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Broken Bird

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She's in a tight spot and may stay there.
"Oh! I have a heart to be stabbed in or shot in, I have no doubt, and of course, if it ceased to beat I should cease to be. But you know what I mean. I have no softness there, no—sympathy-sentiment—nonsense."

These characters (often female) are coping with a Cynicism Catalyst, Despair Event Horizon, or Dark and Troubled Past by becoming as cynical, stoic, and/or badass as possible.

Her deep experience and emotional detachment almost always give the impression of competence, though she doesn't always live up to her own hype. Varying between Cool Big Sis, Emotionless Girl, Little Miss Snarker, and Snark Knight, she marks herself as more experienced and worldly than the other characters, even if the Competence Zone means she herself is barely out of her teens.

In fact, she can sometimes fill a mentor role for less experienced and more idealistic characters, all the while loudly expressing her irritation with said arrangement, so no one gets the impression she's softening up. Sometimes, this is to Jerkass levels; however, she is often a sympathetic Jerk with a Heart of Gold, giving an impression of independent toughness to hide a sincere affection for the other characters. In the latter case she'll almost certainly be a Mentor in Sour Armor.

This character was a hero herself once and failed miserably, or maybe she was abused in some way as a kid; whatever the case, her cynicism undoubtedly stems from some traumatic event in her past that destroyed her faith in just about everything. This revelation is normally accompanied by a Freak Out, said past often delivered in a bitter diatribe towards someone who proved a bit too stubborn in their desire to know what it was. At this point, tears are guaranteed, probably more of them the less she's expressed emotion in the past. She also has a 65% chance of engaging in serious physical violence against whoever is closest at the time. This is always treated seriously and Broken Birds have a tendency to be both prone to violence and very good at it, therefore, potential Love Interests should always prepare to be at least slightly maimed during these breakdowns.

If she is cured of her emotional torment, expect any of a number of paths. At best, she will continue on as a deeper and less emotionally constipated version of who she was before... but she may also fall prey to Good Is Dumb or mutate into a Satellite Love Interest or Satellite Character. Expect Hope Is Scary on the road to recovery, unless she has an Adrenaline Makeover. Once she recovers, she's quite likely to swear not to become one ever again.

A number of Romance Novels lean on this trope when the love interest of the heroine is an Anti-Hero with a scar from the past for her to heal. Sometimes involves a bit of that one as well. Women want to Heal the Cutie instead of Break the Cutie.

This trope can be summed up as Troubled, but Cute + Dark and Troubled Past.

Popular with the Byronic Hero. A Sub-Trope of Troubled, but Cute, which sometimes they start as before becoming broken. Overlaps with Stoic Woobie and Jerkass Woobie. Also see Dark Magical Girl when the Broken Bird happened to be a Magical Girl, Rape as Backstory and Rape as Drama for when the traumatic event involved sexual violence, My Greatest Failure for when the trauma was brought on by a mistake the character made (or thinks she made) and Shellshocked Veteran when her trauma was brought by warfare. Do note that in Real Life, not everyone who experiences trauma (even the same type of trauma) will react or respond in this way; just because they don't act like or come across as this trope doesn't mean they're lying about whatever it was they experienced.

The logical extreme of this becomes an Empty Shell. Compare/contrast Stepford Smiler, Stepford Snarker, and Sour Outside, Sad Inside, for characters trying to hide their Broken Bird state. Contrast Angst? What Angst? and The Pollyanna.

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Other examples:

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    Mythology & Religion 
  • Older Than Dirt: Ereshkigal, the Mesopotamian goddess of the Netherworld, is the mythological variant of this trope to a tee. While she mainly shows up as the bitter, lonely, and adversarial older sister of the Genki Girl goddess Inanna/Ishtar, Ereshkigal's character is more elaborated elsewhere through her unhappy backstory and her encounter with the Troubled, but Cute plague god Nergal. In a rare happy ending in a mythological love story, the two outcast gods eventually resolve their differences and resolve to rule the Netherworld together. (Scholarly opinions are divided on whether this resulted in Badass Decay of her.)
  • If the Romans are to believed, Queen Dido of Carthage from The Aeneid is this. She is happily married, then her brother kills her husband and forces her to flee her homeland. Then, she has to start a new city from scratch with a few men, and then Aeneas turns up. He has a love affair with her that ends badly (he leaves her because of the Jerkass gods). Later, she loses her sanity and kills herself. To show just how badly she is broken when Aeneas leaves her, Vergil stretches to its limits the inherent flexibility of Latin word order (an effect lost in translation)—the word order and grammar are so horribly broken that the subject and direct object can be several lines apart.

    Tabletop Games 

  • Depending on the interpretation, Joanne from Company (Sondheim) could be a cynical example: She is an alcoholic who has been twice divorced and is currently on her third husband. She is rather different from Bobby's other friends, spends most of the scenes making occasional snarky remarks, and is shown being extremely critical of both her husband, who clearly loves her with all his heart, and of Bobby. However, Bobby describes her as "warm", and her husband says that her behaviour comes from her being "wildly conceited" with "no self-esteem", and in the end, she also plays something of a mentor role to Bobby, as she is the one who makes him question what he wants from a relationship.
  • Mrs. Linde, Nora's childhood friend, from A Doll's House, sacrificed marrying the man she loved to marry for money to help her sick, widowed mother and little brothers. By the start of the play, she is so tired and thin Nora doesn't recognize her, and she admits she only feels adrift, not grief, now her mother and husband are both dead and she has no further task to work for.
  • The titular Elisabeth, Empress of Austria (nicknamed Sisi by her family). Her life was a Trauma Conga Line: having a hands-off father (whom she nonetheless loved and admired because she envied his freedom); married off to Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria and her first cousin, as a child bride (they did love each other initially, but Sisi's love faded); winding up with a demanding, Knight Templar Parent of a mother-in-law; accidentally causing the death of her eldest daughter Sophie due to insisting that she and her younger sister Gisela come along on a trip to Hungary; getting cheated on by her husband and infected with syphilis; having to fight for control to have a say in her own children's upbringing (thanks to Franz Joseph being a Mama's Boy); realizing that trying to model her life after her father's damaged her relationships with other people and resolving to be "made of stone"; then accidentally driving her only son and heir Rudolf — for whom she had fought earlier — to take his life by refusing to intercede in the political scandal in which he was embroiled. She winds up a heartbroken, cynical Death Seeker who constantly traveled to get away from the Viennese court. Her journey ends when she is stabbed to death. The kicker? Elisabeth was a real person. All of the aforementioned trauma was real.note 
  • Rienne Boilou in The Hammer Trinity. Loses the love of her life to an arranged marriage, loses her husband to war, gets keelhauled by pirates, loses all faith in the cause she gave her life for and finally loses the love of her life, again, to war, after an Anguished Declaration of Love.
  • The Witch in Into the Woods consistently embodies the cynical and badass qualities, warning Rapunzel, "the world is dark and wild." It never becomes entirely clear where the Witch's brokenness stems from, but she is persuasive enough in pointing out the failings of others to make us suspect that her ruthless and misanthropic ways came from somewhere.
  • In The Little Foxes, Birdie married twenty years ago into a Big, Screwed-Up Family, who took her cotton plantation and sired on her an unlikable twit of a son. She spends a lot of time drowning her sorrows in her own room, which they try to hide by lying and saying she has a headache.
  • Niobe from The Love of the Nightingale. Procne and Philomele become birds after their Break the Cutie.
  • Aldonza in Man of La Mancha. "Aldonza" (the song) is a great portrayal of anger and cynicism overlaying a very unhappy backstory.
  • Meg Giry in the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, Love Never Dies, due to a combination of her falling for the Phantom, who still pines for Christine, and too much time on the Casting Couch over the ten years separating the two shows. She ultimately tries to kill Christine's son; she winds up actually killing Christine.