Follow TV Tropes


Barefoot Poverty

Go To
"One more coin and I can buy a pair of shoes."

A character appears barefoot as a sign of their poverty. Usually, the camera will linger on their feet to emphasize the lack of shoes. Bonus points if they are shown walking in the snow and shivering from the cold. A common variation includes a shot of them looking at a pair of new shoes with longing. Often used to make the character seem like a woobie.

Originally, nobody wore shoes until humans began moving into cooler climates, and then shoes were only worn when required by the weather. In the last thousand years, shoes gained prevalence through their association with status. Making shoes requires skill and wearing them meant you were above such things as walking on the ground. Thus those who wore shoes were the nobility, and those who aspired to be nobility (this is also how foot binding became so popular in China). Urbanization is another factor; going barefoot in a pastoral setting is one thing, but cobblestone streets can cut and abrade one's feet severely. These are the same factors that led to the development of the horseshoe.

It may seem strange nowadays, but being barefoot is entirely natural and was once completely normal in all cultures. While many cultures have yet to fully adopt the idea that walking barefoot is somehow shameful, those that never wear shoes have shrunk to small and usually isolated communities. Some cultures, such as the Maori, have a strong historical and social emphasis on walking barefoot and Maori schools often require children to not wear shoes.

Prefers Going Barefoot may be a result of this if the character manages to get out of their poverty, or remain in poverty but claim to enjoy being barefoot anyway. A Sister Trope to Bankruptcy Barrel, Hobo Gloves and Pauper Patches. Compare Earthy Barefoot Character, Barefoot Sage, Barefoot Loon, Magical Barefooter, and Undead Barefooter.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Bleach:
    • Several shinigami from the poorest districts of the Rukongai grew up barefoot because of the poverty in which they lived, including: Rukia and Renji (both from District 78), Yachiru (from District 79) and Kenpachi (from District 80). In the anime, Ikkaku is included in this, although the manga never confirms whether this is true or not.
    • Becomes a plot point during the final arc: The denizens of Soul Society's worst districts are disappearing en masse, leaving only footprints, including some shoe prints. It's revealed that people who live within Districts 60-80 are so poverty stricken, none have been known to wear shoes for 550 years. This clues in Lieutenant Kira to the fact that the initial conclusion that villagers killed each other is wrong, and in reality, entire villages are being slaughtered by Shinigami. Thanks to Kira's revelation, it's discovered that, because a huge number of hollows were annihilated by Quincies, Mayuri's men comitted mass murder to avoid a pan-dimensional disaster that could destroy entire worlds: killing spirit-dwelling villagers counter-balanced the destroyed hollows in a case of Balancing Death's Books.
  • Naturally, Barefoot Gen. Given that it takes place in World War II, many characters are unable to afford shoes but others, such as Gen, do not wear shoes except to school. Japan has a long tradition associated with being barefoot that is sadly dwindling in the face of Western influences.
  • Taro Maria Sekiutsu in Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei is portrayed as this with socks and shoes. Even after the others in the class try and get her into a Instant Cosplay Surprise or other normal outfits actually wearing socks, shoes or both, it gives her vertigo because she has never worn them before.
  • Inuyasha: Due to the feudal setting, many background characters are poverty-stricken villagers. The cast, however, are either shoe-wearers or not, with Rin bein introduced as this trope before being saved by Sesshoumaru, whereupon she joins the rest of the shoeless cast.
  • Subverted by L from Death Note. L doesn't normally wear shoes unless he's outdoors, in which case he'll wear a pair of beat-up old sneakers. (Untied, of course, to be removed at a moment's notice.) Everyone at To-Oh University thinks L is just a poor student who's there on a scholarship...but it turns out L is neither a student nor poor. (On the contrary, he's a member of the Fiction 500.) L just Prefers Going Barefoot.
  • Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba: A few cases are seen in the series through the cast's tragic backstories, the most emotionally charged being Kanao's past as she lived in extreme misery with abhorrent parents who physically abused all of their children, many of them to death. Other than Kanao, there was Zenitsu who lived as a wandering orphan when he was little, the orphan children Gyomei raised when he was just a monk, and so on.
  • Invoked in Michiko & Hatchin. Hatchin briefly does a self-imposed version of this in "Like a Frantic Pinball," when she refuses to wear a pair of stolen shoes until she can properly pay for them.
  • Princess Sarah: In Episode 23, Sarah bought five loaves of bread and gave all but one to a girl who's even poorer and hungrier than she is. The other girl's lack of shoes is one of the clues to her level of poverty.
  • Averted in The Story of Perrine: When one of Perrine's short boots breaks due to overuse, she doesn't go barefoot since she works in a factory and it'd be extremely unsafe. She first ties it up with a rudimentary cord, then makes a hemp sole for it, and after saving up some francs she gets enough supplies to make both a pair of shoes and a camisole.
  • In the Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics's version of The Old Woman in the Woods, the protagonist is a cute girl who isn't wearing any shoes despite being a part of a royal caravan, signifying her "position" as a mere maid among all the upper class twits.

    Fairy Tales 
  • "Tattercoats": The titular heroine is too poor to afford decent clothes, let alone shoes. She walks around barefoot the whole time.

    Fan Works 
  • Still Stand in the Sun: After escaping from the Waterbender Prison, Katara's only option for obtaining new clothes to replace her prison smock is to steal from the Fire Nation military outposts that she raids, as she's not willing to attack civilians. Given that she's only in her early teens, it's unlikely that there are any footwear belonging to soldiers that are her size for her to wear.
  • Danny Phantom: Stranded: It's noted in Chapter 12 of "Entranced" that Beatrice's Puck-imposed poverty reached a level where she no longer has shoes.

    Film — Animated 
  • In Disney's Robin Hood (1973), the rabbit family exemplify both this trope and the Barefoot Cartoon Animal.
  • Aladdin: The titular character, being a poor thief, is barefoot until he becomes a prince.
  • Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a poor Romani girl who runs around barefoot. At the end of the film, she falls in love with the clearly wealthy-looking Captain of the Guard, Phoebus, and in the sequel she gains shoes.
  • Inverted in Atlantis: The Lost Empire: The hero is a very poor archaeologist from the surface world who wears shoes, while his love interest is a wealthy but barefoot Atlantean princess. At the end of the film, the two marry, and as a result he ends up barefoot instead while said princess, er queen gains sandals, which are concealed by her dress.
  • Wreck-It Ralph from the self-titled film wears the typical mountain man outfit, appearing barefoot with tattered overalls.
  • Héctor in Coco "lives" in the slums of the Land of the Dead with the souls whose pictures aren't on their families' ofrendas, and wears tattered rags and no shoes. Once he is reunited with his family, he is given a handsome pair of Rivera-made dress shoes.
  • The Prince of Egypt: Miriam and the majority of the Hebrew slaves are this. Very few of them, such as Aaron, wear sandals (and even then, Aaron went barefoot in his childhood).
  • Cinderella (Jetlag Productions): During her time as her stepfamily's slave, Cinderella's only shoes are those the Fairy Godmother turns into glass slippers and she goes barefoot between the ball and the moment the Prince brings the slipper he found. The stepfamily doesn't seem to notice or care she suddenly went barefoot.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The martial arts movie The Bare-footed Kid enforces this trope. When the protagonist, a penniless drifter looking for a job in the big city shows up for the first time, he's shown wandering the streets barefoot, and spends much of the film shoeless. When he gets a stable job as a martial arts instructor, the film deliberately focuses on the cloth shoes he received and the overjoyed look on his face.
  • Glory: This is the case for many of the black enlistees to the 54th MA Volunteer Infantry, and the Jerkass quartermaster thinks it's funny to claim that his armory has no shoes to spare when he's clearly living off the fat of his riches. Worse, a few that do have shoes, like Silas, haven't washed them out in ages and thus have gained nasty infections and blisters. Naturally, the whole regiment celebrates once fresh and new shoes are finally provided for the volunteers.
  • In The Barefoot Contessa, part of Maria Varga's Backstory is that she grew up too poor to afford shoes. However, by the time she reaches adulthood, she comes to enjoy going barefoot.
  • Louisiana Story: Alexander is a poor Cajun living in a cabin in the Louisiana swamps. He's always going around barefoot.

  • Juan Bobo: Juan is a poor, rural Puerto Rican boy who usually runs around without shoes.

  • In A Brother's Price, the protagonist's family is relatively well off for a farmer family and can afford shoes. However, the palace beauticians complain that going barefoot when he was younger gave Jerin callouses on his feet.
  • In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom envies Huckleberry Finn for not having to wear shoes. Tom doesn't seem to realize it's because Huck doesn't have any shoes, or even parents to make him put them on if he did. Not that bare feet are really a sign of poverty, as Tom and many of his classmates only wear shoes to church when weather requires them to, and Tom thinks a new boy overdressed when he wears new clothes, a necktie, and shoes on a Friday.
  • Enid Blyton's The Castle Of Adventure features a poor village girl who never wears shoes. Gifted her first pair, she keeps them, delighted - and wears them around her neck.
  • In the short story "The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes", an orphan girl is so poor she only has one shoe. When a wealthy man gives her a pair of shoes she's so happy she goes about telling everyone that now she has two shoes, earning that nickname. ("Goody" being a then-standard shortening of "Goodwife," that is, Miss.)
  • Several illustrations of Les MisÚrables feature this trope, including the most famous one centering on Cosette. Which is actually a mistake: in the book, emphasis is put on the fact that Cosette has no socks even in Winter, but she does wear clogs. However, her mother Fantine was found wandering barefoot in the streets as a child.
  • In Little House in Brookfield (the first book in "The Caroline Years," a prequel series to the Little House on the Prairie books and about Laura Ingalls' mother growing up) Caroline's oldest sister goes to church barefoot one day because the family is too poor to buy her new shoes and the old ones pinch her feet something terrible. She thinks her new long dress will cover up her shoeless feet, and she's right for most of the time but eventually gets caught. Her parents are not pleased.
  • The Little Match Girl is barefoot out in the freezing winter, as a result of Abusive Parents. She actually had slippers on when she left home, but they used to belong to her mother, so they were too big for her, and she lost them while running across the street.
  • In Milkweed, Misha and the other orphans claim everyone is so poor that they check dead corpses for shoes.
  • Juana in John Steinbeck's The Pearl.
  • In The Grapes of Wrath, a tractor driver mentions that his youngest kid never had any shoes.
  • Judy's Journey is a children's novel about a family of migrant farm workers. Judy and her siblings have no shoes, and on the rare occasions where Judy can briefly attend school, she has to do so barefoot. She is embarrassed.
  • Walter Cunningham in To Kill a Mockingbird. As a result of going barefooted in barnyards, he also gets hookworms. Scout notes that plenty of the farm kids wear shoes the first day of school and discard them until it gets cold.
  • In Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson makes a point of bringing up how the foot structure of the natives who capture Goto Dengo implies that they have never worn shoes. This helps contrast their savagery and poverty to his more civilized expectations.
  • In the Israeli short story Images from Elementarynote , which takes place in the early years of Israel, the protagonist, a Jewish immigrant from Syria, protests his teacher saying (with some racist undertones) that Egyptian farmers don't wear shoes because of this, explaining that while they are in fact poor, the real reason they don't wear shoes is that they find shoes restricting and uncomfortable. He continues and argues that (predominantly Ashkenazi) kibbutzniks don't usually wear shoes either, and asks his teacher if it means they're poor too. The teacher, faced with the intense fervour he argued with, backs down and tells the protagonist, "You win. You win!"
  • In the Sherlock Holmes story "The Sign of Four", the Baker Street Irregulars, a group of orphaned Street Urchins who help Holmes and Watson, are described as having "naked feet".
  • In Banco, Papillon's Girl of My Dreams, Rita, was raised by her single mother and was the youngest of six children in a poor neighborhood of Tangiers. She roamed as a barefoot Street Urchin until she was ten years old.
  • The Dendarii Mountain village of Silvy Vale in Memory is fighting hard to get out of poverty, but most of the children in the two-room schoolhouse are barefoot. So is the teacher, Harra Csurik.
  • African teenager Frangie Marr from the book Soldier Girls by Michael Grant. She's outgrown her last pair of shoes and can't afford to wear any until she arrives at military boot camp (Frangie notes the irony in that name). It's stated how utterly humiliating going barefoot in public is for her.
    "A short girl with no shoes. Probably looks thirteen."

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Spartacus: Blood and Sand, all the slave characters are Barefoot Captives almost all the time, except for the gladiators when fighting in the arena.
  • In Thieves of the Wood, Anne Marie is a barefoot orphan.
  • Mentioned repeatedly in the Little House on the Prairie show, as Pa says "I can barely afford shoes for my own girls" when he gets frustrated. Having shoes was considered a big step up for the family in the original books as well.

  • The Decemberists: "I am a chimbley, a chimbley sweep / No bed to lie, no shoes to hold my feet..."

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In Li'l Abner, many Dogpatch residents seem too poor to afford shoes. Daisy Mae is almost always barefoot.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Velvet McIntyre because Wrestling Doesn't Pay. Her boots were stolen in real life so she just decided to wrestle barefoot.

  • Discussed in The Talmud (Shabbat 129a): "A person should sell the roof beams of his house to buy shoes for his feet." In traditional Jewish law, going shoeless, even indoors, is considered undignified; it's permissible only on major fast days and when in mourning.
    • In the Book of Exodus, there was a law that stated that if a man died without any male heirs, his widow was to marry his brother, and the brother would carry on the family line for him via the first son he had with her. If the man refused the marriage, she was to publicly humiliate him (and all his descendants and relatives) by removing his sandals, spitting on him, and publicly declaring that he refused to do his duty to his family and society. Because of the shame, it would lead to ostracism and financial ruin for him, and he would never live it down.

  • It's not uncommon for costume design in Road to include this, particularly with characters like Molly, Chantal and Joey.
  • The 1946 production of Show Boat inserted a ballet for barefoot African-American dancers titled "No Shoes."

    Video Games 

    Web Comics 
  • Katia Managan from Prequel starts out barefoot and without a single Septim to her name. Most of her outfits have been supplied to her by others, not purchased herself, and they don't always include boots. Factor in how often she loses all the clothes off her back, and she ends up spending most of the comic barefoot. Like the rabbit family from Robin Hood (1973), she combines this trope with Barefoot Cartoon Animal.
  • The nonmagical street children introduced in chapter two of Never Satisfied have never worn shoes in-comic. Even Sasha has the bare minimum of foot protection in the form of wrappings.

    Web Original 
  • Marcia Shyneet from We Are Our Avatars doesn't have a stable source of income. She only keeps one set of clothes but they don't come with matching shoes or socks.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • Truth in Television, logically. Poverty at the level of hand to mouth (or worse) doesn't leave money for things like shoes.
  • Members of various monastic orders swear oaths of poverty, restricting them to only a tiny set of possessions—shoes often not included.
    • Other orders decided to Take a Third Option and allowed shoes — these shoes being VERY simple sandals.
  • The myth of Saint Pius X has him invoking the trope in his childhood. He was a Country Mouse and his parents were in charge of a tiny village's post office; young Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto (his birth name) didn't want to have them buy him shoes if it wasn't truly needed, so to make said shoes last longer he'd walk to school barefoot and put them back on when he arrived there, then viceversa.
  • Paraguayan goalkeeper José Luis Chilavert was born in a quite poor family from Luque (a city near the capital, Asunción), and is said to have gone mostly barefoot until he was around 7 years old.
  • Historically, prisoners and slaves have often been kept barefoot, as described on the Other Wiki.
  • Many armies in periods up until the most modern ages of warfare often involved shoes as a major supply issue, seeing as how when you marched nearly everywhere you ended up wearing out shoes extremely fast. How successful and well-organized you were could be seen in if your men had shoes or not.
  • One explanation for the stereotype of people from the Deep South being stupid is that many Southerners going barefoot due to the climate/poverty made them easy targets for hookworm infections, which can cause mental development issues and anemia.