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That can't be legal—not that it needs to be.

An orphan boy with sass and pep
Got dropped off on our mansion step
(Li'l Butler, Li'l Butler!)
We washed his face of dirt and leaves
And now he works here as our Jeeves
(Li'l Butler, Li'l Butler!)
The theme song of Li'l Butler, Steven Universe

It was once commonplace for families to adopt orphans and treat them as servants or workers rather than family. The children aren't necessarily treated poorly, and in many cases are treated rather well and educated; however, they aren't considered family.

An alternative version of this trope is an illegitimate child being reared as their parent's servant. This allows the child to stay near to their parent without the scandal associated with people knowing that you have such a child.

There is a lot of Values Dissonance associated with this trope. To modern audiences, adopting a kid so they can work for you is a very unsuitable reason and it isn't legally allowed. However, this trope still appears in period pieces, and even in more modern-based works if the adoptive parents are abusive.

Compare with Old Retainer and Hired Help as Family. See also Doorstop Baby.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Done by choice in The 100 Girlfriends Who Really, Really, Really, Really, Really Love You. Hahari Hanazono offered to officially adopt Mei Meido into the Hanazono family after saving her life, but Mei declined in favor of being a live-in maid. Hahari’s daughter Hakari later admits that she still sees Mei as family raised in the same house.
  • In Ai Yori Aoshi, Aoi Sakuraba's parents took Miyabi Kagurazaki into their household after Miyabi's parents, who worked for the Sakurabas, died in a car accident. Miyabi grew up serving the family, mainly as Aoi's guardian. In the ending of the manga, Aoi's parents officially adopt Miyabi as their daughter and heiress after Aoi renounces her Sakuraba name to be with Kaoru. From then on Miyabi bears the Sakuraba name and calls her former master and mistress "Father" and "Mother."
  • Berserk: Serpico was the bastard son of a noble and a maid, who spent his childhood living in poverty and taking care of his now delusional and invalid mother. Before he turned ten, his life changed when a noble girl named Farnese de Vandimion found him lying in the street after a beating from neighborhood bullies and took him back to her family's mansion for treatment, demanding that he become her personal page in exchange. Serpico turned out to be the only servant in the household who could put up with Farnese's abuse and erratic behavior, recognizing how her issues were caused by Parental Neglect. Later, Farnese's father Federico happened to recognize the locket around Serpico's neck as the one he gave to Serpico's mother, meaning that Serpico was Federico's illegitimate child as well as Farnese's older half-brother. On this occasion, Federico explained that he could not let Serpico take the Vandimion name when there were already three sons vying to become the next head of the family, but in exchange for Serpico's silence and continued service to Farnese he granted Serpico a noble title and appropriate stipend.
  • Code Geass: Kallen is half-Japanese and half-Britannian. Her Japanese biological mother works as a maidservant for her Britannian father and step-mother; Kallen always thought that her mother was weak for remaining devoted to the man who treated her so poorly, but eventually Kallen realizes that the real reason her mother continued to work in that house was to remain close to her daughter.
  • In Heat Guy J, Giovanni states that when he was a 12-year-old Street Urchin living in Judoh's slum area (either with no parent or guardian, or with one too apathetic to care about him) he was taken in by Clair's father, to be a friend and bodyguard to Clair.
  • The opening episode of Michiko & Hatchin packs a lot of nastiness in a few minutes. Hatchin is kept by her corrupt padre/foster father only for the child support check, while the preacher's children drag Hatchin by the neck with a rope and threaten her with a steaming hot flatiron.
  • In Moriarty the Patriot, William and Louis Moriarty were both treated as servants by the Moriarty family after they were adopted into the family. Even as adults, Louis is noted as the "adopted" brother.
  • In My Daddy Long Legs, around the same time Judy gets into high school, a boy named Tommy is being adopted by a middle-aged couple that owns a farm. Sadie, another orphan resentful of the fact she cannot go to high school, tells Tommy the couple in question only intend to use him for work. We do see the couple in question a bit earlier, and while a bit tactless in their introductory scene, they genuinely want a son. Tommy takes offense to this and immediately defends them, and Sadie has a bit of a Freak Out (most likely caused by her resentment she didn't get into high school like Judy or wasn't adopted like Tommy).
  • In Tokyo Ghoul, Kanae von Rosewald was orphaned as a child and taken in by his mother's side of the family. The Tsukiyama family treats Kanae as a well-loved servant, and this Master-servant boundary creates issues due to Kanae's unrequited feelings for cousin Shuu.

    Comic Books 
  • In Persepolis, the Satrapi family adopts Mehri from a poor family where she serves as a maid. Mehri still pretends to be the family's daughter upon falling in love with a neighbor's boy, though their relationship is later jeopardized by social hierarchies.

    Fan Works 
  • Kindness's Reward: As a foal, Trixie was adopted by a mare who wanted her as a maid instead of a daughter.
  • Inverted in Touhou Project fanon: Yukari has a kitsune shikigami (familiar) in the form of Ran, who has her own cat shikigami in the form of Chen, both of which help Yukari with her duties. They are universally portrayed as a family in the fandom.

    Films — Animated 
  • Barbie as Rapunzel: Gothel took Rapunzel in as a baby and treats her like a servant instead of a daughter, with Rapunzel being required to cook and clean for her and address her as "My lady". As it turns out, this is because Gothel didn't adopt Rapunzel as she led her to believe, and actually kidnapped her from her parents as retribution against Rapunzel's father.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the 1916 film Stella Maris, Heartwarming Orphan Unity is adopted by an alcoholic woman to act as her servant. She is abused by her adoptive mother. One day, Unity's groceries are stolen by a group of boys and when she comes back home Louise beats her unconscious. Louise is arrested and sentenced to three years. Her estranged husband John decides the best thing to do is adopt Unity himself. He too, however, treats her like a servant instead of a daughter. This lack of a familial bond allows Unity to gain a Precocious Crush on John.
  • Petes Dragon: The hillbilly family from whom Pete is running away, the Gogans, adopted him so that they wouldn't have to do chores anymore. They make no pretense about wanting to provide Pete with a loving home and refer to his adoption papers as their "bill of sale", as if he were explicitly property.

  • In Another World with My Smartphone: Touya rescues a Street Urchin named Renee and brings her home with him after she promises to never steal again. She becomes a maid in his mansion, being trained (and effectively reared) by the other maids and butlers.
  • Inverted in Samantha's story in American Girl. When Nelly and her sisters are orphaned, and hide out in Samatha's place, they beg for Samantha's uncle to hire them as servants so they won't be split up. Her uncle and aunt have a better idea; they adopt all the girls so they will be a proper family.
  • Anne of Green Gables:
    • This is what sets the entire plot in motion. The aging Marilla and Matthew request a boy from the orphanage to help their farm, though they still intend to give him a good home and an education. Instead of a boy, they're given a very spirited girl, Anne. But even though she can't provide the manual labor they were hoping for, they soon come to love her as their own.
    • Anne had a foster family prior to the story (the Hammonds), and they treated her more like a servant who would care for the children than an actual foster child. In fact, she was returned to the orphanage because Mr. Hammond died and the family could no longer afford her upkeep.
    • Implied to be the case when a woman offers to adopt Anne in Marilla's stead; Marilla takes one look at the poor, frazzled woman and her multiple children and realizes that she'll treat Anne like a servant instead of a daughter.
    • In general, the idea of "Home Children" seems to be more-or-less accepted, though it's acknowledged that they're often treated poorly. Mary Vance had it particularly terribly — she was adopted by a woman who regularly beat her, and while her neighbors disapproved, nobody ever wrote to the authorities about it. When she's later adopted by one of the Blythes' family friends, she has to be talked out of working all the time, because it's all she's ever known.
  • In The Brothers Karamazov, Smerdyakov was raised as a servant of Fyodor Karamazov after the death in childbirth of his mother, the village's beggar. The community suspects he is the illegitimate son of Fyodor.
  • Frankenstein: Justine was adopted as a servant for the Frankenstein family when Victor was still a child.
  • The Green Knowe Chronicles: In The Chimneys of Green Knowe, the seafaring Captain Oldknowe sees a young black orphan called Jacob and decides to adopt him, but as a pageboy and helper for the Captain's blind daughter, Susan.
  • This is what happens with Phebe in Eight Cousins. She's fifteen years old and has left the orphanage to be a live-in servant for Aunt Peace and Aunt Plenty, assisting their head of the kitchen with various household tasks. When Rose comes to live at the house, she and Phebe quickly take a liking to each other, and Uncle Alec (Rose's guardian) effectively adopts Phebe as his niece's personal attendant and companion, providing her with an excellent education. Phebe is still technically a maidservant, but an extremely well-treated one and beloved by the family. In the sequel, Rose in Bloom, she officially becomes part of the family by marrying one of Rose's cousins.
  • This may not have been the plan in Harry Potter, as Dumbledore expected the Dursleys to raise Harry as their son, but they still treat the boy as a glorified servant. Dumbledore calmly calls them on it early in the sixth book.
  • In The Impossible Virgin, a Modesty Blaise novel, the villain's adopted daughter is actually a servant, whom he bought as a slave and legally adopted as a way of having a socially acceptable explanation for her presence in his household. He doesn't think of her as a daughter in any way; some of the services he forces her to perform are sexual. At the end of the novel, Modesty points out that now that he's dead, the girl is probably going to end up with the villain's fortune (or as much of it as the lawful authorities are aware of), since in the eyes of the law, regardless of how he thought of her, she's a legitimate heir.
  • In Les Misérables, the Thenardiers take in Cosette so they can make her work for them - that, and being able to extort money out of her mother Fantine by telling her it's needed for good treatment they never actually give her.
  • In Little Dorrit, Mr and Mrs Meagles have taken Harriet from the Foundling Hospital to be a maid/companion to their daughter. Although Miss Wade encourages her to resent this, it was a perfectly acceptable practice at the time. It was tactless of them to give her the silly nickname 'Tattycoram' without asking her opinion, though.
  • In A Little Princess, Becky is adopted to act as Sara's maid when both of them leave Miss Minchin's school, though it's implied Becky will be more of a companion than a servant to Sara. This was changed in subsequent adaptations (due to Values Dissonance), and Becky usually becomes an equal-adoptee.
  • "The Paper Menagerie": Jack's mother was orphaned during the Cultural Revolution and taken to a warehouse where families could "adopt" children. She was adopted by a family who used her as a caretaker for their sons and beat her for any errors.
  • Patience and Sarah: Patience laments that her sister-in-law Martha "longs for a real servant, an orphan maybe, that she could beat and that had no place to go". Her husband won't get her one.
  • This is the basic plot of The Quiet Little Woman, a lesser-known novella by Louisa May Alcott. Patty, the main character, is selected from among the girls in an orphanage to be the live-in maid for a relatively well-to-do farm family, mostly because their elderly aunt takes a liking to the girl. The story revolves around how she grows to be a part of the family.
  • In The Red Tent, it's mentioned that Zilpah and Bilhah, Leah and Rachel's servants and Chosen Conception Partners in the source material, were also Leah and Rachel's half-sisters (from their father's many failed attempts to have sons). Apparently, because they're the daughters of Laban's concubines (as opposed to his legal wife), they're considered "illegitimate" and treated as servants by him and by Jacob. (Rachel and Leah, however, don't think of them this way, and they bear Gad, Asher, Dan, and Naphtali as favors to Rachel and Leah, not as something they're forced to do.)
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Village of Fowl Devotees adopts the Baudelaire orphans so they can do the chores of the entire village.
  • The alternate version of the trope appears in the Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of the Priory School. It's eventually revealed that James, the client's personal aide, is in fact his illegitimate son, although this is an extremely tightly kept secret and it's with serious reluctance that the client admits it to Holmes and Watson. He genuinely loves both of his children and giving James this position allowed him to have the boy in his daily life without creating a scandal that would embarrass his wife. (James's mother experienced Death by Childbirth, and it's implied that the love affair and James's birth both occurred prior to the client's marriage.) Unfortunately, James learned the secret and resolved to get rid of the legitimate heir, resulting in the death of an innocent and James becoming a Remittance Man.
  • A minor character in A Song of Ice and Fire serves as a bleak deconstruction of Cinderella; she's her father's bastard daughter whose stepmother and trueborn sisters treat her as a servant. As a result, she quickly sides with Euron Greyjoy when he raids their lands, becoming his willing concubine and suggesting he humiliate her family by making them into servants... and worse.
  • In The Wicked Years, Aunt Em and Uncle Henry are not really Dorothy's aunt and uncle. They adopted her because they needed more hands on their farm.
  • Wuthering Heights:
    • Ellen serves as a housekeeper and servant to the occupants of Wuthering Heights, but she was not that much older than the children she helps, with there being an age gap of only around seven years between herself and her mistress Catherine Earnshaw. She was given an education while also being a servant. Although she wasn't an orphan or an official foster child of the Earnshaws – her mother was their servant before her – she considers the Earnshaw son Hindley, who was the same age as herself, to be her foster brother.
    • In the novel's second half, after gaining ownership of Wuthering Heights following Hindley Earnshaw's death, Heathcliff becomes the guardian of Hindley's young son Hareton and reduces him to working like a farmhand. Nonetheless, Hareton loves Heathcliff and considers him his father figure.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In an episode of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, an orphan train comes to town upon invitation of the reverend. Prospective "parents" look more for their abilities to do chores and work than any emotional connection. This thoroughly angers freedmen Robert E. and Grace, who see the similarities to their former bondage loud and clear.
  • This was touched upon in a couple episodes of Little House on the Prairie. In one, a dying widow asks Charles and Caroline to help find new homes for her three children, and the only prospective home they can find for the two sons is with a farm couple who want the boys to essentially be adopted farmhands. In another episode, an orphaned brother and sister are taken in by a couple whose young daughter died, and they're forced to do so many chores that they can't keep up with their schoolwork. In both cases, the children end the episodes by being Happily Adopted into better situations.
  • Jafar from Once Upon a Time in Wonderland was the bastard son of the Sultan of Agrabah. Before his mother dies of sickness, she tells him who his father is and urges him to go to his father for sanctuary. While the sultan believes him after seeing the ring that he gave her, he refuses to acknowledge him as his heir, instead agreeing to give him a life in the palace as a servant boy. (And it only gets worse from there; he's beaten and eventually almost killed for daring to speak over or contradict the legitimate son.)

  • Gorillaz: Murdoc Niccals was abandoned on the doorstep of a Mr. Sebastian Niccals as an infant, only to be used as an instrument in whatever wild scam his father concocted to earn a pittance. The worst of which involved forcing the young Murdoc to dance and sing as Pinocchio for a local talent contest. An incident that inspired Murdoc to found Gorillaz decades later out of sheer spite.

    Video Games 
  • A variant may appear in Dragon Age II, depending on player choices. Hawke and friends encounter a freshly orphaned elf girl named Orana as part of Fenris's personal quest chain. The player has the option to invite Orana, who has nowhere to go, to come to their estate and become a live-in housekeeper. If this is done, she appears in Hawke's living room for the remainder of the game and becomes part of the household; it's noted in the third act that in addition to providing her with a salary, Hawke has arranged for her to take music and voice lessons to encourage her natural talent.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion: Eyja was orphaned as a young child, then taken in by Gunder as a teen, only to be put to work in his store and treated as "just another part of his shop". If you hire her, she's happy to leave him behind.
    • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Seen in the backstory of Riften's blacksmith, Balimund. He adopted his apprentice, Asbjorn Fire-Tamer, from Honorhall Orphanage when he was a child; Honorhall is an Orphanage of Fear and the matron doesn't normally allow children to be adopted at all, but it's implied that she made an exception in this case because she assumed Balimund would be a harsh master to the young boy. Instead, it was a case of being Happily Adopted, and Asbjorn loves and respects his adoptive father very much.
  • Implied to be the case with Jakob in Fire Emblem Fates. He was born into aristocracy but was eventually abandoned and is implied to have been raised as a servant - much like Flora and Felicia who were hostages kept as servants. It's implied they (for the most part) grew up alongside Corrin.
  • Teresa Linares from Tales of Berseria was born from an extramarital affair and raised as a servant in her father's house, where her stepmother hated her and the rest of her family, including her father and older half-brother, considered her nothing more than one of the family's many maids. The reason she is so close to her younger half-brother Oscar is that he was the only one of the Dragonias to treat Teresa as family.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, Peko Pekoyama was adopted by Fuyuhiko Kuzuryuu's Yakuza family, and raised to serve him as a bodyguard and "tool," an expendable extension of his will.
  • A variation is done in Umineko: When They Cry; the Ushiromiya household doesn't actually adopt any servants, but they do recruit young girls from the Fukuin House, an orphanage the family owns, to work at the mansion as maids until they graduate from high school and go off on their own paths in the world. This includes the unusual practice of giving them "blessed names" that they all go by while working. Among these servants is Sayo "Yasu" Yasuda, the bastard child of Kinzo and his own daughter Beatrice.

    Web Animation 
  • After the Great War in RWBY, slavery of any kind was outlawed. A wealthy Atlesian woman known as the Madame got around this by adopting a ten-year-old orphan girl to use her as slave labor to clean her luxury hotel and serve the guests. At any sign of displeasure, the Madame would torture the girl with a Shock Collar disguised as a necklace while forcing the girl to repeat a cruel mantra: "Without you, I am nothing." In the end, seven years later, the girl would kill Madame and her two daughters and eventually grow into Cinder Fall.

  • In Champions of Far'aus, when Will was a child, his parents died, and he was adopted by his aunt Wila, the High priestess of the Hyperia Pantheon. At some point over the next few years, he became a priest. When Wila died, and he was left with Hyperion and Leilusa, their child-rearing consisted of promoting him to High priest and trying to make sure they didn’t accidentally kill him.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • Sir Nicholas Winton saved over 600 Jewish children from Czechoslovakia from the Nazis and almost certain death in concentration camps. The children were placed in British families. He acknowledged that not all the children were well-treated in their foster homes, and some foster parents used these refugee children as servants, especially older girls. Some took it rather hard because they came from well-off families and were used to having servants themselves.
  • At least legally, this was the case with all adoptions in the US prior to 1851 when the Adoption Act was passed. Because children were only eligible for adoption if their parents didn’t have relatives who could take them in, it was assumed that orphans came from bad families and needed to be put to work to be “straightened out.” After a number of social reform movements occurred in the early 19th century, this attitude lost favor, and indenturing orphans to their guardians was viewed far less favorably than adopting them.
  • The Orphan trains in US history in the latter half of the 19th century saw this occur quite often. While the intent was to move orphaned, homeless children from the streets of large cities to farming families of the midwestern states, it was a well-known problem that many of the children were treated more as labor than as members of the family