Symbolic Mutilation

A character is mutilated in an explicitly symbolic way. They might not see the truth until they are blinded. A grasping or avaricious character might lose a hand, a vain character may be disfigured, a character who refuses to act may be paralyzed, and one who fails to speak out against injustice might lose their tongue.

Compare and contrast An Arm and a Leg, which also uses severe injury to advance the plot but the injury itself won't necessarily represent anything specific about the character.


  • This is extremely prevalent in Fullmetal Alchemist, where Jerkass God's law of Equivalent Exchange dictates that the price of victory is enduring Symbolic Mutilation as a form of Ironic Hell. The Handicapped Badass main character Edward lost the arm that allowed him to perform alchemy and the leg on which he stood, damaging his pride by forcing him to depend on others. Similarly, his brother, who attempted to resurrect their mother in order to feel the warmth of her presence again, lost his entire physical being, now unable to feel anything at all. Their teacher, longing for her dead child, loses her reproductive organs; action guy Havoc gets paralyzed; the Wide-Eyed Idealist Mustang is blinded; the Incorruptible Pure Pureness Nina gets gruesomely fused with her dog and then murdered; the silver-tongued Kimblee has his throat torn out; the desperate-to-help Lan Fan loses her arm; the list goes on from there.
  • In Koe No Katachi, Shouko's right arm is in a sling after the events of chapter 43. Since she normally uses sign language to communicate and that is her writing hand, it makes her attempts to communicate more difficult and represents how she is being isolated from others.

  • May or may not be the case with George Lucas' apparent obsession with having the two Star Wars protagonist's hands chopped off.

Live-Action TV
  • The Pirate Captain from Doctor Who serial "The Pirate Planet". His body is largely robotic and he is gaining material wealth ruthlessly, replacing his humanity with materials.

  • Gloucester in King Lear. There are numerous references to eyes and him in the text. He can't see the truth about his sons Edgar and Edmund, due to Edmund though he is quite gullible. Eventually he gets his eyes torn out.

Religion and Mythology
  • Samson being blinded in The Bible could be thought of as this. He gave away his secret of strength to Delilah, despite the fact she had already tried the fake methods of taking his strength he told her. His hair being cut off could also be symbolic as it was a mark of his connection to God and therefore his strength. He is captured and blinded but at least Death Equals Redemption.
  • In Norse Mythology, Odin sacrificed one of his own eyes (giving up sensory knowledge) to drink from the well of wisdom (gaining mystical knowledge).
    The fact that Odin specifically sacrificed an eye is surely significant. In all ages, the eye has been “seen” as a poetic symbol for perception in general – consider the astonishing number of expressions, both in everyday usage and in the works of the great canonical poets, that use vision as a metaphor for perceiving and understanding something. Given that Odin’s eye was sacrificed in order to obtain an enhanced perception, it seems highly likely that his pledge of an eye symbolizes trading one mode of perception for another.
  • Perhaps the Ur-example is Oedipus Rex, who dug out his own eyes to punish himself for his refusal to see the truth until it was too late.

Video Games
  • Metal Gear:
    • Big Boss's trademark is an Eyepatch of Power, which we see him receive in Metal Gear Solid 3 (when he attacks Ocelot to keep him from assassinating Tatyana and ends up getting his right eye blinded by muzzle flare in a freak accident). His loss of the eye doesn't happen at exactly the same time as the large traumatic event that sculpts his character (the death of The Boss), but does serve to distinguish the difference from a rather innocent and ordinary soldier to a single-minded, ambitious and traumatised one. This injury is then repeated with over the course of the series symbolising the difference in each character's outlook compared to Big Boss:
      • In Metal Gear Solid 2, Raiden accidentally injures Solidus's left eye, which he appears almost ecstatic about, in accordance with his general fixation on Big Boss. He immediately starts wearing an eyepatch on it and even suggests being grateful to Raiden for doing it to him. Of course, his injuries are actually a mirror-image of Big Boss's, signifying that he himself is just a reflection of Big Boss rather than an individual in his own right.
      • In Metal Gear Solid 4, Solid Snake begins wearing an electronic sensor over his eye that resembles Big Boss's eyepatch. Between that, his visible ageing and the fact that his muscle-suit resembles Big Boss's bulky build rather than his own more sinewy one, he resembles Big Boss a lot - more to screw with the audience than anything (going from a Big Boss who looked like Solid Snake in 3 to a Solid Snake who looked like Big Boss in 4). While saving Big Mama (the same person as Tatyana, just many years on) from a fire, the sensor explodes and damages Snake's face, with the result of inverting Big Boss's injury - a burned face but a functioning eye. This serves to indicate Solid Snake's defiance of his own fate - his face, the thing that ties him to Big Boss, has been mutilated; and his ties to Big Boss - he got the injuries rescuing the same person; but most importantly his ability to still "see" things Big Boss has become "blinded" to.
      • Raiden also has a missing eye in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. This is because his eye and his arm were mangled by Sam at the beginning of the game - throughout the game, Raiden gets bonuses for chopping off enemies' right arms, repeating the injury done on him. The eye injury is covered, instead of with an eyepatch, with a bandanna resembling the one worn by Solid Snake, signifying to whom his allegiance is.
    • Metal Gear Acid 2 significantly uses a copy of The Boss's caesarian scar on the back of the female character Lucy - particularly unusual as the Ac!d games happen in an entirely separate universe to the main games. However, it supports Lucy's character as being a horrible monstrosity of a matriarch, child and wife figure simultaneously (referencing the description of The Boss from Metal Gear Solid 3 - "she was like a mother to me, and my master." "And your lover?"). As well as, more directly, suggesting some of the horrible surgical mutilations she would have received from the Mad Scientist responsible for creating her.

Real Life
  • In Ancient civilizations they used these punishments. You steal or hit your father and get your hand chopped of, kiss a married woman and you lose your lips. Basically the Eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth punishment.