since she obviously had to write it under duress, it just means they have begun to use her to manipulate him as well.
- In the Agatha Christie novel Lord Edgeware Dies, the actress Jane Wilkenson hires Hercule Poirot to convince her estranged husband, Lord Edgeware, to grant her a divorce. When Poirot meets with Lord Edgeware and passes on the request, Lord Edgeware says that he's perfectly willing to grant the divorce and wrote to his wife months ago to tell her so. She denies ever having gotten the letter, and what happened to it is an important clue in solving Lord Edgeware's murder. Lady Edgeware is lying. She did get the letter but supressed it herself.
- In Les Misérables, Marius' father constantly writes tender letters to him, which his grandfather (also his legal guardian) immediately disposes of.
- In Mary Stewart's The Ivy Tree, the heroine quarrels with her married lover and runs away, and then sends him a letter telling him she'll go anywhere with him. When she doesn't receive a letter back she assumes he's done with her; only years later is it discovered that another character had innocently sent the letter astray. In retrospect, the heroine thinks this might have been for the best.
- This happens to Bridget in the Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants series. Her father has been keeping and hiding all the letters her grandmother has sent her over the years.
- In Down a Dark Hall, the headmistress of the Boarding School of Horrors has been suppressing almost all of the letters that her students send to their families and friends back home in order to prevent any speculation of exactly what is going on at the school to get out. This leads to the main character Kit's mother and best friend wondering in their own letters why Kit never writes to them.
- In The Dresden Files novel, Skin Game, at the beginning of the story, Harry is frustrated that he hasn't had contact with anyone since the events of Cold Days. Turns out, it's just one of the many ways that Mab has been isolating Harry, and backing him into a corner so that he'll accept the job she has for him.
Live Action TV
- Done on Titus when Papa Titus has been intercepting letters to Chris from his mother, who has been in a mental hospital, and ripping them up so he can keep Juanita from contacting Titus (as he knows that Titus always forgives Juanita for her psychotic outbursts and she always goes back to acting deranged after a while).
- Plays an integral part in the storyline of As Time Goes By. Lionel was nurse Jean's beau during wartime; he sent her a letter, but when she didn't respond he gave up. Flash forward decades: she's widowed with a grown daugher, and he's divorced, and they meet coincidentally.
- Later, they find the missing letter in a wartime museum; apparently it had been undeliverable at the time for some reason.
- On LOST, Walt's mother hid Michael's letters to him, and the revelation that Michael had been trying to get in contact helped Walt stop being angry.
- In Desmond's season two flashback episode, Penny is upset that he never wrote to her when he was in prison. Her father, who doesn't approve of their relationship, was actually intercepting the letters to make Penny think that Desmond had given up on her.
- On Veronica Mars, Wallace is angry at his biological father (whom he did not even know he had until recently) for never trying to get in contact, until his father shows him all the letters he wrote that Wallace's mother sent back.
- On Boy Meets World, Shawn is angry that his long-lost half-brother Jack never answered any of the letters he wrote, until Jack reveals that he never got any letters; it's assumed that Jack's mother hid them.
- There's a Ghost Whisperer episode where a teenage girl dies. Her former best friend is haunted by her since she is angry that she let their friendship die after she moved away. It is revealed that the second girl's mom had hidden the letters because the family had moved to split the girls up. They were switched at birth, and the second mother was unable to cope with the idea.
- Another episode had a ghost do this to himself: he wrote dozens of emails to a girl but was so afraid of seeming like a stalker he never sent them, so when he started haunting her (by "disguising" himself as an invisible vampire) she had no clue who he was.
- In HBO's Boardwalk Empire, while Jimmy Darmody is in Chicago, he frequently writes letters (and encloses cash) to his wife back in Atlantic City, but the letters are intercepted by the treasury agent.
- In McLeod's Daughters, Craig hides Alberto's letters to Jodi, despite being the postman. Somehow, he did not get fired for it.
- Twice In A Lifetime had an episode where a woman finds out that a man she loved kept sending her letters after he moved away but her mother intercepted them. When the woman dies bitter and alone she is given a chance to go back in time to fix her mistakes. However, when she arranges that her younger self gets the letters, it screws things up for others and she now has to make sure that everyone gets a happy ending.
- While Bates is imprisoned during Series 3 of Downton Abbey, he pisses off his cellmate, who uses his contacts with the guards to have the governor of the prison stop his correspondance with and visits from Anna, who is trying to get him free. Both Bates and Anna send letters to each other almost daily regardless of whether they have received another one, so they find the sudden drop off in contact very suspicious. Eventually, he figures out what happened and remedies the situation.
- Inverted on A Different World, in which Whitley herself did not mail her letters to Dwayne, both afraid of his rejection and wanting to play hard to get. Unfortunately, it backfires—assuming that her lack of response to him means she's not interested, Dwayne gives up and starts dating someone else. When the two finally do get together, she hands him a packet of her unsent missives.
- Crankshaft: Taking things to the very extreme, the older of the two old maid sisters (Crankshaft's neighbors) intercepted her younger sister's letters during WW2 because she was afraid she would abandon her for her beloved, who got the impression that he was dumped and although he still loved her he never wrote again. The older sister never confessed until her sister was comatose and dying of Alzheimers. She later had a dream where she went back in time, met her sister's younger self and gave the letter to her sister's beloved, whereupon her sister forgave her.
- YU+ME: dream : It's revealed that Fiona's godfather has been writing to her but her stepmother throws his letters away. At first, it's implied that this is because he's gay, then it turns out that it's because her father and stepmother have been keeping hidden the fact that her mother committed suicide with young Fiona in the car, which her godfather tells her about.
- Girl Genius. It's revealed — albeit subtly — that Baron Wulfenbach has been intercepting letters from Gil's old friends, probably to prevent him from forming lasting attachments to people who are, in essence, hostages. It doesn't work, mostly because Gil is Genre Savvy enough to realize exactly what's going on the moment he meets one of his old friends face-to-face.
- Implied in the furry, animated, children's movie version of David Copperfield; Davey reads a letter from his mother and angrily comments, "I have written!"
- In The Simpsons episode where Homer first meets his long lost mother he asks why she never wrote, she says she sent him a care package every week. It turns out the postman didn't mention the undelivered care packages, because Homer never bothered to tip the mail carrier at Christmas. This is Played for Laughs/Heartwarming rather than drama or tragedy though.
- Lots of WWII letters never made their way to the soldiers.
- Urban legend says that a small mail-order company went bust after their orders mysteriously dried up. Years later somebody discovered a pile of letters behind a wall, on the other side of which was a supposedly disused mail slot that the new postman had been using to save time walking around to the front door.
- During the American Civil War it was not uncommon for people to number their letters, so the recipient knew if one had gotten lost (which was pretty common).
- During the Cold War, people writing from the US to the Soviet Union and Soviet bloc countries, or the other direction, numbered their letters. It was unusual for a letter not to make it, but because they were sometimes opened and read, as a spot-checking method of looking for subversion, they would arrive out of order. If a letter 15 arrived after letter 16, you could mention casually in the next letter that it was alone in the envelop, or something, that way, you'd find out if something, like a personal photo, or newspaper clipping, had been removed.
- The comedian Ruby Wax's Abusive Parents kept love letters from her boyfriend away from her, because they didn't approve of him.
- During the classic run of Star Trek, much of Nichelle Nichols' fan mail "vanished" before it reached the actress, leading her to believe her character wasn't very popular. It was only years later she discovered the "misplaced" fan mail.