There are many different Widow tropes, and although they're used especially commonly in a few particular genres (The Western and Romance), they can pop up just about anywhere.
Widows can be depicted positively, yet are just as often depicted negatively. It seems that society can not decide if Widows are wonderful or wicked. This could be because they are single women with socially-legitimate sexual experience. This places them in a category all their own, without set rules — not the pure innocent girl, not the established wife, not the vamp, not the old maid. She could be good or bad, and writers appreciate the flexibility this offers.
During the mid- to late-1960s TV sitcoms centering on female characters frequently depicted them as widowed (this being when divorce was still considered objectionable to depict), including The Lucy Show, The Doris Day Show, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Julia, etc. The Mary Tyler Moore Show was going to have Mary divorced but changed it to a broken engagement since the actress hadn't entirely shed her old persona of Mrs. Petrie in The Dick Van Dyke Show.
Of special note: in Japan, traditionally, the widow has a very specific cultural reference. She was required to maintain his specific spot in the family hierarchy, especially if she and her husband failed to produce an heir. If she should then re-marry, she would then take on the mantle of her new husband's family, and the prior husband's family would view that as her betrayal (at worst), or abandonment (at best). Often, the widow would get "affection" from her suitors in casual, non-committal ways. While the majority of Japan has moved away from this custom due to increasing equality between the genders, in the eyes of the law at least, there are pockets where the tradition continues, and overall, the "sexually loose" stigma associated with knowingly courting a widow remains.
Subtropes of the Wicked Widow variety:
- College Widow
- Comforting the Widow
- Black Widow
- Widow Witch: A discredited trope of widows being witches.
- Vengeful Widow
The Wicked Stepmother is often, though not always, a Wicked Widow.
Subtropes of the Wonderful Widow variety:
- College Widow: Depending on the nature of the story, it's the Wickedness that makes her Wonderful.
- Determined Widow:
- Romancing the Widow
- Take Up My Sword: The Hero dies and his wife or Love Interest becomes an Action Girl and goes on to continue his fight. Also referred to in The Western as "a woman to ride the river with." (The river being the Missouri-Mississippi fur trade route). Does not necessarily have to be a widow, but usually is. Can be connected to Barrier Maiden.
- False Widow: Can also be depicted as a Wicked Widow.