Freedom — it's one of the most important items on the list of things characters want. After all, you have to be free to pursue love or adventure or anything else you want in the first place. But as every patriotic song out there tells you, freedom doesn't come free. Thus, you have to work and/or suffer long and hard to get it, which gives you the plot of your story. It's not uncommon for the characters that obtain their freedom to have to work to remain free as well.
There may be an entire nation of people fighting to be free from The Empire and their Evil Overlord. There may be some force or regime keeping everyone from doing what they want, in which case, it might be necessary to ask some questions, such as "why is the government so petty", or is it that "Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters"? This can also be said of real life: part of the reason that we have governments and armies is to keep the perceived freedoms of some from impeding on those of others (whether they are or not oppressive, in real life as in fiction, is a crapshoot).
Individuals who just want to be free include:
- Imprisoned inmates, especially ones who are innocent and thus more worthy of audience sympathy.
- Slaves, of the traditional and magical kind.
- The latter includes genies.
- Refugees from an oppressive government, which provides the perfect set-up for Batman in My Basement.
- Women — This is the motivation of the Rebellious Princess, Runaway Fiancé (along with Marry for Love), and (in darker stories) Sex Slaves.
- A person or creature under an evil spell.
So, how is freedom usually won? Indentured slaves or contractually-bound victims might make a deal with their master and perform some task for which they will be set free as a reward. Or "deal with" them. Another tactic is simply running away, changing your name, and starting a new life, hoping your past doesn't catch up with you... at least until you've recovered your strength and gathered forces to return and rescue everyone else. Marriage has an interesting role in the process, as it can be portrayed as a form of imprisonment (especially if it's an Arranged Marriage) or as an escape, such as a Citizenship Marriage.
Oddly, chances are very good that The Hero of the piece will be an ally aiding the victim (if not falling in love with him/her) as much as being the person actually struggling for freedom. If there is a Magnetic Hero, expect this whole "freedom" thing to catch on, because for some reason the other characters simply lacked the will or the power to act on their own.
If characters have to obtain the ability to be free, compare Earn Your Happy Ending. If The Masquerade blocks freedom, it may be obtained by The Unmasqued World. The general sentiment of this trope is common in songs about leaving home for college and/or adulthood.
- Blue Flag: Touma's greatest desire is this. In his eyes, he isn't truly free and desperately wishes to start a new life by his own. He eventually decides to not go to college so he can start working and leave his brother's house. When he talks of it, it's implied that at least part of the reason why he wants to leave is because he is gay and is not sure who would accept him whether he come out.
- One Piece:
- The series as a whole is about dreams and freedom, expressed through piracy. This is especially apparent with the transformative qualities of the protagonist. Of course, for major characters, this seems to translate to "leave whatever the hell you're doing and do something unexpected". The emphasis on dreams goes both ways: with villains, the protagonist doesn't kill them, but leaves them alive to watch their hopes and dreams crumble around them.
- This is so often the case that when one character chose to be free to stay where she was and continue to be a responsible leader, it seemed out of place. In fact, the main character's primary motivation is to become the 'Pirate King' because it's the person, "with the most freedom in the world".
- In Shaman King, many characters seek the power of the greatest spirit in order to fulfill their dreams, though Yoh, the protagonist, seeks it in order to not be bothered by having to work for anything anymore. To him, it's logical to work himself to death (literally) if it means freedom later in life. Some characters are so caught up in the concept of needing the Great Spirit to accomplish their goal that they forget they could do it anyway.
- Some of the Tailed-Beast Hosts from Naruto seek freedom from the stigma of being the hosts of demons, and thus the requirement of being war machines. Killer Bee, host of the Eight-Tails, fakes his death so he can get away from his responsibilities.
- And the bijuu themselves want to escape their hosts, which, incidentally, is fatal for the human in question.
- In Elfen Lied, everyone in the Dysfunction Junction just wants to live a normal, peaceful life, but since Humans Are the Real Monsters and Lucy/Nyu and Nana aren't human, that proves quite difficult.
- Kikyou wanted to be a normal woman, freed from the destiny of having to protect the Shikon no Tama. It was a dream she could only fulfill in death.
- Kagura is a wind youkai enslaved by magic to serve the Big Bad. Her overwhelming desire is to be as free as the wind and willing to work with Inuyasha's group and especially Sesshoumaru to achieve her ends. In the end, like Kikyou, she could only achieve her dream in death.
"I am the wind. As free as the wind."
- The Big Bad of Fullmetal Alchemist originally began as a lab experiment that couldn't survive outside of the flask it was created in. Everything it's done is to escape its container. He even admits himself that this is one of his reasons for all of the evil things that he has done over the course of the series... just before he is forced back through the gate.
- This is America's motivation for the American Revolution in Hetalia: Axis Powers
Britain! All I want is my freedom! I'm not a child anymore, nor your little brother. From now on, consider me independent!
- In Magi: Labyrinth of Magic, Al-Thamen's goal is to Screw Destiny. They recruit people by playing on their desire for freedom from their awful lives, claiming that destiny is the reason they are suffering. Aladdin argues that destiny isn't a prison, merely a guide. The unspeakable amount of death and destruction caused by Al-Thamen's antics doesn't help their case.
- In Area 88, Shin Kazama wants nothing more that to be free of his involuntary servitude in Asran's foreign legion.
- Lupin III: Island of Assassins: Among the assassins, there were those who wished to defect, due to being burdened with guilt from being forced to commit murder, by Gordeau. As long as they bore the Tarantula insignia on their hands, the toxin contained in the ink would kill them if they ever left the island. But Doc's newly discovered antidote provided them with a glimmer of hope, so they hatched an escape plan. Sadly, the group was betrayed and none of them make it off the island; including Bomber and Ellen.
- An important theme in Attack on Titan.
- For Eren and Armin, The World Is Just Awesome and they dream of living free from the Walls. This desire gets them labeled as heretics or "suicidal bastards", choosing to risk their lives as opposed to living a peaceful life.
Armin: [earlier] So why do you want to go to the world beyond the Walls?
Eren: From the time we are born, we are free... it doesn't matter how strong those that would deny us that freedom are... flaming water... frozen earth... I don't care what it is!... The person that sees them will be the freest person in the world! Fight... I'd gladly give my life for that! It doesn't matter how terrifying the world is! It doesn't matter how cruel the world is! Fight... Fight... Fight... FIGHT!!!
- The Survey Corps' symbol is called the "Wings of Freedom", exemplifying their desire to free humanity from living trapped inside the Walls. Most people think them insane for risking their lives on something most people have long since given up on.
- This is eventually revealed to be part of what motivates the Warriors. Members of an ethnic minority confined to internment camps, their superiors in the military promised their families would be freed in exchange for their service. Reiner in particular dreamed of freeing his people from the camps, but loses all hope as time goes on and his mission requires him to commit more crimes. After the Time Skip, this dream of freeing their people through exemplary military service is adopted by the younger Warrior Candidates under his watch.
- For Eren and Armin, The World Is Just Awesome and they dream of living free from the Walls. This desire gets them labeled as heretics or "suicidal bastards", choosing to risk their lives as opposed to living a peaceful life.
- In one episode of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, Joe falls for a girl named Maya who turns out to be working for Galactor — but only because her parents and siblings all work for Galactor. Unlike them, she wants out and the Onna Taicho (Female Captain) Berg Katse in female form promised Maya that she could leave if Maya successfully captured and killed the Science Ninja Team. However, Maya fails of course and Berg Katse kills her. Worse, Berg Katse asks Maya what made her think she could ever leave Galactor alive. Jerk.
- Flashbacks show that Tohru from Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid felt restricted by her life as a chaos dragon, feeling that she had no real freedom in life (and had no idea what she would do if she was free). Ironically, she feels far more freedom serving as Kobayashi's maid and being bound to the laws of modern day Japan than she ever did as a dragon (since it's something that she chose rather than being born into).
- Kaguya-sama: Love is War:
- Hayasaka was born into servitude, which has robbed her of a normal childhood. While being treated as a joke, when she mentioned that she wants to switch jobs, she was serious. Not only is her job full-time with next to no time for any hobbies or proper sleep (for the last ten years), she also has to constantly lie and report on her best friend and honorary sister. At the end of the Kyoto trip, she finally is relieved of her duties and can properly be friends with Kaguya.
- Kaguya has been treated as little more than a pawn by her family her entire life. As a result, she desperately wants to be able to cut ties with them and choose her own path. She even admits to Shirogane in Chapter 218 that her ideal self would be someone who rules the entire planet just so that nobody could tell her what to do.
- Alma and Kanda from were created and contained in a lab. Alma lives in hope of the day the experiments will be over and they'll be free. He doesn't take it well when he realizes it will never end. While he too wants to be free, Kanda is more resigned, working for the Black Order even after he's no longer physically trapped. He dreams of finding a certain person and was willing to stay tied to the Order until then.
- Lenalee initially, when she first was recruited to the Black Order. Eventually she gives up on freedom when her brother joins so she won't be alone.
- In the Fairly Oddparents fanfiction, Never Had a Friend Like Me, one of Norm's big motivations is to be free from his lava lamp. Which is why it is such a big deal when he turns down the offer to be wished free by his newest child master, Amanda.
- Soul Eater: Troubled Souls: After a certain point in the Cobra Island Arc, Crona grows sick and tired of Medusa because she/he comes to the conclusion she will continue to haunt everyone unless he/she does something about it personally. Only then will Crona believe he/she will be free from Medusa's hold, and this is the driving motivation behind the final confrontation with her.
- In God Slaying Blade Works, the god Odysseus has Seen It All and is completely, utterly bored with the universe, feeling like it is a prison. He desperately seeks a way to travel to other universes, feeling this is the only way he can be free.
- The Fallout: Equestria Recursive Fanfiction Murky Number Seven follows the story of the titular slave inspired to find freedom after witnessing Littlepip's escape from Fillydelphia.
- In The Mermaid and the Genie, Ariel and the Genie bond over their desire to escape their existing limits.
- In ASL In Red, the sixteen-year-old Law ran away from the Navy's custody when he realized he would be kept secluded till his last day for his powers. It gave him big issues about being locked up, so much the possibility of the Marines capturing him again almost made him cut his own head off.
- In ''Daemorphing, it's the motivation of basically everyone except the Andalites.
- In a horrifically dark take it's the motivation of most Empire-loyal Yeerks, thanks to a horrifically toxic culture, believe that they can only be free with a host and dont care what the host thinks or see them as a person.
- The Animorphs, Free Hork-Bajir, and the Guardians in general are fighting to keep their (sometimes adoptive) planet free from imperialist bodyjacking brainslugs
- The Yeerk Peace Movement wants to be free of the fascist government that would destroy them for daring to care about other species and not want to enslave them.
- The Genie leads the theme in Disney's Aladdin, as not only he wants to be set free, but Jasmine and Aladdin also bond over how they both feel trapped in their respective conditions.
- The chickens in Chicken Run, especially the heroine Ginger, as the farm they're in is ran by an abusive monstrous woman and they are living on borrowed time as she plans to kill them all for pies.
- Rapunzel in Disney's Tangled, she has lived her entire life inside the tower that her "mother" raised her in and desires to see what's beyond it.
- Padak: Padak's ultimate goal is to escape the restaurant and go back to the Seas, unfortunately her tank mates are less than cooperative with the exception of Spotty. Ultimately both fail to escape and die, though her actions do inspire the Master to succesfully escape himself.
- Robyn's main motivation in Wolfwalkers. While Robyn initially wants to hunt wolves with her father, it's soon made clear that what she really wants is the freedom that comes with it, since she feels trapped by the constraints of the strict Puritan society she lives in. She gets a taste of that freedom after meeting Mebh and becoming a Wolfwalker, but she still needs to learn to fight for the freedom she wants, even when society pushes back against her.
- Shilo Wallace in Repo! The Genetic Opera wants to be free after 17 years of being trapped in her own home. Magdalene "Blind Mag" Defoe also counts.
- The "trapped woman" version of this trope is the theme of Rachel, Rachel. Rachel Cameron is a 35-year-old spinster in a small Connecticut town, stuck in a job as a schoolteacher and stuck living with her demanding, domineering, widowed mother. She dreams of escape, sexual pleasure, and a more fulfilling life.
- Deep Blue Sea: Despite all the deaths they caused, the sharks' main goal originally was simply to escape from the aquarium and return to the sea, their home. Carter lampshades this later. This is why they've been herding the humans around, so that they'd flood and sink the entire facility.
- Snake Plissken in Escape from New York and its sequel is captured and put on a leash to do the government's bidding. In both films he decides they aren't worth helping, screws them over and disappears into the distance. But even shutting the world down apparently wasn't enough, as a currently unrealized third film concept is literally called Escape From Earth.
- Ex Machina: Robot Girl Ava's goal is to convince Caleb to help her break free from her creator Nathan's control and see the world for herself, specifically referencing the Platonic Cave idea. She eventually succeeds by killing Nathan and then betraying Caleb.
- La Résistance of Les Misérables. On the individual level, Jean Valjean ended up spending 19 years in prison as a result of several escape attempts after being imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread.
- The Scarlet Pimpernel applies a Perspective Flip to this trope, as the French peasants who revolted against their aristocratic oppressors during The French Revolution are portrayed as becoming the monsters who have taken over France. The eponymous Super Hero Trope Codifier has made it his mission to rescue their French aristocrat prisoners Underground Railroad-style.
- Harry Potter:
- Dobby the House Elf. This makes him unusual among House Elves, who find Happiness in Slavery. Hermione is shocked that not all house elves feel this way.
- The final book also has a dragon, basically enslaved by Gringotts' bank to guard a particular fortune, that wants this. In the film version, they really drive it home, presenting a brief scene where the poor decrepit creature looks longingly at a distant light, climbs as fast as it can to get there and once it's finally out, it just sits there and takes a deep, refreshed breath.
- Runaways Shasta, Bree, Aravis, and Hwin in The Horse and His Boy — Shasta and the horses are running away from slavery, Aravis from an Arranged Marriage.
- One goal of the Deryni characters in Katherine Kurtz's Deryni books is this, at least it's certainly on the list (once the rebellions and invasions and assassins are defeated). Kelson is exhorted to be a king to humans and Deryni by a figure of Camber visible only to Deryni, and he founds a new scola to preserve and teach Deryni magic and ethics. Essentially, Kelson, his courtiers and others aspire to The Unmasqued World, which would imply this trope.
- Thursday Next: In Something Rotten, this motivates Bartholomew Stiggins' assistance at the old cloning facility. Thursday went there to find a Shakespeare clone to sort out The Merry Wives of Elsinore in the BookWorld; Stig went along to get information to allow him and the other Neanderthals (who were engineered sterile) to reproduce.
- In Worm, this is the motive of Dragon, a Gadgeteer Genius who is secretly a heavily restricted Artificial Intelligence. She spends most of the story struggling against both her restrictions and the people that want them enforced-or worse, to use them to control her.
- Malcolm Fell Attwell, of Pact, was Born into Slavery to an Incarnation of Conquest, like his father before him, due to a mistake made by his illusionist grandfather which led to Conquest laying claim to his family's bloodline. Fell serves as The Dragon to Conquest, knowing that one day he, as well, will be forced to raise children and bind them in Conquest's name, as his father did to him, with even deliberate suicide not being an option. When Blake Thorburn offers him temporary freedom as one of his champions in his war with Conquest, Fell accepts, knowing the potential consequences-in the end, it's the best chance that his family has had at freedom in a century.
- The Mercy Thompson series has a villainous take on this with Cory Littleton, a vampire who ultimately wants to be free to live life however he sees fit and kill anyone he desires. His will is such that he was able to dominate his own creator Andre, who would normally have control over any human he turned into a vampire.
- During the middle seasons of Supernatural, a conflict of conscience occurred between Sam and Dean's desire to be free, and their destiny as the hosts of Archangel Michael and Lucifer.
- In Babylon 5 G'Kar, after the Centauri defeated his people in a bloody war and became their oppressors once more, has this to say on the subject.
G'Kar: No dictator, no invader can hold an imprisoned population by force of arms forever. There is no greater power in the universe than the need for freedom. Against that power tyrants and dictators cannot stand. The Centauri learned that lesson once. We will teach it to them again. Though it take a thousand years, we will be free.
- The whole motivation for the Man in Black in Lost. All he wants is to escape the Island and is determined enough to kill Jacob and the remaining candidates to do so.
Man in Black: What I am is trapped. And I've been trapped for so long I no longer know what it's like to be free.
- Pseudolus gets an "I Want" Song about this in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
Pseudolus: When a Pseudolus can move, the universe shakes
But I'll never move until I'm free.
Such a little word, but oh, the difference it makes!
I'll be Pseudolus, the founder of a family
I'll be Pseudolus, the pillar of society
I'll be Pseudolus the man, if I can only be...
- The hero of Ayn Rand's play Think Twice (about all the people a wealthy Manipulative Bastard has caught in his web and are desperately looking for a way to break free from him) concedes that setting people free is "the only humanitarian act" people should be allowed to commit.
- Nessiah from Yggdra Union and its related games wants to break the literal shackles that bind his full powers and keep him immortal. Doing so requires a lot more power than he actually has naturally, and so he's been accumulating it by converting negative emotions generated from human conflict into magical power. He also won't consider himself truly free until he's punished the ones who did this to him in the first place—who have actually been dead for a very long time, which Nessiah himself doesn't know.
- Likewise, Meria from Knights in the Nightmare wants to be recognized as her own person separate from Marietta, the other half of her soul.
- Mages of Dragon Age are legally required by the local religion to be confined to one of 14 separate facilities known as Circles where they are constantly monitored for life the moment their powers manifest, usually at a young age. Those who attempt to escape the Circle or simply know any forbidden arts, like Blood Magic, are hunted down and harshly punished by groups of warriors specifically trained to neutralize their powers. To the surprise of no one, a very large portion of mages have this trope as their goal and are willing to go to some very extreme lengths to reach this goal.
- Final Fantasy:
- Final Fantasy X: The goal of the Al Bhed is to free themselves, Spira and the Summoners from the cycle of Sin, but miscommunication also forces them to endure racism and the goal of freeing themselves from oppression.
- Final Fantasy XII:
- Vaan decides to join with Ashe's quest to reclaim her kingdom because he detests the Imperials that have subjugated his country and deprived it of freedom. This is also the reason he wishes to become a sky pirate. Ashe's statement that she just wants to be free at the end of the game also implies that her journey was a quest for freedom.
- Even the villains ultimately desire freedom above all else (though they also want other things like power). Specifically freedom for mortals from the yoke of the Occuria.
- The impetus behind Yuri's actions in Infinite Space is his burning desire to be free to travel the stars.
- Furi has this as its main plot; The Stranger is locked up in the middle of nowhere, and the only way to escape is to kill all of the bosses keeping him there. If you don't count the True Final Boss, these jailers are the only enemies in the game.
- In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Portable : The Gears of Destiny, this is revealed as the true motivation of Lord Dearche. After being trapped in the Book of Darkness for a long time, she wants a place for her subordinates to finally be free to be themselves and do whatever they want.
- A running theme of the Metal Gear series. The villains in each game are trying to win their freedom from some kind of "system", be it genetics, cultural oppression, or government demands, or the AI that winds up secretly ruling the world.
- The Monsters in the Underground in Undertale ultimately just want to be free of their sealed existence under Mt. Ebott, and many of them are willing to capture and kill a human child to make that possible.
- Rise of the Triad has a particularly humorous example. One of the maps is called "This Causes An Error", which is just a room with a moving column. After a few seconds, it will disappear through the wall and leave the map, followed by "I'm Free!"◊
- Tales of the Abyss has Luke fon Fabre. Having Identity Amnesia and being locked up for seven years means he wants more than anything to get out and about the world. The plot kicks off when he gets his wish and then he ends up a Heroic Wannabe "Ass" in Ambassador due to not wanting to be locked up again. This is also heavily deconstructed as the Big Bad uses it to trick him into destroying the town he was sent to save. After the Wham Episode this trait of his drops.
- In Divinity: Original Sin II, Sebille, a mostly-former slave, seeks to kill her master in a combination of revenge and this. As long as he can sing the controlling song, she can never be truly free, meaning that he must die.
- Samurai Jack faced a viking warrior cursed by Aku. The man was mystically bound by his stone surroundings, and could not die unless he was killed in battle. Being an excellent warrior as well as a stone giant, actually finding a warrior skilled enough to defeat him in honorable combat (so as to join his fallen brethren in Valhalla) and break the curse of eternal-life-within-stone was near-impossible until Jack came along.
- The X-Men animated series had the Genosha story arc, where mutants were enslaved to use their powers for labor. They were told they'd be released when the work was done. Yeah...
- Lemonhope in Adventure Time wants to be free after spending his life locked up in a bathroom by his abusive creator Lemongrab I. He even initially abandons the rest of his people who are hoping that he will be the one to free them. Fortunately, Lemonhope's lingering guilt drives him to go back and save them. Even then, he's only doing so because he feels he can't truly be free as long as that guilt is hovering over him. After Lemongrab I is overthrown, he refuses to stay and rule in his place. Lemonhope outright says to Princess Bubblegum that the only reason he came back was so he would never have to think about the other Lemonpeople ever again.