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Blank Slate

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"What's interesting to me... is that you don't call out to God. It isn't a question of faith; it's just vernacular. Anyone in this much pain prays, or at least curses, but... we take God from you too. You really are a shell."
Bennett, Dollhouse

Also known as a tabula rasa.

A Blank Slate is an empty character with absolutely no beliefs, no opinions, and no experience, ready to be shaped by the outside world. Sometimes, this is an extreme case of Fish out of Water, in which a character is transported into a world that they literally know nothing about. Other times, this is the result of a character being created by magic, or mad science, and thus the character is essentially "born" with the mind of an adult, but no life experiences whatsoever. In some instances, this is actually the result of a mind wipe.

Whatever the case, the result is the same: a non-prejudiced character whose views are ready to be shaped by the outside world, whoever the character meets first, or the character's creator.

Compare the Seemingly Profound Fool, who is similarly uninformed and thrust into a "new" world, but who changes others in a reversal of this trope. Laser-Guided Amnesia might turn you into this. Criminal Amnesiac is what happens if such a person is taken advantage of by the bad guys. Contrast with the Empty Shell, who usually goes the other way and ends up like this.

See also O.C. Stand-in, the Fan Fic counterpart of this trope where non- or under-developed characters are given more quirks and personalities. Featureless Protagonist is the video game counterpart.

See also Nurture over Nature, Conditioned to Accept Horror, More than Mind Control, Rousseau Was Right, Stockholm Syndrome and Then Let Me Be Evil.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Ennis in Baccano! starts as one of these and gradually develops more of a personality. It's revealed that this has happened many times before, and every time the homunculus turns on Szilard in the end, before he destroys it and makes a new one.
  • The Dolls of Darker than Black are very much like this, but as with the Baccano! example above, sometimes they show signs of personality; Yin being one particular example.
  • In Chobits, Chi is a Blank Slate when she is first turned on, having to learn everything anew including language, how to buy things from a shop, and how to take a bath. She also latches emotionally onto the first person she meets, the protagonist Hideki.
  • There's a lot of hints in Chrono Crusade that Fiore started out this way before she became the subservient meido for Aion and Joshua. She often still insists she's one, but she has quite a bit more personality and will than she lets on. In the manga, she possibly would've stayed this way if Joshua hadn't mistaken her for Rosette when they first met.
  • In Elfen Lied, throughout the anime and the first half or so of the manga, Nyu (Lucy's innocent, harmless personality) is a Blank Slate — she has no useful speech abilities, latches emotionally on to the first people she meets, and frequently doesn't seem to understand what's going on.
  • One of the theories about Eureka from Eureka Seven is that Eureka was deliberately sent to humans as a Blank Slate, with the intention of seeing what she turned into under the influence of humanity.
  • Assistant from Humanity Has Declined has this as his backstory. This plays out considerably differently from usual, as he became completely unmemorable from a lack of anything to remember. He only truly enters the story after getting a personality.
  • The second arc of Vinland Saga involves Thorfinn moving from the borderline Empty Shell he became at the end of the first arc into a Blank Slate, and from thereon into an actually heroic character. This gets lampshaded by Sverker, who delivers a short speech on how being empty inside can be a good thing since you can fill the emptiness with something useful.

    Comic Books 
  • This was the shtick of Longshot during his first six-issue series in 1985 and twenty years later he got blanked again in the pages of Exiles. Being a Slave Mook by design, it's unfortunately easy for his creators the Spineless Ones to do this to him whenever they catch him.
  • Wonder Woman: Queen Atomia's Nutron chamber entirely wipes the minds of those forced through it, turning them into her Slave Mooks and making them more susceptible to her low level telepathy. This ends up biting her in the ass as Wondy is also capable of pulling a Jedi Mind Trick on them, meaning they're just as likely to follow the commands of her greatest foe as they are to follow her own orders.

    Film Animated 
  • Steven Universe: The Movie: Several Gems are stricken with Identity Amnesia. While most of them at least know their place in Homeworld's Hive Caste System and their specific job, Amethyst instead repeats and mimes whatever's done in front of her. All this implies not only that Rose, Garnet and Pearl had to teach her to talk after they found her, but that this state was probably due to her "overcooked" status by having stayed in the ground longer than normal.

    Film Live-Action 
  • The historical figures in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure are blank slates, as they have never encountered modern culture. Their individual personalities quickly assert themselves, where each past-dude finds a new interesting thing in the present.
  • The Ali Landry film Repli Kate revolves around this trope; the hero is in love with the beautiful Kate but far too nervous to talk to her. When she is accidentally cloned the hero and his roommate educate the Blank Slate clone with stereotypical guy traits like love of sports and casual sex.
  • According to the filmmakers on the commentary track to Big Fish the Billy Crudup character's wife was supposed to be a blank slate with no biases. That was her virtue.
  • A 1970 movie, The Mind of Mr. Soames, starred Terence Stamp as a man who'd been born in a coma — and maintained in a coma until his (remarkably physically fit) thirtieth year.
  • The 1920 silent movie The Golem hinges on the premise that the eponymous character is completely clueless about how the world works.
  • Similarly, the marionette brought to life in the 1996 New Line film adaptation of The Adventures of Pinocchio. In an interview, Pinocchio's voice actor Jonathan Taylor Thomas explained that the character "basically is just a baby" at the start.
  • The Pinocchio homage A.I.: Artificial Intelligence features David, a prototype model android designed to resemble a human child and express believable love, and he is a Blank Slate when he is first activated and lent to the Swinton family as a test run. It's really not surprising that David remains a blank slate after the imprinting protocol is activated and he becomes more human. He is, after all, just a child.
  • Brendan Fraser has played this role at least twice: Adam from Blast from the Past and Link from Encino Man.

  • Tofu from Super Minion. He's an escaped Bioweapon Beast programmed with little more than a desire to survive, and later upgraded with a program called human.exe that makes him much smarter and more adaptable but little else.
  • Frankenstein... The book and 1931 versions, anyway. The Creature is essentially "born" without any idea of what the outside world is like, especially since Victor (his creator) ran out on him, because of his apparently hideous appearance... in fact, it's because of the disgusted reactions of others towards how he looks (the very negative reaction) that he starts to turn toward doing evil; no one will ever try to get to know the real him...
  • The Generics, two newly-minted characters, are initially called ibb and obb, and evolve into Lola and Randolph as they develop personalities before they try for roles in books in the Thursday Next book The Well of Lost Plots.
  • The Israeli novel Pere (=Wild) deals with a person being born in an adult body, without knowing why.
  • The classic science fiction novel Adam Link, Robot is essentially an answer to the question, "What if Victor Frankenstein had been a responsible father to his monster?" Adam is a metal robot, and his builder does his best to raise him wisely and with kindness. Unfortunately, the builder dies, and Adam is falsely accused of killing him; but by then, thanks to his dad, Adam has already developed a personality as an intelligent, honest, and honorable guy — he just has to prove it to the rest of the world.
  • This partially applies and partially doesn't in The Worthing Saga. Suspended animation has the side effect of completely erasing the memories of those who undergo it, which usually isn't a problem since the memories can be recorded beforehand and reinserted. When the main character is piloting a colony ship to another planet, a ship from a hostile faction attacks his ship and destroys the section in which the recordings were kept, so he winds up taking care of "adult infants" on the planet they come to. Some of them develop different personalities (generally for the better) as they acquire new memories and new experiences. However, parts of who they were are retained, and it's furthermore stated that giving them the memories of other people would probably have caused insanity.
  • In The Candy Shop War, the villain, Belinda, becomes this after a Clean Slate is slipped into her youth formula. When she turns into a child, she also forgets all about her previous villain self.
  • Myria LeJean, an inhuman spirit with no conception of personality, gender, or individuality - until she is incarnated into a fully-formed adult female body and dropped into the human world in the Discworld novel Thief of Time.
  • This is the central plot of the first Arabic novel, Hayy ibn Yaqdhan, written in 12th-century Muslim Spain by Moorish philosopher Ibn Tufail. It's main character is a feral human child raised by a gazelle simply through his experience and reason alone.
  • The needle-infected humans in Eden Green can survive any injury, including their brain being destroyed, but when it grows back, memory and personality are badly-restored and result in a docile 'blank slate' person (at least at first...).
  • Robin of The Girl from the Miracles District has been a blank slate several times, when his memories were wiped out completely so that his handlers could use him. In every case, it led to him comitting suicide (he has Resurrective Immortality), which is why the fifth time, he's been given Fake Memories.
  • Worm:
    • Jack Slash accuses Oni Lee of being this. Jack nominated Oni Lee as a prospective member of the Slaughterhouse 9, but quickly realized that Oni Lee had little to no motivation. He deduced that Lee's power had gradually stripped away his personality until he was just an unimaginative robot, waiting for his orders. In a somewhat pretentious dialogue, Jack notes that he hates blank slates.
    • Scion, to a huge degree. He's easily talked into heroic acts, as he simply emotionlessly repeats what he's been told, but once Jack gets to him, calls him out on this, and talks him into a different worldview...
  • In The Sister Verse and the Talons of Ruin, this is implied to be the eventual state of all the characters, who are slowly reprogrammed through trauma incurred during a seemingly endless cycle of reincarnation. When their identity has been erased, they are then rebuilt as "ascendants," living weapons of war used by the villain to invade other worlds.
  • In Quantum Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner, everyone in the Junkyard prior to the Atma Virus was an emotionless bot that only followed the Church's directives. Serph doupts that any of them was even capable of thought back then.
  • In Project Tau, Tau has no memories or life experiences outside of the lab. Justified in that he's a Project and has only been alive for about six months at the start of the book.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: The character of Data was largely agreed to begin the series as a blank slate, so much so that Brent Spiner was often warned that he might seem like a "boring" character to play. But Data was a living, growing machine, who would change and develop via his experiences with humans and other assorted species. Spiner pulled this off pretty damn well.
    • The later android B4 (a more basic version of Data) was also a blank slate, though possibly without Data's ability to grow and adapt.
    • Another TNG episode also had a type of Metamorph character (usually male, but there was a female born every now and then) who adapted themselves perfectly to whichever member of the opposite sex (and species) they were with, and thus acquired that person's tastes and traits. They eventually settle on one individual and bond to them as their mate. One female (being delivered as a peace offering from one warring planet to another) was accidentally let loose on the Enterprise and spent her entire time there adapting to every male she came across, from a ruffian group of traders, to the Captain, to a Klingon. They stuck her with Data since he didn't have a subconscious to read into and she therefore couldn't "bond" with him. Unfortunately she ended up bonded to Picard when she was supposed to save her bonding for the person she was being gifted to, and had to spend the rest of her life faking her required personality.
    • There was also Hugh Borg, who had no idea how to act without the Collective's instructions. TNG got a lot of mileage out of this trope.
  • Kyle XY: Kyle starts out as this.
  • Luke in The Sarah Jane Adventures before Sarah Jane adopts him.
  • The 'tabula rasa' in Dollhouse, though Alpha and Echo are both subversions. Eventually, their minds came to resist being "wiped" after each imprint and they accumulate bits of their previous experiences into a persistent personality.
    DeWitt: I'm talking about a clean slate.
    Caroline: You ever try and clean an actual slate? You always see what was on it before.
  • Joan from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Tabula Rasa".
  • The Journey of Allen Strange had created a Blank Slate by making a mannequin come to life, to play the role of Allen's father (Allen is a space alien disguised as a human, and needed to fake having a human father). The mannequin acted very odd, saying random things, and needed to have his behavior molded to be more appropriate.
  • For the patient of the week in the House episode "Mirror Mirror" this is actually part of his mysterious affliction. He has no memory of who he is and simply reflects the doctors' personalities back at them

    Tabletop Games 
  • Prometheans in Promethean: The Created refer to the process of coming to life as "waking up on the slab"-waking up in an adult body with no knowledge of anything, except for basic physical coordination and one language spoken by the person (or people) whose corpse the Promethean now occupies. The odds of their creators being there to teach them anything are pretty low, as well, so they have to learn fast.
  • Shrouds that belong to The Lost in Anathema have no sense of what kind of person they were and extremely few, if any, memories of their life.
  • Mage: The Awakening: The Seers of the Throne Ancient Conspiracy produce these by exposing people to a crippled, Soul Eating Eldritch Abomination that they've contained. The resulting Damaged Souls have no sense of self and are extremely receptive to Mind magic, making it easy to fill them with Fake Memories and deploy them as Manchurian Agents.

    Video Games 
  • Kingdom Hearts: While most of the Nobodies have their own memories to fake emotions, Roxas and Xion do not. They are essentially zombies when they first appeared in Days before they eventually start forming personalities of their own as they spend time together.
  • In the first Digital Devil Saga, everyone except Angel (Big Bad) and Sera (Amnesia) are this. After they get infected with the atma virus, they awaken to a single powerful emotion and develop from there.
  • BlazBlue: Lambda-11, after having being revived by Kokonoe, was mind-wiped and reduced to a Blank Slate because the memories inside her old body threatened to overwhelm the new soul inserted (Nu-13). However, even then, she slowly started to develop a new personality, especially when Nu's memories started to come back. By the fourth game, she has established by herself her new objective - being with and protecting Ragna the Bloodedge.
  • Ayano Aishi from Yandere Simulator has never felt emotions (until just before the start of the game, where she became a Yandere for her Senpai). The only constant about her is that Senpai makes her happy and that she wants to remove all rivals to his affection. The rest is up to the player. By the end of the game, she could have a Hidden Heart of Gold in there somewhere, or she could just be Ax-Crazy, depending on what actions the player chose to take.
  • In Tales of the Abyss this is the default starting state for most replica unless they are programmed to some extent (though that hampers their ability to learn and gain emotions). In the case of the main character, it was mistaken for amnesia before the reveal.
  • The Last Castoff from Torment: Tides of Numenera, being an Artificial Human 'shell' left over from The Changing God after it jumped to a new body.
  • Super Daryl Deluxe - the titular Daryl looks like a Blank Slate due to how overwhelmingly unexpressive he is. Because he never speaks, it is difficult to say what he thinks - only that he tends to do what anyone tells him without question.

    Visual Novels 
  • Nameless has Crobidoll's first-ever produced doll Lance. Due to being the first doll, he was intentionally designed to have little to no personality and appeal to a mass-market, which is stated to have been a success as the 'Lance' doll is still one of the most popular dolls being sold. The Lance that the game follows actually has this as a huge complex of his, worried that he'll be abandoned by any owner because he is 'boring', and feels envy towards Red, a doll that was produced only once and given the identity and personality of a Shonen Hero.
  • Saya no Uta has Saya start this way, minus her instinct to reproduce. Everything else, including her gender, reasoning, morality and emotions were obtained from contacts with humans. Seeing all things she does during the course of the story doesn't paint a good image of humanity. She was shown to be naturally super-intelligent, though.

  • The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! has four artificial beings who all start out this way: Molly, Golly, Jolly and Roofus. At least the girls had the advantage of being born staggeringly intelligent, allowing them to learn quickly. Roofus is a little denser, but seems all the more soulful for that.
  • Subverted in Klunscomic. B.B was created to follow orders without question, but he, like his older sister, has his own feelings. When he temporarily gains a voice, he's quick to snarkily quip back to his sister, even teasing her about her feelings for Tajer.
  • Schlock Mercenary has the title character Schlock born as one of these. The short version is that when two members of his species fight, their rather unique biology usually results in a single combined amorph with the combined mind and personalities of both. However one amorph, nicknamed "Killer" developed to the ability to completely eradicate another amorph's mind and memories during this process. In a desperate attempt to stop him a young amorph trained to develop the same ability. The end of the fight was expected to be an inert lump of toxic amorph "flesh" but instead both personalities were wiped out but their combined body survived. A blank slate driven only by a powerful survival instinct and one the toughest immune systems going, even by the already impressive standards of amorphs. After getting off world he eventually picked up the name Schlock and grew to become the plasma gun wielding, psychopathic man-child mercenary from which the comic takes its name.
  • Kendal from Aurora (2019) is a being created by the god Vash to use whenever He needed a body. When Vash was forced out of the body, it gained its own sentience as Kendal.

    Web Original 
  • Anyone who has been nixed in Wormtooth Nation becomes one of these.
  • Sylvester in Twig adapts his persona and degree of ruthlessness to suit whoever he's partnered with at any given time to an extreme degree. When partnered with Jamie and Lillian, the kindest of his friends, he shows compassion and takes care to avoid casualties. When working with Mary and Gordon, the more combative ones, Sylvester masterminds a plan that ends in them killing the doctor and soldier who saved their lives for a tactical advantage.

    Western Animation 
  • Beast Wars:
    • Quickstrike and Silverbolt's stasis pods were damaged by the surge at the end of season 1/start of season 2, which led to them awakening with no idea of who they are. Megatron uses this to his advantages by convincing them that they are Predacons. It works out with Quickstrike, but not so much with Silverbolt because he at least retained his honorable personality.
    • Tigatron "hatched" with no identity or allegiance and ended up becoming a tiger, which apparently means a lone-wolf nature-loving pacifist.
  • Wreck-Gar in Transformers: Animated is malleable to the point of changing alliances based on the last suggestion he hears. Repeatedly. He eventually settles on being "a hero" (at least as close to one as he can understand), but only after someone suggests that he stops taking suggestions.
  • Amazo in the Justice League animated series.
    • Quite ironic too, as his ability was to absorb all information that he targeted, which was the justice league itself. Within a few years, he essentially became a god of the DC Universe. Quite good considering he literally started as a Blank Slate, unlike say, Superman....
  • This happens to Kim Possible when she has her memory erased. She becomes incredibly passive and docile while waiting to be told who she is, combined with a stepford smile for most of the time.
  • Gravity Falls: In "Society of the Blind Eye", while the other members go back to their ordinary lives after having their memories of the Society erased, their leader Blind Ivan literally has no idea of who he is after losing his memories of the Society. Mabel gives him a new identity as "Toot-Toot McBumbersnazzle, a traveling banjo minstrel" and he promptly believes it.

    Real Life 
  • Truth in Television-ish: The chatbot Jabberwacky is unique among its kind in that it has no stock phrases; instead, all of its responses are things people have said to it in the past, selected according to relevance. This avoids some of the Robo Speak tendencies of older chatbots, and allows Jabberwacky to come out with unexpected, interesting and even occasionally profound statements. MegaHAL, as well as most other learning chatbots, also starts as a "blank slate" with no responses.
  • The chatbot Tay was another attempt at designing an AI that could learn to talk like a human. Unfortunately, it was targeted by trolls and learned to emulate the dark side of the Internet, causing Microsoft to shut down the project and delete the worst of Tay's obnoxious spewings.
  • Human and animal babies are supposedly already blank-slates, ready to be shown the real world via their parent's (or lack of) upbringing. This is controversial, and the truth is probably a combination of nature and nurture.
  • Down through history, many people have experimented with isolating children to see if they'll respond with the "original human" language or moral ideas. Emperor Frederick II put kids with mute nursemaids to see if the original language was some form of Hebrew, but instead they all developed expressive signs. Samuel Gridley Howe, founder of the Perkins school for the blind, had some such idea about divine consciousness, and wanted to keep his deaf-blind student Laura Bridgman from finding out about Christianity or other religions in hopes that her innate sense of the divine would eventually surface. Laura's insatiable curiosity and need to read and communicate foiled this plan. She eventually joined her parents' Baptist church.


Video Example(s):


Steven Universe: The Movie

Several Gems are stricken with Identity Amnesia. While most of them at least know their place in Homeworld's Hive Caste System and their specific job, Amethyst instead repeats and mimes whatever's done in front of her.

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