"It's amazing how I can feel sorry for you and hate you at the same time.
Normally, The Woobie
is a sufficiently Moe
- You want to witness being hurt by the villain so you'll feel more sympathetic toward them.
- You'd like to hug or otherwise care for or help them.
- You want to see any villain who hurts them get hammered by Laser-Guided Karma.
Woobie produces a different visceral reaction: you'd like to punch them in the face yourself and
you also want to hug them and say, "I'm so sorry that your life is such a mess."
This character type is defined by three elements:
- First, the character must be a jerk. Even if they help people, they're not just selfish or insensitive - they're outright cruel, insufferable, immoral, amoral and/or the villain. They have a mean streak that tends toward the sadistic; they delight in hurting others, whether emotionally or physically, and often have little patience for anyone who disagrees with them. Also, keep in mind that sometimes, any sympathetic character does act like a jerk at some point, such as when a normal Woobie gets pushed too far, but this does not make them into this trope.
- They have a hidden, softer side. Many are clearly capable of being downright friendly, courteous, and kind, but either are too angry and impatient inside, or fear showing their softer side when not behind closed doors. Others are clearly Troubled, but Cute, with a Freudian Excuse.
- As if in return for their bad behavior, the author seems to delight in placing them in unpleasant situations, and yet continue to show that they are sympathetic. Basically, the universe hates them so we don't have to.
This isn't a case of Defrosting Ice Queen
, Sugar and Ice Personality
, or Flanderization
. The character is just that complex. From both the fans and the other characters' point of view, the character can come across as an Anti-Hero
of the worst sort, or just plain nuts
, and there may even be a Broken Base
over whether they are a Karma Houdini
, got what they had coming, or were more victim than villain. They likely think of themselves as a Butt Monkey
, Cosmic Plaything
, etc. It also helps if the audience gets to see just why
the character is always in such a bad mood. Being the Only Sane Man
or Surrounded by Idiots
can take its toll on even the most patient of souls. Typically, the trope is Played for Drama
or Played for Laughs
as a justification
for Jerk Justifications
or Jerkass Dissonance
This character type may:
- Overlap with Anti-Hero, Anti-Villain, Babysitter from Hell, Byronic Hero, Cry for the Devil, Designated Monkey, Draco in Leather Pants, Fallen Hero, Good Is Not Nice, Hero with an F in Good, Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain, Nun Too Holy, Tragic Hero, Tragic Villain, Tsundere, etc.
- Be subverted if it turns out that their nice side was just an act as part of an Evil Plan, or their cruel side turns out to be a paper-thin facade and they are really a Misunderstood Loner with a Heart of Gold, a Noble Demon, or Good Is Not Nice.
- Be a symptom of Grey and Gray Morality, Crapsack World, Fantastic Racism, etc.
The difference between this and an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain
is that an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain
is often Affably Evil
, but their nasty schemes fail so miserably that you start rooting for the author to Throw the Dog a Bone
while this character's evil is often less about schemes and more just a mean streak. The character's woobie nature may also play a factor in the phenomenon of All Girls Want Bad Boys
Contrast Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds
, where a pathetic but rarely cruel character destroys everything around them because they have already been broken
. Not to be confused with Put Them All Out of My Misery
, where a sympathetic villain seeks large scale destruction out of a desire to end misery. Also contrast Jerk Sue
, where the author sympathizes with the Jerk Ass
character, and Draco in Leather Pants
, where the audience sympathizes with a character not originally intended to be sympathetic.
No Real Life Examples, Please!