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Bewildering Punishment

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"All right guv! All right! Whatever I did, I'm sorry! And if you tell me what it was I won't do it again!"
One of the player's hoodlums (after some "Bloody-knuckled discipline"), Fallen London

Alice is about to be punished — anything from being dumped by her Love Interest to a Fate Worse than Death. She'd really like to know one thing: What did she do?

Unless the character is showing It's All About Me or Moral Myopia or even worse, But for Me, It Was Tuesday, — which are possible — this is a sympathetic characterization. An innocent character taken for a crime that no one will identify is common, especially in Revenge by Proxy, Sins of Our Fathers, and Criminal Doppelgänger, but not the only possibility.

Disproportionate Retribution will often inspire it. Even if the crime was real, and the punishment not disproportionate, punishing an amnesiac character tends to come off as wrong. Those with ignorance of the law, stemming from child-like innocence or unfamiliarity with the location, generally come off almost as well. Especially if You Know What You Did follows. Karmic Misfire and Guilt by Association Gag are related but generally involve the target genuinely not being involved at all. See also Alternate Personality Punishment where the punished genuinely has no idea they're being punished for another self's crimes.

This almost always occurs when a character tries to Set Right What Once Went Wrong by killing someone before he commits his crimes (particularly in regards to Hitler's Time Travel Exemption Act). In a (often) less nasty style, this can also happen in cases of being Mad at a Dream.


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  • Briefly comes up in a commercial for Lunchables, where we see a youngster getting day after day of bad lunches. At one point he asks "was I bad?"

    Anime & Manga 
  • The Boy Who Swore Revenge On The World has the story starts with Hardt getting his god-given occupation of Dark Sorcerer, only for the priest in charge to explode with rage at this, followed by everyone (including his only friends) torturing him to the brink of death over the next few days for fun and sport, with his Struggling Single Mother being murdered for the "crime" of giving birth to him. It's only after his own life is saved by someone else who has the same occupation that he finally gets context for why Dark Sorcerers are so hated; cue him swearing revenge on the world.
  • Casshern of Casshern Sins has no idea why he's woken up in a world that despises him, full of half-crazed robots who believe they'll be saved from destruction if they eat his flesh and become immortal. It's no secret that this is ultimately because he made the world that way, but he has no memory of his actions, and there are precious few willing to elaborate on what exactly Casshern did and why before trying to kill him. Making things worse is the fact that he goes into a mindless berserk rage if his life is in genuine danger, exacerbating his reputation as a harbinger of death and destruction.
  • In A Certain Magical Index, Othinus briefly traps Touma Kamijou in an alternate universe where he's Public Enemy #1. Everybody in the world hates him and tries to kill him on sight, even his own parents. Until he's pulled out of it, nobody will explain to him why they're trying to kill him.
  • Shinji Ikari in Rebuild of Evangelion 3.0: after he wakes up from being extracted from Unit-01, everyone treats him with intense dislike and barely acknowledges his existence, leading to him wondering just what is going on that's making everyone act that way. It isn't until halfway through the movie that he gets an answer: his actions at the end of the last movie inadvertently caused Third Impact, and although Kaworu stopped the Impact before its completion, the world still died. The survivors have been living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland for the past 14 years because of what he did, and they've lost all sympathy they once had for him.
  • Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches, both the present-time plot and Yamada's flashback with Himekawa, starts with a Downer Beginning due to Yamada being angry and miserable because he has no idea why his best friend Ushio suddenly betrayed him and framed him for a street fight, granting him a week-long suspension and making him the outcast of the school. It's eventually revealed that Ushio's memories were changed so he really thought Yamada instigated the fight.

  • Ed Byrne joked in Pedantic And Whimsical that women in general have an annoying habit of instead of telling their boyfriend/husband what they did wrong, they'll just "acted pissed off" and let the man guess what he's done. So after the man has asked what he's done wrong, the woman will hit him with the line:
    "'If you don't know what you've done, there's no point in me telling you.' What? You know it doesn't make any sense. Where's the logic in that statement? [...] It's like saying 'If you haven't eaten, there's no point in us making any dinner'."
  • Adam Ferrara has an equally pointed comeback to the old "If you don't know, I'm not telling you" card:
    "Well then, don't be surprised when the shit happens again!!"

    Comic Books 
  • At the end of Arkham Asylum: Living Hell, Batman suggests the experience was another incident with the Scarecrow's fear gas. Finding this logical rather than the possibility that demons from Hell took over the Asylum, Dr. Arkham has Scarecrow tossed into solitary.

    Fan Works 
  • Dangerverse: Invoked by the Three-Fold Curse Of The Righteous. Part of that curse is that those cursed will "live out their lives in misery without ever knowing why", to the point where the curse prevents any third parties from informing the victims that they are under a curse.
  • Failure to Explode: After Katsuki fails to pass U.A.'s Entrance Exam, he's utterly livid to learn that Izuku succeeded where he failed, and promptly confronts him at school. However, since the staff at Aldera have learned that their plan to ride his coattails and leech off his success are a non-starter, they start intervening and preventing him from his usual Barbaric Bullying. Katsuki even blurts out to his mother that he's never been punished for this before, not understanding why that only makes her angrier.
  • Ffreire's NaruFox AU: Teams 7 and 10 regularly hold Slumber Parties after training. Hinata is upset to learn that Kiba and Shino have been doing something similar without her; both declare that they only excluded her because Neji wouldn't approve. However, they never actually asked whether it was okay, simply assuming they'd never get permission from the Hyuuga. Hinata later tells Neji that she's staying at Kiba-kun's that night while poutily glaring at her cousin, leaving him wondering why she seems so upset with him.
  • In The Fifth Act, Peggy Sue Cloud comes back in time and decides to kill Sephiroth to prevent his fall to insanity, killing spree at Nibelheim, and ultimate Omnicidal Mania. Sephiroth, for his part, has no idea what he did to provoke Cloud's murderous grudge, and can only speculate that he may have killed a loved one in the line of duty.
  • Fortune_Lover_(TGS Beta)(SARU_rip)[T+Eng0.75_Sincere].zip: The basic premise of the fic is a Fortune Lover mod (implied to be created by A-Chan) in which the Katarina Claes of Fortune Lover is replaced with the Katarina Claes of My Next Life as a Villainess, while everyone else's dialogs and event flags are left unaltered. The result is Katarina being labeled a villainess despite doing nothing on-screen to deserve it, being denounced for crimes that she never committed, and finally killed or exiled for absolutely no reason. There are even Katarina lines in the mod in which she asks why this is happening.
  • In Multiversal Constants, when Talia goes and greets the teenage counterpart of her son Damian, she's taken aback by the sheer hostility he shows her, coupled with a stubborn refusal to trust her. She doesn't get why he acts this way until a telepath lets her see exactly how bad her counterpart was.
    • The same teenage boy also straight-out assaulted David Cain right after laying eyes on his daughter Cassandra. The girl was very much befuddled to see a total stranger hurting her father out of love for her.
  • The Rigel Black Chronicles: Harry has largely kept her head down at school and been polite to everyone, so she doesn't know why someone would make her fall down the stairs and break her wrist, hit her with stinging hexes from behind, and then try to poison her. Even when she finds out, she's still confused.
    Harry: That's what this is about? The Marauders' joke line at Zonkos?
  • In Robb Returns, where Robb's mind returns to his past body from the point of his death in the series, Theon is genuinely confused by Robb's newfound hostility towards him since they're still friends at this time in the timeline. It takes Ned pointing out how Robb's behaviour is unfair for the youth to act more civilly.
  • Words May Hurt has Katsuki acting this way after he's punished for disobeying orders during a training exercise and seriously injuring his teammate. He's so used to getting a free pass for all his misbehavior that he's legitimately confused by U.A.'s response, even protesting that he'd only acted that way because he was targeting Deku. Since nobody at Aldera cared about him bullying the 'Quirkless loser', he honestly believes that's a valid defense instead of making matters worse for himself.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In A Christmas Story, after Ralphie's punishment for swearing, he must tell his mother where he heard the word. Not wanting to tell the truth that it was his dad, he blames his friend. Ralphie's mom informs the kid's mother and we hear that kid being smacked and asking "What did I do?" coming from the other end of the phone.
  • In The Empire Strikes Back, Han and Chewbacca are being tortured by Vader (Han by electricity and Chewie by sound), and think it's just petty revenge since they weren't asked any questions. Vader is counting on Luke psychically sensing their torture and coming to rescue them.
  • In The Man in the Iron Mask, Philippe had no clue why he was taken from the farm he grew up on, forced into the iron mask, and locked away. He recalls how when he was first imprisoned, all he did was shout for someone to say what he did. He eventually realized it must have something to do with his face. It isn't until the Musketeers rescue him that he learns it was because he's the identical twin of the king.
  • In Mickey One, the protagonist finds himself massively in debt to the Mafia. He doesn't know how he incurred such a huge debt, or which mobster he pissed off, or even how much he owes. He speculates that his girlfriend at the time was a mobster's woman, or that he took favors from criminals without realizing it.
  • In Oldboy the protagonist is kidnapped and held in a private prison. When released, he spends the rest of the movie trying to track down who did this to him and why.
  • In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the heroes track down the guy who'll invent the chip which leads to the Robot War in the future, and Sarah immediately tries to kill him in front of his family, even though he hasn't finished his research (much less known what would come of it). He calls her out on this after the situation's explained, but agrees to help destroy his work.
  • One of the most important points of The Trial is that the viewer is never let in on the charge against the protagonist or why he's executed. It's also ambiguous as to whether the protagonist himself knows.

  • Any incarnation of The Count of Monte Cristo features this. Edmond has no idea why he's imprisoned until many years have passed in Chateau D'if. Then he's out for some serious revenge.
  • In The Dark Half, the killer George Stark has the same fingerprints as novelist Thad Beaumont. Sheriff Pangborn arrives at Thad's house to arrest him, and his first clue that Thad isn't the killer is that Thad is utterly confused by the arrest. Pangborn has been a cop long enough to know that criminals who know they're guilty just don't act like that.
  • Specifically averted in Jack Vance's The Demon Princes quintet. Although it's been years since the Mount Pleasant raid and some of them (with still worse atrocities committed in the meantime) have put it out of their heads, Kirth Gersen goes out of his way to ensure the Demon Princes know who's bringing them undone and why.
  • A Fly Went By: When the boy threatens to whip the fox and accuses him of wanting to kill the little cow, he is confused and asks what he did.
  • In John C. Wright's The Golden Oecumene, Ungannis tries to invoke this trope by splitting herself into many personalities, some of whom would try erasing memories of her crimes, and still be executed for them. This is not greeted with horror by the Transcedence mass mind — legally, you can not evade punishment unless you rework your personality into a new person, and none of the split personalities had tried to redact the beliefs that had led Ungannis to commit the crime.
  • In the first Harry Potter book, the Dursleys punish Harry for causing magical things to happen. Since they never told him he was a wizard, Harry just thinks that weird things inexplicably happen around him and doesn't understand why they're considered his fault.
  • In King Rat, the main character denies the king his throne back, for reasons that any human would agree with but a rat could likely never understand.
  • In Jane Austen's Love and Freindship, Laura is outraged at accusations of theft — which she and Sophia have committed, and Sophia was caught doing.
    At this period of their Quarrel I entered the Library and was, as you may imagine, equally offended as Sophia at the ill-grounded Accusations of the malevolent and contemptible Macdonald.
  • In The Moonstone, Franklin, who's doing his best to find out what happened to Rachel's stolen Moonstone, has no idea why Rachel is suddenly so angry and cold towards him, and only seems to think less of him the more he tries to help. Not until she tells him that she "saw him take the Moonstone with her own eyes."
  • One Sherlock Holmes story featured a young man, arrested for the murder of his father, showing no surprise and saying he deserved it. Watson thinks it proves guilt — an innocent man would have had this trope. Holmes counter-argues that the man had to know the strength of the evidence against him, and since he raised his hand against his father, he may have regarded his arrest as just.
  • Roys Bedoys: Justified in "Stop Lying, Roys Bedoys!", where Roys lies that Wen is in trouble and needs to stand against the wall, leaving her wondering what she did.
  • In the third Wayside School book, the school principal, Mr. Kidswatter, decides to declare the word "Door" a bad word, and anyone who uses it to be punished. Todd happens to be late for school that day and misses that announcement. When he tries to explain why he was late, he uses the word "door" and is immediately punished.
  • Aviendha is subject to this type of punishment by the Wise Ones for much of book twelve of The Wheel of Time. She is ordered to do useless labour, which is the ultimate insult in the Aiel culture where even prisoners from enemy clans (gai'shain) are put to useful work. It turns out that she is meant to complain rather than stoically bearing it. This shows the strength of character necessary to become a Wise One.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Andromeda: A variation. In "Abridging the Devil's Divide," Harper helps a madman build a time bridge, which was done under duress, but at the critical moment, Harper tried to activate the thing, largely For Science! and nearly leading to disaster. In the aftermath, Dylan says this is strike two for Harper. When Harper asks what strike one was, Dylan gets mad. Harper quickly witdraws the questin and leaves. Wen Rommie, who was present for the conversatin, asks what strike one was, Dylan admits that there never was a strike one.
  • Averted in Babylon 5, where a Mind Wiped serial killer turned mild-mannered monk has his memories forcibly returned to him because the people hunting him down want to make damn sure he knows why they're after him.
  • The protagonist of the Black Mirror episode “White Bear” wakes up in a room with no memory of how she got there, and a masked figure stalking her and attempting to kill her. Worse, everyone else around her appears to be brainwashed into recording her suffering on their phones instead of helping her or even telling her what is going on. It turns out this is her punishment for being an accessory to the murder of a young girl - she gets her memory wiped, then she is terrorised by actors to the point of breakdown and her crimes exposed to her before her memory gets wiped to repeat it all again the next day, while visitors get to watch and record it.
  • Poor Gale has no idea what hit him in the Breaking Bad third season finale, although someone as smart as him who's helping to build an industrial-level meth lab should be smart enough to know that there might be unseen dangers in working for rich criminals.
  • In The Cosby Show episode "Elvin Pays For Dinner", Sondra insists that Elvin go out to dinner with a visiting ex-girlfriend, even as he repeatedly insists that he not go. So he goes. . . and ends up completely confused at Sondra's furious reaction when he comes home—screaming her head off, locking him out of their bedroom, and refusing to speak to him the next day. Only when his father-in-law Cliff explains to him that Sondra repeatedly telling him "Yes" actually meant "No" does he understand.
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show: In "All About Eavesdropping", not knowing that Rob and Laura eavesdropped on them while they were saying some negative things, Jerry and Millie are utterly confused when they come over and behave stiffly and coldly. They become even more confused during charades when Laura makes some hostile gestures and Rob gives some bizarre guesses. Neither of them comes close to guessing what it was.
  • El Chavo del ocho: Doña Florinda usually slaps Don Ramón for things that weren't his fault. There were occasions he doesn't even know what she's faulting him for.
  • An episode of Friends has Phoebe giving Ross the cold shoulder because she's mad at him. He doesn't know why she's mad at him, though, and after some prodding, Phoebe admits that she doesn't know either. She's actually forgotten whatever it was Ross did to upset her, she just remembers being mad about it. And then it turns out it's because she had a dream where Ross called her boring.
  • The Invisible Man: After the Official is badly beaten, Darien is bewildered when Hobbes attacks him, points a gun at him, and starts ranting at him. Hobbes has assumed Darien did it while suffering from Quicksilver madness; in reality, the gland contained the RNA of the previous subject, CIA assassin Simon Cole, with the RNA temporarily taking over Darien's mind and making him act as Simon until he's cured.
  • In one episode of Law & Order: SVU, the Victim of the Week is revealed to have had an affair before she was beaten into a coma. However, due to the extent of the brain damage, she loses all memory of the affair, so when she wakes up, she is extremely confused and upset about why her husband is acting so cold toward her.
  • In Loki (2021) this is the specialty of the Time Variance Authority. Their goal is to make sure that all reality follows a single "Sacred Timeline", and they quickly imprison, try, and eliminate anyone who causes a reality to diverge from it. The TVA's existence is secret, almost no one even knows there are multiple realities, and no one knows when actions they're taking would create such a divergence, so from their perspective TVA agents kidnap them out of nowhere and claim some random action of theirs was a crime they didn't even know it was possible to commit.
  • Played with for (black) humor in the Pirahna Brothers sketch of Monty Python's Flying Circus. There is an interview with one of their subordinates who said that Dinsdale would nail his head to the floor on a regular basis. Part of the joke was that Dinsdale never said why the minion needed to be punished, and the minion never asked, taking it as a given that he must have done something to deserve such treatment, even though he kept trying to apologize.
  • In the Christmas episode of Mr. Bean, Mr. Bean is confused by his girlfriend's request for an engagement ring as a Christmas gift and instead thinks she was pointing at a portrait of a couple behind it. When she realizes what has happened, she runs out of the apartment in tearful frustration, slamming the door behind her. A bewildered Mr. Bean can only think to ask, "W... what was wrong with it?"
  • Once Upon a Time:
    • Due to Identity Amnesia preventing her from knowing that she's really Snow White, Mary Margaret has no idea why Regina has such a strong grudge against her that she'd frame her for murder.
    • Snow White herself has no idea as to why Regina hates her and tries to kill her. When Snow was a child, she was tricked by Cora into telling her about Regina's secret affair with the stable boy, Daniel. Given that Cora murdered Daniel, Regina's hostility is sympathetic. Sort of.
  • One Life to Live's Blair Daimler debuted as a mystery woman who inexplicably had a vendetta against Dorian Lord, who despite her own history of conniving and cruelty, was genuinely confused as to why Blair was out to get her, even desperately asking her at one point "Why do you hate me so much?", to which Blair only cryptically replied "I have my reasons". We finally learned what those reasons were—Blair's mother Addie was Dorian's long-lost sister and Blair believed that Dorian had abused Addie throughout their childhood and then sent her to a mental hospital. She was stunned to learn the truth—Addie was the abuser, had been mentally ill all her life, and genuinely needed to be institutionalized.
  • One episode of Stargate SG-1 has Teal'c put on trial after gating to a planet. All they know at first is that it's for a crime he committed when he was First Prime of Apophis. Unfortunately, Teal'c was part of a number of atrocities while First Prime, and it takes a while for him to remember the event in question, and longer to recall the specifics.
  • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Conscience of the King", Kevin Riley is abruptly transferred to Engineering and believes he's being punished, but is completely bewildered about what he's being punished for. In reality, it's actually that Riley's life is in danger because he's one of only two surviving witnesses to a mass murder who can identify the perpetrator, but Kirk doesn't want to tell him this because he's afraid that Riley would try to take revenge if he knew that a suspect was on board, so he instead tries to protect him by moving him to a part of the ship where he's less likely to come into contact with the passengers. It doesn't work.
  • Played with in the The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "A Nice Place to Visit". An unrepentant criminal is sent to a 5-star hotel paradise with a casino where he wins every bet and women who lavish him with attention. He's completely confused for weeks, wondering what he did that re-balanced his karma until his jailer reveals that the eternal catering to every whim (to the point where it bores him and gives him no pleasure) is what makes it Hell.


    Tabletop Games 
  • In Pathfinder the aeons provide both punishments and rewards, but both are equally bewildering. They exist to maintain balance, with various types concerned with balancing different things such as darkness and light, knowledge and ignorance, creation and oblivion. They apply their efforts based on the balance of the universe using metrics that are completely opaque, and do not bother trying to explain or justify their actions. This is particularly obvious in the case of the akhana aeons which balance life, as from the perspective of everybody else it wanders around murdering or healing people at random, having somehow determined their current state represents an imbalance.
  • In Warhammer dwarfs can cause this effect. Dwarfs tend to treat everything as a deadly serious matter, and also tend to assume that anything people do that displeases them is a deliberate insult. In one notable case, the people of a fortress found themselves besieged by an army because they employed dwarfs to build it and accidentally underpaid them by a few pennies. As far as the dwarfs are concerned this was a deliberate attempt to rob them of their labor (again, by shortchanging them something like 0.001% of the total cost), so the appropriate response is to demand payment with damages decades later and if not satisfied raise an army and burn the place to the ground.

    Video Games 
  • In the Half-Quake series of Mods for Half-Life, the strange people(?) behind the scenes of the bizarre, punishing world the player character finds himself in claim that he deserves their torture simply for the "crime" of being human. But as a number of areas seem to be designed to showcase or even glorify sadism, the protagonist- and others- are given weapons so that they can survive longer (and therefore prolong their own suffering), and the grisly deaths of the victims are apparently televised for the entertainment of others, the possibility exists that they're simply rationalizing their own sick enjoyment.
  • Portal 2: On the Turret production line, Turrets are made to repeat after a template Turret. Defective Turrets that fail to do this are catapulted into an incinerator. Chell sabotages the production line by replacing the template Turret with a defective one, sending perfectly functional Turrets into the incinerator, screaming in protest.

    Visual Novels 
  • Franziska von Karma of Ace Attorney fame likes to whip people for reasons which may or may not be valid. At least once, she whipped Phoenix instead of the actual target.

    Web Animation 
  • In the Zero Punctuation episode reviewing The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Yahtzee notes that you, the player, are never told what your character did to end up in jail. He promptly comes up with the most badass crime he can think of, namely, a threesome with the Emperor's wife and hottest daughter on top of the desecrated corpse of a god.
    • In his review of Starfield, his character gets a bounty as a punishment for a crime, but he has no recollection of committing a crime and his NPC party member was angry with him without going into any detail on what the crime was. Goes even further when he tries to pay off his bounty to the police, only to be kidnapped by them and asked to go undercover to space pirates because of the crime he committed.

    Web Comics 
  • Sleepless Domain: The main antagonist of the series is a shadowy inhuman entity known only as "her", who has a murderous grudge against protagonist Undine for reasons she refuses to say. She made her first appearance on the night that Undine's Magical Girl teammates were killed in action, and shows up periodically to either direct the monsters of the night or simply taunt the broken survivor, always vanishing before anything resembling a straight answer can be obtained. Undine, meanwhile, wants nothing more than to know why any of this is happening. "her" seems to hate Undine because Undine survived her attempt to kill off all of Team Alchemical in order to render their leader Tessa vulnerable.
    "Come back and fight me! [through tears] ...Or at least... tell me what I did to deserve this..."
  • In Weregeek, this is one of the reasons why Sarah was so upset over Mark and Jesse breaking up. She hadn't realized what had happened (specifically that Jesse believed Mark was cheating on her with Sarah) and had no clue what was going on when she innocently approached Jesse, only to be screamed at.

    Western Animation 
  • The premise behind the Buzz Lightyear of Star Command episode "Large Target" centers around XR using a makeshift disguise of his teammate Booster to cheat his way to riches at a casino while Team Lightyear is on vacation. As a result, Booster, who was unaware of what XR did, has every assassin in the galaxy hunting him down for a hefty bounty issued by the Space Mafia's Don for breaking the bank, while XR was the culprit.
  • Courage the Cowardly Dog: Almost every episode has Eustace complain "What did I do?" when Muriel chews him out on his bad behavior or hits him with a rolling pin, but this is because Eustace is self-centered to the point it borders on sociopathy.
  • This happened to poor Fred twice on The Flintstones:
    • One time had Fred unintentionally switching places with a business tycoon and while Fred was doing the tycoon's job, the tycoon was going around town being an asshole to everyone. In the end, Fred goes home and gets beaten up by Barney and chewed out by Wilma, Barney, and Betty, much to his confusion.
    • Another time, aliens had been making clones of Fred, and they were acting like assholes and ruining his reputation. It had a happier ending though, because when Fred told them how it happened, Wilma, Barney, and Betty simply thought he was under stress from his diet, and said he could go off it. Fred was upset, until he realized he was off his diet.
  • An episode of The Powerpuff Girls (1998) has them accidentally discovering a new swear word, which they proceed to use constantly. Ms. Keane hears them say it in class and punishes them, but the girls don't know it's a bad word, and when they ask her what they did, she answers, "You know perfectly well what you did!"
  • An episode of Rugrats has Angelica overhear a Depraved Kids' Show Host using a curse word to describe the children she works with and, thinking it's the show's new special phrase, repeats it to her parents. She gets in trouble for it repeatedly, including when she tries to get her dad to tell her exactly which word in the sentence is the "bad" one. By the end of the episode, she's still not sure why the word's bad. Her dad just says that it "makes people feel bad".
  • One episode of The Simpsons has Homer strangling Bart when he learns he needs to go attend to other matters. He orders Bart to think about what he's done since he can't carry out the full punishment. Bart has no idea why Homer was strangling him, and it turns out that Homer doesn't know what Bart did wrong either.
  • South Park:
    • The episode "Proper Condom Use" has some of this, wherein Cartman shows the other boys how to "milk a dog". Stan shows this off to his parents in front of company without knowing what he's doing, which results in this.
    Sharon Marsh: Stanley, do you know why you're being grounded for 10 months?!
    Stan Marsh: No!
    • "Sexual Harassment Panda" played Stan's trial for sexually harassing Cartman in this fashion.
      Judge: What do you have to say in your defense?
      Stan: I'm eight?

    Real Life 
  • Tacitus' Annals contains an anecdote where after their father's downfall, Sejanus' children were led off to be executed as sympathizers, his daughter Junilla having no idea what she'd done wrong and in tears pleading to be beaten like other children who'd been naughty. The children were strangled (and in Junilla's case sexually assaulted, as there was no precedent for the execution of a virgin) and their bodies thrown down the Gemonian Stairs.
  • Attempts to teach small children and animals how to behave are at risk of falling foul of this trope if the time between the misdeed and the scolding is too long, or if the child is simply too young to understand reasoning. Instead of correcting the misbehavior, this can actually make it worse by creating stress and confusion.
    • Punishing an older animal for behaviors that were allowed when it was younger because it was "cute" at the time can also cause this, regardless of how fast the punishment is delivered.
  • Some schools have a practice of outright punishing children for saying a swear word, even if the child was simply repeating a word that they heard and had no idea that it was a swear word.
  • Autistic people will sometimes wonder why a friend blows up or ghosts them seemingly out of the blue. They may not have seen the hints the friend was dropping and will end up thinking this friend was doing this deliberately.
    • The reverse is also possible. A lot of autistic people become incapable of speech (sometimes called 'going non-verbal') when severely stressed- even incapable of explaining why they're stressed. Since socializing is often overwhelming or exhausting even if the other person is being perfectly friendly, this has led to a lot of hurtful misunderstandings.
  • A study of the process used to turn men into torturers for the Greek military junta showed the recruits were subjected to this. The random punishment not only brutalized them, it made them pay constant attention to their superiors in the hope of avoiding future punishment, and not question any order they were given.
  • Defied by the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which states that all Americans have a right "to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation" when facing criminal charges.


Video Example(s):


Yahtzee's Unknown Crime

While playing "Starfield" Yahtzee's character gets committed of a crime that is never explained to him.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / BewilderingPunishment

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