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Break The Haughty / Literature

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Break the Haughty in literature.


  • Virgil suggested that the motto of the Roman Empire was parcere subjectis et debellare superbos, which translates to "Spare the humble and weaken the pride."
  • In Ancillary Justice, Seivarden Vendaai was a proud officer, member of a noble house and rather arrogant. When Breq finds her, she is dying from hypothermia after having given himself a drug overdose, just outside the door of an inn where nobody cares about her. When she wakes up, she is convinced Breq was sent to find her because he's important, while actually she just took pity. As it turns out, she was cryonic sleep for hundreds of years, her family lost all importance, and when she woke up, no one would acknowledge how important she was, which drove her to take drugs.
  • Jane Austen's works have a lot of this trope.
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    • Pride and Prejudice: Mr. Darcy's obviously a rather haughty type who gradually realizes that he has to take himself down a peg or two; Elizabeth's own pride in her ability to judge people gets a few dents over the course of the novel, particularly from Mr. Darcy's letter; happens to Mr. Collins when Elizabeth refuses to marry him; and to Lady Catherine when Elizabeth refuses to promise that she will not marry Darcy.
    • It also happens in Emma, where Emma is forced to realize how little she knows about matchmaking. She also publicly humiliates a poor, old, harmless spinster who had been a family friend for years and partly depended on Emma's charity. Spinster's reaction was "I will try to hold my tongue. I must be very disagreeable, or she wouldn't say such a thing to an old friend". Emma then gets the Break The Haughty of her lifetime by some guy whom she eventually marries.
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    • And Northanger Abbey, where Catherine is forced to realize what an idiot she had been treating Real Life as if it were a gothic novel...
    • ... And Sense and Sensibility where Marianne has to admit that she behaved badly after her rejection by Willoughby. She confesses that she has worried Elinor and her Mother and that her illness stems from neglecting her health in a manner she knew to be wrong at the time...
    • ... And in Mansfield Park, Fanny's uncle Sir Thomas is concerned about having his niece from a modest background stay with them. It turns out to be his children and not Fanny who endanger the social status of the family.
  • In City of Ashes, the Inquisitor gets a glorious one. After being nothing but condescending to Jace merely because he's the son of the Big Bad, she finds out that her plan to trade Jace to Valentine for the two Mortal Instruments that he has isn't going to work, because despite what she thought, Valentine doesn't care about Jace, only the instruments. This causes her to have a Freak Out! and a BSOD until Maryse snaps her out of it.
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  • Melodía of The Dinosaur Lords is a Princess Imperial who's convinced she's so much smarter and wiser than her fellows and acts accordingly. Then she's arrested on false charges, raped, forced to escape by hiding in a cart of guano for days, beaten up by her servant to hide her identity and finally, when she tries to help people end a war, all she accomplishes is getting all of her companions and her best friend killed. At least she manages to get back on her feet after all this.
  • The Divine Comedy:
    • Hell has a tendency to humiliate people who were self-important and powerful in life. There is no distinction that separates popes and kings from the average man, they are punished equally for equal sins.
      Virgil: How many now hold themselves mighty kings, who here like swine shall wallow in the mire.
    • The the first terrace of Purgatory exists to purge the sin of Pride from souls, which it does by forcing them to carry giant boulders up the mountain. They learn humility from this by being forced to stay down to Earth and away from their wild, self-aggrandizing fantasies. To help them in this process, the grounds are illustrated with the most famous downfalls of the Proud with examples ranging from Lucifer's failed take-over of Heaven to Arachne's curse received for declaring her art godly.
  • Felix Harrowgate, one of the protagonists of Doctrine of Labyrinths, is an arrogant Agent Peacock antihero who, over the course of four books, endures the revelation of his low birth and history of prostitution, rape (more than once), Mind Rape, public display for crimes he didn't commit, incarceration in a Bedlam House, the death of a lover, and exile, before emerging as a marginally decent human being. However, this may qualify as a subversion, since it's obvious that his long history of miserable experiences did nothing to reform him: the big difference between his past and present is his relationship with his half-brother, Mildmay.
  • The title character in Eden Green assumes that her intellect can and will get her through any trial — though her ego starts to take a hit after she's infected with an immortal needle symbiote and her options begin to narrow.
  • Emerald City:
    • Corina, the Villain Protagonist of Sukhinov's decalogy (which is based on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz), starts off as arrogant Magnificent Bastard who by the end of the first book controls the Emerald city, practically controls most of the Magic Land's remainder (including Violet and Blue lands), and made the Good Witches prisoners in their lands. Then in book two, Ellie dethrones her, following which she starts a slow downward spiral. By the book ten she has been captured by the Big Bad, Brought Down to Normal, turned into a (non-talking) mouse, locked in a cage for weeks... and the cage is currently located in a basement filling with water. After one of her previous opponents rescues her from said basement, even he refers to her as "poor Corina".
    • She is not the only one with this fate, however. Ogre Midgety, Paracels, Donald, Elg, Argut and even Almar all suffer from their arrogance very often. Not being arrogant is one of the main themes in the decalogy.
  • In the Artemis Fowl book The Eternity Code where his belief that he had all the possible angles covered almost got Butler killed. That gave him a punch to the stomach.
  • Eustacia Goes to the Chalet School:
    • The main plot. Take the titular girl, an Insufferable Genius with academic parents, a Missing Mom and a set of relatives who barely pay attention to her. Put her in the Chalet School, where her arrogance and tale-bearing make her unpopular with the other girls. Add a nasty accident that results in Eustacia being seriously injured and disabled, and voila! You have a sadder, wiser and nicer character who realises the error of her ways.
    • Sybil Russell, Madge's daughter, acts like a Bratty Half-Pint, not helped by strangers constantly complimenting her on her looks (at least, Madge and Joey think so). Then she accidentally spills boiling water on her little sister Josette in Gay from China, badly scalding her. This, coupled with her dad Jem being livid with her, breaks Sybil somewhat and by Joey to the Rescue, she's almost a completely different person.
  • Fate/Zero gives us the aristocratic prick Lord El-Melloi Kayneth Archibald. Thinking he's entitled to all of the niceties that have been handed to him, and claiming a vain sort of chivalry in the form of a Worthy Opponent, he walks into battle against Kiritsugu with disdain, thinking it's all beneath him. He scoffs when Kiritsugu sprays a shower of low caliber rounds at his perfect defense. Then Kiritsugu tricks Kayneth's defense and blasts him in the shoulder with a 30.06 A fluke! This vermin thinks he's won? Look, he's trying the same trick again. The same trick won't work twice on the Lord El-MelloiThen Kiritsugu fires his Origin Bullet, permanently crippling and stripping Kayneth of magecraft. By the end, the once-proud Kayneth resorts to desperately accepting a cease-fire. And gets mowed down with a machine gun. Kick the Son of a Bitch ended way before the end.
  • The GONE series by Michael Grant:
    • Diana Ladris starts the series a beautiful, proud, rich snob who spends her time belittling others and making them wish they were her...It was all downhill for her from that point. After getting tortured and nearly killed by Drake, is driven to eat human flesh during after months of starvation, is thrust off a cliff *but saved*, suffers post-traumatic stress disorder from becoming a cannibal, and finally is betrayed by boyfriend Caine Soren after being unwittingly impregnated by him...She then goes on, 15 years of age, to give birth in a mine with two psychopaths who torture her relentlessly. Then her own daughter enslaves her and degrades her in every way possible (physically and emotionally) just for entertainment. It's fan speculation that she's pretty much lost it by this point. Break the haughty, indeed.
    • Diana's male (cocky, arrogant and charming) counterpart Caine Soren may be heading towards this as of FEAR, which was quite a blow to his pride. Has his hands cased in cement and a crown stapled to his head, and is then paraded through town in a humiliation conga courtesy of Penny. Oh yeah, and he wet himself in the process.
    • Astrid Ellison could also qualify in books LIES and PLAGUE, although she bounces back in FEAR after taking a level in badass, so it's subverted.
  • John Norman's Gor novels do not so much use this trope as harp on it to the point where it really becomes little more than a Take That! to women who are not slaves. One example includes a Viking queen named Hilda the Haughty (sic) as well as another Viking queen named Bera - who end up as slaves, side by side, and emphatically happy about it. And the first, arguably not-too-bad novel in the series has this as an important part of it, too.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Hermione Granger, the sometimes Insufferable Genius, gets this from time to time over the course of the books.
    • Draco Malfoy goes from Spoiled Brat to Jerkass Woobie when he learns Evil Is Not a Toy. He spends the first five years as Harry's schoolyard enemy who thinks the idea of Voldemort coming back is the coolest thing ever. When the bad guys actually give him an important job, he starts out as smug as ever... then gets a massive dose of reality. By the end of book six, he's a nervous wreck who can barely keep it together, and by the finale, he just wants out.
    • The pwnage starts as early as Chamber of Secrets, when Lucius gets his ass handed to him by his own former house elf. It actually starts just before that, when he realizes that Harry Potter has just tricked him into releasing said house elf.
    • Even before all that, Draco gets his first taste of humble pie in Philosopher's Stone when, after Harry, Hermione, and Neville find themselves in detention for being out of bed after hours, he gets paired with them for their stint in the Forbidden Forest, and Hagrid wastes no time raking him over the coals the minute he starts protesting that he's above serving his detention with a bunch of "filthy little mudbloods".
      Hagrid: [to Draco] Yeh done wrong and now yer gonna pay fer it!
    • Gilderoy Lockhart may also be a partial example, starting when he is forced to follow through on all his bogus claims.
    • Percy Weasley also did a full arc — starting a snobbish but harmless (a male Go-Getter Girl at worst), he then turns on his family in order to get ahead in the ministry and renounces his father in book 5. It takes him over two years to come to his senses, and he rejoins his family (and the other good guys) in the final battle — only to lose his brother mid-reconciliation.
  • Poor Otto of the H.I.V.E. Series starts off as an Insufferable Genius who does absolutely everything for his own benefit, even if his actions are good. He saves the orphanage because he doesn't want to start overtaking leadership somewhere else, and he essentially invites Laura to escape with him because she's pretty, without asking Wing. His solution to every problem in the beginning is to respond with sarcasm and make the other person feel bad. He begins to become more humble only after Wing's supposed death in book two. He is further brought down to earth by the revelation that he is Overlord's clone, created only for the purpose of being a total body donor. In book four, he is kidnapped and forced to kill innocent people in book five, crushing his self-esteem and making him feel extremely guilty despite not being in control of himself. In book six, his girlfriend Lucy Dexter is murdered, causing him to become too paranoid to admit his feelings to his longtime crush Laura for fear that something will happen to her as well. And something does happen. In the very next book, she is blackmailed into betraying the Alpha stream, which Otto could have prevented, and then captured by the Glasshouse and mind raped.
  • In Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester spends most of the novel being both a liar and a Manipulative Bastard, pulling an Operation: Jealousy on poor Jane. His breaking starts when Jane finds out, just as they're about to say "I do", that he already has a wife, and runs off when he's not looking. Then said wife burns his house down with him (and her) inside it, leaving her dead and him blind and missing a hand. When Jane returns, he's a much humbler person who is worthy of marriage.
  • C. S. Lewis:
    • This is a recurring theme of C. S. Lewis's The Horse and His Boy. Bree, the proud warhorse constantly bragging about all the battles he's been in, is humbled when Shasta shows more courage than he does against a lion. The Tsundere Aravis is reluctant to accept that part of being a Rebellious Princess Runaway Fiancé is losing the privileges of being a princess until Shasta, "a rude, common little boy," impresses her in the same incident. Then there's the proud and spoiled Prince Rabadash, who is turned into a donkey as punishment.
    • Also features in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Eustace has an (unjustified) superior attitude towards everyone around him (especially towards the non-humans) and considers himself above such mundane tasks as setting up camp and sneaks off on his own to explore the island. He gets hopelessly lost and then turned into a dragon for sleeping on a dragon's hoard while thinking greedy thoughts. This actually seems like it would be pretty fun, but Eustace hasn't the right mindset to be able to enjoy it; also, being turned into a dragon has some serious drawbacks since he can't speak and can't go on with the ship because he's too heavy and eats too much.
  • Malazan Book of the Fallen
    • The Queen of Lether is introduced as a powerful, gorgeous woman whose political influence is somewhat greater than her much older husband. After helping start a war with the Tiste Edur for her own amusement, she and her son are defeated, captured and exposed to chaos magic that literally twists her into a hideous snake thing that is kept alive as a demonstration of the King in Chains power. To top it off, due to her near immobility she grows obese.
    • Clip is established as a confident jerkass who doesn't respect anyone and smugly snarks at everybody. Then he gets possessed and brainwashed. When the Dying God finally relinquishes his soul, he locks himself into a cell, either out of guilt or sheer embarrassment, never to be seen again for the rest of the series.
  • Gwendoline Mary in Malory Towers spends most of the series as a vain, spoiled brat who causes trouble for everyone around her. This trope begins in the fifth book when Alicia gives her a "The Reason You Suck" Speech pointing out that the shallow Maureen, whom Gwen loathes, is exactly like her. In the final book, her father develops a serious illness implied to be at least partly due to stress caused by his daughter. The family loses all their money and Gwen is forced to drop out of school and get a job to support herself, with a final letter to Darrell showing that Gwen has started to change at last.
  • Prince Roger Ramius Sergei Alexander Chiang MacClintock from David Weber's March Upcountry starts out the series as a bit of a vain, arrogant fop, partly in rebellion to the generally negative or dismissive treatment he gets from others. His father, whom he physically resembles somewhat, was banished from the Empire of Man for treason, but no one told him about the reasons for the banishment. Between being stranded on a Death World and finding out why he was treated as he was, the fop is quickly blown away in the course of a Heroic BSoD, and the ones who overthrew the family in a coup find Roger taking a level in badass when he demonstrates just why you don't screw with a MacClintock.
  • In Master of the Game, Kate Blackwell decides to disinherit her favorite granddaughter Eve — whom she had chosen to inherit her company — when it becomes clear that she believes the world should revolve around her and has tried more than once to kill her innocent sister Alexandra simply for existing. Eve winds up on a living allowance that's just enough to afford a small, unfashionable New York City apartment. Unfortunately, this doesn't break Eve because she is an excellent Gold Digger and thus free to continue plotting against Alexandra and Kate.
  • Katya, in the Paladin of Shadows series, starts out as a cold psychopathic bitch who's constantly causing troubles for the people, until Unto the Breach, when she's in a helicopter forced to fly over a trio of enemy bunkers armed with heavy machine guns, and one of the people in the chopper gets their guts blasted all over her and the helicopter's interior by a round. Seeing the effect breaks her the way earlier threats of being killed for acting like a bitch hadn't. Later she's said to occasionally even be helpful to those she hassled earlier, though the others aren't sure if the change of heart will actually hold.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "The People of the Black Circle" the wizard subjects Yasmina to reliving all her past lives to humble her with slavery, torture, rape, poverty, and being hunted by predators. It works to the extent that she is madly grateful to see Conan, though she remembers she's a queen rather quickly.
  • The female alien spaceship captain Thora da Zoltral in the longrunning (1961-ongoing) German Science Fiction series Perry Rhodan. Considering that her people, the humanoid Arkoniden, were (in)famous for their arrogance and haughtiness towards "lesser" races, as well as their ruthless empire-building and Manifest Destiny worldview (imagine the Roman and British Empires and Imperial Japan rolled into one), Thora had a lot of pride to swallow when circumstances forced her to accept help from and to ally with the "barbarians" from planet Earth, who had just performed their first manned moon landing and discovered the shipwrecked alien spaceship there. Her brother, the gentle and open-minded scientist Crest, fared a lot better in adjusting his mindset to new ideas.
  • In The Railway Series, this is done fairly often. Especially to Gordon the Big Engine. Early example: After Henry is shut up in a tunnel as punishment for refusing to leave said tunnel, Gordon makes a habit of mocking him every time he passes by. Until one day, Gordon stalls from a burst safety valve in front of the replacement tunnel, much to Henry's amusement. A repentant Henry is let out to help Edward pull Gordon's train - the express he then prided himself on being the only one to pull.
  • To err is human, but to really screw things up requires an elf. J. R. R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion story Quenta Silmarillion is a story of the Elven pride, audacity, downfall, and humiliation. Especially that of Fëanor and his sons, but also the rest of the Noldor.
  • Happens to several characters in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire.
    • Sansa Stark from Starts as shallow, sheltered, naïve little girl and is repeatedly taken advantage of and abused by all attractive males with whom she comes into contact. The only people who treat her well are Tyrion Lannister and Sandor Clegane, both of who are hideously deformed.
    • Jaime Lannister, beginning with his sword hand chopped off.
    • Cersei may have managed to avert this trope. After her naked walk through the streets of King's Landing, she's humiliated but not broken, and hell-bent on revenge.
    • Stannis undergoes this as he finds no one cares about his right to be king and his insistence on honor and justice is a great hindrance. His armies are beaten, his fleet destroyed, and his allies abandon him. However, because he is incredibly stubborn, he absolutely refuses to give up his fight. He does, however, realize that he needs to save the people to win the throne, rather than the other way around. This leads to his Big Damn Heroes moment at the end of Book 3.
    • Theon after being captured by Ramsay Bolton ends up the most thorough example by far, losing several fingers and toes, most of his teeth, possibly being castrated, sent to sleep in a dog kennel, and turned into a Replacement Goldfish for Ramsay's servant Reek. By the end, he's afraid to think his own name. He gets slightly better.
    • Viserys, the former prince of the Seven Kingdoms, whose life after exile has been one long Humiliation Conga. He is, for the most part, an Asshole Victim. Viserys still believes himself the rightful King of Westeros and the last hope of House Targaryen, referring to Robert Baratheon as "the Usurper". After selling off his younger sister to a warlord, he goes through constant humiliation traveling with them, believing that the Dothraki are simply savages he can control. He meets his demise after threatening his pregnant sister in front of her warlord husband, who kills him by pouring molten gold over his head, "crowning" him.
  • After another murder, Benjamin Arcinas of Smaller & Smaller Circles is broken after realizing that his selfish, glory-chasing actions after taking charge of the serial killer case have caused the death of yet another young boy. He even receives a harsh reprimand from the NBI Director.
  • Jay in the Spaceforce series is a supremely confident, amoral Magnificent Bastard who evades the insanely strict rules of his society. At the end of the first book, he is brought down by a woman he treated badly, and is beaten nearly to death and has everything he worked for taken away from him. At the end of the third, he is struck to the floor by his commander, forced to separate from his new wife and taken back to his homeworld - with the threat that he will be left there to assume his original destiny as a blacksmith unless he gives up his womanizing ways.
  • Speaker for the Dead: Ender's introduction to Novinha's family involves multiple break the haughty moments, all done quickly. This is viewed in Ender's mind to be just a practical as his rapid physical conquests. It shows his clear social dominance in this situation, allowing them to respect him in a way no one else had.
  • The Spirit Thief: Miranda is pretty stuck-up and convinced of her moral superiority in the first book, so the second has her on the run from the Spirit Court, hiding in a cave with no benefits her station would usually give her, with only her spirits to keep her company. It makes her slightly more bearable and humble - and more appreciative of the spirits.
  • Josef K., the protagonist of The Trial, is a pompously self-important bank manager whose reaction on being arrested in his apartment is outrage at such minor officials daring to bother him. Over the course of the novel, he finds out that he has much less power than he thought. Whether any moral lessons emerge is questionable, though.
  • Staple element in most of Mika Waltari's historical novels:
    • Sinuhe in The Egyptian is not overbearingly haughty, but gets plenty of humbling (and humiliating) moments where he either realizes his mistakes or simply despairs for a while.
    • Mikael in The Adventurer and The Wanderer considers himself an intelligent man, and whenever he gets a little success in any endeavour he becomes quite holier than thou. Furthermore, Giulia, who is both his beloved and something of a nemesis, gets what's coming to her very late in the second book.
  • Ernie Butler, the Villain Protagonist of These Words Are True and Faithful, starts out being seen by many (including himself) as a conquering hero who can do no wrong. After the public humiliation brought on by his infidelity, he becomes more contrite.
  • Lionblaze from Warrior Cats started out arrogant and battle-obsessed, and trained under his grandfather Tigerstar to become a great warrior. Then in at the end of the Power of Three arc, he learned that he was actually a bastard, and Tigerstar was just using him for his power. He still remained somewhat arrogant, until Night Whispers, where his love interest Cinderheart left him because he had to focus on his destiny and couldn't be distracted, leading to him becoming much more humble and less battle-hungry.
  • Wet Desert: Tracking Down a Terrorist on the Colorado River: When the jerk governor of Nevada is informed that Hoover Dam will overtop, he becomes a lot more concerned and conciliatory.
  • The Wheel of Time series:
    • The Aes Sedai order of channelers (mages) get hit by this. Repeatedly. 'Kneel, Aes Sedai, or you shall be knelt!' Especially notable because the Aes Sedai tend to see themselves above royalty, so being ordered by three farmboys is one of the main reasons to read the books.
    • A particularly awesome example occurred at the end of the 12th book in the series, when Elaida, a particularly power-hungry, self-obsessed bitch, was captured during a Seanchan raid on the White Tower, thus being subjected to a particularly brutal form of slavery.
  • In Wintersmith, Granny Weatherwax got to break two haughties for the price of one. Annagramma Hawkin is Alpha Bitch to the new generation of witches, and because Granny suggested Tiffany Aching to take over an open spot, Annagramma got it instead. Annagramma's teachings by that point ill-prepared her for real-world witchcraft and forced her to seek aid from the others of her group. This served to teach Annagramma what witchcraft was and prove that her teacher Mrs. Earwig didn't teach witchcraft properly.
  • In Robert Arthur's "The Wonderful Day" this kid who'd unknowingly gotten ahold of a unicorn horn made a wish on it that all of the figurative expressions grownups used would come true for just one day. This resulted, among similar cases of instant karma, in a woman who'd been referred to as "puffed up like a balloon" with self-importance swelling up like Harry Potter's Aunt Marge and having to be rescued from a tree hours later.
  • Aeon 14: Admiral Sini Laaksonen, AST Space Force, starts the Short Story "Know Thy Enemy"note  professionally cautious but confident in her abilities, pointedly considering herself a superior commander to Bollam's World Admiral Senya, whom she considers severely overranked. A Mook Horror Show, a disastrous pursuit of Intrepid, and a Time Skip later, and she resigns her commission in protest rather than lead a fleet against Tanis Richardsnote  again.
  • The Saint: In "The Golden Journey", Simon observes a Rich Bitch being rude to the staff of the hotel where he is staying. Deciding that she needs a lesson in humility, he arranges for her to be forced into a situation where she has to accompany him on a several day cross-country hike. He uses the opportunity to thoroughly humiliate her, and then instill in her a much healthier attitude towards life.
  • In The Mental State, Zack State does this to several law enforcement officers who are a little too fixated on their own goals, ambitions and moral views. Commissioner Viceman ends up being blackmailed into going against his own political views, Sargent Haig becomes an inmate in his own prison and Officer Reed loses his chance at promotion and becomes a Spice junkie.


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