Maybe their home is a Dying Town
or The Old Country
, maybe they live in an urban ghetto
, or maybe most people are just bored
with life Down on the Farm
. Hardly anyone seems to want to live there, but finances, family obligations or lack of will to leave keep most people there for good.
But every so often, there's one who makes it out- maybe an incredible talent proved their ticket out of there. Maybe they won their way to a great, faraway college or to a lucrative job... but sometimes they just up and leave. Peers and elders in the town usually admire them for their tenacity, but tend to resent them for leaving if the community isn't as close-knit. Impressionable youngsters, though, might look up to them and get ideas of maybe leaving one day themselves...
This story is a particular fascination in several American films, books and plays partly because of its close relationship to the American Dream
, the promise that anyone in America can transcend their origins and roots to get where they want to go.
Character trope. Can overlap with The Runaway
Anime & Manga
- Jack Atlas of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds, who did it by betraying Yusei in his backstory.
- Gary is one of these early in Pokémon. For example: Before Gold/Silver were announced, he shows off 10 badges when anyone who played the game knew you could only get 8. Additionally, he has a chauffeur and is always accompanied by fangirls and his own cheerleader squad.
- The anime actually showed multiple people with different badges than ones the games showed. The trainer with the Marowak and a trainer Jesse attempted to steal from had very unknown looking badges.
- Hojo and Asami, the main characters of Sanctuary, escaped from the Killing Fields of Cambodia under Khmer Rouge as children, and work together to reform the political system of Japan, one from "on top" as a diet member, and one from "underneath" as a yakuza boss. Atypically, they claim that they didn't make it out of Cambodia because they were clever or driven, but because they were lucky.
- Depending on the Writer, continuity reboot status, medium, etc., in various permutations of the Superman franchise, Clark Kent is occasionally given this treatment for having made it from Smallville to Metropolis.
- Part of the reason the Yancy Street Gang initially hated the Thing in Fantastic Four is that Ben Grimm is a former Yancy Streeter who got out, and they think he's forgotten his roots.
- In Black Lightning, Jefferson Pierce is the one who made it out of the ghetto and then came back to teach in the high school and help others make it out.
- Since Luke Cage became a globally prominent superhero, some characters have occasionally accused him of forgetting his roots as a hero of the downtrodden in New York City. He doesn't take it very kindly, especially not when a young upstart uses this to justify taking up Luke's abandoned "Power Man" codename.
- In The Boondocks, Huey and Riley were originally from a run-down inner-city Chicago slum. They weren't all that happy about being sent away to live with their grandfather Robert in the suburb of Woodcrest. Robert himself is a former Tuskeegee Airman who has worked his whole life to get where he is.
- According to an in-universe documentary, Thugnificent's hometown was so poor that many locals couldn't afford clothes. The underfunded police department gave up on the place and built a fence around it. Thanks to his musical career, he can now afford a Big Fancy House in Woodcrest.
- October Sky: Homer Hickam especially, but all of the rocket boys qualify. Their small West Virginia town is proud of them for their success.
- In Sweet Home Alabama, the lead got away from her country life to make it big in New York but then has to go home to a The City vs. the Country plot.
- Don't Be A Menace To South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood: Parodied when Malik first arrives at college, but is shot by "The Man".
- Inverted in Good Will Hunting, where mathematics prodigy Will Hunting wants to stay in Southie but his friends desperately want him to use his gifts to become the one who gets out.
- Elements of this trope pop up in Billy Elliot. His father is eventually faced with the decision to stay loyal to the union and their strike, or become a scab to earn enough money to let his son follow his dream of dancing and make it out of their harsh life in a desperately poor community.
- In The Departed, Jack Nicholson's mob boss Costello announces, "I don't want to be a product of my environment, I want my environment to be a product of me."
- Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy shows the doomed attempts made by hero Clyde Griffiths to get out of his ghetto. He succeeds for a time, but his past and own moral failings end up bringing him down. His lover Roberta Alden is also a tragic example of the same.
- Janice and Larry, the older Grape siblings from What's Eating Gilbert Grape?. They only come back for Arnie's birthday party at the end of the book.
- In the Doctor Who Expanded Universe Elseworld novel The Infinity Doctors, some young Gallifreyans treat The Doctor as this, and are bemused as to why he has come back.
- In Discworld, Lancre is "the place people come from to become successful somewhere else" (usually Ankh-Morpork). Opera singer Enrico Basilica grew up in Rookery Yard, in the Shades, where "you could fight your way out, or you could sing your way out" (or you could get out by going through an alley into Shamlegger Street, but no-one came to anything going that way).
- The non-fiction book In Search Of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio follows the lives of Puerto Rican crack dealers in El Barrio. One managed to make it out, getting through high school (a rarity in the neighbourhood at the time) and college (almost unheard of) to make it into the middle class and move into a safer neighbourhood. He had to be careful going back home to adopt all his old mannerisms so that he wasn't ostracised, and had to keep his background hidden from his wealthy neighbours when at home.
- This is Mahlia's life's goal in The Drowned Cities. She is desperate to make it out of the war-torn Wretched Hive she lives in. She manages to do it by the end, bringing a whole pack of soldier boys along for the ride.
- In Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love, Angel is the only prostitute that escapes the brothel she lived in at the beginning of the story. This is partially because there was a fire that killed most of them a few weeks after Angel left. Near the novel’s end, she begins working to subvert this trope by beginning a ministry that helps girls who have been sold into prostitution by teaching them skills that will help them integrate into society as self-sufficient and upstanding women.
- Beka Cooper and her friend Tansy make it out of the slum in Provost's Dog in different ways. Beka helps the Lord Provost arrest a gang that threatened his career, so he takes in her family to repay her. Tansy marries Herun Lofts, the Nice Guy son of the richest (and nastiest) man in the Lower City.
- Blke Thorburn of Pact is the only one of his extended family to make it out of the toxic environment that their Big Screwed-Up Family became over an inheritance conflict, with dubiously-legal acts of sabotage and spiteful manipulation abounding. In an inversion of the usual, Blake ended up homeless in Toronto, where he was brutally beaten more than once, and by the start of the story has only just managed to claw his way up to "dirt poor." He still considers it better than coming home.
- Afterschool Special: Subverted in "15 and Getting Straight," a 1989 "ABC Afterschool Special" starring Drew Barrymore, Corey Feldman and David Birney about junkies in a 12-step drug counseling program. A teen named Rick seems to have made tremendous progress and is mentoring some of the other teens who are in denial about their problem. The subversion is played as irony ... in the end, the lead counselor (Birney) comes in one day and announces to the group that Rick had overdosed on a new drug. Rick had run into some old friends and was trying to tell them to go away, but they persisted in getting him to try the drug and immediately had a seizure. The counselor – himself an ex-drug user – tells the group "I would have bet money" on Rick's future success in staying straight; instead, Rick is dead ... and – in playing the trope straight and part of this episode's irony – all of the other teenagers who had been in denial are successful in their resolve to stay straight.
- Tasha Yar of Star Trek: The Next Generation was originally from a post-apocalyptic planet but managed to get into Starfleet.
- This is a major theme in Justified. Harlan County is very poor and many of the characters dream of leaving and starting a better life somewhere else. However, few actually follow through with this.
- Raylan Givens is actually one of the characters who actually made it out of Harlan. Faced with either working in the coal mine for the rest of his life or becoming a criminal like his father, he left Kentucky and became a U.S. marshal. He is understandably quite unhappy that when he is assigned to the Kentucky office at the beginning of the series.
- Bowman Crowder and his wife Ava wanted to get out of Harlan and believed that as a local football star Bowman would get a college scholarship and then have a professional sports career. When it turned out that he was not good enough for a scholarship, he went to work in the coal mine and became an Abusive Spouse. After Ava kills Bowman she has a chance to leave Kentucky but decides to stay.
- The main motivation behind Mags Bennet's actions is to provide her grandchildren with the opportunity to go to college and get away from the criminal life she and her sons are living.
- Frequently parodied with Tracy Jordan on 30 Rock.
- Welcome Back, Kotter: Gabriel Kotter made it out of the Brooklyn "ghetto", became a teacher, and then moved back to teach in his old neighborhood.
- One episode of NCIS had a Marine captain whose mother had taken him away from their hometown due to escape the blood feud which had killed his father and countless other members of their family. He only returned to take revenge when he learned his brother had been killed as part of the on-going feud.
- Season 4 of The Wire introduces a group of children from West Baltimore's projects and rowhouses. Each friend follows a different path and Namond Brice, the son of a reputed drug soldier, is the only kid able to escape the doomed background of a troubled childhood, a dysfunctional family -at best- and the notion that crime is the only way to earn a living. Sadly, it only happens thanks to a remarkable, extremely unusual and unique adoptive parent, Howard Colvin, a former cop who identifies Namond's potential.
- Nina from In the Heights escaped the barrio and got into Stanford. Subverted in that she struggled to meet her financial obligations, her grades suffered as a result, and she lost her scholarship and dropped out. When she returns home for a visit she's embarrassed and ashamed when everyone tells her how proud they are of her.
- If Shepard has the 'Earthborn' background in Mass Effect, s/he escaped a childhood of petty crime on the streets by joining the military. In the first game, several members of Shepard's old gang who weren't as lucky attempt to blackmail him/her into doing them a favor by threatening to reveal Shepard's past. Shepard, of course, can choose how to handle it.