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Tragic Dream

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When life gets rough, I like to hold on to my dream;
Of relaxing in the summer sun, just lettin' off steam.

"I'm gonna show you and everybody else that Willy Loman did not die in vain. He had a good dream. It's the only dream you can have — to come out number-one man. He fought it out here, and this is where I'm gonna win it for him."
Happy Loman, Death of a Salesman

This character has a dream that can never come true.

This character has been hurt by the world. A lot. Yet despite their pain they never lose hope in their most cherished dream, and even draw strength from pursuing their most fervent desire. Sadly, it's a fool's dream, and not in the romantic Don Quixote sense. It's something that is not just out of reach, but that they are fundamentally incapable of achieving or receiving, and they are usually too emotionally damaged to realize this. They either can't conceive of it as such or avoid the realization because they subconsciously know it would give them a Heroic BSoD or drive them to despair. Because of this, the dream stops being something to pine for and becomes a tangible goal they seek, with uniformly horrifying results.

There are a lot of reasons for the dream being out of reach, and for failing to achieve it. Here are a few common possibilities:

That said, some characters who experience an epiphany and realize the dream is impossible may live long and happy lives, provided they make the painful decision to abandon their dream and don't decide to ignore the epiphany.

Contrast Be Careful What You Wish For, where the dream is achieved with little or no effort from the character, but then forces them to deal with the bad consequences of realizing it.

This is a Sub-Trope of Hope Spot. Super-Trope to Dream-Crushing Handicap, where the reason the dream is impossible is a physical defect. The Deaf Composer may or may not be this, depending on if they're badass enough to compensate for their disability. As the name would suggest, very often puts the Tragic in Tragic Villain and Tragic Hero. If the dream is only impossible because it would mean the end of the story, it's Failure Is the Only Option. If the character gets so desperate that they become willing to do anything to achieve this dream, that's The Unfettered. Lastly, not to be confused with Dying Dream, though in some cases the events within it may be related to the unfulfilled goals the character used to have when he or she was alive. If the dream is made tragic because of one's parents ruining it, see Fantasy-Forbidding Father. For when dreams aren't impossible and the character succeeds in achieving it, see Earn Your Happy Ending. For when a character dies without ever knowing their dream was never possible, see Died in Ignorance.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Attack on Titan has quite a few of these.
    • Kenny Ackerman is an unrepentant murderer who views himself as a disgusting being. After witnessing the caring nature / mind control superpowers of the true Kings and learning it's passed on by the heir consuming the current King he wonders if he could become a good person by doing the same, or would conquer that good nature and become a mind-controlling overlord of all humanity. Either way would be fine. After years of preparation he discovered that only descendants of a specific family can properly inherit that nature and power, and for non-royals it's a recessive trait, meaning he never had a chance.
    • Erwin Smith's dream, held since childhood. His father was a teacher that correctly theorized that some sort of mass Laser-Guided Amnesia struck the population a century ago, since no knowledge of the outside world remained. Erwin shared this theory with others, leading to his father's assassination by the Secret Police. Since then, he dreamed of proving his father's theories correct and joined the military to pursue this goal. During the battle against the Beast Titan, Erwin accepts that his dream will never come true and leads a suicidal Zerg Rush against the enemy in hopes of giving others the chance to finally discover the truth about the world.
    • Reiner Braun's driving motivation turns out to be one. A mixed child, he desperately wanted to reunite his parents and live with his Marleyan father. To achieve this dream, he struggled through the selection process and was chosen as a Warrior Candidate. But on the eve of his mission to Paradis, he went to meet his father for the first time....and learned that the man already had a legitimate family and wanted nothing to do with Reiner. Heartbroken, he clung to the idea of becoming a hero as a substitute for his father's love. This new dream worked out just as well as the previous one did.
  • Berserk: Infamously deconstructed with Griffith and his quest for the "castle in the sky"; as a child, he dreamt of having a castle and kingdom of his own, a pipe dream at best considering his low-born origins. However, Griffith grew into a superb fighter and strategic genius who led the Band Of the Hawk, a mercenary company that deified him for his skills, and under his leadership, the Hawks managed to turn the tide of the Midland-Tudor 100-Year War, capturing an impenetrable fortress on their own, which led to the King of Midland knighting Griffith and his commanders, meaning that he had essentially attained nobility through his own hard work which point everything falls apart just because Guts left the Hawks to figure out his own life's dream. As had been hinted at throughout the Golden Age arc, Griffith is a seething mess of entitlement issues, denial and sunk-cost fallacies due to the work and sacrifices it took for him to get this far. This has MASSIVE, disastrous consequences not just for Guts and the Band of the Hawk, but for the entire world the series takes place in, and a body count that likely reaches into the millions.
  • Bleach: Souken's greatest desire was for the Soul Reapers and the Quincies to find a way to coexist peacefully and work together to prevent Hollow attacks. He desperately wanted to make sure another massacre never happened again. For most of the story, the only Quincies believed to exist were Souken's last practicing student, Uryuu, and Retired Badass Ryuuken, meaning Souken's dream was likely doomed. Then it was revealed that other Quincies do still exist, with the Vandenreich's invasion of Soul Society. And now the two sides are back in active war, further than ever from a lasting peace. The last frail hope is the Odd Friendship between the Kurosakis (who aren't even official Soul Reapers) and the Ishidas (who are the last remnant of a dissident Quincy faction).
  • The eponymous character in Boarding School Juliet has a downplayed example- her dream isn't the cornerstone of her self-esteem. She has wanted to become a Worthy Opponent to Inuzuka since their childhood, but this will never happen for various reasons. For one thing, he's in love with her. For another, he's not that invested in the war between their people. Even if none of those things were true, he would have no reason to single her out specifically in the way that she wants him to. She contents herself with dating him, and occasional sparring matches.
  • In Candy♡Candy, a girl named Susanna Marlowe was in her way to become a successful actress and very close to actually get it. However, when she saved the life of her co-star and crush Terry Granchester, her injuries are so severe that she must have her leg amputated. The effects are terrible for her, and only Candy's intervention and Terry's decision to stay by her side manage to barely bring the girl back.
  • Meiling of Cardcaptor Sakura has one dream: to marry Syaoron and live Happily Ever After, even going so far as to make him swear they'll be together so long as he never finds anyone he likes better. He eventually falls in love with Sakura and Meiling is gracious enough to back off without a fuss, but it's still heartbreaking to see her sob in Tomoyo's arms because her dream's been shattered for good.
  • This happens a lot with Code Geass. One of the more prominent is Shirley's desire to get together with Lelouch via confessing her feelings and having them returned. This goes so poorly for her she ultimately ends up dead after the wrong wording sets off the resident Yandere Tyke Bomb thinking she's a threat to his own Tragic Dream of staying with his "brother"; and he himself ultimately pulls off a Heroic Sacrifice to save Lelouch not long after that. Euphemia wanted to create a world of "smiles" so that she, Suzaku, and her siblings Lelouch and Nunnally could live happy lives, as well as all the suffering Japanese. One bad joke and worse timing for Power Incontinence and she goes down as the "Massacre Princess" instead. And then there is Nunnally in the end the only gentle world she wanted was one where she could spend her days with her older brother...and Lelouch dies to fulfill the wish for a better world.
    • Lelouch himself wants to return to a normal life and spend his time with his friends and close family, including even Suzaku, after fixing the world. Unfortunately...
  • In Hikawa Shinobu's backstory in Dear Brother, Mariko tells Nanako that he wanted to be a great novelist and was actually talented in writing novels, but he ended up writing erotic stories because that's what it sells and back then before writing erotica, he wrote a really good novel, but it was a fluke. When Mariko found a copy of his novel he used to write shortly after her parents' divorce, she says it was great.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • Future Trunks' appearance and desires are all based on his mother Bulma's wishes to live in a peaceful world without the androids terrorizing it, and eventually realizes that whatever changes he makes in the current timeline won't affect his timeline.
      Trunks: My mother wanted the world to have a good future, even if she couldn't live in it.
    • This was also true of Vegeta, whose one goal in life was to become a Super Saiyan so that he would have the power to surpass Goku, and destroy Frieza to avenge the loss of his people and his planet. This is actually subverted when he actually achieves his dream of becoming a Super Saiyan in the Android Saga, but still never surpasses Goku before he dies fighting Cell and then finally averted at the end of the Buu Saga when he admits Goku's better than him and makes peace with being second best.
    • In Dragon Ball Super, Future Trunks visits present day Gohan and gets to see the happy family Gohan made for himself. He briefly imagines what his life would be like if Goku Black never invaded his world. We get a scene of Trunks having dinner with his mom, Mai, and Scratch (the black cat) in the background. This causes Trunks to break down into tears since he knows that such a thing can never happen since his mom is dead and so is Mai (so he thinks).
  • Jellal's dream for freedom in Fairy Tail, even if that may sound wrong. He was a child slave. His best friend/possible crush staged a rebellion, developed magic, and overthrew their oppressors just to save him from torture. Rather than get to relish in his freedom with her, he was forcibly turned into a villain by the girl who would later pretend to be his underling. So now he's spent X many years of his childhood as a slave and spent eight brainwashed. His former childhood friend who once went to great lengths for him wants him dead. Her new friend seemingly helps her get her wish. When Jellal manages to come back he has amnesia and has genuinely regained his former nice personality, but gets to enjoy this for less than 24 hours before being arrested for the crimes he was deceived into committing. By the end, he's a fugitive on the run whose former minions want him dead and buried.
    • Said underling was trying to go back in time and redo her life from the moment that it went horribly wrong. Bonus points for not realizing at that exact moment that her mother didn't forget her, she just got a Replacement Goldfish to mask the pain, and all of this could have been avoided if she walked five steps forward instead of deciding to invent time travel. Eventually, the weight of all her merciless war crimes (when thinking that she could just undo them by not becoming a dark time mage) crushed her psyche, and she ends up using a high-risk version of time travel to pay her debts to society. At best, it hyper-ages her into an old lady, at worst, she really is dead.
  • Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star wants nothing more than to rescue his beloved Yuria. By the time he does, she's dying of radiation poisoning.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist:
    • Manga-version Greed may have such a dream. Despite essentially being a parasitic entity formed of concentrated greed and thousands of tormented souls, his true dream is to have friends. It seems he subconsciously recognized the impossibility of this dream and so instead focused all his efforts on acquiring everything else to fill the great gaping emptiness he felt inside. One character commented that it was sad how he could not even remember his own dream.
    • Surprisingly, Father, the main antagonist of the story, was driven to the horrible acts he committed likely as a result of his own dream: to be free of his flask. Ultimately, the only method he could devise to accomplish that task was to carry out the destruction of Xerxes, and from that point on he would do anything to maintain and expand his freedom.
    • Greed's dream is even more tragic because he actually achieves it moments before dying for good. He seems a little surprised when he realizes that he cares enough for Ling to sacrifice himself to keep Father from absorbing him too. He is even more surprised when he sees Ling and Ed trying so hard to save him. He spends his dying moments saying goodbye to his friends.
  • Ryouhei Sumi from Future GPX Cyber Formula wants to be an auto racer and in fact, he was a go-kart racer for a while, but he has a rare blood type that makes it impossible to achieve due to safety reasons and he was forced to quit racing because of it. But that doesn't stop him from being a car mechanic for the Sugo Asurada team.
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Yoshikage Kira just wants a quiet life, but such dream is beyond his antic as a psychopathic serial killer. There's a moment he actually gets such quiet and happy life, by taking over Kosaku Kawajiri's identity and by disguising as a family man, but he just throws it away and continues his evildoing. He eventually gets killed and becomes a ghost who travels along the dimensions between life and afterlife for eternity, looking for his lost dream.
  • Atsuko "Akko" Kagari of Little Witch Academia (2017) wants nothing more than to be a witch so that she can use magic to spread joy to everyone, just like her idol, Shiny Chariot. In a cruel twist, the performance that inspired her so much was only possible because Chariot siphoned off the magical potential of the audience members, including Akko herself, putting her severely behind the curve when she actually enrolls at Luna Nova. If she hadn't gone to that fateful show, she wouldn't have had nearly as much trouble with magic, but she also never would have discovered her interest in it in the first place. Fortunately, the finale suggests that she can make her dream happen eventually — it'll just be a much longer and more difficult road than expected.
  • Lyrical Nanoha:
    • Fate Testarossa's only wish in the first season of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha was to have her mother be the happy, smiling woman she remembered from her early childhood. Then she learns that in those memories, Precia was never smiling at her, but at Alicia Testarossa, the daughter whose death drove Precia mad and drove her to create a clone of her as a Replacement Goldfish. Unfortunately, even with Alicia's memories, Fate was not—and could never be—Alicia, a fact which Precia hated her for. However, her dream does come true in spirit when she's Happily Adopted by Lindy Harlaown, who's perfectly willing to give her the motherly love she craved.
    • Reinforce of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's revealed in the third Sound Stage of StrikerS through a video recording that she had but one small wish: to live life together with her Meister Hayate and the Wolkenritter, gathering around the dinner table and sharing smiles with each other, a dream of peaceful days she could have had. Alas, her nature as an Artifact of Doom made this dream impossible unless a small miracle happened. It never did, and in the end, she had to sacrifice her life to save her Meister, stopping this dream from ever being fulfilled. However, a miracle did happen for Hayate's Knights, who shared Reinforce's dream and were freed from said artifact and allowed to spend their final lifetime with their master.
  • Sajuna "Juju-sama" Inui from My Dress-Up Darling loved to watch Magical Girl shows as a child and dreamed of becoming one. As she grew older, she realized it was all fiction, so her dream was impossible. She got into cosplay since to her, cosplaying as magical girl characters is the closest thing she can do to become one.
  • Izuku Midoriya's dream in My Hero Academia was to become an awesome hero like All Might when his Quirk developed...until it was discovered he was actually Quirkless in a society where 20% of the world's population are like that. It later gets dogged further after All Might himself sadly tells him that he won't be able to cut it as a hero without a Quirk, but a near-lethal attempt at heroism by Midoriya to save his classmate from a villain despite the odds inspires All Might to take him as his successor and subsequently reveals he can give his own Quirk to Midoriya so he has a chance of being a true hero.
  • Naruto:
    • Orochimaru, more so in the anime than manga. Orphaned at a young age, he cherished one dream above all others: To live long enough to see his parents reincarnated once again. Years of war and tragedy eroded his morality until the dream became twisted and all but unrecognizable. Sasuke pitied him for having so thoroughly lost sight of his goal.
    • Neji Hyuga, who wanted to be recognized as being on par with the head family of the Hyuga even though he was born into the branch family. This trope becomes all too literal when Neji dies in the Fourth Great Shinobi War.
    • Rock Lee wanted to surpass Neji Hyuga in fighting ability and try to avert Hard Work Hardly Works as best as he could. Not only was he never able to push his abilities high enough through intensive training, but now he will never be able to prove his power to Neji, since Neji died protecting Naruto and Hinata in the Fourth Great Shinobi War, much to Lee's sadness as he mournfully cradles Neji's lifeless body. That said, some scenes indicate that he has earned Neji's respect.
    • Obito Uchiha dreamt of being Hokage and winning the recognition of his village before supposedly dying in the Third Shinobi World War. This turns entirely tragic when he is revealed to have survived, but his idealism was crushed by the horrors of war, making him one of the main antagonists when he resurfaces as the masked Akatsuki member "Tobi" in the Fourth Shinobi World War Arc. However, we see glimpses of his hopes of what might have been, since he ultimately regrets the outcome.
  • In episode 9 of Penguindrum, we learn that Himari and her friends Hibari and Hikari wanted to be Idol Singers, but Himari couldn't join them in the upcoming audition because of her mother Chiemi's accident. (Which happened when she protected Himari.) After other incidents, Hikari and Hibari pressed on and became a successful duo while Himari became ill... the "red and blue" girls we know. Himari is sad about it, but she wishes the best for them... and later we learn that Hibari and Hikari still cherish and miss their buddy Himari.
  • Ironically, Princess Tutu and Princess Kraehe share the same Tragic Dream, although it's tragic for different reasons: They both want Mytho's love. Duck/Tutu has the power to help Mytho regain his feelings, but she's destined to vanish if she ever confesses her love to him; it turns out that the only way for her to have him for her own would be to withhold his final heartshards. Rue/Kraehe, on the other hand, already "has" Mytho, but he's incapable of actually loving her, and when he starts getting his feelings back, he falls in love with Tutu instead. As much as she tries to convince herself that Mytho loves her, he only ever shows indifference to her, at best, and downright abuse at worst, after she misguidedly taints what's left of his heart. In the end, Duck realises that while she cares for Mytho, romantically speaking she loved more the idea of him rather than his actual self, so she dedicates herself to go Screw Destiny instead — even when that means she'll return to be a duck. As for Rue... her dream becomes true as the fully re-hearted Mytho does romantically love her, and ultimately makes her his Princess.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica:
    • Where do you even begin with Homura? She was originally a shy girl whose frequent bouts of illness robbed her of any opportunity to make friends, which just led to Madoka's kindness making a massive impression on her. When Madoka lost her life defending Mitakihara City from the powerful witch Walpurgisnacht, Homura decided to make a contract with Kyubey in exchange for the chance to protect Madoka. Unfortunately, every attempt she made with her new time travel powers to save Madoka just added to Madoka's magical potential, making Kyubey more determined than ever to ensnare Madoka with a contract. Furthermore, while Madoka's tendency to put others' happiness and well-being first is what made Homura care about her in the first place, it also makes it really hard to persuade her not to become a magical girl. The worst part is that if Homura ever accepts the futility of her efforts and gives up, she will succumb to despair and become a witch. Once Rebellion rolls around, there are even more levels: Homura manages to rewrite reality to give Madoka a happy, safe, and peaceful life, but she did so entirely without Madoka's consent, and she erased Madoka's memories in the process; should Madoka's memories ever get restored, she'll most likely resent or even hate Homura for it.
    • There's also Sayaka, who wants more than anything to win the love of her Love Interest Kyousuke, and made her wish in order to fix his hand so he could carry out his dream as a violinist again. But Sayaka is too insecure to actually talk to Kyousuke about her feelings for him, and it isn't helped that as a Magical Girl, she has essentially become an undead abomination, and feels that she is unworthy of him when she finds out the truth. Things end badly for Sayaka, and she ultimately becomes a witch and has to be put down.
  • RE-TAKE has Ghost-Asuka see Shinji's dream (married to Asuka, with a child and living peacefully in some sort of Avalonesque utopia) when repairing his mind. Needless to say, not everything is...quite right. Firstly, the reason why Shinji's mind needs repairing is that just last volume, Asuka self-destructed her Evangelion to save Shinji. Secondly, Ghost-Asuka is bitter at Shinji for abandoning her in End of Evangelion and is repairing his mind so she can keep on punishing him. Lastly, Shinji is being possessed by Shinji from End, so this might not really be that Shinji's dream.
    • Subverted when Shinji has the chance to achieve his dream but he turns it away because it would doom the world he has saved -he says himself being so selfish would be unforgivable... and because if he took it, Ghost-Asuka would be alone.
  • In the Dead Moon Circus arc of Sailor Moon the Tragic Dream of the Amazon Trio is to have a dream of their own. They only get it through dying, since Pegasus manages to collect their souls and give them dreams.
  • SD Gundam Force has one of the most tragic cases. Deed, one of the Knight Gundams falls in love with the human Princess Rele. He betrays not only his commrades but all of Lacroa Kingdom in order to obtain what he thinks is the key to making him human like her. He eventually dies without ever even confessing his love for her.
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: Viral is a vicious enemy Beastman turned surly ally. When he is trapped in a Lotus-Eater Machine, we glimpse his secret desire: a quiet life with a loving family. This is impossible because the Beastmen cannot reproduce, and Viral's immortality means he would outlive them even if it were. His escape from the dream is bittersweet, as he seems to recognize and accept that it cannot be real. With a final smile to his imaginary wife and daughter, he charges away to the Final Battle.
  • Yuuki from Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 really wants to visit a bridge he has good memories of with his family. Yuuki dies before this can happen
  • This seems to be a major theme in Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-, as a few characters are described as having dreams that they can never achieve. One dream in particular was the reason the story took place. Yuuko apparently died at some point and it became the Big Bad's obsession to revive her. Everything that happened was either part of his Gambit Roulette to revive her(something clearly stated to be impossible) or the multiple gambits designed to stop him.
  • The main characters of Wandering Son are preteens with gender identity issues. Nitori is a trans girl while Takatsuki is a trans boy. Both dress as they want while alone together, but as bodies mature through adolescence their dysphoria only gets worse. The trope is eventually averted in the finale with implications that Nitori will transition during or after college.
  • Itsuki from Yuki Yuna is a Hero wants to be a singer despite her Performance Anxiety. The true tragedy is that Magical Girl's are human sacrifices and each time they use their Mankai they end up with health problems. Itsuki lost her voice permanently, though the girls originally thought it was temporarily. Fu, her only living family member and older sister, feels extremely guilty for dragging her sister into this all. Eventually subverted when Itsuki gets her voice back.

    Comic Books 
  • In All Fall Down, any hopes the heroes or villains have about ever getting their powers back are moot.
  • Mr. Freeze in Batman devotes his life to curing his wife Nora's terminal disease. His use of his company's cryogenic technology without their permission led to the circumstances that made him Mr. Freeze in the first place. And when he finally does find a means to cure her in the Lazarus Pit, his impatience twists her into the evil Lazara. And in some versions of the story, Batman reminds him that she's not even his wife—just a cryogenically frozen woman he grew obsessed with.
  • After an exhausting day being Batman, Jean Paul Valley reflected that after working for the Order of St. Dumas, which wanted to re-conquer Jerusalem for Christianity, and then being a Temporary Substitute for Batman, who wants to stop crime in Gotham City, he found the fanatical, obsessive Dumas to be the wiser man: sure, Jerusalem was never conquered again, but it was a tangible goal, one that could be achieved... stopping crime in Gotham is a madman's dream.
  • House of X: Part of Moira Mctaggart's Breaking Speech to Charles Xavier is that his dream of human/mutant coexistence is a constant for him across all timelines. And one that is truly good and worthwhile. Unfortunately, having sought to create a better future for mutants in 6 alternate timelines, she sees that the dream is temporally impossible, as in every timeline, mankind or machines outpace them and they seemed doomed to extinction. Which is why, in this "last try" she has, Moira will have to bend Xavier to her will in order to Take a Third Option and find a radical new solution to their latest attempt to Screw Destiny.
  • Thorgal: Thorgal just wants a place where he can live in peace with his family. Unfortunately, the fact that Humans Are Bastards and that he's not technically from the Earth (his birth parents were planetary colonists descended from Atlanteans) means the gods really have it in for him. Even when it appears the focus of the series will be on his children, he gets sent off to adventure again.
  • Whirl in Transformers: More than Meets the Eye: Wanted to make watches, but because of the Cybertroninan Society's belief in form dictating function (Whirl's form being a flier meant that he was pushed into the air force), the dream seemed unattainable. He eventually did manage to get exempt, and started a watch business, before the Senate came down and crushed his shop, and had him disfigured, giving him a cycloptic eye (a mark of shame in their society), and replacing his once nimble watch making hands with blunt claws. Whirl's not been quite right in the head since then. While he does miss watchmaking, he can now pursue a career in it now that the caste system has collapsed, and he can get himself fixed, but chooses not to. He has a new dream now: hurting things, since his little incident his lust for violence has consumed him, and while he could fix himself, he feels it would leave him without a purpose.

    Fan Works 
  • Asuka (implied to be either Ryuuko or Satsuki) wanted to fly like the birds she's enjoyed watching from her hospital room. However, true to some examples of this trope, this dream is impossible, especially while she is alive, as she succumbs to her illness in the end. However, her sister, who muses on her death, believes she's reincarnated as a songbird.
  • The Knights of the Old Republic mod Brotherhood of Shadow: Solomon's Revenge is a conga line of these.
    • Damon Drexl joined the Exchange, slaughtered his former crew, and even tried to take possession of the Artifact of Doom so that he could build a new galaxy without Jedi or Sith, but where rogues like him could run free of restraint. LS or DS, it doesn't end well.
    • Shadow AKA Channa Mae/Matilda/Sera Degana wanted to find purpose in her life; first by accepting the way of the Jedi, then by trying to save the innocents of the galaxy by joining Revan during the Mandalorian Wars. Only, she ends up completely losing her identity in her fanatical support of Revan.
    • Solomon himself is so determined to avenge his Padawan that he gets Drunk on the Dark Side. It's almost comical when said former Padawan is arguing with him about how badly he's fallen - speaking from experience! His niece, Telana, equally succumbs to fanaticism, believing the way of the Jedi is to "destroy Sith" only to have a force-deaf Channa Mae kill her in self defense.
    • The most tragic of them all is Akirakon Sin, his dream was only to serve the Sith King, the Sith of that era being more Proud Warrior Race Guy than Card-Carrying Villain. After the Rakatan invaders are driven from the planet, he and his entire Assassins Guild are imprisoned in the artifact by the Evil Advisor union, and the advisors begin the "Sith Lord" tradition of Chronic Backstabbing Disorder.
  • Code Prime: Being a kind of war epic, there are some dreams that never quite work out. For example...
    • Charles Vi Britannia was scarred in his youth by the chaos of a succession crisis. After being mentored in leadership by Megatron, he had a new dream to end all wars through an Assimilation Plot to unite all minds and "kill God." Unfortunately, to achieve this goal, Charles decided to declare war on the whole world, and turned his family into mere assets in his drive to succeed. And once his Evil Mentor found out about this plan, he retaliated for his treachery by destroying his home, his empire and his life.
    • In the exodus from Cybertron, Ironhide was separated from his bot lover Chromia. He always held out hope that they'd find a way to reunite. And for a few months after calling all Autobots to Earth, they were reunited again. Unfortunately, after The attack of the Damocles, Chromia was a casualty of the battle. A possibility they always anticipated, but still an outcome leaving Ironhide bitter and sad in the aftermath.
    • When he finds out that his mother is alive in Anya, Lelouch and Nunnally have a new dream to bring her out of the body and into something new thanks to figuring out that Misty Ix is a hybrid of her dna. Then they could finally be a whole family together with all their redeemed family. Unfortunately, before they could attempt this, Marianne's sins caught up to her, and she ended up sacrificing herself to save Lelouch's life and the world. The worst part was that at her end, Lelouch began to reconcile, and her death left a hole that Nunnally could never quite recover from after they won the war.
  • Empathy: Honey Lemon dreamed of having a loving future with Tadashi Hamada. They were a fun couple together, and both deeply cared about each other. Unfortunately, destiny took that away from them leaving Pamela a mess all through the rest of the story.
    • Professor Callahan saw his daughter get abducted by aliens in this timeline, and eventually became desperate enough to cut a deal with her captors in order to get her back. She was rescued by the Big Hero 9 in the process, but by his actions, Callahan was made the villain of his story, and essentially lost Abagail forever in the process.
  • Cyril Sutherland from The Good Hunter hopes to save up for a piece of land in an isolated area. A place to finally rest his head, to be free from the ongoing turmoil happening in the MGE 'verse, to move on from the ordeal that is Yharnam, and to forever stow away his weapons to live the rest of his life in peace. Except that it is simply impossible for him to do that, with hostile monster girls all over the shop. Just as Cyril seems to have found a home in Sheffield, it is attacked by Order zealots. This, combined with him feeling guilty about what happened to Sierra and Emil, pushes him back into the path of bloodshed once more. Cyril is aware that coming to terms with his identity as a Hunter (that is, abandoning his dream) would be a difficult, yet inevitable affair, but he still feels lost. Fortunately, he learns a lesson regarding his perceived failings, that one has to make their own home, and protecting their home is their duty. He does exactly that after the main storyline, by creating an agency named the Wild Hunt to defend Sheffield from the interests of the Demon Lord and the Order's clergy.
  • Intercom: When we see more of Joy's inner room/happy place, we find out that secretly she has a dream to have a perfect family. And not just a family like the other emotions can be family like, but with a mom and dad to guide her, along with Riley and Bing Bong too. But, being the leader, the oldest and an emotion, she can never have that kind of family or guidance. And after Riley turns frosty on the emotions finding out about the move, Joy finally wakes up that all the pretending in the world will never give her that kind of family either.
  • The Merry Go Round Broke Down: Arthur and Buster are studying to be detectives for when Arthur gets cancelled. Freddie knows that detectives won't hire Toons, but lets the kids have their dream.
  • My Father's Son: Jon Connington is one of Rhaegar Targaryen's best friends. He is loyal to him as a vassal and supportive of him as a friend. Unfortunately, the one thing he can never have of Rhaegar is his romantic love. It only becomes worse when he sees how Lyanna Stark clearly wins Rhaegar's heart AND repairs his marriage with Elia Martell. As his jealousy and anger grows, he begins plotting to have those meddling Starks and all around them die to have Rhaegar all to himself. But by the honor, courage and determination of those around the princesses, not only is he found out, but he's forced into exile with his dream turned to ash.
  • In Thieves Can Be Heroes!, Izuku continues to cling to his dream of becoming a Pro Hero despite being Quirkless and never meeting All Might. But everything goes downhill after he's charged with assault for trying to stop a drunken man from sexually assaulting a woman. Not only does his trial make him miss the U.A. Entrance Exam, but his new criminal record ensures that he'll never be able to get a job at a Hero Office or ever get enrolled at another Hero School. This dream continues to push him forward as a phantom thief, hoping to save people when the Pro Heroes can't.
  • To Hell and Back (Arrowverse): Following his accidentally ruining his godson Oliver's life by sinking the boat he was and leaving him stranded on an island for a decade, Malcolm Merlyn shows a lot of remorse and it's definitely aggravated when he learns Oliver actually is his illegitimate son. It leaves him desperately wishing for Oliver's forgiveness, and it's also strongly hinted he craves Oliver accepting and loving Malcolm as his biological father. Malcolm's son Tommy somberly muses over the fact that no matter what, Oliver will never grant this to Malcolm.
  • The Dragon Age: Inquisition fanfic Walking in Circles has a dream, a deleted scene from the Bad Future caused by Redcliffe, in which when Solas meets Cole, the latter reveals that all the ancient elven god wants is a simple, domestic life with Evelyn. But instead, what he gets is a hopeless war against Corypheus after Evelyn was "killed" by Alexius.
  • Where Talent Goes to Die:
    • Kaori Miura, the main character, once dreamed of being a novelist, but was told to put aside her hopes of becoming a writer to focus on her studies and get a good job. Because of this, Miura greatly admires Sae Edogawa, the Ultimate Mystery Writer, who succeeded where she failed.
    • Edogawa once had a friend who had hoped to become a writer, but lacked the talent for it. Like Miura, her parents tried to get her to give up on her dreams, but unlike Miura, she ended up resenting Edogawa, and eventually cut ties with her.

    Films — Animation 
  • In The Incredibles, Buddy Pine was once the Number One fanboy of Mr. Incredible, and desperately wanted to be his sidekick despite not having any powers or training. Buddy tried to prove himself by creating rocket boots to show his capabilities, but his impatience and unwillingness to listen to Mr. Incredible's warnings not only result in him putting himself and a train full of passengers in danger, but also let the villain Bomb Voyage escape in the chaos. Mr. Incredible understandably wasn't open to the idea of a sidekick after this and had the police take Buddy home, denying any affiliation with Buddy for his reckless Lack of Empathy and disastrously self-centered behavior. The results after this ultimately put the nail in the coffin on anyone becoming superheroes, as Supers would become banned for over 15 years as a result of Buddy's bad choices starting a a precedent of expensive lawsuits against Supers. On a personal level, Mr Incredible's decisive shunning (and Buddy's own inability to understand why he was being rejected) would prove to have horrific consequences.
  • Kung Fu Panda:
    • Tai Lung wanted to be the Dragon Warrior and get Master Shifu's approval. By the time Shifu admitted he should have told Tailung he was proud of him it was too late.
    • Subverted with Po. Everyone thinks his dream of becoming a martial artist is impossible, given that he's a flabby panda. They figure out that his gluttonous habits are actually a great asset when he learns to weaponize them.
  • Monsters University revolves around Mike's dream of becoming a Scarer. It's a prequel, and he doesn't. He's just not scary, but on a more uplifting note, his skill sets and knowledge allows him to be treated like an equal to the Scarers. Still, the other movie shows he excels when the focus is switched to making kids laugh, so there's that.
    • Inverted with the Oozma Kappas who were a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits that were rejected from the Scaring program, believing they'd never achieve their dreams. However, thanks to Mike's training, they discover they do have what it takes to be Scarers and even though they lose the Scare Games, Dean Hardscrabble was so impressed with their talents that she allowed them into the Scare program and they'd go on to be famous Scarers on collecting cards. Fridge Horror kicks in when you remember the changeover from scream to laughter, but try not to think of that.
  • Played for Laughs in Frozen: Olaf is a friendly and affable fellow who, above all else, just wants to experience summer. There's just one hitch; he's a living snowman.
    Olaf: [singing] Oh, the sky will be blue
    And you guys will be there too
    When I finally do what frozen things do in summer!
    Kristoff: ...I'm gonna tell him.
    Anna: Don't you dare!
    • Luckily, when Elsa finally thaws the Eternal Winter, she takes the time to create a personal flurry for Olaf, so he can continue living, no matter the time of year. Plus, in Frozen II, he has a "permafrost layer" so that he doesn't need to rely on the snow cloud.
  • In The Pebble and the Penguin, penguin Rocko's dream is to be able to fly. Somehow, impossibly, in a way that makes absolutely no sense WHATSOEVER, this trope gets averted.
  • In The Princess and the Frog, Ray is in love with a beautiful firefly named Evangeline. She's a star. This culminates in a massive Tear Jerker in which the Big Bad squishes him. But during his funeral, the mourning protagonists see that there is a new star in the sky next to Evangline.
  • In Cats Don't Dance, this seemed to be the case for Danny and the other animals who dreamed of being stars. Fortunately, this was averted when they finally showed the world what they could do.
  • Moses and Rameses in The Prince of Egypt just want to be brothers again but their conflicting destinies split them asunder.
  • The Fox and the Hound are just destined to become enemies despite promising to be friends forever.
  • In Wreck-It Ralph Vanellope Von Schweetz dreams of becoming a real racer, but before she can get out onto the track, King Candy warns Ralph that her glitching effects could cause the game to be unplugged, killing her in the process. The trope is subverted, though, as it turns out that King Candy is really only trying to prevent Vanellope from racing because should she cross the finish line, the game would be reset, destroying his programmed disguise of King Candy (he's actually Turbo). Also, once Vanellope does become a real racer, the players love her because of her glitching. Granted, she has brought it under control so that she can use it to her advantage.
  • Downplayed in Anastasia. Anya's dream and driving motivation for most of the film is to be reunited with her family, whom she cannot remember. Although she does regain her memories, finds her grandmother and gets with Dimitri, technically, she is never reunited with her whole family because most of them were killed in the Russian Revolution.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • A.I.: Artificial Intelligence: Robot boy David was a kind of Replacement Goldfish for his adopted parents and their comatose son, and when their son recovers, they come to reject David. He believes that if he finds the "Blue Fairy", she will turn him into a real boy and then his adopted parents will love him. He keeps pursuing this dream even long after they're dead. Eventually subverted when advanced robots from the future, essentially technological equivalents to fairies, revive him and reunite him with his mother, though only for one day.
  • Catch Me If You Can: Frank Jr thought if he just kept working hard and playing the system to his fiddle, he'd be able to rebuild his family life and live the high life that they deserve. Unfortunately, for all his swindling and smooth playing, eventually 2 great factors caught up to him: The Law of the FBI eventually caught wise to him, and his father died suddenly.
  • Citizen Kane: Charles Foster Kane's dream is I Just Want to Be Loved. Unfortunately, that dream is available to everyone but him: given the way he was raised, Charlie is used to paying for everything with money, and the idea of investing time and sacrificing his own interests for a relationship is absolutely beyond his comprehension.
  • Enemy at the Gates: Danilov has made his career as The Political Officer in the Red Army, but after trying to pull a Uriah Gambit on Vasily and then believing Tania to be dead, he admits that he no longer believes in the socialist cause.
    Danilov: We tried so hard to create a society that was equal, where there'd be nothing to envy our neighbor. But there's always something to envy. A smile, a friendship. Something you don't have and want to appropriate. In this world, even a Soviet one, there will always be rich and poor. Rich in gifts. Poor in gifts. Rich in love. Poor in love.
  • In Falling Down, William Foster wants to reunite with his ex-wife and child for his daughter's birthday. This was unlikely before the movie started because of his violent and obsessive behavior. He was a good man, but events conspire to make him go pretty much on a rampage through LA on his way to the daughter's birthday party. Needless to say, it ends in tears.
  • Once Seth Brundle learns he's becoming a Half-Human Hybrid in The Fly (1986), he works his way through all of the Stages of Monster Grief. He tries to accept and even embrace what he's becoming, but also comes to realize that he'll eventually lose his human reason and compassion and starts working on a plan to retain, if not regain, as much of his humanity as possible. Unfortunately, that plan requires him to genetically fuse himself with another human. His attempt to realize this dream becomes all the more tragic and horrific when he decides that human will be his pregnant lover Veronica, promising her with his last words that "We'll be the ultimate family!", a moment followed shortly thereafter by his One-Winged Angel transformation — underlining how his Protagonist Journey to Villain is now complete. His plan fails and Veronica ends up having to Mercy Kill him.
  • The 2007 remake of Halloween (2007) has Michael Myers with a single goal post-escape: reunite with his younger sister, the only living family he has and loves. He's a The Voiceless Implacable Man, so he never articulates the dream, but he shows her a picture of them as children and becomes docile when she pretends to understand and goes to hug him. Of course, by that point he'd killed several of her friends and kidnapped her, making a "happy family reunion" the last thing on her mind. Cue him becoming homicidal again after she stabs him and tries to escape.
  • In The Hustler (1961), Eddie Felton wants to beat Minnesota Fats and prove he's the best pool player ever. He eventually succeeds, but the price he pays means he derives no pleasure from it.
  • i am sam has a mentally disabled Sam raise his genius daughter as a single parent. Eventually, he loses custody of her because he's an unfit parent despite his love, and fights tooth and nail with the help of lawyer to keep her. He loses, but keeps visitation rights.
  • In Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, the black title character talks to her lover, white movie director Otto Preminger, about getting married and having a "houseful of boys". He wistfully calls it a "beautiful dream" and walks out during one of her performances, effectively ending their relationship.
  • Joker (2019): Arthur Fleck is a street clown who dreams of becoming a stand-up comic and making people laugh. Trouble is, he is also a mentally disturbed man with a very poor grasp of humour - his material consists of misanthropic jokes about tragedies that just leave audiences confused and uncomfortable, and only he finds them funny. His first gig is a disaster that gets mocked on national TV, and then he begins to lose his mind.
  • Little Miss Sunshine: Olive's brother Dwayne has taken a vow of silence until he achieves his dream of becoming an Air Force pilot. Olive administering a colorblindness test to pass the time during the road trip reveals that Dwayne is colorblind, and therefore disqualified from ever becoming a pilot. He doesn't take it well.
  • Rizzo from Midnight Cowboy just wants to get out of New York and move to Florida where the weather is better. He dies of tuberculosis just before he gets there.
  • Once Upon a Time in the West: Railroad Tycoon Morton desperately wishes to see his railway reach the Pacific Ocean before the tuberculosis that has crippled him fully claims his lungs and his life, so much so that he enlists the aid of a monster like Frank to 'clear the track' and eliminate any problems they find in the way (thus jump-starting the plot). Frank makes some grim comments about the progression of Morton's disease as they've crossed the country, and given Morton's pitiably feeble state it seems doubtful he'd ever make it to the ocean even if he weren't ultimately killed in a shootout at the end.
  • Requiem for a Dream - the title alone makes this abundantly clear. Harry and his girlfriend Marion dream of opening a garment store for which she will be chief designer, their friend Tyrone dreams of leaving the Brooklyn ghetto, and Harry's mother Sara dreams of making a glamorous appearance on a TV game show-cum-infomercial. Unfortunately, their methods of achieving these dreams involve illegal drugs; Harry and Tyrone buy a large shipment of drugs to sell and fund their dreams, but most of it goes into their and Marion's arms, noses, and lungs, while Sara tries to lose weight with the help of diet pills that are strongly implied to be methamphetamines. The second and third acts of the film see their addictions drag them away from their dreams into inescapable nightmares (prison for Tyrone, arm amputation for Harry, prostitution for Marion, catatonia for Sara).
  • In Sniper, Master Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Beckett has a dream of retiring from the Marine Corps and returning to his hometown and settling down to a quiet life where he can spend his days fishing in his favorite lake. When he tells his new partner about this, he is informed that the partner knows the area and it has seen major development in the years since Beckett left and is no longer an idyllic small town. Most poignantly the lake has been filled in and is now a parking lot. Beckett does not take this revelation well and it is one of the factors that leads to the two men turning on each other during a mission.
  • Kaoru from the Japanese film A Song to the Sun is allergic to the sun. She can't do most things due to this allergy. She falls for a boy she sees out her window, but can't interact with him. Eventually, she decides to go outside even despite her illness; however, it eventually kills Kaoru.
  • Dr. Octopus in Spider-Man 2 becomes obsessed with finishing his experiment that would give the world unlimited energy despite it killing his wife in a Freak Lab Accident. Only when he lets this go does he gain redemption.
    • This is a running theme throughout the trilogy. Examples include Octavius’ dream to provide unlimited clean energy for the world, Sandman’s desire to save his terminally ill daughter, and, the most prevalent, Peter’s dream of a normal life, which he’ll never achieve thanks to his responsibilities. "Am I not supposed to have what I want? What I need?"
      Peter: Sometimes, to do what's right, we have to be steady, and give up the things we want the most. Even our dreams.
      Octavius: ...You're right.
  • Star Wars:
    • In Revenge of the Sith, Padmé's dream of raising her and Anakin's unborn children peacefully on Naboo is this, considering it's a Foregone Conclusion that Anakin turns to the Dark Side and Luke and Leia grow up without their biological mother.
    • At the start of the sequel trilogy, Rey longs to be reunited with her long-lost parents. However, it's made obvious that they're never coming back to Jakku and the revelation that they died years ago is the final nail in the coffin.
  • In TRON: Legacy, Clu's ultimate objective is to turn he Grid into the "perfect" system, which was a directive given to him by Kevin Flynn. Unfortunately, Kevin did not realize at the time that true perfection is unattainable, and that Clu's goal was ultimately doomed to failure. Clu's inability to create the "perfect" system eventually drove him to betray Kevin and to turn the Grid into a brutal dictatorship in order to optimize it, which just made things worse.
  • Sheriff Little Bill from Unforgiven dies before building his house.
  • X-Men: First Class: Erik and Charles both want the same thing in theory - to build a world, together, where their people will be safe and free of persecution - but they have oppsoite philosophical and practical viewpoints when it comes to how to achieve that. It takes Erik almost turning hundreds of missiles back on the combined Soviet and American forces, plus accidentally paralyzing him with a deflected bullet, for Charles to tell Erik that they really don't want the same thing.
    Erik, visibly distraught: Us turning on each other, it's what they want. I tried to warn you, Charles. I want you by my side. We're brothers, you and I. All of us together, protecting each other. We want the same thing.
    Charles, upset but quietly accepting: My friend ... I'm sorry, but we do not.
  • In You Don't Mess with the Zohan. Zohan's friend refuses to give him a job at his electronics store because the store sucks out people's ambitions. He points out his many employees initially had other dreams but they got stuck at the store and never left.

  • The title character of Oblomov longs for the sleepy, undisturbed life of his village he remembers from childhood but, being a Manchild and a slacker, he can hardly leave his flat, let alone the city. On the other hand, he gets more or less what he wanted after he marries Agafya; after a few years of eating and lounging on a sofa he dies of a stroke.
  • Animorphs: Jake's weakness is his sense of responsibility: As long as he can, he feels he's got to at least try to save his brother Tom. Jake's entire motivation, right from the beginning, is to free his brother. As the years go by this becomes less and less likely. And it all culminates in the worst possible way: As much as it pains him to do it, Jake orders his brother's execution.
  • In Dragon Bones, Duraugh wants to own castle Hurog. To an extent, everyone born there wants it, it's in their blood. However, Duraugh is the younger brother of the recently deceased owner, and his nephew Ward is the rightful heir. Other family members, including his late brother, solved the problem via Klingon Promotion, but Duraugh doesn't want to kill Ward. He tries to tell himself that he doesn't want the castle. Ward, on the other hand, could kill his uncle to get the castle back after he has been declared insane and unfit to rule by the high king. He likes his uncle and doesn't want to do it, but pretends that this is his motivation to the villains. Very successfully, as he indeed wants the castle very much, just not that much.
  • Star Wars Legends: To Mara Jade, the ship she got as part of Talon Karrde's organization represented freedom. She was extremely protective of it, not unlike Han Solo with the Falcon. When she sacrificed it in Vision of the Future, it was a huge deal to her. A little later, though, she looks back on that instance and doesn't quite decide that It's All Junk, but she sees it as representing both her wish for trust and closeness and her unwillingness to let anyone near. She sees that continuing on that path would never have gotten her the closeness that she wanted, and she has to find a new way. Which, thankfully she did find when she married Luke Skywalker and became a Jedi Master.
  • Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby wants to reignite his relationship with an old flame and live with her for the rest of his life, but she's too shallow and weak to leave her current partner, even though he mistreats her. Not only is Gatsby more in love with his ideal of Daisy than he might actually be with the real woman, he thinks he can Set Right What Once Went Wrong by re-creating the past.
    "I wouldn't ask too much of her," I ventured. "You can't repeat the past."
    "Can't repeat the past?" he cried incredulously. "Why of course you can!"
    He looked around him wildly, as if the past were lurking here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand.
    "I'm going to fix everything just the way it was before," he said, nodding determinedly. "She'll see."
    He talked a lot about the past and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was.
  • Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky uses this trope on Pham Nuwen's dreams for the Qeng Ho to become a true interstellar civilization.
  • King Elias' dream in Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is to speak to his beloved wife beyond death. This goal brings him into the clutches of Evil Sorcerer Pryrates, who manipulates him into destroying his kingdom in pursuit of Immortality, and ultimately becoming the host of an Eldritch Abomination. He repents in the end, but of course it's too late.
  • A major theme in Of Mice and Men is how everyone has perfect dreams, but no one seems to reach them. When it looks like George and Lennie have finally saved up enough money to buy their farm and achieve their dream, everyone is stunned. Then Lennie accidentally kills Curly's wife and George has to kill Lennie to protect him from getting lynched. This leaves George alone and implied to be unable to get the farm after all, since Lenny was the one who kept reminding him to focus on the dream.
    • With Steinbeck being Steinbeck the trope is zig-zagged in that it was indeed possible for George to get the farm with Candy but chose not to because he gave up. Throughout the book it's mentioned that the ranch hands spend all their pay on booze and women because they don't have any long term plans, which is a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.
    • Also a theme of The Grapes of Wrath. The Joad family travel to California to pick fruit and rectify their financial woes, but there is little work and what they do earn amounts to very little. Rose of Sharon's dream of the perfect family is crushed when her husband leaves her and her baby dies.
  • Jorge Luis Borges' short story "Averroes' Search" lampshades, deconstructs and parodies the trope: it's about the Tragic Dream of Averroes, one of the greatest Islamic Philosophers (and Omnidisciplinary Scientist) who lived in the twelfth century and tried to adapt Aristotle's works to the Islamic culture. His problem was that Averroes didn't understand the terms "Tragedy" and "Comedy" that constantly pop up in Aristotle's canon because he was confined to the Islamic orb. Suddenly there is a No Ending and the Mind Screw begins: Borges is Breaking the Fourth Wall to inform that he realized that he had a Tragic Dream himself, as a twenty century author, has no better chances to imagine Averroes' character with only some literary references.
  • Fëanor and his sons have a dream like this in The Silmarillion. They want to regain the Silmarils that Morgoth stole from them, so they make an unbreakable vow to take them for any other creature who has them by any means. The problem is that the Silmarils are consecrated jewels that cannot be hold by someone evil, so their actions in pursuit of that goal (including three instances of genocide) disqualify them from ownership of the Silmarils. Their unbreakable vow trapped them: They are sentenced to search for the Silmaris forever, but never attain them, so the Silmaris can be held by any other creature that is not evil except their creator and his descendants. The two remaining sons find this out the hard way.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Eddard Stark comes to dislike his position as Hand of the King and just wants to go home. He is executed and Winterfell gets burned down.
    • King Robert wanted to marry Eddard's sister Lyanna but she died so he spends the rest of his life enslaved to her memory. He is also oblivious to the fact that she didn't love him back.
    • Theon Greyjoy realizes that he wanted to be a Stark, but couldn't be.
    • Tyrion Lannister only wants his father's approval of him, but Tywin hates him no matter how many times he does a good job, to the point of trying to have him executed in a show trial. Tyrion finally gets fed up and kills Tywin in a fit of rage when Tywin sleeps with his lover.
    • Viserys Targaryen sacrificed everything including his dignity so he can get an army to win back the Iron Throne but it all takes a toll on him until he unwisely threatens to kill Daenerys and Khal Drogo's unborn child so he is killed and the task of reclaiming his crown falls to his sister.
      • House Osgrey from Tales of Dunk and Egg wants to reclaim its ancestral home of Coldmoat. It comes true when Ser Eustace Osgrey marries Lady Webber, but it's later revealed that they remained childless and he died shortly afterwards.
  • The protagonist of The Man Who Sold The Moon is a capitalist whose greatest dream is to the be the first man to walk and possess on the Moon. He manages to gain technical ownership of the Moon, but is forced to sell most of his rights to raise capital for his company. With those funds he manages to reinvent space travel, but cannot make the maiden voyage when there is only room for the test pilot, who becomes the first man to walk the Moon. Despite this he still wants to travel to the Moon... but as he stands outside the launch site his business partners inform him he's too valuable to the company to risk, and so he cannot leave Earth.
  • Gone with the Wind: Scarlett loves Ashley and wants to be with him. However, Scarlett is a cruel, self-obsessed Manipulative Bitch, and she is simply incapable of realizing that. This is why she and Ashley never get together, and forms a turning point in Scarlett's Character Development- near the novel's end, she realises that she only wanted Ashley because she could not have him, that Ashley truly loved his now dead wife Melanie, and that her lack of compassion has driven away everyone she ever cared about.
  • In Tobacco Road, Jeeter Lester never gives up his dream of raising a bale of cotton to an acre on some of the land his father used to own and raise cotton on. Unfortunately, the sandy upland soil has been considerably depleted from generations of cotton monoculture, and Jeeter is not just completely broke and starving but the last person anyone would consider worthy of lending credit to buy seed and guano. The novel's last paragraph has the dream living on after him in his son Dude.
  • Washio Sumi Is a Hero: Gin's dream is to become a bride and have a family one day. Gin, however, dies in battle at age eleven.
  • Mass Effect: Annihilation: Yorrick the elcor just wants to play Hamlet, having never got the chance with Francis Kitt's production. He dies horribly of an engineered virus he was trying to cure.
  • In Earth's Children, Joplaya's dream of being in a romantic relationship with Jondalar is this. He does love her, but as a sister more than anything (and they actually are half-siblings)note  and he never considers her a romantic option. When Jondalar visits with his betrothed Ayla and Joplaya sees how deeply he loves her, she finally accepts that she and Jondalar will never be together and chooses another man.
  • Space Glass: Marvelous wants to take Bagok, Reeva, and the Marauder to a new galaxy, to get them away from the ruthless one they currently live in, but extragalactic travel is nigh impossible.
  • The Suitcase Kid: Andy desperately wishes that her parents will get back together, they can move back to Mulberry Cottage and live happily like before. It's obvious that this is never going to happen, though Andy stubbornly clings to this dream. In the end, she accepts that it can't come true and tries to find happiness in her new life.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Shiro Kanzaki from Kamen Rider Ryuki initiates the Rider War which promises a single wish for the lone Rider who is able to survive the twelve other participants. In truth, Shiro has a proxy in the Rider War whom he intends to win so that he may have the wish for himself. His wish is to save his sister Yui, who is destined to die on her 20th birthday. He never succeeds in this despite it being implied that he has reversed time multiple times in order to achieve the desired result, never mind that Yui is resolved to sacrifice her own life if it means it will stop Shiro from condemning twelve other individuals to their deaths.
    • It is a recurring theme in the series that the Riders' goals are impossible and that the best case scenario is dying either in the process or shortly afterward. Kamen Rider Imperer actually achieves his goal and tries to escape the rider war but is killed shortly afterward by the sociopathic Kamen Rider Tiger - who himself dies while saving a child from being run over, finally becoming a hero like he wanted.
  • Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor had a dream to finally get home to Gallifrey after saving it from destruction. In his last adventure, he is literally feet away from finally getting there, but he cannot get to them or the war they were locked out from in the first place will just restart. He tries for centuries to make the area safe enough to release them, but he regenerates and loses his opportunity despite finally making the area safe to bring them back. And while future incarnations do eventually return, the man who started it all will never get home.
    • His next incarnation, the Twelfth Doctor, has his own tragic dream two seasons later: save Clara Oswald from her death, a fixed point in time which he witnessed, and give her a nice, ordinary life in which she has no memory of him. He suffers mightily to achieve the means of making this possible, namely escaping his own people's unjust prison for him, returning to Gallifrey at last, and then using their technology to pull her out of time at the fatal moment. The problem is that achieving his dream could end up destroying the universe — but having long since gone insane, he no longer cares about the risk. Eventually Clara herself, who doesn't want such a fate, convinces him that he has gone too far. He repents and accepts the fate of losing both her and many of his memories of her to both atone for his selfishness and return to his best, sane self. The sad irony is that the Doctor actually could have had his tragic dream realized, due to the fact that Clara does continue to live on, albeit in a "not-quite-dead" state, as a functional immortal. He and Clara could have spent the rest of eternity together, so long as Clara, at some point, returns to the moment of her death. But the danger of the two staying together is just too great.
    • An ongoing theme of the series is the Doctor as a "lonely angel." Due to his near-immortality and dangerous lifestyle, he is never able to actually have a "happy ending", whether that be settling down with any of the companions he'd fallen in love with or married over the millennia, or simply living a quiet retirement (he tries, but it never takes). There are hints of him eventually settling down as a "curator" in the 50th anniversary, but given when it happened, the doctor's retirement is still a LONG way off.
  • Most of the characters of The Wire just want their lives and the city of Baltimore to get better. By the end of the series nothing has changed.
  • Angel found out at the end of season one about the prophecy of the vampire with a soul becoming human again. This becomes his goal for the rest of the series, but it comes to nothing. In the end, he has to trade it away.
  • Jack Bailey from The Good Guys just wants to climb the ladder of the Dallas police department but his escapades with his partner Dan Stark ensures he will never make it out of Property Crimes.
  • 24
    • Jack Bauer wants to live in a world where people will obey the law because it is the right thing to do, not because they fear it.
    • Kim Bauer wants to mend her fences with her father but his duty to his country always came first and eventually she gives up.
    • Tony Almeida and Michelle Dessler want to be together away from CTU. They succeed for a couple of months until Michelle and their unborn baby is killed.
    • Assad wanting his terrorist organization to go straight. He is killed saving Pres. Wayne Palmer from a bomb and he is framed for it rather than having the administration admit the plot came from the inside.
    • Pres. Hassan wanting to sign the peace treaty. It's a fraud. Russia does not want to lose it's influence in the Middle East and actually backs terrorists to prevent the treaty from being signed. Hassan's widow Dahlia gets tired of her country being used as a pawn and turns against both Russia and the United States.
  • Billie from the last season of Charmed wants to save her sister Christie who was abducted when they were kids. Too late does she realize the grown up Christie isn't the same girl from her youth and she kills her to save the Charmed Ones.
  • Cole from Power Rangers Wild Force traveled to civilization in search of his parents after being raised by a wild tribe. Unfortunately, they were already declared dead, and when he found their best friend, he informs Cole that HE killed his parents in a fit of jealousy. Fortunately, while this dream was never realized, he did find a new family in the other rangers.
  • Septon Ray from Game of Thrones season 6 wants to build a sept so he and his followers can worship in peace. They are all killed when he refuses to give aid to outlaws, and just for the added kick in the nuts, the unfinished sept is even used as a gibbet from which Ray is hanged.
  • Smallville: When Lex Luthor goes into a coma in Season 5, we see the deepest wishes of his heart: to marry Lana Lang, stay best friends with Clark Kent, and have the respect and love of a better parent than his own. Unfortunately, real life isn't like his dreams. His desire for independence from his abusive father and need to control others around him made it so he could never keep any of those things. Eventually giving up on having love and friendship in exchange for vengeance, power and egomania. Becoming a Supervillain in the process.
  • Played with many times on Supernatural:
    • "Salvation" reveals that all John Winchester wants is a happy life, with his wife alive, and their sons not hunting.
    • "What Is and What Should Never Be" plays this straight, with Dean waking up in a dream world where his mother is alive, he and Sam aren't hunting, and he has a girlfriend...and then subverts it when it's revealing that in this world, he and Sam are barely on speaking terms.
    • The whole of Season 3 has Sam and Dean searching for a way to get Dean out of his demon deal, so that he won't get dragged off to Hell. It goes just as well as one would expect, although Dean does get better, thanks to Castiel.
    • "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" has Death the Horseman raise the dead in Sioux Falls. Among those dead are Bobby Singer's wife, and Jody Mills' son. Of course, they become zombies, forcing the heroes to re-kill them.
    • "The French Mistake" plays this trope for laughs, as Sam and Dean wind up in an exaggerated version of Real Life, where they are characters on a show called Supernatural, played by Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki, who are mentioned as not speaking to each other outside of filming. Of course, in actual Real Life, Jared and Jensen's relationship is more akin to Sam and Dean's bromance on show.
    • "My Heart Will Go On" has the angel Balthazar altering history so that the Titanic never sunk, which somehow leads to Ellen and Jo not dying, with Ellen becoming Bobby's wife in this timeline. Of course, Castiel and Balthazar are later forced to change this timeline to what originally was, making Ellen and Jo dead again.
    • Throughout Season 6, Dean tries to balance his hunting life whilst trying to keep his girlfriend's family safe and away from the world of hunting, but when Crowley's demons target them, he eventually had Castiel erase their memories of him, which puts an end to his relationship with them.
    • After Season 5, Castiel does his best to reunify Heaven and the Angels after Michael and Lucifer are imprisoned in Lucifer's Cage, which is a recurring theme for him in Season 6. However, he is driven to extreme lengths in order to defeat Raphael, who leads the opposing faction of Angels who want to restart the Apocalypse. Namely, Castiel makes a deal with Crowley to discover an entrance to Purgatory so that Castiel could use all the power of the souls inside of it to defeat Raphael. Castiel ends up succeeding and turns the tables on everyone else, going full A God Am I mode in the final scene of Season 6. Season 7's premiere however, has him going on a rampage and massacring hundreds of angels. He realizes his mistake and returns all the souls to Purgatory, but ends up freeing the Leviathans in the process of doing so.
    • Season 8 has Castiel and Metatron trying to close the Gates of Heaven, in order to keep all the angels within Heaven so that their conflict won't devastate Earth. Except Metatron is revealed to be Evil All Along, and Season 8 ends with him achieving his actual goal, which was to expel all of the angels from Heaven, thus leaving all of them on Earth, and has him stealing Castiel's grace, leaving the latter human.
    • Season 10 has Sam and Dean trying to remove the Mark of Cain from Dean, but at this point, they become borderline villain protagonists in doing so, going to lengths extreme even by their standards in order to do so. This ends up backfiring hard on them in the final episodes of Season 10, with Charlie Bradbury becoming a casualty of their quest to remove the Mark of Cain, Dean gives in to the Mark of Cain's influence, sending him on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge and causing him to become a fully-fledged He Who Fights Monsters-type hunter. But none of that compares to what happens in the finale, as it's revealed by Death the Horseman that removing the Mark of Cain without passing it on to someone will unleash the Darkness upon creation. Death orders Dean to kill Sam in order to prevent Sam from going to extreme lengths once again, only for Dean to kill Death with the latter's own scythe. The Mark of Cain is finally removed, but the Darkness is finally unleashed upon creation as a result. The opening episodes of Season 11 has Sam and Dean having a Heel Realization about their actions in the past few seasons, and they resolve to actually live up to the "saving people" part of hunting.
  • Taken: In "John", Allie dreams that it is her tenth birthday party. The attendees include Charlie and Lisa (who have become a couple), her godmother Nina Toth, Lisa's bandmates Denny and Milo and all of her friends. They ask her to stay with them forever but she can't as it is her destiny to leave Earth and join the aliens.
  • St. Elsewhere: In "You Beta Your Life", Dr. Westphall dreams that his son Tommy has been cured of his autism and will be able to lead a perfectly normal life. Tommy then tells him that he is only dreaming and this will never happen in the real world.

  • Slightly Played for Laughs by Tim Minchin in "Rock and Roll Nerd", a song about the narrator (not-so-subtly just Tim himself) who dreams of becoming a rockstar, with his caveat that his life is too normal and healthy, making it impossible for him to ever credibly be about the Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll.
    He's not spent a single night in prison, he has no issues with nutrition
    He has no drinking problem and no drug addiction (unless you count the drugs they put in chicken)
    And marijuana always tends to make him cough, he doesn't look good with his t-shirt off
    And when he tries to act tough, you can tell he's tricking
  • Played for Laughs in "Lemonade" by Wheatus - when his partner tells him she's seeing someone else, the narrator obsessively envisions the now-unobtainable future he dreamed they'd have together.
    I wanna be eighty on the porch drinking lemonade with you all night
    It's all that I can think about when you tell me that you cheated...

    Newspaper Comics 
  • One strip of The Far Side shows a chicken's dream of flight.
  • In one Calvin and Hobbes strip, Calvin builds a sad-looking snowman paleontologist looking for fossilized snow dinosaurs. When Hobbes asks why the snowman looks so sad, Calvin explain that he realized that snow melts instead of fossilizes.
    Hobbes: Your snowmen lead tragic lives.
    Calvin: Well, they're not very bright.


    Religion and Mythology 
  • The ultimate goal behind everything that Óðinn tries to do is the prevention of Ragnarök. Unfortunately, it's fated to happen, and in Norse Mythology, You Can't Fight Fate. Played with in that he knows that nothing he can do will avert the world's doom, but he fights it anyway because that's his fate.
  • In the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, Eurydice dies of a snake bite and Orpheus travels to the underworld to bring her back. Normally, Hades keeps the dead forever, but Orpheus plays his harp so sadly that the God of the Dead agrees to make an exception, provided that Orpheus can walk out of the underworld with Eurydice behind him, not looking back at her until they escaped. Yeah...

    Tabletop Games 
  • Every Darklord that rules one of the Domains of Dread in Ravenloft has one of these which underpins their curse. For example, Count Strahd von Zarovich is always trying to win the love of Tatyana, the woman he murdered his brother for in his Act of Ultimate Darkness, or one of her reincarnations. The Dark Powers that govern the Realm of Dread placed the curse upon the Darklords to punish them for what they've done, and a combination of their intervention in events and the Darklords' own unwillingness to admit that what they did to get cursed in the first place was wrong ensures that no matter how hard they try, they will never achieve their Tragic Dream.
  • Two planeswalkers in Magic: The Gathering have had them. Elspeth dreamed of finding a plane she could call home, free of evil; whenever she felt she had found one, it would collapse in on her or she'd be recruited for something impressive, and then she eventually got backstabbed by Heliod. Koth, meanwhile, wants to purify Mirrodin of Phyrexian taint, but with the Mirran resistance a tiny fragment of the population and most of Mirrodin reforged into a New Phyrexia, it's not looking good for him.
    • By the time of March Of The Machine, we get to see the conclusion to all this. Elspeth, having come Back from the Dead, ascends into her true form as an archangel, and actually does manage to find a new purpose in life as a Hope Bringer. Koth and the Mirran resistance, however, have a significantly more bittersweet ending; they survive and find a new home in Zhalfir, but Mirrodin is well and truly gone forever, having been twisted completely into New Phyrexia and then thrown out of the multiverse and rendered completely inaccessible. The only consolation is that Mirrodin's signature five suns now orbit Zhalfir, which took its place in the Blind Eternities.
  • Most of the races of Warhammer 40,000 have impossible goals that they fight for. Not that they haven't stopped trying.
    • The Imperium uniting all of humanity.
    • Chaos taking over the universe. Averted in Tzeentch's case: he doesn't want to win, because then there'd be nothing left for him to do. So all of his plans are inevitably foiled by another, and he remains in a permanent state of plotting.
    • The Eldar defeating Chaos.
    • The Tau uniting the galaxy through the Greater Good.
    • The Necrons becoming flesh again.
    • Zig-Zagged with the Orkz: as far as they're concerned, the galaxy's current state is perfectly suited to their needs. But no matter how hard they try, they will never, ever have enuff dakka.

  • Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. His life's dream is to succeed as a salesman and to be well-liked - but he was never cut out to be a salesman. The only reason he wants to be a salesman so badly is because some other guy that he loved and respected was one. Willy himself, however, is atrociously bad at it. On top of that, Willy is a deconstruction of the Determinator; his complete and utter refusal to give up on his dream is instead presented as his Fatal Flaw. It's implied several times that had Willy become a construction tradesman, he could have been much happier and more successful, but Willy rejects his own talents as being worthless, leaving him and his family perpetually sad and broke. The play itself is set at the end of his life, and it explores what happens when someone must accept that their dream is impossible.
    • Arthur Miller's essay "Tragedy and the Common Man" explores this trope as he used it in this play, and says that actually what makes it so effective is the insistent belief (by the author and audience as well as the character) that the tragic dream is possible:
      The possibility of victory must be there in tragedy. Where pathos rules, where pathos is finally derived, a character has fought a battle he could not possibly have won. The pathetic is achieved when the protagonist is, by virtue of his witlessness, his insensitivity, or the very air he gives off, incapable of grappling with a much superior force.

      Pathos truly is the mode for the pessimist. But tragedy requires a nicer balance between what is possible and what is impossible.
  • In Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Mrs. Lovett daydreams wistfully of marrying her dear Mr. Todd on happy holiday by the seaside. The lurid, unsettlingly bright colors of the sequence and dream-Todd's visible disinterest only serve to underscore the painfully obvious fact that Lovett, after what she's done for love, will never dip her toes in either blessed matrimony or the old briny. Instead, she gets thrown into her own oven to be burned alive after Sweeney kills the Beggar Woman, takes final vengeance upon Judge Turpin, and then, too late, finds out that the Beggar Woman was none other than his wife, whom Mrs. Lovett did not inform him was still alive because she wanted him for herself.
    • Sweeney's initial dream to be reunited with his wife and daughter after fifteen years on a trumped up charge pretty quickly goes to hell when he finds that his wife poisoned herself and then that he accidentally killed her and Johanna was in the clutches of Judge Turpin. Interestingly, he probably could have rescued Johanna, but saw it as too emotionally painful to be with her because she would either not remind him enough of Lucy or be too much like Lucy.
  • In Little Shop of Horrors, Audrey wants nothing more than to leave Skid Row and live a happy life in the suburbs (somewhere that's green) with Seymour. Unfortunately she is eaten by a plant, and that becomes her "somewhere that's green"
  • Most of the characters of Les Misérables. Best summed up in the musical.
    Fantine: But there are dreams that cannot be / and there are storms we cannot weather.
  • In the Takarazuka Revue version of Elisabeth, Rudolf has a dream sequence: he is crowned King of Hungary by a joyfully smiling Elisabeth and an adoring crowd. That cannot happen and did not, in fact, happen, in either history or the show. The King of Hungary at the time is his conservative father, Franz Joseph. Gaining the crown would mean Franz Joseph's death, or Rudolf openly instigating a rebellion against his father. Elisabeth is a distant at best and knowingly negligent at worst mother. In the end, Rudolf is Driven to Suicide after his revolutionary efforts fails.
  • As in the original film, the musical Sunset Boulevard has Norma Desmond and her dream of regaining her lost fame as an actress. Her butler Max outright states to Joe that he goes along with her delusions even though he knows they are just that — delusions.
    So I play this game
    Keeper of the flame
    Sharing with her one last dream
    Don't you think I knew
    It never could come true?
    She'll be the very last one to surrender
    I will not allow her to surrender

  • The greatest dream of Tamaru from BIONICLE is to be accepted as a Gukko-Rider; unfortunately for Tamaru, he is deathly afraid of heights. (Relatively speaking; he can run and swing through the treetops without issue, but all Le-Matoran see the jungle canopy as 'ground level.')

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed III has a heroic dream that can never happen: Conner Kenway's dream of saving his tribe and creating a true and just world rather than just taking it as it is. Everyone around him knows that the goal is impossible given the flaws of men and the greed of others. In the end, he does many great deeds in the name of truth and freedom, helping the colonists win The American Revolution and turning the war against the Templars back in the assassins' favor, but this did not save his people or create the society he wanted. He still fought for his dream to the end of his life, but in the end, his dream was no closer to fruition than before. The Truly tragic thing about this is Minerva said that it was her hope that humanity could put aside their differences and collaborate to avert the catastrophe. Juno fomented this conflict for her own ends, which means that had Connor succeeded, or at least had more peope to support him, he could have been the Spanner in the Works.
  • BioShock Infinite: Poor Elizabeth just wanted to escape the floating city of Columbia and visit Paris, but not only do the forces of the city become dead-set on returning her to her tower, her supposed savior, Booker DeWitt, is intent on taking her to New York to pay off a personal debt. Even worse is that while Booker eventually comes more around to forgetting the whole thing and take her to Paris for real, things get so bad for Elizabeth that she has to figure out why the city wants her captured so badly, bringing them only deeper and deeper into the darkness. By the time of Burial at Sea: Episode 2, she uses her full-blown reality-warping powers to make Paris her imaginary Happy Place, but it quickly falls to pieces as she's still terribly wracked with regret of her past actions, and in atoning for her sins, she ends up depowered and beaten to death in a city at the bottom of the ocean.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Final Fantasy VII: Sephiroth just wants to be reunited with Mommy (oh, and to become a god.) Jenova isn't really his Mommy, just an insidious Virus. Sephiroth doesn't even know about Lucrecia, and by the time he figures out what Jenova really was...well, he decided to become the next version of her as the original One-Winged Angel.
    • Final Fantasy X has one, where Tidus slowly falls in love with the Summoner Yuna, joining her on her quest to defeat the Big Bad Sin and telling her about the places they'll visit after they're done. Except that the Big Bad can't be defeated, only sealed away at best, and doing so requires the sacrifice of someone close to the Summoner and the Summoner him/herself. Tidus is the only one not aware of this, and does not take The Reveal well. In this case, it's averted by the party having discovering the Religion of Evil behind Sin, and defeating it once and for all by attacking the God-figure that keeps regenerating it. This leads to another Tragic Dream since Tidus himself is a construct like Sin, and will dissolve along with it. In the sequel, Tidus gets reborn and reunites with Yuna at the end.
    • In Final Fantasy Type-0 has itin the tie-in novel all of them mention one before their death, except Nine who can't think of anything. Ace wants to own a Chocobo ranch, Deuce to be a musician, Jack a comedian, Trey a scholar, Queen a teacher of traditional subjects rather than magic and weaponry, Cinque to travel the world, Cater to find love, Eight to become a competitive martial artist, Seven to make an orphanage for the children who lost their parents in the war, Sice to be a chef and King a police officer. While Machina and Rem live, they share a dream of rebuilding the county.
  • In Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days the only thing that makes Roxas' life worth living is spending time with his best friends Axel and Xion, so his dream is to be with them forever. Sounds quite easy right? Well, seems like Xion can't be close to Roxas for long because her mere presence is slowly killing him by absorbing all his strength and life force. Also, their group Organization XIII is using them to achieve their evil goals and will ultimately get rid of them once it's done. Going to the good guys for help? Nope. The good guys also want Xion gone because she's interfering with the awakening of The Hero. And the kicker? Remember The Hero sleeping? Well to be awakened, he not only has to absorb Xion, but Roxas as well. In other words, Roxas not only can't ever hope to achieve his dreams of being with his friends forever, he can't even be allowed to stay alive. Thankfully they all finally get reunited in Kingdom Hearts III, although with Axel in his original self as Lea.
  • Selvaria wants to cook a meal for Johann in the Valkyria Chronicles DLC. She dies before she has a chance.
  • The Silent Hill series is filled with these.
    • Alessa Gillespie and her friend Claudia Wolf were raised by Abusive Parents who forced their cult's beliefs on them from a young age. They prayed for the cult's paradise to come to earth, so they could live in a world with nice parents and friendly classmates, where everyone could be happy all the time. Alessa learned the hard way that nothing about the Order's God would be like that. Claudia just kept on going, eventually becoming the Suspiciously Similar Substitute to Alessa's evil mother, at some point murdering an innocent man as a means to Mind Rape his poor daughter. She even admits herself that she does not deserve to live happily in her paradise, given what she's done to make it happen.
    • James Sunderland's wife was bedridden with a terminal illness and grew bitter. James dreamed of her being healthy again so they could go back to being passionately in love again. He also had trouble coping with her losing her good looks. She died, but he ended up receiving a letter from her, calling him to the town of Silent Hill. There, he couldn't find her but found her Hotter and Sexier Identical Stranger, but of course, it was a nightmare every step of the way. And that's just a fraction of the story.
    • Walter Sullivan was raised to believe that the apartment he was born in was somehow his mother, and one Demonic Possession later he was determined to use a lengthy ritual to bring "her" to life. The ritual included multiple murders and a Thanatos Gambit that drove him batshit crazy even by Silent Hill standards. It's also notable that the imprint of his child self is shown acting against the "Conjurer" persona, helping two of the innocent people who are supposed to be sacrificed for the ritual.
    • Due to the Jigsaw Puzzle Plot way Henry's own story is told, it's possible that him getting tangled in Walter's plot was a really cruel twist of irony. He was a shut-in with no social life whatsoever, the only gift in his apartment is from the janitor (who might have been trying to get rid of it) and when he gets locked in his apartment for over a week with no way to communicate with the outside world, the only people who notice are the perky, extraverted Girl Next Door and the neighbour who keeps track of disappearances in the area. His extreme hermit lifestyle could be interpreted as his way of protecting himself from drama, which didn't quite work.
  • The Big Bad from Tales of Symphonia is a deconstruction of the Determinator, and their tragic dream is made worse by their complete and utter refusal to stop pursuing it. Mithos wants to bring his dead sister back and fulfill their original dream of eliminating discrimination against half-elves. To this end, he divides the world in two and keeps both halves in Medieval Stasis for four thousand years while using their populations to make Powered by a Forsaken Child-style Metaphysical Fuel so he could turn everyone into lifeless beings. And on the side, Mithos tries to bring her back by keeping her spirit in the mana seed and creating an evil religion that sacrifices and experiments on countless people in order to get her a body compatible for her use. It gets to the point where the two of his original True Companions, Yuan and Kratos, are disgusted and secretly start plotting against him. By the time he manages to succeed, his revived sister who has seen everything from the mana seed is understandably upset and tells him to stop his evil ways before returning back to the dead.
  • Nessiah of Yggdra Union and Blaze Union wants revenge on the racist, classist society that mutilated him, made him immortal, and cast him out for attempting to assert his own free will. From the same series, Gulcasa wants to save the world and rebuild society from the ground up so as to protect the peasantry from the abuses of nobility and rulers—and in doing so, preserve the ideals that he and his surrogate mother Siskier fought for. To this end, both of them have become something of Well Intentioned Extremists—Nessiah, believing himself too weak to do anything on his own without his original power, decided to manipulate the world into providing him power; Gulcasa decided that the best way to get rid of the old system would be to depose its rulers and conquer the world. Over the course of their canon timeline, both of them lose everything they ever loved as indirect consequences of trying to make their dreams come true, then die horribly. Gaiden Game Yggdra Unison gives them hero privileges and another chance—and it turns out Nessiah's dream was still doomed from the start. Gulcasa, however, actually makes his ideal world a reality and is fully appreciated for his efforts.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Tingle just wants a fairy of his own. Or to be a fairy himself. It's not always 100% clear.
  • The dream of curing Yonah and living with her is the only thing that keeps Nier going. Which is exactly what the Shadowlord, his original soul, also wants to do with his Yonah. Unfortunately it's mutually exclusive with the Shadowlord's dream because the precursors didn't anticipate that the Replicants would develop souls on their own, so curing the disease by forcibly reintegrating the original Gestalt souls with the Replicant bodies would effectively Mind Rape the Replicants. In the end, neither gets what they want. Nier discovers to his horror that the Shadowlord went ahead with the integration, so while Yonah is healthy, she isn't his Yonah. The Shadowlord discovers to his horror that Gestalt!Yonah is too compassionate to let Replicant!Yonah suffer for her sake, so she commits suicide to free her.
    • NieR: Automata: In the distant future, Earth is screwed again because a fleet of alien explorers decided they wanted this magic-rich rock all to themselves, and unleashed an endless army of disposable Machines to claim it. The Androids serving humanity are desperate to reclaim the planet for their masters - which utterly fails after millennia, seeing as the Machine Army has Resurrective Immortality and near-endless resources. Not helping matters is that their original masters are dead - after the events of Nier, humanity lost its ability to breed and went extinct. The only hope they have left of serving some form of human are some damaged DNA samples that could possibly clone new humans, but with civilization in the Androids' control, the old world could never be fully restored.
  • In Pool of Radiance: Return to Myth Drannor, the Big Bad tricks the baelnorn into helping her evil scheme by claiming that doing so would restore Myth Drannor to its former glory. He eventually realizes his folly and urges the heroes to stop the villainess. The past the baelnorn cherished is gone forever, but the future can still be saved.
  • Merrill of Dragon Age II just wants to recover the history of her oppressed people - particularly to fix the Eluvian. Unfortunately, the lengths to which she's willing to go for this - Blood Magic and deals with demons - have terrible consequences for her and others around her, and she isn't as capable of dealing with the danger as she believes herself to be. By the end, her tribe hates her enough to excommunicate her, and if you call them out, they will collectively sacrifice themselves just to try and kill her - which ends with your party victorious and Merrill the sole survivor.
  • The world of Elemental Gearbolt is pretty crapsack, and Bel Cain wants to change it for the better. At any cost. He doesn't know it, but his lack of concern for dirtying his hands causes his downfall when super-powered Elementals appear out of nowhere and demolish his whole operation. He has no idea that a concerned extra-dimensional agent summoned the Elementals to block a particular part of his plan, which involves awakening a primal magical force.
  • Mortal Kombat. Reptile's need to revive his race, the Saurians.
  • In Red Dead Redemption John Marston's only dream is to live out a peaceful life with his wife and son. Unfortunately for John, his past as a outlaw combined with the fact that he lives in a crapsack world means that there's little chance of that, no matter what he does.
    • Arthur Morgan wants a family or atleast somewhere to belong, but the Van Der Linde gang is the closest he's ever gotten, and even that is falling apart by 1899. The best he can do is help John escape with Abigal and Jack before he's either killed by Micah Bell or dies from tuberculosis, never knowing that all he managed was buying John a few extra years with his family.
    • Dutch is a more villainous version, wanting to cling to his ideals of men living free on their own terms away from civilization, but no matter what he does, the days of the Old West are simply over, and the law isn't going to just let him walk away from his crimes.
  • In Dark Souls, the common "solution" to the Undead Curse - constantly acquire souls to stave off Hollowing - can be viewed as this. Indeed, possessing a tangible goal, which can include chasing a tragic dream, is implied to be the only known way to permanently keep an Undead from Hollowing.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog:
    • Maria Robotnik wanted to live on Earth. She was sick with a severe auto-immune disease called NIDS and the only place safe for her was the space colony ARK. In the end, Maria does die, but she is murdered in a massacre rather than killed by her illness.
    • In The Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog, this is what causes the murder mystery party to go wrong. The conductor of the Mirage Express is about to retire after decades of working on it, but the train itself is not happy with this news and wants to spend eternity riding the rails with its beloved conductor. It's also a Badnik, and Eggman offered to grant the wish of any Badnik that can bring him Sonic, though he even admits at one point that granting the Mirage Express' wish is beyond his ability.
  • As we find out in Close Your Eyes, the Witch was trying to escape to a beautiful meadow setting. Unfortunately, probably unbeknownst to her, the world is a nuclear wasteland with nothing to escape to.
  • In La-Mulana, the Mother, the goddess who created all life, wishes to return to the sky. Unfortunately, with their body being stuck in the earth amongst other factors, this is impossible. Yet she keeps creating one dominant race after another, killing each one whenever they fail to complete her request. Because she's become a genocidal threat, the Four Philosophers task The Chosen One Lemeza with giving her a Mercy Kill.

    Visual Novels 
  • Several characters in the Nasuverse:
    • Atalanta (Fate/Apocrypha) only wanted a world where children were loved instead of being abandoned like her. Such a pure dream turned out to be impossible and even spat on her face when several children under the thrall of Jack the Ripper have been clearly proven to be beyond salvation and Jeanne d'Arc, the one saint she hoped would save the children (because she couldn't, only knowing how to fight), instead exorcised the children out of existence, and the children chose exorcism. With every one of her ideals turning against her, Atalanta went mad, only coping in her despair by giving into rage, blaming and hating Jeanne and eventually turned herself into a crazed monster and had to be killed by her friend Achilles. She only found peace shortly before her death after knowing that Achilles saved her and supported her dream, no matter how impossible.
    • Saber (Fate/stay night) wants to redo her own backstory so someone more fitting can take her place in history. Not actually possible, despite the idea of the story implying it is, and merely a debate over whether its the right thing to do or not.
    • Ilya (Fate/stay night) wanting to be a family with Shirou and Kiritsugu, which she herself realizes is impossible.
    • Shirou (Fate/stay night) gets a lot of flak for his ideals in the Unlimited Blade Works route, which not only are impossible to achieve but also will eventually betray him, leaving him bitter and broken. Shirou remains firm, however, because those ideals are still beautiful and worth striving for.
      • In the all routes, his adherence to his ideal becomes less strict. In Unlimited Blade Works he accepts that the ideal is impossible, but will still strive to follow them as best he can. In Heaven's Feel he abandons the ideal entirely. In Fate, he chooses to follow it to the end despite his struggles but unlike Archer, he ultimately dies with no regrets because he strove to honor Saber's memory as well, which allows him to finally meet her again in Avalon.
    • Archer (Fate/stay night) lives only for the slim chance that he'll be somehow able to return to the past, find his past self, and kill him in the off chance this will cause a Temporal Paradox that will undo his own existence. He himself states that it's impossible because as a Heroic Spirit he exists outside of time and has become a distinct entity from his past self, but is willing to go through with it anyway on the microscopic chance he might be wrong. That said, all the routes ultimately have him finding closure in some way, and in later Expanded Universe materials show he's moved past it.
    • Lancer (Fate/stay night) despite having a very simple wish is never able to have it granted in any of the three routes. All he wants is to have a glorious battle to the death with a Worthy Opponent but due to his master (Kotomine) ordering him to hold back he almost never gets to show off his full skills. The closest he gets to achieving his dream is in the Fate route when he fights a hopeless battle against Gilgamesh so that Shirou and Saber can escape otherwise he ends up dying in an inglorious fashion either by his master forcing him to commit suicide (Unlimited Blade Works) or having his heart crushed by True Assassin while he is distracted then being eaten by the Shadow (Heaven's Feel). Word of God states that Lancer represents the cynical notion that "wishes don't come true."
    • Zouken Matou (Fate/stay night) dreamed of creating a perfect world. His pursuit of the Grail was originally to transcend his limited human existence and become capable of fulfilling the dream. Constant failure and the decay of his soul led to him eventually forgetting his impossible dream and remembering only the need for immortality.
    • Supplementary material reveals this is the case for the entire Einzbern clan (Fate/stay night). They are homunculi created for the sole purpose of mastering the Third Magic. Two hundred years ago their creators realized that it was impossible after the loss of their sole success, Justeaze, and either left or committed suicide. Despite that the Einzbern have continued trying to master the Third Magic because it is their reason for existence.
    • Kiritsugu (Fate/Zero) is the one that inspired Shirou to follow his ideals. He lived his entire life fighting and killing, always striving to save people even if it meant drenching his hands in blood and all it got him was losing his adoptive mother, his wife and daughter and becoming a broken man after the end of the Fourth Grail War.
    • Wallachia (Melty Blood) wants to avert The End of the World as We Know It... and turns into a horrible unkillable monster to do so.
    • Satsuki (Tsukihime) just wants to hook up with Shiki and is the only one from his normal life who understands something of his true nature. When she actually thinks she can connect to and win him, she has become a vampire with a growing taste for evil. Shiki can't be with her if she sucks blood and kills people, and she can't stop or she'll die. Satsuki's plight has reached memetic levels in the fandom... "Isn't it sad, Sacchin?"
    • Shiki (Tsukihime) has a literal tragic dream in which he meets with his recently-deceased adopted brother, discussing their relationship amiably while drinking under the moonlight. Unfortunately, this could never have happened outside of the dream, as SHIKI was insane and murderous even in his death and had been brainwashed into completely hating Shiki. Indeed, Shiki himself surmises that the figure he's talking to was created from his own mind to comfort himself, but the other guy insists that he's been released from his insanity after death.
    • Shiki's adopted brother himself also had a tragic dream, wishing to rejoin the Tohno family. SHIKI's insanity prevented him both from rejoining the family and realizing that doing so was impossible.
  • In Hakuouki, Kondou Isami, a farmer's son, dreams of becoming a samurai and achieving glory as a general, despite the highly classist culture of the period of Japan's history in which he lives. His friend and fellow farmer's son Hijikata Toshizo shares his dream of being a samurai and hopes to uplift Kondou to glory as the leader of the Shinsengumi... but just as the group has begin to achieve some real legitimacy through their service to the Tokugawa shogunate, the country's balance of power shifts away from the shogunate and back to the imperialist Choshu and Satsuma domains that the Shinsengumi have been fighting against, and the onset of Westernization renders the samurai class obsolete.
  • The black-haired girl has one in Deiz. She wants to experience love in the real world outside of the game, but she can only ever be a fictional character.
  • Kazuko Kawakami of Majikoi! Love Me Seriously! has maintained a grueling daily training schedule for over a decade to close the gap in strength between her & her sister and take a position as assistant instructor at the family's temple (which is likened to winning an Olympic gold medal) to support her, but she remains leagues behind the rest of the staff. When the time comes to prove herself, she fails miserably, and even when she is offered another chance should she win an upcoming tournament, a month of training in the mountains and a significant emotional epiphany during that time are not enough for her to even reach the finals. She suffers an Identity Breakdown and runs away.

  • In Awful Hospital, the Big Bad Duumvirate, the Parliament, feel broken and long for the days in which all things were one. All of their efforts are dedicated to destroying the current reality so that they can reassemble it into the original being. Except this is literally impossible, because their dream is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how reality works. As stated by Medicine, the 'original' being was the Anthropomorphic Personification of dying, which ended up reflexively creating reality in its death throes. Even if they succeed in their plans, the resulting 'survivor' at the end of reality itself will just die and form the basis of a reincarnated reality again.
  • Rik in Drowtales thinks he's the only one of his kind, being a Monster Mash of Drow and Dragon, and is secretly despairing he can never find a mate and start a family. Until he meets Ariel, a Shapeshifter who makes him think he isn't, or that it doesn't matter. Does he try to build a relationship, start a romance, or even just flat-out state his dream and hope she reciprocates (let's for the moment forget she's only 15 at the time)? Nope. He kidnaps her in the worst "I Have You Now, My Pretty" fashion, even trying to rape her. Twice.
  • Edwin in Elwood wants to be a storybook author when he grows up, but given the extreme Creative Sterility he suffers from (he tries to use a classmate's biography as a story), it is unlikely that this dream of his will ever be realized. Not that he'll believe you if you tell him that.
  • One-Punch Man: Saitama is a superhero who just wants a good fight against a Worthy Opponent. But he's so absurdly overpowered that he can destroy basically any enemy with a single sloppy half-strike. He was once just a simple Japanese salaryman who wanted to be the World's Strongest Man... and he succeeded. Is it any wonder the poor guy has severe depression?
  • Oasis from Sluggy Freelance is completely obsessed with Torg, but is pretty much doomed to never have him return her affection. This is, in large part, because she's a psychopath who compulsively kills anyone or anything other than her that Torg happens to love. Even if she could get over this little problem, though, the fact that she only loves Torg because she was Brainwashed to is likely to make Torg unwilling to reciprocate.
  • From The Order of the Stick, Elan's dream to redeem his father and brother and eventually bring his family back together is what pulls the wool over his eyes in the Empire of Blood arc. He has to reject this dream and move on in order to save himself and his friends. In fact, if he never had a Tragic Dream that he was capable of rejecting, the group may never have survived; when they get trapped in a Lotus-Eater Machine, he is successful in Spotting the Thread and escaping specifically because he realizes the perfect future it shows him is nonsense.
  • Poppy O'Possum: Poppy's daughter Lily wants to be a doctor. Lily eventually learns this is impossible, since as an opossumnote  she will only live to be 30, meaning she won't live long enough to even finish medical school. The revelation makes her sullen and aggressive.
  • Subverted in one Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal strip which holds that Willy Lomax is damn lucky to have what he has (a job, a house, kids, no debt) and his wanting to be a great salesman is Wangsting of the highest order.
  • Unsounded: Siya wants to become a master artist and leave behind a legacy, but doesn't feel she has enough time due to her fate to become a Human Sacrifice as a young adult, and occasionally laments that it is her rather than her sister who is slated to die. Ironically, she is heartbroken when her sister's death ensures she'll have enough time and freedom to learn and develop her skills as she pleases - but has come to the horrifying realization that the philosophy she based her art and passion upon was fundamentally wrong.

    Web Original 
  • Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog played with this. The Title character has two dreams, both completely possible on their own. Join the Evil League of Evil and impress Penny. The tragedy is that he goes too far before he realizes he can't do both. No sign of Penny / good I would give anything / not to have her see... In the end, his attempt at being a supervillain costs Penny her life.
  • In Plague and Treachery on the Oregon Trail, Sarah Jane is an ugly girl with nasal passages that don't work, causing her to have a horrible voice. Even so, she dreams of becoming an opera singer and her family doesn't have the heart to tell her it's impossible. This is Played for Laughs at first, but after some Character Development amongst everyone, it became a genuinely depressing dream.
  • From "Four Steps to Staying Relevant as a Bully in the Modern World":
    We are the last honest critics left in a culture of blind encouragement, telling people they genuinely suck at something before it sparks into a life-long passion. We are the only ones brave enough to be ambition abortionists and we end up saving everyone a lot of trouble down the road.
  • The online animated short Kiwi!, with a particularly sad denouement.
  • So much of the tragedy and death in Red vs. Blue came about because the Director lost someone long ago and couldn't give up trying to get her back.
  • What If the Star Wars Prequels Were Good?: Episode III opens with the heroes discussing their dreams for the future, with Owen expressing his goal of finally leaving Tatooine behind and starting a new life in Coruscant, Obi-Wan is hopeful for the new generation of Jedi, Padme wants to strengthen the Senate and unite the galaxy, while Anakin expresses confidence that he's more than proven himself worthy to sit on the Jedi Council. Of course, given Episode IV, it's meant to be a Foregone Conclusion that all their hopes are going to be shattered when Anakin becomes Darth Vader after the Jedi Council refused to give him a seat in the Council, the Empire took over the galaxy and got rid of the Jedi and the Senate, and Owen is forced to return home to Tatooine in order to raise Luke in secret.

    Western Animation 
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Prince Zuko's quest for "honor" by capturing the Avatar is regarded this way by his uncle — unlikely that Zuko will ever capture Aang, or that Zuko's father Firelord Ozai would accept Zuko back even if he somehow succeeded. As Uncle Iroh puts it, it's an impossible quest, but it still serves a purpose because it gives Zuko hope. Then, when against all odds Zuko's dream finally comes true, he discovers it's not what he wanted.
  • King of the Hill has an episode where Peggy reveals her greatest desire is to have her rancher mom be proud of her, something she has been denied growing up. She goes about trying to get her approval by saving their cattle ranch by moving it through a town (long story). Despite this, her mother minimizes and brushes off the achievement. Peggy, furious, wants to try again by "shearing more bulls in a day than any woman", until Hank convinces her to let go of her Tragic Dream, since it only hurts her. She does.
  • Starscream is never going to usurp leadership of the Decepticons from Megatron, is he? Even when he does succeed (in Transformers: Animated, Prime, etc.), no one takes him seriously enough (and it never lasts long enough) for him to be as powerful and effective as he wishes he could be.
  • Batman: The Animated Series:
    • Mad Hatter/Jervis Tetch developed mind control technology only to be with his crush, Alice. But as Batman notices, she is nothing but a mindless doll. Mad Hatter doesn't take that revelation well. Before embracing the role of the Mad Hatter, Jervis even acknowledged this himself, at first refusing to use mind control on Alice for this exact reason, but eventually became so jealous and desperate to have Alice that he went through with it anyway, prefering to have his fantasy rather than not have her at all.
    • Mr. Freeze keeps his wife Nora in cryogenic stasis until he can find a cure for her illness. He does eventually succeed, but the mutation that required him to stay in sub-zero temperatures eventually causes his body to deteriorate until he's nothing but a head in an artifical body, and he can't bring himself to return to her in this condition. This Despair Event Horizon makes him even crueler than before, and he attempts to freeze all of Gotham, only to be stopped by Batman and Batgirl. He finally redeems himself in Batman Beyond, but at a great cost.
    • Ever since the death of his parents at the hands of a robber in Crime Alley, Bruce Wayne has been fighting to rid Gotham City of crime as Batman, in the hopes that it eventually won't need a Batman anymore. While he does a lot of good, he never truly accomplishes this goal, and by the time Batman Beyond starts Gotham has devolved even further into a Cyberpunk dystopia.
  • Justice League:
    • In a future timeline, Vandal Savage has finally achieved his dream of conquering the the cost of rendering the human race extinct and Earth a virtually uninhabitable wasteland, leaving him to rule a dead world for thirty thousand years.
    • In an alternate universe, where Lex Luthor was elected President and almost set off a nuclear apocalypse, the Justice League (or rather, the Justice Lords) finally had enough and resorted to extremes to finally put an end to the constant onslaught of megalomaniacs, supervillains, mad scientists and alien invaders that threatened Earth. As a result, the Lords Earth is one of world peace, no cardboard prisons, no crime, and "no kids losing their parents to some punk with a gun". There's also no freedom, no free speech, no democracy, no right to protest, and something as minor as complaining about the price at a restaurant gets you hauled off to jail for "disturbing the peace".
  • Steven Universe: In "Sworn to the Sword", Pearl mentions how she used to think about the kind of life she'd have with Rose Quartz after the war. Of course, things didn't turn out that way. As the show progresses, it becomes clear that Pearl was in love with Rose Quartz, but the latter didn't reciprocate her feelings and instead fell in love with Greg. Pearl's bitterness and lingering feelings toward Rose made it hard for her and Greg to get along, and it only got worse once Rose gave up her physical form to bring Steven into the world. Thankfully, the two have worked out their differences, and Pearl seems to have found a second love in the mysterious Pink-Haired girl.
  • In Gravity Falls, the Author of the Journals (A.K.A. Stanford Pines (The Real One)) had one. Mocked by All of the Other Reindeer for his six-fingered hands, all he ever wanted was to find a place where a 'six-fingered freak' fit it. It's what led to his investigations of the titular town, and his desire for approval led him to being manipulated by Bill Cipher.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "The Fault in our Cutie Marks", Genki Girl Gabby the Griffon wants a cutie mark like ponies have. As she and the Cutie Mark Crusaders find out, it doesn't matter how much Gabby wants it; griffons simply can't get cutie marks.
  • Nox, the first Big Bad of Wakfu, simply wants to go back in time and save his family from being killed in a flood. To do this, for 300 years he commits horrible deeds to steal the life energy of millions and power his time travel attempt, fully believing that his crimes will be undone when he turns time backwards. Ultimately all his efforts only allow him to turn back the clock a mere twenty minutes, just long enough to undo his most recent acts of genocide. The realization that his goal is impossible catapults him across the Despair Event Horizon.
  • Sewernose de Bergerac from Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers desperately wants to be an actor. Problem? He also happens to be an alligator who naturally frightens anyone who realizes what he is. After hijacking a play so he can steal the role of the Love Interest, everyone is scared off. Once he realizes that his dream is impossible, he snaps and vows to eat everyone.


Video Example(s):


It is a dream I have

Arthur tells Guinevere of the life he wishes he could have with her, knowing that as the Once and Future King it can never be.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / TragicDream

Media sources: