Living Is More Than Surviving
"According to our new arrivalThere are situations when characters are in a dangerous situation and steps must be taken to survive, whether it is keeping safe from natural dangers, or escaping from the consequences of follies of their civilization. However, this can be taken too far when the result is the characters constantly living in fear or complacency without end, such hiding from the world even when the situation has changed or there are responsibilities to recognize. This Aesop comes when at least one character begins to realize that all their community's focus on survival is producing a life that means nothing beyond giving into their fears or sloth. Instead, the characters realize that they have to have more in their lives, something to live or work for. This puts them in conflict with the others who refuse to change and demand the dissenters fall back in line and re-enter their shell. This will climax with the heroes saying something like "No, I'm tired of surviving where the only the thing waiting us is death, I want something to live for!" In the end, the heroes manage to convince the whole community to leave their stifling fear and enter the world with all its risks and work for something constructive and meaningful. As a result, everyone finds that they are happier and up to the challenge. This stems back to how humans are called "homo sapiens" for good reason: every creature on the world, including humans, have the instinct to survive, but only humans (other sapient species in speculative fiction notwithstanding) can think beyond survival - that is, comfort, wealth, expression, and many more. In Pyramid of Needs by Abraham Maslow, this trope is fulfilling everything above level 2. This, in a way, is the opposite of Ambition Is Evil: that is when trying to improve your lot in life is a bad thing, probably leaving you Lonely at the Top. This trope is when having no ambition beyond not dying early is a bad thing. See also We Have Become Complacent and Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life. Compare Social Darwinist who put too much "survival of the fittest" in their minds. Contrast Nothing Left to Do but Die.
Life is more than mere survival
We just may live the good life yet."
Life is more than mere survival
We just may live the good life yet."
—Theme song to Mr. Belvedere
ExamplesAnime and Manga
- This is pretty much the Central Theme of Casshern Sins. During the whole series the titular character is the only immortal being left in a dying world, who struggles to recover his memeories and find a purpose. Of course after finding out he was responsable for the current state of the world via the death of Luna it gets worse, and then he resolves to find Luna again due to rumors of her return. Too bad she's now...different since now she only giving life without any purpose other than create a deathless world, since now she finds it disgusting. Casshern pretty much calls her out on this:
Casshern: Even though there is life, no one here is living it. Life is overflowing and they are merely drinking their fill. But Dio and all the people I've met on my journey aren't like that... they're.. they're more... they were blazing with fire. They were torches burning with life[...]If you've forgotten death... then you've forgotten what it truly means to be alive.
- Near the end of YuYu Hakusho, Yusuke Urameshi gets conflicted when he finds out that he has demon blood within him, making him wonder if it's worth living and to just live being a demon. Through the support of his friends and mentors, especially with his childhood friend Keiko, Yusuke decided that it's worth living since he had been able to protect the world from demonic invasions and help prevent the netherworld from having a civil war due to the loss of Raizen. Yusuke, in the end, decided to use his heritage to help skeptical demons and humans understand one another.
- Attack on Titan has this trope in the form of Eren and Armin, who believe that living safe within the walls is merely surviving, and that truly living can only be possible when mankind is free.
- The Croods has Eep confront her father Grug and his obsession with merely surviving in fear, "That wasn't living! That was just.... not dying! There's a difference."
- Jesus Of Montreal. When the lead character is confronted by a priest who wants to kill their iconoclastic play to be on the safe side, he responds, "There is more to life than waiting for death!"
- WALL•E. Captain McCrea sums up the fight against AUTO, the ship's computer who has been effectively keeping the humans prisoner aboard the Axiom, because an old and, not least, obsolete directive, bids him to stay in space where survival is easier, with "I don't want to survive, I want to live!"
- Braveheart. When asked why he risks death to fight for Scottish independence, William Wallace answers "Every man dies. Not every man really lives."
- The Lion King 1˝: The film's entire first act is Timon leaving the meerkat colony because "All we do is dig so we can hide, and hide so we can dig!"
- Interstellar: Humanity, while still alive and with at least some luxuries left (baseball games, for example) is so focused on keeping what little has left in the Crapsack World that Earth has become after years of climate change and war that only the protagonists actually recognize this trope.
- One of Solomon Northrup's most memorable lines in the film version of 12 Years a Slave:
"Days ago I was with my family, in my home. Now you tell me all is lost. "Tell no one who I really am" if I want to survive. I don't want to survive, I want to live."
- Discussed by Dresden and Ortega in Death Masks:
I thought you guys drank blood," I said."It's all we really need," Ortega said."Then why do you have anything else?"Ortega held up the bottle. "Life is more than mere survival. All you need is the water, after all. Why drink beer?"
- Later that conversation...
"The offer to make me into a blood-drinking monster in eternal slavery to you? Why would I want to do that?""It is the only way to keep your life," Ortega said.I felt the anger coalescing into rage. My upper lip curled away from my teeth, baring them in a snarl. "I thought life is more than mere survival."Ortega's expression changed. It was only for a second, but in that moment I saw furious rage, arrogant pride, and violent bloodlust on his face. He regained his calm quickly, but traces of the hidden emotions thickened his accent."So be it. I will kill you, wizard."
- In the Philip K Dick short story "The Day Mr. Computer Fell Out of Its Tree", Joe Contemptible is driven to despair by his unfulfilling life:
"I'm not married. I've got no wife. Nothing. Just my damn job at the record store. All those damn German songs and those bubblegum rock lyrics; they go through my head night and day, constantly, mixtures of Goethe and Heine and Neil Diamond. ... So why should I live on? Call that living? It's existence, not living."
- In the Warrior Cats Super Edition Firestar's Quest, Leaf uses this as a reason as to why they should join the new SkyClan.
"Yes, I'll join," Leaf assured him. "If the Clan really works how you say it will, then cats will have a purpose. We'll be more than just rogues, just living to stay alive."
- The second book of The Dark Elf Trilogy starts with Drizzt realizing that after ten years of surviving alone in the Underdark, he is becoming too much of an instinct-driven animal.
- A central theme in The Giver: Jonas comes to realize that the community gave up genuine emotion and humanity for an emotionally sterile, functional utopia.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, living free even against impossible odds or in terrible danger of death is a central tenet of wildling culture; notably, they call themselves "the Free Folk." When Jon Snow argues that Mance Rayder's attack on the Wall is futile and the attackers must certainly die, wildling Ygritte responds that all men must die, "but not all men truly live."
- There's a civilisation-wide example of this in an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series. Kirk destroys a computer that was keeping a planet's people in a stagnant, mollycoddled existence, and argues that this isn't a Prime Directive violation because the people didn't really have their own culture at all.
- In Game of Thrones, a furious Daenerys confronts Mirri Maz Duur with this trope when her healing methods keep Khal Drogo alive, but in a permanent vegetative state. Mirri throws it right back:
Daenerys: I spoke for you. I saved you!Mirri Maz Duur: Saved me? Three of those riders had already raped me before you saved me, girl. I saw my god's house burn, there where I had healed men and women beyond counting. In the streets I saw piles of heads... the head of the baker who makes my bread, the head of a young boy that I had cured of fever just three moons past. So... tell me again exactly what it was that you saved?Daenerys: Your life.Mirri Maz Duur: Why don't you take a look at your Khal? Then you will see what life is worth, when all the rest is gone.
- Monty Python's Lion Tamer sketch features a 45-year old chartered accountant who wants to do "something exciting, something that will let me live!". However, he appears to have confused lions and anteaters, and so backs down when he learns exactly what lion taming entails.
- Barney Miller: In the episode "The Slave" the squad learns that a Burmese diplomat has a slave. They try to convince the slave that he shouldn't be one:
Wojo: What do you get outta bein' bossed around all the time?William: I eat.Wojo: So?William: I know many who don't.Harris: Man, there is more to life than just having something to eat.
- An episode of the Highlander series discussed this. An immortal starts claiming to be Methos, the oldest living immortal, and preaching that all immortals should give up violence and The Game. When the real Methos goes to talk to the pretender, (without revealing who he is) he notes that the pretender is making a huge target out of himself, as a lot of immortals will want to claim the power of a 5,000 year old man. This exchange follows:
Fake Methos: Can anyone live for 5,000 years and say they did nothing? Risked nothing? Merely stayed alive with nothing else to show for it? It'd be pointless.Real Methos: Some people would say that experience was enough. That it was worth saving.
- Early in season 1 of LOST Jack is too focused on keeping the survivors alive at safe, leading to tension slowly building up to the point of people constantly snapping at each other in the week immediately following the plane crash. Hurley, being The Heart, realises this and builds a makeshift gold course to allow people to blow the steam off. Jack is initially skeptical, but eventually admits he was wrong.
Jack: We're surviving here Hurley, and that's what my main concern is, keeping us alive.
Hurley: Look, all I'm saying is, if we're stuck here, then just surviving's not going to cut it. We need some kind of relief, you know. We need some way that we can, you know, have fun. That's right, fun. Or else we're just going to go crazy waiting for the next bad thing to happen.
- In season five of The Walking Dead, Abraham Ford is in a discussion with the core Atlanta group, and offers a toast to survivors, but then challenges the group to do more than survive, and join Ford's group on their way to Washington, DC with Eugene, a person who says he can help end the Zombie Apocalypse. Eugene lied.
- A recurring theme on The 100 is how far are you willing to go to keep yourself and your society alive, and at what point is survival no longer worth the constant moral compromises needed to attain it?
Lexa: You think our ways are harsh, but it's how we survive.Clarke: Maybe life should be about more than just survival. Don't we deserve better than that?
- In Mirrors Edge this trope is one of the most important issues in the game. It exposes the opposing viewpoints between Celeste and Faith. The two have a heart-to-heart about their dystopian society. Celeste complains that she is tired of surviving instead of living; runners deliver messages to stick it to the man, but they must dodge bullets and navigate dangerous routes every step of the way. The antithesis of runners are the people living in the city. They ignore or are oblivious to the oppressive society they live in, and are comfortable with their lack of control and privacy.
- One of Cthulhu Saves the World's many pamphlet shelves contains "Zombie Thrival Guide", which will, supposedly (you can't read it, it's only advertised), tell you how to thrive during a Zombie Apocalypse instead of merely surviving it.
- In Persona 4, exploring Yosuke's social link after the battle with his Shadow self reveals that he liked Saki despite her hatred for him and his family for Junes' presence in Yasoinaba, which was ruining local businesses. At first, he was sad and upset that his family had to move from the city to the countryside since his father was appointed as the head manager of Junes. As time passes in the story (and through more interactions with Yosuke on his social link), Yosuke has learned to appreciate the city and wants to help solve the mystery not only to help stop the killer before more victims are found and protect the inhabitants, but to live and be a better person, despite Saki's hate for him.
- Fallout 3: This is one of the things President Eden states as he announces Project Purity. After describing how nearly all water is contaminated and people have to use makeshift purifiers to clean tiny amounts of water at a time...
President Eden: But that's not really living, is it? You're simply existing, America, postponing death for a day or two. Well, I'm gonna tell you, right here, right now, those days are at an end!
- Wynn says as much in Dragon Age: Origins. As old as she may be, she'd rather be out fighting the Blight, making as good a use of her limited time as possible. Laying down under some sheets and waiting for death is beneath her.
- In Mass Effect 3, this is essentially the basis of Paragon Shepard's life lessons to EDI, as she tries to learn what it means to be alive.
- An episode of Gargoyles examined this trope.
Coldstone: You said that destroying my brother is the only way to survive. Is that all there is for us, mere survival?Demona: Isn't that enough?Goliath: No. Gargoyles protect. It is our nature. Our purpose. To lose that is to be corrupt. Empty. Lifeless.
- A quote attributed to Jack London illustrates this (only the first line is confirmed as being his):
I would rather be ashes than dust!I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.The function of man is to live, not to exist.I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.I shall use my time.
"The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.""I'd rather sing one wild song and burst my heart with it, than live a thousand years watching my digestion and being afraid of the wet."
- Others include: