Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
— William Wordsworth
, Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood
Something terrible has happened, but a character finds him or herself unable to shed tears. (Or at least, says s/he can't). In the classic scenario, a bereaved hero will angst (or Wangst
) over their inability to cry for a dead loved one, lamenting that they must be a terrible person, dried up and dead inside, a monster! They never are; they're usually just suffering an undiagnosed Heroic BSOD
, or are working up to an Unstoppable Rage
and can't let themselves break down, or swore
they wouldn't let their enemies see them cry and now have an emotional block about it. Occasionally they cried so much over one traumatic event (or a series of them) in their life that they seem to have no tears left for anything else.
In many works this will be leading up to a Big Scene where something triggers the character to break down in floods of cleansing tears, hopefully leading to catharsis, possibly leading to Narm
. But alternatively, it can be simply a way of trying to explain/justify Men Don't Cry
, in which case the tearless hero will remain stoical
till the end, maybe shedding half a freedom drop
One common result of the Bearer of Bad News
. A friend or relative may say "He Will Not Cry, So I Cry for Him
In some relatively rare cases, the character can cry over ordinary things, but has never wept for the one big defining sorrow of their life.
Obviously this is Truth in Television
to a degree, though fiction tends to be more Anvilicious
Compare Frozen Face
. Compare Tears from a Stone
, for when they shouldn't
be able to cry, but somehow do.
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Anime and Manga
- Alphonse in Fullmetal Alchemist literally can't cry. He comments on how Edward has the ability to cry, yet doesn't use it when Al wants to so badly.
- Happens to Edward in the 2003 anime version when he kills Sloth and he comments that Wrath can cry for her while he can't.
- The Princess in Naruto The Movie: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow. To do a scene where her character cries (She's a Rebellious Princess-turned-Actress), she needs eyedrops.
- Played straight as the undiagnosed BSOD in Parasyte: Shinichi is horrified at finding himself becoming more callous as the carnage marches on, and especially at being unable to show emotion when Kana is killed. His biggest hangup is being unable to cry at the funeral.
- In Neon Genesis Evangelion, Shinji, albeit outright stating that he is sad, finds himself unable to cry after Rei saves his life via Heroic Sacrifice. In fact, she isn't mourned by anyone at all, and is quickly replaced by an identical-looking clone. So Shinji's inability to cry might just be foreshadowing.
- In the Monster manga, Wolfgang Grimmer laments to Tenma that he cannot cry for his dead son, as a result of being raised in Kinderheim 511. At the end of his life, he finally cries for his son. *sniff*
- Fist of the North Star: A young girl named Asuka can't cry for her dead father because she thinks that, if she does, he'll never rest. Kenshiro's response is to hold her, shedding Tender Tears and stating that he'll cry in her place.
- Following the death of Cosmo, and the subsequent failure to revive her, in the series finale of Sonic X, Sonic was left not only unable to cry, but unable to react properly. Despite regular complaints stating that he was "soooo mean", he was obviously mourning.
- Erza of Fairy Tail plays with this; she cannot cry in her right eye, even when it was healed of damage from when she was a slave. She does, eventually, cry in her right eye at the end of the Tower of Heaven arc. She claims that it's because she already cried half of her tears out.
- Sousuke of Full Metal Panic! remarks on his inability to cry when Kurz supposedly dies, though he wonders if he could had Kaname been there. In the final novel when, faced with certain death, he sees a video from his former classmates asking him to come back to school, Sousuke finally breaks down sobbing that he doesn't want to die.
- This also applies to Kaname and Tessa shortly afterwards, when they find themselves unable to cry over Sousuke's apparent death; Kaname thinks to herself that it seems to be because it's so hard to believe that he'd actually be dead. She's right, of course.
- In Clannad After Story, Tomoya tells Ushio about how, when you become an adult, you often can't cry even when you want to. Not long after, though, he discovers he's still got plenty of tears left, even though if anyone should be numb to sadness, it's him.
- Gunslinger Girl. Cyborg girl Claes whenever she sees something that reminds her of her dead handler Captain Raballo (who has been wiped from her memory).
Claes: "Have you ever been tremendously sad, but the tears won't come out?"
Jean: "Sure...it happens."
Claes: "That's how I feel right now. My heart is overflowing with tears, but they just won't come out of my eyes. At night when I'm asleep, they quietly spill out onto the pillow without my noticing."
- Subverted in the Manga of Mega Man X, where the fact that X can cry is what shocks Zero.
- In One Piece, despite how much he wants to when Rebecca tearfully announces him her will to win the tournament for the Mera Mera no Mi, the Thunder Soldier in the Dressrosa arc is literally unable to cry, due to being a Living Toy.
"Even toys have things they want to protect. But tears won't fall from these tin eyes..."
- Referenced in Code Geass twice; the first time is when Shirley Fennette's father has died, and when she's putting on a brave face her friends tell her not to, and ask if she's cried yet. They're reassured when she replies that she's cried a lot. The second time is after the same unfortunate Shirley has died, and one of her estranged friends is dealing with her own grief, and is reassured by a coworker that as long as she can cry, she'll be OK. Both cases clearly work on the belief that being Unable to Cry is a sign that something is seriously, perhaps irremediably, wrong, while being able to express your grief is much healthier.
- In the penultimate episode of Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, as White Fang's plans fall apart, Dorothy Catalonia breaks down but can't shed any tears. As he leaves her behind, Trowa Barton remarks: "That's sad. A woman who can't cry." In a subversion, once Dorothy is alone, she does start to cry.
- In Porco Rosso, after Gina has just received news of the death of her third husband (all of them were pilots who died in wars or plane crashes), she remarks to her friend Porco that she can't even cry after waiting all this time for some news of his whereabouts.
Gina: It's strange. I've been waiting to hear something for months and now I can't even cry. I just feel numb.
- Professor X in Ultimate X-Men was unable to cry at his son Proteus' funeral and he berated himself for it. Of course, the fact that Proteus was a mass-murderer who killed over a million people worldwide and was going to kill him might have something to do with that.
- The Machinesmith, a Marvel Universe villain who went through an Emergency Transformation and is very unhappy about it. "I... I can no longer even... cry."
- In one Rom Spaceknight story, Rom spends the issue trying to rescue a little girl from his enemies the Dire Wraiths. When he finally reaches her, he can't detect any life signs and believes she has drowned. He cradles the little body in his arms and shudders, making little choking sounds, and Namor realizes the cyborg literally can't cry. Namor manages to save her life with Atlantean tech, though.
- Jesse Custer, the protagonist of the series Preacher, saw his father killed in front of him at the age of five. Naturally, he cried his eyes out, until the murderer, a sadistic bastard, sneered at him for crying. Jesse stopped crying right then, refusing to show weakness to these monsters, and swore never to cry again. He never does, even when the love of his life is similarly murdered (by the same people) in front of him. In the end of the series, he is finally able to cry again when Tulip is about to leave him for good. This is what convinces her to try to make their relationship work.
- In All Fall Down, Portia is this in spades, before breaking down in the Ghoul's arms after he averts her attempted suicide.
- In The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, Plath's Author Avatar Esther realises she has never cried for her father and breaks down sobbing at his graveside.
- In Lord of Emperors, the widowed, hunted and revenge seeking Empress must be convinced to "allow herself to grieve" by a physician who is sheltering her from the new Emperor's guards. "We must bend before we break" is a big philosophy for said physician, and is borne out several times in the ending.
- Ballad Of A Shinigami: Since the dead can't cry, Momo cries for them.
- Albert Camus' The Stranger : one of the points used against the main character in his trial is the fact that he didn't cry at his mother's funeral. He argues that it is hard to cry for a woman who lives a long happy life and then dies peacefully.
- Molly the Street Samurai from Neuromancer, mainly because she has mirrored shades surgically implanted over her eyes, so her tear ducts are redirected into her mouth. She's so unspeakably badass that she doesn't cry, she spits.
- All through Specials (the third book in the Uglies trilogy), Tally says that she doesn't think that Specials are physically capable of crying. She gets pretty close to crying at quite a few points, but she never actually cries. Until the end.
- Rand Al Thor continually hardens himself as a defence mechanism in The Wheel of Time, to the point it is mentioned on several occasions he wanted to cry, wished he could, but finds himself unable to, as well as expressing any true emotion anymore, and even trying to stop himself feeling them. This was just one aspect of a 7 book breakdown.
- Played straight in The Secret Garden, in that Mary "doesn't know how to cry." She figures it out in the end.
- In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry meets with the Diggorys at the end to talk to them about Cedric's death. Mr. Diggory sobs throughout, but the book notes that Mrs. Diggory seems beyond tears.
- Tobias of Animorphs spent so much time trapped in the form of a red-tailed hawk that even when he returns to human form, his predatory mindset prevents him from crying. This saves his life on one occasion—he's just found out who his father really was, but he needs to pretend that he doesn't believe what he's been told.
- In Wicked, Elphaba's skin reacts to water like acid, including her tears. When her beloved teacher is murdered and all the students are consoling each other, she has to force herself to stand far away from the crowd and put on a cold face, lest she risk breaking down and burning her face.
- The eponymous character of the Eisenhorn novels in the Warhammer 40,000 universe is not only unable to cry but express nearly any facial expression change due to nerve damage sustained under torture, which he captor explicits taunts him over.
- The protagonist of Brian Keene's short story "The Garden Where My Rain Grows" suffers from this problem. He can get sad over the deaths of loved ones, but he's never been able to cry. Not before the apocalypse* , not after, not when his oldest friend is decapitated by Satanists. He finally finds himself able to cry at the end, after a Kraken kills his Love Interest.
- In Teresa Frohock's Miserere: An Autumn Tale, Lucian freezes after Catarina dies. Rachael holds him a long time, and nearly gives up before he sobs.
- In Blind Faith by Ben Elton, protagonist Trafford lives in a dystopian society where every detail of one's life is public to all, and people are frequently encouraged to "emote" and share their every thought with others. At one point, a colleague is unable to cry when she is urged to express her feelings over the death of her baby son. Others in the office are disappointed with her, but Trafford notes that her quiet dignity somehow makes a bigger statement than a flood of tears.
- In John Hemry's Paul Sinclair novel A Just Determination, the other junior officers grow worried over Carl Meadows after a sailor's death, because he is neither crying nor otherwise reacting after days.
- In The Last Unicorn, unicorns never cry because they never feel the kind of human grief and regret that would prompt them. After a stint as a human to save her fellows, the unicorn confesses that she is now full of tears even though she cannot cry.
- In The Underland Chronicles, Gregor really starts warming up to Luxa when she tells him that she has not cried since her parents' deaths. When her cousin Henry betrays her at the end of Gregor the Overlander, she goes into a catatonic state of sorts, and it seems like she still won't cry - until she sees Vikus.
- In Alethea Kontis's Enchanted, Rumbold while saying goodby to his mother's ghost.
- In Seanan McGuire's October Daye novel Rosemary And Rue, Toby is unable to cry the entire day after she realizes that she had been transformed for fourteen years and lost her entire life; only at evening does she break down.
- In the "First Lay of Gudrun" of the Poetic Edda, Gudrun does not weep over her murdered husband Sigurd. Several women attempt to console her by relating her own sad stories, but fail to get a reaction. Finally Gudrun's sister Gullrönd uncovers Sigurd's corpse; when Gudrun sees Sigurd's face, she cries.
Gudrun sat by the dead Sigurd; she did not weep like other women, even though her heart was near to bursting with grief.
- In the Nightside series, Merlin Satanspawn's eyes are flames that burn within empty eye sockets. When Taylor and Suzie meet him in the 6th century, he sadly speaks of how, after King Arthur died, he couldn't even weep for his friend and protege because his eyes aren't built that way.
- In the Doctor Who novel Set Piece. As Ace, stuck in ancient Egypt, gets to grips with the fact that the Doctor did apparently die and is not coming back for her, she tries to grieve for the Doctor's loss and finds she can't cry.
"'It doesn't hurt.' She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to find some part of herself that wanted to cry. 'Why doesn't it hurt?"
- Parodied with Chandler in Friends in, naturally "The One Where Chandler Can't Cry." And of course, once he breaks through and becomes ABLE to cry, he CAN'T STOP, culminating in a hilarious Shipper on Deck moment when he laments about wishing Ross and Rachel could just work it out. (This is a Compressed Vice; he cried in several previous episodes, sometimes being pointed out as the most likely to.)
- House claims he cannot cry in one episode, although he's cried at least twice and got misty-eyed far more times than a supposed Nietzsche Wannabe should.
- The Mayor in Spin City is unable to cry because his father always said tears were a sign of weakness. When he needs to, he stabs himself in the thigh with a pen.
- In Home Improvement, Tim Taylor's boss, Mr. Binford, who was like a second father to him, dies, and he is unable to cry for him or show grief the way the other characters do. After a bit of thinking (and a visit to his neighbor Wilson), he realizes that he just doesn't show grief the same way as everyone else. Notably doesn't end with a scene with him breaking down in tears. The episode said that Tim cried at the actual funeral, but didn't show it on-screen. Part of the story was that he didn't want Brad to think crying isn't "manly" because everyone shows grief differently.
- Michael Bluth from Arrested Development never cried as part of a Running Gag that GOB kept calling him a heartless robot. It wasn't a matter of couldn't cry as it was he didn't feel that he needed to. He did shed a few tears in the finale, though.
- This happens to Mariah Cirrus, rescued from a sleeper pod in an abandoned ship in the second season of Babylon 5, due to the cryogenic process drying out her tear ducts.
- Part of the plot in the Soap Opera Yo Amo a Paquita Gallego. The titular character is unable to cry, as she never had done that, not even at her birth. But, as one character points "those who are unable to cry are unable to sincerely laugh neither", so the plot has a real delight in doing all kind of very awful things, even to ludicrous levels, just to see if she ever breaks. When Paquita finally cries, near the end of the soap, is the signal that the universe can stop trowing shit on her ASAP.
- On Taxi, when Reverend Jim's father dies, Jim is upset because he hasn't cried yet. Then he realizes he is crying. And he asks, "But am I crying because I miss you, or am I crying because I didn't cry?" He decides it doesn't matter and he's glad the tears have finally come.
- Ana Lucia's inability to cry (at least until Day 48) is mentioned on LOST. Notable in that we don't see her cry during any of her traumatic flashbacks either, and when she finally does breakdown, it's likely that she was finally letting out the grief of the past few months of her life.
- Played extremely Narmishly on the sixth season finale of Grey's Anatomy—while caring for the critically injured Dr. Percy (and having almost been shot herself), a flustered Dr. Bailey actually says "Where is that water coming from?" and has to be gently told that she is crying by Mandy Moore's character.
- Degrassi The Next Generation: Liberty, right after JT's death, though she eventually does cry.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation: Data, being an android, had this problem, despite the multiple tragedies that informed his life. It was patently obvious to everyone but him (including the audience) that he could feel, however. He loses this limitation after getting Soong's emotion chip. The novel Immortal Coil has everything he didn't express all drop on him at once, to the point of what would be clinical depression in a human.
- In America's Next Top Model, a contestant named Tiffany was eliminated during Cycle 4. She took the elimination in stride, and said that she has had such a hard life and cried so much, getting eliminated from a reality show was pretty small by comparison. This rather famously sent Tyra into a complete rage.
- Played for Laughs with Brooke Alvarez of the Onion News Network, who claims to have had her tear ducts cauterized.
- Parodied in an early Dilbert arc where Dogbert tells a psychiatrist he's unable to cry over Dilbert's death. When the therapist tells him that dogs can't legally inherit from humans, he of course starts bawling.
- What happens to Alan Aramaki in the Last Season of Rose Guns Days. He realizes that his girlfriend Meixue, who was shot by a sniper − who is his best friend Keith to make things worse −, is no longer responding because she already died from her bleeding. Yet no tears run. He can only sport a Broken Smile instead.
- Antimony of Gunnerkrigg Court is fairly contained about losing her mother and being abandoned by her father, until she gets a chance to relax and then WHAM come the waterworks.
- The Simpsons episode "Girly Edition:"
Lindsey Naegle: Bart, look up here! This is where the tears would be if I could cry! But I can't. Botched facelift. You could learn a lot from him, Mary Anne!
Lisa: It's Lisa.
Lindsey Naegle: Mary Anne's better!
- In an early episode of Futurama, Fry drinks an alien emperor whose body is made of liquid and sleeps in a glass bottle and is crowned the new emperor. When it turns out that the old emperor he drank isn't really dead, but is alive inside his stomach, the options of getting him out are narrowed down to Fry crying, but he can't because he's "too manly." The solution, of course, is for all his friends to kick the crap out of him until he sheds tears of pain. It works.
- Including the emperor himself, who says, "Thanks for crying me out!" and goes back to kicking.
- In South Park, Butters' dad Stephen seems to either be unable to shed tears or is only pretending to cry.
- For a villainous example, in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Heart of Ice", Batman is horrified when he discovers Mr. Freeze's Dark and Troubled Past. When Mr. Freeze himself shows up immediately afterwards...
Mr. Freeze: It would move me to tears, if I still had tears to shed.