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The Dutiful Son

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"And I was there when you grew restless
Left in the dead of night
And I was there when three months later
You were standing in the door all beat and tired...
But I'm gonna be here until I'm nothing
But bones in the ground..."

The Dutiful Son stays to take care of the farm or other family duties when Troubled, but Cute up and leaves or The Hero gets The Call. His attitude at the protagonist's return (it's rare he gets the spotlight) varies between uppity, jealous, and happy. Even if he's happy, expect him to lay the moral smackdown on the hero for leaving, although he'll eventually forgive the sibling before the work's end. Despite the name, this trope is not Always Male; female examples are less common but still present.


Sometimes the Dutiful Son criticizes his sibling for being a dreamer. He probably strongly believes it's his duty to Honor Thy Parent. In a Western, expect the Dutiful Son to be a Determined Homesteader while his younger brother wants to be The Gunslinger.

Compare and contrast The Reliable One, Cloudcuckoolander's Minder, Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling.


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    Comic Books 
  • When Hal Jordan joined the Air Force against his mother's wishes, she forbade him from seeing her until he quit. Hal's older brother Jim eventually had to quit college and return home, which only got worse as his mom developed cancer. When Hal was dishonorably discharged, Mrs. Jordan has already died and Jack nearly beats up his brother for making their situation happen.
  • Cosmic Boy of the Legion of Super-Heroes left his economically depressed planet to find work so that he could send money home to support his family when he was fourteen. He only ended up a superhero because he helped save the life of one of the richest men in the galaxy on his way to search for work and was then offered a job as a hero. Originally this takes a tragic turn as his mother dies in a terrorist attack on the new neighborhood brought them to so they could be together again and his little brother dies trying to follow in his footsteps as a hero.

  • George VI is the Dutiful Son in Bertie and Elizabeth. Interestingly, sympathy is with him rather than with his brother who comes off as rather a Royal Brat.
    • Likewise in The King's Speech. It's clear neither of them wants to be king, but only one of them is willing to sacrifice his personal wishes to do what's expected of him.
  • In East is East, only one of the children in the Big, Screwed-Up Family takes a serious interest in Islam and obeying their father. That Maneer ultimately sides with the family against George seems to be what shocks his father the most.
  • One subplot in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly involves Tuco chastising his brother for staying home and taking the easy road by becoming a priest, whereas Tuco chose what he felt was the only other profession available to them: a bandit. (Tuco might have gone easier on his brother had the latter not had such a disapproving, condescending attitude to him and his activities.)
    • This scene is more of a reversal of the usual trope: Pablo left home to be a priest, leaving Tuco behind to take care of their parents. Unable to find legitimate work, Tuco became a bandit out of necessity. Or at least, that's his version.
  • It's a Wonderful Life is unusual in that the "prodigal" son is actually an Ace Pilot war hero who idolizes his older brother. Largely owing to the fact that said elder brother saved his life when they were kids and made an absolute ton of personal sacrifices that allowed him to become a war hero in the first place.
  • Alfred in Legends of the Fall always plays by the rules and does everything he can to try and make his father proud, but knows (and resents) that he will never measure up in daddy's esteem to Troubled, but Cute wild child Tristan. Interesting play on the trope as described above in that in the end, Alfred leaves the family farm while Tristan spends more time at home on the ranch.
  • In the Steve Martin vehicle Parenthood, his prodigal brother that his father always preferred turns up and turns out to be as useless as ever, teaching his father the value of Martin's more dutiful ways.
  • In Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, Luke seems to think that Leia is this. Luke himself is actually this himself, to an extent; he really wants to leave home in A New Hope, he's legally an adult and could leave without his aunt and uncle's permission, but he just won't, to the point where in the radio drama he argues angrily with a friend who wants him to just cut and run. It takes tragedy to get him to go.
    • Early drafts and one printing of the RotJ novel indicate that originally Owen Lars was supposed to be this for Sibling Yin-Yang with his brother: Obi-Wan Kenobi.
  • In the 2011 film Warrior: What Tommy sees Brendan as.
  • In the 1997 TV movie When Secrets Kill, Linda Emery returns to her hometown after her fourteen-year disappearance. Her mother's really glad to see her, but her brother Bill doesn't allow her to stay because he had to become a Tragic Dropout to take care of their parents.
  • In MouseHunt, Lars is this compared to his brother Ernie, having aided their father in managing the family string factory while Ernie was off pursuing his culinary ambitions. In an argument with his brother, Lars admits that he does resent having put aside his own dreams to help their father.

  • Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues:
    • Ivan is beholden to his parents for all that they've done to help him with his genetic condition, and feels honour-bound to repay them for it.
    • Marko's father is slipping into old age, and so Marko gave up his free time to instead take over duties in the family store to ease the workload, to the point that he doesn't have time to involve himself in anything he'd consider 'fun'.

  • Happy Loman from Death of a Salesman.
  • Nessarose from Wicked. When Elphaba becomes a rebel, an outcast, and an activist, Nessa takes over her father's position as governor of Munchkinland. However, Nessa eventually also becomes a wicked witch and goes Yandere for Boq.

  • Zalanna of Ears for Elves fits this trope very well, and wishes everyone else did too. Sometimes she lectures Tanna about it: "As daughters of the founding families, it is our duty- nay, our birthright to set an example for the common folk."
  • Furry Fight Chronicles shows that Saniko, Muko's older sister, has to deal with a depressed father, an irresponsible younger sister, and an absent mother while working overtime. It takes a toll on her emotional health.

    Western Animation 
  • Given the nature of families in the series, BoJack Horseman has a few heavily deconstructed examples:
    The stupid thing is, even now I still just want them to be proud of me and think I did good. Is that really stupid?
    • BoJack was molded by his mother Beatrice to be a successful star to make up for wrapping her into a loveless marriage. Oscillating between feelings of love and hate for her, BoJack would go to great lengths to impress her even after gaining independence and entering show business, inviting her to the first Horsin' Around taping regardless of his prism of experience. Even after that, BoJack has often searched for the kind of love missing in his life, which is the root of his crippling narcissism.
    • Princess Carolyn used to be one as well, and the experiences clearly affected her mindset. Having to cover for your mother while she drank her weight in alcohol and cooking for a rich family who constantly yelled and flaunted their riches can create a sort of savior complex. To say nothing of the possible greed and envy it can create, sending someone into a self-centered orbit.
    • Captain Peanutbutter is an interesting case. He and his brother PB get along just fine (PB being comfortable in Hollywood and Captain ditto in the Labrador Peninsula closer to their parents) but his sense of reliability and calmness make him a sort of grand figure of admiration for Mr. Peanutbutter. Such is the trust he has in him that the younger brother fails to consider that something might trouble Captain. AT ALL. A twisted spleen, for example.
  • The Legend of Korra:
    • An interesting case where the youngest sibling Tenzin considers himself this in preserving his father's legacy compared to his free-spirited sister Kya and Cloudcuckoolander brother Bumi. Kya, however, shoots back that she was the one to settle down and take care of their mother when their father died, so Tenzin's idea of himself as "the responsible one" of the three isn't true or fair.
    • Lin Beifong is the dutiful elder daughter who follows in her mother's footsteps to become Chief of Police of Republic City. Her little half-sister Suyin meanwhile gets sent away to her grandparents after participating in a robbery and nearly destroying her mother's reputation, then spends the next decade or so traveling the world with pirates, the circus, etc. as a free spirit before settling down with her future husband to build her own city. Lin is a bit jealous and incredulous that Suyin did everything 'wrong', yet has a seemingly perfect life as an adult; whereas Lin was left by the major love of her life for a younger woman, and is left with the lingering feeling that she never really found what she was passionate about because she spent her whole life attempting in vain to impress her mother by trying to be Toph's carbon copy.
    • This is the backstory for Mako and Bolin's father, San. San left his family in Ba Sing Se on bad terms after refusing to take over the family fruit stand from his father, instead choosing to make a new life for himself in Republic City. The responsibility of running the family business then fell to his brother Chow. Tragically, San never got the chance to return home on better terms, as he and his wife were murdered by a firebender in Republic City when Mako and Bolin were little.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Downplayed with Applejack's brother Big Mac. Both Big Mac and Applejack dedicate most of their time to running the family farm Sweet Apple Acres and looking after their grandmother and younger sister. However, Applejack is one of The Chosen Many and frequently gets called away on epic adventures and dangerous quests. Big Mac is the one who keeps the farm running while she's away.

Alternative Title(s): The Dutiful Daughter