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The Tragic Rose
"But ne'er the rose without the thorn."
—Robert Herrick, The Rose
In contrast to its strictly romantic usage
, roses have long been dual symbol of beauty and tragedy. The reasons for this are evident in the rose itself. The soft, fragrant petals are outwardly very beautiful, making it one of the most famous flowers in the world and perfect for romantic occasions. On the other hand, the stem of the rose is covered with sharp thorns, causing pain to careless hands. The colors of the rose can further this association, since they can be any shade from a deep blood red to an innocent white.
This trope is for characters and situations where the pleasure/pain duality is particularly evident. Frequently, a character with the name Rose is portrayed as being beautiful, yet ends up with a life full of trauma and tragedy
. In other cases, roses can be used to symbolize any character or event with this duality. The trope can also be invoked by characters who adopt the rose as a symbol for this very reason. If you see a bunch of red roses in a scene and it doesn't look like anything romantic will be happening, expect tragedy
. Gothic Horror
uses this trope frequently
in all variations; a blood-covered rose is a very popular, almost iconic, image of the genre.
are used similarly in Japan. For roses used in a romantic setting, see Something about a Rose
. Not to be confused with The Poppy
, a red flower which represents wartime tragedy (and valor).
Tragic or struggling characters with the name Rose:
- In Fullmetal Alchemist, Rose Thomas becomes a pawn in her first appearance, she was an orphan, and her boyfriend died.
- In addition to this, in the 2003 anime version, Rose was raped off screen by soldiers occupying her town, became a mute and carried the resulting baby to term. She then had to lead her town to exile and merger with the nation due to another invasion of soldiers, was kidnapped by the Big Bad, and was spared by moments from a final Grand Theft Me that might have used her baby as fuel. The guy she finally professes her love to then gets trapped in another dimension.
- Finally, in The Movie, the guy who she professed her love to comes back from that other dimension hitchhiking with an army, never once sees her, then he and his brother, who did see her, go back to that other dimension after beating the army.
- In Bleach a man named Rojuro Otoribayashi is nicknamed Rose. Him and his friends got an horribly raw deal by being forcibly transformed into Hollow/Shinigami hybrids by the Big Bad. It does seem that Rose has earned a happier ending, though: as of manga chapter 481, he has been allowed back home and regained his captain seat.
- Until the Vandereich invasion, that is, since his liutenant Kira and a good part of his division were massacred by the invaders. Understandably, Rose is PISSED.
- Rose of Versailles has it even in the title.
- In Titanic Rose was on the Titanic, her fiance (by Arranged Marriage) was a Jerk Ass and her new boyfriend dies while urging her to live. She lived for almost 90 years afterwards, becoming pretty much a living legend; after telling the people digging in the sea for the Titanic what she witnessed there (in an extended flashback which comprises the bulk of the movie, Rose makes her final break with the past and apparently dies shortly thereafter.
- Pretty much the premise of the Bette Midler film (and character) The Rose.
- Edge of Tomorrow. William Cage tells Rita Vrataski her middle name which he got in a past "Groundhog Day" Loop. Rita is a hardcore Action Girl who refuses to connect with anyone because (having been stuck in her own time-loop in the past) she knows the pain of having a friend die on you again and again. She tells Cage he got it wrong, and suggests she told him the wrong name just to shut him up. Later as Rita dies yet again in his arms, she tells Cage her actual middle name is Rose. Cage crosses his Despair Event Horizon after this point.
- Rose Madder left her abusive husband only to have him chase after her and try to tear her new life apart.
- In Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms, characters named Rose or some variant (Rosalinda, Rosalie) tend to end up on Traditional paths; uncomfortable at best, utterly tragic at worst.
- Rosa del Valle from The Houseof The Spirits is the World's Most Beautiful Woman, but lives in a convoluted world full of changes that she's borderline oblivious to. She ends up murdered when one of her father's enemies poisons their wine and she accidentally drinks it, completely changing the lives of everyone who lives on - specially her boyfriend Esteban and her little sister Clara.
- In Doctor Who, Rose Tyler is the companion of the last surviving Time Lord, and became trapped on a parallel earth. With no means to get back to him.
- On the Cold Case episode "Best Friends", a girl named Rose pledged a lover's suicide with her girlfriend, Billie. (It was 1932, plus Rose is white while Billie was black.) The suicide didn't go over as planned ( Billie was shot to death by Rose's evil brother and her lifeless body was disposed of in the Delaware river) and she spent the rest of her life writing sorrowful poems about her lost love. 60 years later, the now old Rose is approached by the team since Billie's body had been recently retrieved from a truck in the river; after Rose confesses what really happened, Billie's spirit comes for her, all being forgiven.
- In Fable II your older sister Rose is shot in the face in the first half hour.
- Raiden's girlfriend Rosemary in Metal Gear Solid 2. Apart from the fact that her lover's pretty broken, she was supposed to seduce him as part of a Honey Trap, but fell for him for real. Then in the fourth game (after dealing with the fallout from revealing she was The Mole) she pretty had to Shoo the Dog for the entire game to keep their child safe. They reunite at the end though.
- Rose from the Street Fighter series. Beautiful, level-headed, a powerful Lady of Black Magic, Bison's "other self"... and much every ending she's ever had is a Downer Ending. Save for Street Fighter IV, where Rose finally manages to survive to Bison's influence due to her best friend Guy.
- Rose from The Legend of Dragoon ends up being the sole survivor of a brutal war, losing her fiance and best friends in the process, and is forced to accept immortality in order to save the world from complete destruction every 108 years. The necessary evils needed in order to accomplish said world-saving has resulted in the entire world hating her as a mythical demon of evil and destruction. By the time the game's storyline rolls around, she can't even remember the last time she smiled.
- While tragedy doesn't exactly hit this girl named Rose Berstein and she's much more of a Rich Bitch than a Broken Bird, in XIII she is a vital part in Those Of The Past's plans... which end with Ash Ret-goning himself in what becomes a massive Tear Jerker. The dress she's wearing in that moment even has rose motifs all over it.
- Rose Lalonde fits this in Homestuck, although actual rose motifs only extend as far as her using a pair of weapons called the Thorns of Oglogoth.
- American Dragon Jake Long: Rose is the love interest of the main character. She was stolen from her family as a baby, is brainwashed, and nearly erased from existence.
- Sleeping Beauty, whose real name is Aurora, but the fairies named her Briar Rose. She was cursed with death by a vengeful sorceress at her christening (modified to a magical sleep by the third fairy), was raised like a peasant with very little human contact in an effort to save her from her fate, and ultimately ended up in the coma anyway. It all ended well, but it doesn't hurt that, as she was lying asleep, she held a red rose on her chest◊.
- Balto: A girl named Rosy spends the entire movie slowly dying of a disease. Not only does she survive, but she's the Narrator All Along.
Other characters and settings with a thematic link:
Anime and Manga
- Revolutionary Girl Utena mixes the romantic, the tragic, and the downright Freudian in its obsessive use of Roses as symbols.
- Saint Seiya has Aphrodite, the saint of Pisces: a beautiful but Poisonous Person. Guess which flowers he uses as a weapon?
- In Cowboy Bebop, the episode endings feature a rose in a window, then later in the same window, Julia is sitting in front of the window where the rose was (Julia = the rose), then later the rose being dropped to the street. That means something, too.
- Rose of Versailles is a tale of star-crossed lovers on the eve of the French Revolution with pathos and tragedy all 'round, though it doesn't feature roses quite as prominently as Utena.
- Oniisama e..., another work by author Riyoko Ikeda, has Rei "Hana no Saint Juste" Asaka, who at the start throws a rose in the air and it gets caught by main character Nanako. Rei herself is the local Broken Bird, and her Seiran school has quite the luxurious gardens, which obviously include rose bushes. And in the anime, Rei was carrying a bouquet of red roses... at the moment of her fatal accident.
- Fukiko Ichinomiya has red roses as one of her motifs. She sometimes wears a long black skirt with a red rose pattern, often walks through a garden full of roses, and people who want to win her favor try to give her rose bouquets more than once. ( In episode 15, Junko does it and fails when Fukiko gets her expelled from the Sorority, and Mariko tells Nanako to bring her some when Fukiko gets angry over Nanako defending Junko.)
- One of the opening scenes of Umineko no Naku Koro ni takes place in Kinzo's rose garden, with particular emphasis on a rose that his granddaughter Maria claims as hers. Maria is eventually revealed to suffer from an Abusive Parent (in a scene involving the rose). Oh, and everybody dies. Over and over. Beatrice herself wears a rose in her hair. She's The Ophelia.
- In the Fatal Fury anime, when Lily first shows up, she pulls a Rei and tosses a red rose in the air, promising to spend a night with the man who catches it. The guy who does is Terry, The Hero. They never get to spend their night, as right after Lily's High Heel-Face Turn she's killed by her boss Geese, as the end of the neverending parade of tragedies that the poor girl's life was.
- In "Sleeping Beauty", the roses were the source of the tragedy — ninety-nine princes killed themselves on their thorns, trying to get in.
- Beauty and the Beast: The rose as a sign of the Beast's transformation is an addition created by the Disney version, and this is clearly a symbol of the Beast's tragic nature. Even the older French versions also involve a symbolic rose (though this is not as particularly tragic), when Beauty's father picks a rose from the Beast's garden and this trespassing is what provokes the Beast to be angry with him.
- In Les MisÚrables, Eponine is described/alluded to as being a "rose in misery". This girl (at least during her teenage years) doesn't get a break: her family is impoverished and linked to an infamous gang of robbers, she's often starving, is implied to be not right in the head, and has the misfortune to fall in unrequited love with her neighbor.
- In The Fairy Rebel by Lynn Reid Banks, the friendly fairy gives the child heroine a magical rose every year as a birthday present. The first sign that the evil fairy queen has begun to exert her influence is when the girl looks for her birthday present, and finds only a wilted, thorny rose—growing from a plant other than a rosebush.
- Used in a fairly effective subversion of the romantic meaning in Buffy, when Giles comes home to a beautiful romantic set-up, complete with roses and champagne... And goes upstairs to find his girlfriend, Jenny's murdered corpse; the whole setup was Angelus's way of torturing Giles that little bit more.
- The Phantom of the Opera: A red rose shows up in the logo of this show, probably representing Christine; the other graphic part of the logo is a mask, representing the Phantom. In the 2004 movie adaptation of the show, the Phantom regularly gives Christine a single red rose with a black ribbon around it.
- The lovelorn Stage Magician hero of Cirque du Soleil's Zarkana has images of roses decorating his cape and top hat. At the end of the show, when he's reunited with his lost love, this becomes Something about a Rose instead.
- Shakespeare milks this one for all it's worth in the Henry VI plays — which are largely responsible for the York/Lancaster conflict in the fifteenth century being known as the Wars of the Roses. One of the most famous scenes in these otherwise little-known plays depicts noblemen on both sides of the quarrel picking roses in the Temple Garden to signify their allegiance (an event which was completely Shakespeare's invention). Perhaps most indicative of the tragic symbolism, though, is the title character's lament for his nation, symbolized by a pair of anonymous soldiers in Part III:
O pity, pity, gentle heaven, pity!
The red rose and the white are on his face,
The fatal colours of our striving houses:
The one his purple blood right well resembles;
The other his pale cheeks, methinks, presenteth:
Wither one rose, and let the other flourish;
If you contend, a thousand lives must wither.
- Miranda from The Legend of Dragoon hates roses because they're linked with her abusive mother, saying that her mother kept them around because they were beautiful but the bouquet was always in sight whenever she was beaten. Incidentally, she doesn't get along with the character Rose.
- Rule of Rose, naturally. The most triumphant example being that The Rose Garden Orphanage falls victim to a massacre with one sole survivor.
- In Ib, the gallery Ib starts out in has a sculpture of a red rose with vicious-looking thorns titled "Embodiment of Spirit" and is described as "beautiful at first glance, but if you get too close, it will induce pain." When Ib is transported to the painting world, she gets a red rose that's described as "almost too beautiful to be real" and gradually wilts away to nothing as she takes damage, and she finds out later on that playing Loves Me, Loves Me Not with another person's rose is a very, very bad thing to do.
- In Yggdra Union, the country of Verlaine (which apparently means "two roses") is home to a pair of young noble mages named Roswell and Rosary (whose names both start with the syllable "rose"), who are the heads of the Branthese (written with the kanji for "Black Rose") and Esmeralda (written with the kanji for "White Rose"). Both are potential party members, but when the protagonist and her army come calling, the two are getting ready to start an extremely destructive civil war and you must kill one of them to put a stop to it. Later it turns out that the civil war itself was partially due to their being manipulated by one of the game's antagonists.
- In Metal Gear Solid 4, Snake is associated with blue roses, even self-describing himself as one in the ending, along with describing himself as 'a beast' (in the vein of Beauty and the Beast, which also incorporated roses to represent time limits). This is because blue roses cannot be obtained without genetically modifying them and reflects that while what he was is beautiful, he is also completely unnatural. Since his genetic modification led to him having incredible combat skills he used to ruin the lives of others and himself and ending up being ready to die of old age in his early 40s, the allusion is made with a certain level of serious pain.
- Beauty and the Beast, which already plays on the duality of beauty and tragedy, uses the wilting rose literally as a time limiting plot device.
- Yoshiki Hayashi loves roses and rose motifs, and his life has been an ongoing parade of tragedies.
- Katherine Howard, Henry VII's fifth wife was often referred to as his 'rose without a thorn'. We all know what ended up happening to her.
- The White Rose student resistance movement against Adolf Hitler and the Nazis in Nazi Germany. Nearly all of its founders were captured and executed.
- The Wars of the Roses, a Succession Crisis between two rival branches of the English royal family, got their name from the red and white roses that each branch of the family adopted as their dynastic symbols. They were also infamously bloody and tumultuous for England as a whole. At the conclusion, the ultimate victor in the conflict (Henry VII) created a special "Tudor rose" by combining the two badges as a symbolic manifestation of his role in ending the conflict.