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Pride Before a Fall

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"Pride goeth before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall."

A character is introduced as an insufferable jerk; arrogant because of some amazing talent or high station in life. Everyone hopes, as soon as he's introduced, that he's going to eventually get what's coming to him...

...and then he does. Immediately. Right at the start of the story. The character is overthrown and knocked out of that high station; or has his marvelous talents somehow taken from him, and spends the rest of the story learning to cope, with varying levels of success.

That's right, this trope begins with his fall from a position of power or influence to learn An Aesop, rather than giving him his due late in the story. Alternatively, we may meet the character just after his fall from power, and learn about his stuck-up, careless past and subsequent karmic punishment via Flash Back. The story spends just enough time showing the audience (or, if the writers are in a hurry, telling us) that he's an arrogant bastard to convince us, before knocking him off his high horse.

The major conflict of the story usually involves the character learning to be humble. Or at the very least, learning not to indignantly ask everyone he runs into "Do you KNOW who I AM?!" as he is often, despite being hit over the head with the humility stick, still very interested in continuing his thoughtless ways.

The story arc completes with character accepting the Aesop. The Aesop can vary, but a typical lesson would be how dependent on other people he is, and how other people need to depend on him. With this change of character, the arc may continue to his return to a power as a juster, kinder soul.

On a cultural or setting level see Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair, Soiled City on a Hill, and And Man Grew Proud.

May overlap with Fallen Princess and Tragic Hero. Compare with The Atoner (who is necessarily repentant by definition), Break the Haughty (for a slower descent), A Taste of Power (for when this happens in video games), and Third Act Stupidity (when near the end of a story).

If you're looking for pride before a literal fall, see Disney Villain Death.


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    Comic Books 
  • In Barracuda, Maria starts as a haughty young noblewoman, still in her teens, but in the first volume she is captured by pirates and sold into slavery. She is thoroughly demeaned and defiled, when she hits rock bottom, she resolves to take back control of her destiny, and begins her totally ruthless climb back to the top.
  • Marvel's The Mighty Thor, at least a few times.
  • Doctor Strange was an insufferable but talented young neurosurgeon with everything he could ever want, until he suffered nerve damage in his hands in a car accident. Cue the plummet to rock bottom, which ended only when he started to care about people other than himself.
  • The Powerpuff Girls story "Smart And Smarter" (Cartoon Network Block Party #59, DC), Blossom lets admittance to a school for especially smart children go to her head to the point that she not only alienates her sisters but also arch-foe Mojo Jojo. During a face-to-face battle, Mojo cuts Blossom down to size, with Bubbles and Buttercup's blessings.
  • In White Sand, this is what happens to Sand Masters as a whole - they've grown so prideful and haughty, they've stopped caring about other people's opinions and figured they're too powerful to ever be attacked, so they've stopped training for combat as well. They are then invaded by an army and slaughtered almost to a man.

    Films — Animated 
  • Beauty and the Beast. A prince refuses to provide shelter for an old woman. She turns out to be a powerful enchantress who curses him (and everybody in his castle, including a kid) for his judging her by her appearance. To be restored, the beast must learn to love another and receive love in return.
  • Emperor Kuzco of The Emperor's New Groove. We're made aware that he's a careless, self-absorbed emperor, and then the story begins as he's overthrown by Yzma and turned into a llama.
  • Stitch in Lilo & Stitch. He goes from being a badass mutant escapee to a little girl's "dog". He learns an Aesop about the value of family and his gleeful feral edge is ... softened.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • At the beginning of the movie Bella, we see the main character as a famous up-and-coming soccer player driving with his manager a few years ago. He is then shown in the present day working as a chef at his brother's restaurant. Through flashbacks throughout the movie, we find out that when he was driving, he accidentally hit and killed a small girl, causing him to stop playing soccer.
  • Friday Night Lights: Boobie, the star running back on the team, is extra cocky at the outset, basking in various recruitment offers from top colleges. Of course, this all comes to a halt when he suffers a career-ending injury during a game.
  • Stephen Chow's character in God of Cookery. When he starts to regain his former glory halfway through the film, he begins to revert to his haughty attitude, until tragedy forces him to re-evaluate his priorities.
  • Pacific Rim shows Jaeger pilot Raleigh Beckett's pride before the fall in the beginning. At first, he's brash, eager to fight, and sees the sighting of the Kaiju codenamed "Knifehead" as another potential notch in his and his co-pilot brother Yancy's belt instead of rightly giving it the regard as a threat it deserves. What results is him getting to witness his brother's Despair Event Horizon in his own head as he dies, the mental strain of piloting a Jaeger by himself, and the shattering of the invincible mystique of the Jaegers against the Kaiju menace. He becomes a Shell-Shocked Veteran and later has to be dared to come back into the service.
  • Vizzini, in The Princess Bride. When he meets Westley, he says, "Have you ever heard of Plato? Aristotle? Socrates? Morons." Within five minutes, he has been outwitted to the point of death.
  • You know, despite the fact Count Dooku was a Sith, Anakin really should have heeded his warning about "Twice the pride, double the fall" in Revenge of the Sith.
  • Thor: Thor believes he can take on Jötunheim with just his buddies and nearly starts a war as a result. He ends up getting exiled from Asgard and losing Mjölnir until he learns some humility.
  • Spider-Man 2: probably just a symbolic coincedence, but when Otto Octavius performs his cold fusion experiment, at first it goes smoothly, but as soon as he whispers "The power of sun in the palm of my hand!", it immediately spirals out of control and causes a disaster.

  • So a cat thought it could take down a bird of any size, until one day it suffered a bittern defeat.

  • Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking-Glass and what Alice found there, Lewis Carroll's 1871 sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Martin Gardner, in his The Annotated Alice, points out Humpty Dumpty's frequent use of the word "proud", lampshading the pride that goes before his fall.
  • Kennedy in Bubba Ho Tep.
  • The first chapter of Melusine, the first book in Doctrine of Labyrinths, sees arrogant Lord Felix revealed as a commoner and former prostitute.
  • The classic children's historical novel Johnny Tremain. The main character is more skilled and harder-working than his fellow apprentices Dove and Dusty, and doesn't hesitate to remind them of that. Later their master, Mr. Lapham, has Johnny read the part in their Bible about pride coming before a fall. While rushing to finish an order, Johnny gets a cracked crucible from Dove (who had picked a bad crucible to make Johnny look like a fool but not get injured), resulting in molten silver spilling onto his hand, which fuses his thumb to his palm and ends his career as a smith.
  • The Legend of Drizzt: A subtler version—or at least, one that would have been, had it not been for the journal entry that hammered the reader over the head with An Aesop—was when Drizzt left his friends to go dissuade the drow from invading Mithral Hall. Why? Because he didn't want to put them in danger, and only trusted in his own abilities to... scare off an entire city of his kinsmen, many of whom were more powerful than him? He is promptly captured (and not even by drow!).
  • Prince Roger in March Upcountry doesn't get knocked down quite in the first few pages, but pretty quickly nonetheless.
  • Inverted in The Pilgrim's Progress with Mr. Fearing. One of the challenges someone must go through is going down a hill into the Valley of Humiliation, something many strong pilgrims have a lot of trouble with. Not so with Mr. Fearing, who has a very low opinion of himself. He has absolutely no trouble going down the hill and a most pleasant time in the valley.
  • "The Tortoise and the Hare": The eponymous hare is so confident in his victory that he decides to take a nap partway through the race, but when he wakes up, he sees that the tortoise has already won.
  • The Trials of Apollo begins with the prideful Greco-Roman god Apollo being turned mortal and cast from Olympus. The rest of the series revolves around him taking a level in kindness to regain his godhood.
  • The appropriately nicknamed Prince Brat in the children's book The Whipping Boy.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5:
    • This is part of the Backstory for the humans, who after winning a war with the Dilgar refuse to listen to cautionary advice given to them by the Centauri, and proceed to boldly stumble into a war with the Minbari because they were too proud to just leave the Minbari alone. This is complicated by the Minbari warrior caste's blind assumption that a race they had never met would be familiar with a Warrior Caste greeting traditionnote , that even their own religious leader had to have explained to him. This is further complicated by said Minbari religious leader making the unilateral decision to take his ship, with the Minbari's governing body, on an ill-advised expedition to Z'Ha'Dum, the homeworld of the long-dormant Shadows, on a whim, just to see if they were back yet. If any of these parties had swallowed their pride enough to actually listen to anyone else before acting, the disastrous Earth-Minbari War would have been avoided. Of course, then the Babylon Project would have never happened either...
    • The fate of the Centauri Republic later in the show (actually an empire) all happens due to Ambassador Londo's pride... and given how most of the other emperors had behaved (save for the sweet dying Emperor Turhan Bey and future Emperor Vir ), it's a given that most of the Centauri upper class have the same failing. Similarly, their arch-nemeses, the Narn Regime, is too proud to back down from trying to pick a fight with the Centauri in retaliation for their past occupation and slavery at the Centauris' hands, and this leads them into a similarly disastrous and one-sided war with the Centauri and the Shadows.
    • The movie Thirdspace reveals that even the Vorlons fell victim to their pride.
      Vorlon Race Memory: Our great mistake, our failing and now your failing. The error is compounded.
      Delenn: What mistake?
      Vorlon Race Memory: The first one. The one from which all mistakes precede. The error of pride.
  • Walter White of Breaking Bad's journey can be summed up with this trope. All of Walt's losses, both major and minor, are due to Walt's arrogance and ego.
  • The short-lived drama Citizen Baines qualifies as this, as Baines is a senator-soon-turned-former senator suddenly having to raise his kids.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "The Daleks' Master Plan", a council of galactic leaders delude themselves into thinking the Daleks will give them power. This is most pronounced with Guardian Mavic Chen of the Solar System, who actually orders the Daleks around. Those others on the council who survive are able to warn their galaxies when the Daleks turn on them, but Chen is exterminated, his Last Words being "You cannot kill me!".
    • In "The Invasion", Corrupt Corporate Executive Tobias Vaughn thinks that he can play the Cybermen for patsies. He soon realizes that he is Out-Gambitted, and is deleted trying to stop them. Interestingly, both Vaughn and Chen were played by the same actor.
  • UK soap Eastenders does this all the time. Every single time anybody is the least bit proud of anything, the fall is just around the corner. Sure as eggs is eggs.
  • Dominar Rygel XVI of Farscape definitely qualifies as a slow learner — despite having been deposed and imprisoned some 130 "cycles" before the events of the series, he's still an arrogant bastard when Crichton arrives. It takes most of the show's run for him to work his way to something more tolerable.
  • The Hexer: Witchers get this treatment from the first episode, considering themselves to be unshakeable and the best thing ever, despite ongoing corruption and power-plays hollowing their school inside-out. The kicker? Barely any of them learn their lesson, being all just designed for killing and not thinking too much. This ultimately leads to much slower and painful Break the Haughty for the whole guild in the following years, until they eventually collapse.
  • My Name Is Earl. A petty criminal with no respect for authority has a lottery ticket. He loses his ticket and sets out to reform himself. When he starts, the ticket returns to him, and he sees it as a sign that he's meant to use the money to keep trying.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Q Who", Picard's pride in Starfleet and what they can handle leads Q to send the Enterprise-D into Borg Space. Despite Guinian warning him to turn right back around, Picard marches forth and leads to 18 members of the crew getting captured and assimilated by the Borg before Picard begs Q to get them out of there.
  • In an episode of The West Wing, Josh attempts to run a press conference while CJ is out. Danny Kincannon warns him not to go up, and in response Josh rubs his Harvard and Yale background in his face. Josh then proceeds to get blindsided on two different fronts and become the White House's goat for the day.
  • The Wheel of Time (2021): In episode 7 Agelmar, the ruler of Fal Dara, reacts to Moiraine rather harshly when he thinks the Aes Sedai sent help without him asking. His kingdom has survived long enough without outside assistance. In episode 8, after seeing the size of Trolloc army, he admits he should've called for help. His city survives, but he does not.

  • Verse three of The Beatles' "I'm A Loser":
    What have I done to deserve such a fate?
    I realise I have left it too late.
    And so it's true, pride comes before a fall,
    I'm telling you so that you won't lose all.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • Of course, the archetypal example is Satan, dating back at least to Paradise Lost. He has respectively been portrayed as too proud to take second place to man, or too proud to take second place to God, both of which result in him leading a rebellion against God, leading to him and his fellow rebel angels getting booted out of heaven.
    • It may go back to The Bible with Isaiah 14, but interpretations differ.note 
    • The titular character of DC Comics' Lucifer was a portrayal of the second type. He actually ends up making his own Creation outside of the first one, just to show the old man up. It gets complicated from there.
    • Horus, son of the Emperor of Mankind in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, parallels Lucifer's Fall so closely that it cannot possibly have been an accident.

    Professional Wrestling 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition core setting, Asmodeus is a Satan analogue who served a god known only as He Who Was, who was implied to be the creator of humanity and the strongest of the gods, and their leader during the war with the primordials. Asmodeus used increasingly violent tactics in the war, often slaughtering innocent mortals in the crossfire. He Who Was ordered Asmodeus to stop, and in his pride, Asmodeus refused, and He Who Was cast Asmodeus and his army down as punishment. Pretty standard so far. Until Asmodeus rose up and slew He Who Was at the most oppertune moment. While the other gods publicly cursed Asmodeus, privately they thanked him; he had slain a weak willed general who in his pride had cast down their strongest warrior and greatest army, hoping to teach them a lesson in humility, even at the cost of the war.
  • In the backstory of Princess: The Hopeful, the Kingdoms of Light grew proud and insular, each believing that their interpretation of the Light was the only valid one. That pride, and the strife that sprang from it, gave the Darkness a foothold and allowed it to grow stronger, overthrowing the Kingdoms and sealing the titular Princesses in the Dreamlands for many millennia. In the modern day, the five Radiant Courts have learned from their former failure, and make a point of reminding themselves that their fellow Radiants are servants of the Light and avatars of virtue just as they are.

    Visual Novels 
  • The protagonist of Double Homework was immensely proud of his skiing abilities, and they went to his head. Then came the Barbarossa incident, which changed him forever.
  • This is (partially) how Phoenix Wright is tricked into presenting false evidence and losing his badge in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney. When we see his flashback case against Klavier, he's quite full of himself, mocking Klavier's inexperience and his accent, and he presents his evidence without reflecting on it. After he's caught, he's pretty much instantly humbled, and he never reaches those heights of arrogance again.

  • Tapiseri Soujourn: Daedalus is so prideful that he believes Soujourn has no chance of defeating him, leaving his weak points exposed, leading to Soujourn stabbing him there and decapitating him.

    Web Original 
  • Trevor James Goodkind of the Whateley Universe, brilliant son of the richest man on Earth, second in line to take over his father's company, and heir to the Goodkind tradition of 'recognizing the mutant threat', i.e. hating those evil mutants. In the first chapter of his first story, he manifests as a mutant freak. He is immediately disinherited, experimented on and tortured by a Mad Scientist, humiliated, abandoned by his family, not to mention becoming intersexed due to his mutation ... Within a week he's living in a basement with nowhere else to go.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • Azula is very prideful and arrogant, though it does take awhile as any failures she does suffer she just brushes off, and to be fair she does win some pretty impressive victories along the way. However it isn't until she realizes that her technique of ruling through fear isn't as foolproof as she expected, and that her father considers her as expendable as Zuko, that she begins her fall.
    • Admiral Zhao's determination to make a name for himself by killing the moon spirit not only incites the wrath of Iroh, who tries to explain that such an action would cause inconceivable damage to the entire world, Fire Nation included, but also enrages the spirits of the ocean and the avatar enough to obliterate his entire war fleet. In an earlier episode, he accidentally burned his own ships after Aang's insults provoked him into being sloppy with his firebending, and his eventual death comes from his refusal to accept help from Zuko (the scene is a bit ambiguous, but preferring death to humiliation is one interpretation of his actions).
  • Captain Atom in Batman: The Brave and the Bold. As he's essentially Superman class in this version, he has let his power go to his head, actively deriding people who don't have superpowers as useless. While he does invoke Jerkass Has a Point a couple of times, he is generally an insufferable ass who thinks he can't be harmed by anything. It takes a mishap with his arch-enemy, and some training from Batman, to make him anything close to humble. He even subverts this: rather than being arrogant and condescending towards people weaker than him, he is now pitying and overprotective of them.
  • In Ben 10: Alien Force, Ben's cocky attitude, which began coming about after saving the world from the Highbreed, is a prime example. His ego results in the Omnitrix resetting to its faulty first series self, as well as turning Kevin into another amalgamated monster.
  • Little Dogs on the Prairie: At the end of the short "Have Gum, Will Travel", Scout, who had to learn not to be prideful, nearly quotes the trope name word for word during the song "Too Much Pride".
  • One episode of Sushi Pack featured four superhero Reality TV contestants who spent all their scenes bragging about their deeds of derring-do, and even their weaknesses. Unfortunately for them, this information is used by the show's host, an alien in disguise, to incapacitate them while he sends for the rest of his invading fleet. The Sushi Pack, snubbed by the Supers, save the day by using the alien's own bragging against him.
  • In Transformers: Animated, Sentinel Prime is introduced as an arrogant Jerkass who constantly belittles Optimus and his team and makes aside insults about the "Organics" during a public appearance. Then came The Headmaster... It isn't until season 3 though that he starts to get along with Optimus again, but sadly he's become an even bigger ass than ever. Especially after being promoted to Magnus.