Maybe their home is a Dying Town or The Old Country, maybe they live in an urban ghetto, or maybe most people are just bored with life Down on the Farm. Hardly anyone seems to want to live there, but finances, family obligations or lack of will to leave keep most people there for good.
But every so often, there's one who makes it out - maybe an incredible talent proved their ticket out of there. Maybe they won their way to a great, faraway college or to a lucrative job... but sometimes they just up and leave. Peers and elders in the town usually admire them for their tenacity, but tend to resent them for leaving if the community isn't as close-knit. Impressionable youngsters, though, might look up to them and get ideas of maybe leaving one day themselves. Alternately, the one who made it out could be despised for "forgetting where they come from" or trading their "roots" for material success and comfort. Expect, for the hero after achieving success to come back home and find out how much or how little is changed, as well as why You Can't Go Home Again.
This story is a particular fascination in several American films, books and plays partly because of its close relationship to The American Dream, the promise that anyone in America can transcend their origins and roots to get where they want to go.
- Jack Atlas of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's, who did it by betraying Yusei in his backstory.
- Gary is one of these early in Pokémon. For example: Before Gold/Silver were announced, he shows off 10 badges when anyone who played the game knew you could only get 8. Additionally, he has a chauffeur and is always accompanied by fangirls and his own cheerleader squad.
- Hojo and Asami, the main characters of Sanctuary, escaped from the Killing Fields of Cambodia under Khmer Rouge as children, and work together to reform the political system of Japan, one from "on top" as a diet member, and one from "underneath" as a yakuza boss. Atypically, they claim that they didn't make it out of Cambodia because they were clever or driven, but because they were lucky.
- Depending on the Writer, continuity reboot status, medium, etc., in various permutations of the Superman franchise, Clark Kent is occasionally given this treatment for having made it from Smallville to Metropolis.
- Part of the reason the Yancy Street Gang initially hated the Thing in Fantastic Four is that Ben Grimm is a former Yancy Streeter who got out, and they think he's forgotten his roots.
- In Black Lightning, Jefferson Pierce is the one who made it out of the ghetto and then came back to teach in the high school and help others make it out.
- Since Luke Cage became a globally prominent superhero, some characters have occasionally accused him of forgetting his roots as a hero of the downtrodden in New York City. He doesn't take it very kindly, especially not when a young upstart uses this to justify taking up Luke's abandoned "Power Man" codename.
- In The Authority, Angie Spica came from a lower-class background where her dad drove a bus and all of her sisters ended up pregnant before they finished high school. She escaped the same fate by applying herself to her studies, replacing her blood with nine pints of liquid machinery (which transformed her into the superhero known as the Engineer), and travelling back in time to turn Jenny Sparks into a Century Baby so that she could go on to recruit the future members of the Authority.
- In X-Statix, Phat supposedly comes from a lower-class background before getting spotted by a recruiter for X-Force. In reality, he came from the suburbs, and his old neighborhood is less than thrilled by how he portrays in interviews, resulting in him getting the shit kicked out of him when he tries to go home.
- Satanik offers a very dark take on this trope: Marnie Bannister is the third daughter of an alcoholic and of a closed-minded housewife and comes from a poor background but is also a brilliant biologist and chemist, having earned herself a Ph.D. at just 25 years of age and is trying to use that to make it out in spite of her poor origins and being ridiculed by everyone, including (especially) her parents and two beautiful sisters, for that and the angioma that viciously scars her face... And the ridicule pushes her first to try and complete the work of the mad alchemist Masopust, and when she succeeds and creates a serum that makes her gorgeous... Well, let's just say that she takes the name Satanik for a reason.
- In the Discworld of A.A. Pessimal, the canonical Aesop of the Three Men in Scrote is explored further. In canon, the sotry is of two benches outside the livery stable in the rural backwater village of Scrote where nothing ever happens and takes a long time not doing it. On one bench are three young men, all agreed that at the earliest possible moment, they're going to get up, go a long way away, and do something with their lives. Meanwhile on the other bench sit three old men... in Pessimal's Scrote, perhaps a hundred and fifty years before the "present", there are four young men. One too many, the historian who is relating the tale is heard to observe. The fourth young man, standing some way apart from the three on the bench, is the one who makes it. He is later to make his mark on history as Sir Cecil Smith-Rhodes, having made it all the way to Howondaland, conquered a country for the Empire, and then modestly naming it after himself.
- In Pokémon Detective Pikachu, this is inverted with Tim. He is from a small town where young people eventually leave for more exciting things (whether Pokemon training or college). But Tim is the only one out of his friends who refused to leave, preferring to settle for a boring cubicle insurance job. His friends are all worried about him for this reason.
- In The Godfather, Michael Corleone, the youngest of Mafia Don Vito Corleone's three sons, is initially set up as this; he's a war hero who has put some distance between himself and the "family business". But after an attempt on Vito's life, Michael ends up falling in deeper than either of the other two, eventually inheriting his father's position.
- Star Wars:
- Anakin Skywalker manages to escape life as a slave on Tatooine, reluctantly leaving behind his mother in the process, and becomes a Jedi Knight at the center of galactic politics. When he returns after ten years, his former master Watto is surprised and impressed by how much he's changed. Unfortunately, this doesn't work out as well as Anakin hoped, ultimately ending in him becoming Darth Vader. Anakin's tragic fate is what makes Uncle Owen very reluctant to let Anakin's son Luke leave Tatooine, as he fears he'll end up the same.
- In A New Hope, Luke's good friend Biggs Darklighter managed to make it off Tatooine, became a pilot for the Rebel Alliance and insinuates he's had many adventures. Unfortunately, he's killed during the assault on the Death Star before he and Luke can have a proper catch-up.
- In The Force Awakens, Rey manages to escape her dead-end life as a scavenger on Jakku - where she'd been stuck since ever since her parents abandoned her - when she gets caught up in the search for Luke Skywalker, with Han Solo also offering her a job. Initially, she actually wants to return to Jakku in the vain hope her parents will come back, but after learning she's Force-sensitive she joins the Resistance and seeks out Luke herself.
- Two examples from Solo.
- It's played straight with Han Solo. He manages to escape from his crappy life on Corellia and eventually earn his freedom by bribing his way past a check-point (more or less), joining the Imperial Army and then deserting to become a smuggler. He attempted to take his girlfriend Qi'ra with him, but she was unfortunately captured.
- Qi'ra, on the other hand, is a subversion. When she and Han meet for the first time since his escape from Corellia, he asks her how she made it out. She replies "I didn't". It's heavily implied she 'got out' by pledging her services to Dryden Vos and is clearly under his command now. She may be better off now than she was in the slums of Corellia, but she isn't free.
- In Veronica Mars, the eponymous detective has a shot at getting out of Neptune and leaving her painful past behind her, but eventually decides she likes being In Harm's Way. (She is a very dysfunctional person.)
- Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy shows the doomed attempts made by hero Clyde Griffiths to get out of his ghetto. He succeeds for a time, but his past and own moral failings end up bringing him down. His lover Roberta Alden is also a tragic example of the same.
- I Am Not a Serial Killer: One of the first hints towards Marci's Hidden Depths is her speech about wanting to get out of Clayton, and how she doesn't understand how such a stagnant, pathetic town came from people who walked out into the boonies and built something from scratch.
- Janice and Larry, the older Grape siblings from What's Eating Gilbert Grape. They only come back for Arnie's birthday party at the end of the book.
- In the Doctor Who Expanded Universe Elseworld novel The Infinity Doctors, some young Gallifreyans treat the Doctor as this, and are bemused as to why he has come back.
- In Discworld, Lancre is "the place people come from to become successful somewhere else" (usually Ankh-Morpork). Opera singer Enrico Basilica grew up in Rookery Yard, in the Shades, where "you could fight your way out, or you could sing your way out" (or you could get out by going through an alley into Shamlegger Street, but no-one came to anything going that way).
- The non-fiction book In Search Of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio follows the lives of Puerto Rican crack dealers in El Barrio. One managed to make it out, getting through high school (a rarity in the neighbourhood at the time) and college (almost unheard of) to make it into the middle class and move into a safer neighbourhood. He had to be careful going back home to adopt all his old mannerisms so that he wasn't ostracized, and had to keep his background hidden from his wealthy neighbours when at home.
- This is Mahlia's life's goal in The Drowned Cities. She is desperate to make it out of the war-torn Wretched Hive she lives in. She manages to do it by the end, bringing a whole pack of soldier boys along for the ride.
- In Francine Rivers Redeeming Love, Angel is the only prostitute that escapes the brothel she lived in at the beginning of the story. This is partially because there was a fire that killed most of them a few weeks after Angel left. Near the novels end, she begins working to subvert this trope by beginning a ministry that helps girls who have been sold into prostitution by teaching them skills that will help them integrate into society as self-sufficient and upstanding women.
- Beka Cooper and her friend Tansy make it out of the slum in Beka Cooper in different ways. Beka helps the Lord Provost arrest a gang that threatened his career, so he takes in her family to repay her. Tansy marries Herun Lofts, the Nice Guy grandson of the richest (and nastiest) man in the Lower City.
- Blke Thorburn of Pact is the only one of his extended family to make it out of the toxic environment that their Big, Screwed-Up Family became over an inheritance conflict, with dubiously-legal acts of sabotage and spiteful manipulation abounding. In an inversion of the usual, Blake ended up homeless in Toronto, where he was brutally beaten more than once, and by the start of the story has only just managed to claw his way up to "dirt poor." He still considers it better than coming home.
- Although this is often an American trope, James Joyce, explored it in a specifically Irish context as well. It's found in his short stories, Dubliners, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
- Factors into the Survivor's Guilt felt by Sean in Mystic River, since unlike his friends Jimmy and Dave he actually made it out of the fictional poverty-stricken neighborhood of Boston where they grew up and made it as a cop.
- In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, the protagonist realizes that if he stays in his American Indian reserve, he'll lose hope and go nowhere like everyone else in the reservation. He is encouraged to go to an off-reserve school (where the education is better than in the reserve) by a teacher who helps him see this.
- One way of interpreting the fate of Molly the pony from Animal Farm. While she's the only animal to leave the Farm and voluntarily return to the service of a human, she nevertheless seems happy with her new life and ends up with more luxuries and less work than almost any other animal on the Farm. Some people have even suggested that Molly was smarter than she let on, at least enough to realise that Napoleon and Squealer tended to hastily change the subject whenever Benjamin asked them pointed questions about the finer details of their big ideas, and took to her hooves before everything went wrong.
- Afterschool Special: Subverted in "15 and Getting Straight," a 1989 "ABC Afterschool Special" starring Drew Barrymore, Corey Feldman and David Birney about junkies in a 12-step drug counseling program. A teen named Rick seems to have made tremendous progress and is mentoring some of the other teens who are in denial about their problem. The subversion is played as irony ... in the end, the lead counselor (Birney) comes in one day and announces to the group that Rick had overdosed on a new drug. Rick had run into some old friends and was trying to tell them to go away, but they persisted in getting him to try the drug and immediately had a seizure. The counselor himself an ex-drug user tells the group "I would have bet money" on Rick's future success in staying straight; instead, Rick is dead ... and in playing the trope straight and part of this episode's irony all of the other teenagers who had been in denial are successful in their resolve to stay straight.
- Tasha Yar of Star Trek: The Next Generation was originally from a post-apocalyptic planet but managed to get into Starfleet. Ro Laren similarly managed to escape from the Cardassian Occupation of Bajor.
- In one episode of NUMB3RS, Che Lobo, a former gangster turned hip-hop CEO, tells Colby Granger that he wanted his (currently kidnapped) son to be this.
Che Lobo: I swore I would never let my life touch him. That he'd have a chance to be something better. A few months ago, he tells me he wants a paper route so, so he could be a businessman, just like me. I know that he meant it in all the right ways, because that's the only part of me I ever let him see. When you're nine years old, your dad should be...
Che Lobo: Yeah.
- This is a major theme in Justified. Harlan County is very poor and many of the characters dream of leaving and starting a better life somewhere else. However, few actually follow through with this.
- Raylan Givens is actually one of the characters who actually made it out of Harlan. Faced with either working in the coal mine for the rest of his life or becoming a criminal like his father, he left Kentucky and became a U.S. marshal. He is understandably quite unhappy that when he is assigned to the Kentucky office at the beginning of the series.
- Bowman Crowder and his wife Ava wanted to get out of Harlan and believed that as a local football star Bowman would get a college scholarship and then have a professional sports career. When it turned out that he was not good enough for a scholarship, he went to work in the coal mine and started committing Domestic Abuse. After Ava kills Bowman she has a chance to leave Kentucky but decides to stay. When Ava finally gets away from Kentucky, she is a fugitive wanted for murder.
- The main motivation behind Mags Bennet's actions is to provide her grandchildren with the opportunity to go to college and get away from the criminal life she and her sons are living.
- The Crowes are a family of poor criminals and Wendy Crowe is desperate to get away from that environment. She works as a paralegal and is studying to be a lawyer. However, she is pulled back into the criminal life when her brothers get in trouble with the US Marshals. It turns out that Kendell Crowe is actually her son and she lacks the means to support them both so has to rely on her brothers to help raise him. She finally has a chance for a fresh start with Kendell when her brothers are killed.
- Frequently parodied with Tracy Jordan on 30 Rock.
- Welcome Back, Kotter: Gabriel Kotter made it out of the Brooklyn "ghetto", became a teacher, and then moved back to teach in his old neighborhood.
- One episode of NCIS had a Marine captain whose mother had taken him away from their hometown due to escape the blood feud which had killed his father and countless other members of their family. He only returned to take revenge when he learned his brother had been killed as part of the on-going feud.
- Season 4 of The Wire introduces a group of children from West Baltimore's projects and rowhouses. Each friend follows a different path and Namond Brice, the son of a reputed drug soldier, is the only kid able to escape the doomed background of a troubled childhood, a dysfunctional family -at best- and the notion that crime is the only way to earn a living. Sadly, it only happens thanks to a remarkable, extremely unusual and unique adoptive parent, Howard Colvin, a former cop who identifies Namond's potential.
- The premise of Survivors Remorse is that two cousins from a rough neighborhood made it big in professional basketball, and now have to contend with being in the spotlight and the effects it has on their family.
- This trope is a running source of source of conflict in Six Feet Under:
Nate: Claire, you can't stay here!
- Older brother Nate ran away from his dysfunctional and overbearing family so he could live outside their influence and without having anything to do with their family business. This condemned younger brother David to suspend his ambitions to go to law school as he felt responsible for the family and he got saddled into a line of work he had no interest in. When their father dies at the beginning of the show, Nate returns, clearly afraid of getting stuck at home for good this time while David's resentment at being left behind to deal with everything boils to surface.
- Over the course of the series, it is revealed that their mother, Ruth, had her own dreams but ended up staying home to take care of her sickly mother, resulting in life-long regret of What Could Have Been.
- Towards the end of the series, their sister Claire receives a job offer in New York and takes it. Just before she is due to leave, she gets news that the offer is no longer available but she decides to move anyways as she is afraid of repeating the mistake her mom did.
- Characters of this type show up from time to time in the various Law & Order series. Their past often ends up being related in some way to the case.
- Amanda Rollins of Law & Order: SVU is implied to be this in her family. Her mother and sister are less than thrilled (though the latter eventually comes around), believing that Amanda thinks herself better than them because of this.
- A lot of songs by The Kinks. "Do You Remember Walter" deals with someone who has made it out, singing about his friend Walter, who hasn't and the huge gulf that separates the two:
"Walter, you are just an echo of a world I knew so long ago
If you saw me now you wouldn't even know my name.
I bet you're fat and married and you're always home in bed by half-past eight.
And if I talked about the old times you'd get bored and you'll have nothing more to say.
Yes people often change, but memories of people can remain."
- "Dirty Blvd." by Lou Reed:
"And back at the Wilshire, Pedro sits there dreaming
he's found a book on magic in a garbage can
He looks at the pictures and stares at the cracked ceiling
'At the count of 3' he says, 'I hope I can disappear'
And fly fly away, from this dirty boulevard "
- C. P. Cavafy's famous poem The City deals with someone longing for escape from their surroundings and going out in the big world for adventure but they get so caught up in their yearnings, that they never truly escape where they come from:
"This city will always pursue you. You will walk
the same streets, grow old in the same neighborhoods,
will turn gray in these same houses.
You will always end up in this city. Dont hope for things elsewhere:
there is no ship for you, there is no road.
As youve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
youve destroyed it everywhere else in the world."
- A major motivation of many characters of In the Heights, and whether or not this is necessarily for the best.
- Nina escaped the barrio and got into Stanford. Subverted in that she struggled to meet her financial obligations, her grades suffered as a result, and she lost her scholarship and dropped out. When she returns home for a visit she's embarrassed and ashamed when everyone tells her how proud they are of her. Double Subverted when she uses the money from her father selling off his business to go back in the fall.
- Vanessa wants to find a better place to work and get an apartment downtown in West Village. She ultimately goes through with it, but not before getting a date with Usnavi.
- Abuela Claudia came from Cuba with her family, and is happy to have a home and close relationships with the community until her death.
- Usnavi wants to leave the Heights and return to his parents' home on a beach in the Dominican Republic, believing the place is changing and with many of his friends leaving, there's not much left for him. At the end after seeing Graffiti Pete's beautiful mural of Abuela, he decides to stay and use his lottery money to fix up the bodega, get a date with Vanessa, and remember all the stories the customers have to tell as the community changes with the times.
- Death of a Salesman: It's heavily implied that Biff Loman will be the one member of the Loman line to avoid the trap of chasing after unattainable dreams.
- Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag has Edward Kenway, the son of poor Welsh farmers who wants to become "a man of fortune" and see the wide world. In the process he becomes a Privateer, a Pirate, an Assassin and finally a rich gentlemen albeit not without a lot of painful sacrifices along the way.
- Night in the Woods has this as a theme, as its centered on a small Dying Town. Gregg recounts a story from his childhood about how he accidentally let loose his uncles sheep and how nearly all of them either returned or died. Only one of them escaped to the woods, and Gregg says that he wants to do the same.
- Grand Theft Auto largely deals with protagonists who for a variety of reasons want to escape their hood and face consequences for trying to do so.
- Grand Theft Auto: Vice City has Tommy Vercetti raised poor and a gangster in Liberty City, the son of his father who worked as a printer. He wanted to get out, and so worked for the Forelli Family who sold him out and Tommy spent a decade or so in prison. Naturally when he gets dispatched to the titular Vice City to oversee a drug deal, Tommy is not going to miss a chance of making up for losing out a huge chunk of his life.
- Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas has CJ who gets a lot of grief from his brother Sweet for walking out of Los Santos to Liberty City after past tragedy. In the middle point of the game, CJ is exiled and banished from Los Santos and becomes a powerful mercenary who is One Degree of Separation from every mob-boss and power broker on the West Coast but Sweet insists that he has to do something for the Hood.
- Grand Theft Auto IV and its DLC Mission-Pack Sequel also deal with this. Niko Bellic is an immigrant to America who is frustrated and miserable that in the new world he's more or less doing the same kind of work he did in the old world. Luiz Lopez and Gay Tony likewise are kind of miserable about their mutual aspirations, friendships and how a lot of it depends on their ties to the poor homes they came from. Johnny Klebitz doesn't want to escape the hood, but he does want to make his biker gang powerful again, and in the process, he destroys it.
- If Shepard has the "Earthborn" background in Mass Effect, they escaped a childhood of petty crime on the streets as a member of the Tenth Street Reds by joining the military. In the first game, a member of the Reds who is still active approaches Shepard and tries to blackmail them by threatening to reveal their criminal past to the galaxy, with embellishments to also make Shepard seem like an anti-alien xenophobe. Shepard has multiple options on how to deal with the situation. In the sequel, Finch will send you an e-mail saying that, even if you are not a member of the Reds anymore, he is glad it is you going after the Collectors.
- In Knights of the Old Republic II, the Jedi Exile is the only one of Revan's renegade Jedi who did not become a Sith. Whether or not that stays the case depends on the player's actions.
- In Star Wars: The Old Republic, the Sith Inquisitor was plucked from the slave auction when their Force sensitivity was discovered and sent to Korriban Sith Academy as just another recruit for the other hopefuls to kill on their way to the top. The Inquisitor ends up as one of the CoDragons of the Empire (along with the Sith Warrior).
- Throughout Red Dead Redemption II, several chacters — including the lead Arthur Morgan — keep suggesting John Marston (The Protagonist of the first game) to take his family and leave the outlaw life behind. As the first game tells us, John eventually does so. Once Arthur finds out he's slowly dying to tuberculosis, he chooses to use his remaining time to help John leave. He even uses this as a taunt of sorts as part of his last words; an another gang member believes he's made it simply by surviving a single encounter, which slightly offends Arthur.
Arthur: John made it. He's the only one. The rest of us... no. But I tried. In the end I did.
- In Takotsubo, the trope is heavily referenced in the prologue: Cord Cai is a Chinese-American boy from Oakland with gang history, who desperately wants to get out of the street life. His fiance Roland's death and the police force's uselessness utterly trash that plan, so after a suicide attempt, he shoots Roland's murderer and starts a gang again. He's constantly calling himself a failure or a "bad Asian," but his gang alias is "the Tin Man," Cord's gang is constantly helping out civilians and the police, and the tagline is "the story of a superhero."
- The Boondocks:
- Huey and Riley originally came from inner-city South Side Chicago. They weren't all that happy about being sent away to live with their grandfather Robert in the lily-white suburb of Woodcrest. Robert himself is a former Tuskeegee Airman who has worked his whole life to get where he is.
- According to an in-universe documentary, Thugnificent's hometown was so poor that many locals couldn't afford clothes. The crime was so out of control, that the underfunded police department gave up on the place, and just built an electric fence around it. But thanks to his musical career, Thugnificent can now afford a Big Fancy House in Woodcrest.
- Bojack Horseman: Out of the cast of Horsin' Around, Bradley Hitler-Smith was the one with enough sense to get out of show business. At the time of the show's present, he runs a successful hardware store and is the only reasonably well-adjusted member of the group.
- From the same show, Diane is the only member of her family who actually has a job.
- The Simpsons originally portrayed world boxing heavyweight champion Drederick Tatum this way, to the point where he once said if he ever moved back to Springfield "you know he'd messed up bad". Ironically, when he became a minor recurring character, the show implied he never left despite his success.
- Marge's high school friend Chloe is this, having become a hugely successfull international reporter, much to Marge's resentment.