Quite simply, 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. 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:
- They want something that is achievable by a normal person, but they are too emotionally unstable to make a well thought out go at it, and usually botch the attempt. For example, an ex-boyfriend who was dumped for being unstable might kidnap his girlfriend to try and get back together, or a villain who suffers Chronic Villainy being unable to get the townspeople to love him.
- They have a truly impossible dream, and we mean "bend the laws of nature" or "requires someone to act extremely Out of Character In-Universe" to happen. There may be a way to actually do it, but the results aren't likely to be pretty, though they'll ignore any such warnings. For example, bringing a loved one Back from the Dead resulting in them Coming Back Wrong, or trying to hook up with someone who's Happily Married.
- They are simply plagued with mediocrity. The dream is not impossible for the more talented, nor is it physically impossible like the example above, but the person in question simply isn't awesome enough. Will likely lead to the Salieri Syndrome (and the Family-Unfriendly Aesop that hard work is sometimes overshadowed by inherent talent).
- The dream is achievable... but you won't like the results of questing for it or accomplishing it. It can be a character after the "Well Done, Son" Guy's approval, but that approval is only given after the character does something tremendously damaging to themselves as a person or to another. Or realizing that It's Lonely at the Top and they Kicked The Wrong Dog in their ambitious quest for love, fame, and/or fortune.
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.
This is a Sub-Trope of Hope Spot. Sister Trope to Sorry, Billy, But You Just Don't Have Legs, 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.
Anime and Manga
- The main characters of Wandering Son are preteens with gender identity issues. Shuuichi is a girl in a boy's body and Yoshino is a boy in a girl's body. Both take up crossdressing to try and emulate their preferred gender, but know deep down what they want isn't truly achievable and will only become worse as their bodies mature through adolescence.
- 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.
- This might be an Informed Flaw, though, because the impossibility comes from magical injunctions that the author could remove or controvert at any time, not from the nature of the dreams themselves.
- But one dream in particular was impossible and was the entire 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 Xanatos Roulette to revive her(something clearly stated to be impossible) or the multiple gambits designed to stop him.
- 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.
- Greed of the Fullmetal Alchemist manga may have such a dream. Despite essentially being a parasitic being 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.
- Orochimaru of Naruto, moreso 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.
- In Bleach, Ichigo suspects this is Aizen's driving motive. Having strength and potential unrivaled by any other, Aizen always existed on a different level from other Shinigami. He searched for a comrade or rival, somebody to match his strength, but never could... and from the moment he gave up on that dream, he began his descent. Yet deep down, he still held onto a simple dream that ultimately led to his defeat - A dream of being a normal Shinigami.
- Reinforce of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha 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.
- 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 betray's 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.
- In the Nightmare Circus arc of Sailor Moon the Tragic Dream of the Amazon Trio is to have a dream of their own.
- In episode 9 of Mawaru 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 Chiemi's accident. After other incidents, Hikari and Hibari pressed on and became a succesful duo while Himari became an Ill Girl... the "red and blue" girls we know. Himari is sad about it, but she wishes the best for them.
- Mr. Freeze in Batman devotes his life to curing his wife'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.
- After an extenuating day being Batman, Jean Paul Valley reflected that after being the Avatar of Saint Dumas order, who wanted to conquer Jerusalem back again to Christianity, and presently being the Temporary Substitute to Batman, who wants to stop crime in Gotham City, he finds the fanatical obsessive founder Dumas was the wiser: Sure, Jerusalem was never conquered again, but it was a tangible goal, that could be achieved… stop crime in Gotham is a madman’s dream.
- In All Fall Down, any hopes the heroes or villains have about ever getting their powers back are moot.
- The Knights of the Old Republic mod Brotherhood of Shadow: Solomon's Revengeis 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
- RE-TAKE has Ghost-Asuka sees 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, this being a Neon Genesis Evangelion fanwork 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 Mind Rape him again. Lastly, Shinji is being possessed by Shinji from End of Evangelion, so this might not really be that Shinji's dream.
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.
- Slightly subverted when aliens, the technological equivalent of fairies, revive him and reunite him with his mother, granting him his wish for one day.
- 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.
- The 2008 reboot of Halloween 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 Silent Bob 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.
- 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.
- Requiem for a Dream - the title alone makes this abundantly clear.
- 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.
- 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.
- Citizen Kane: Charles Foster Kane only wants 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.
- Star Wars Expanded Universe: 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Jesus-parallel Michael Valentine Smith from Heinlein's Stranger in A Strange Land gets blasted with shotguns and literally shredded by a mob while trying to convince them to love each other
- Then again, considering it made him a martyr and popularizes his religion/philosophy, odds are more converts will join. It helps that it was outright stated to give the followers super-powers that made them nigh uncatchable/unkillable, near immortality, rejuvenation, super competence in whatever field they know, and they hypothesize that every other human will eventually have to convert just to "keep up"... his dream went from tragic to inescapable.
- 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 Lenny have finally saved up enough money to buy their farm and achieve their dream, everyone is stunned. Then Lenny accidentally kills Curly's wife and George kills Lenny to protect him from the lynch mob. 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.
- 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 "Averroe's 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 Averroe’s character with only some literary references.
- Feanor and his sons have a dream like this in The Silmarillion. They want to regain the Silmarils that Morgoth stole from them, but their actions in pursuit of that goal (including three instances of genocide) disqualify them from ownership of the Silmarils. The two remaining sons find this out the hard way.
- One strip of The Far Side shows a chicken's dream of flight.
Religion and Mythology
- The ultimate goal behind everything that Óðinn tries to do is the prevention of Ragnarök. Unfortunately, it's fated to happen. 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...
- Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman is this trope incarnate. 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. He is atrociously bad at it. It's implied several times that had he become a carpenter, he could have been happy, but Willy rejects his own talents as being worthless. The play itself is set at the end of his life, and it explores what happens when someone must face 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 pretty quickly goes to heck 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"
- Final Fantasy VII: Sephiroth just wants to be reunited with Mommy (oh, and to become a god.) Jenova isn't really his Mommy, just a 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 an One-Winged Angel.
- Selvaria wants to cook a meal for Johann in the Valkyria Chronicles DLC. She dies before she has a chance.
- Claudia from Silent Hill 3 commits murders and tortures a little girl horrifically hoping to bring Paradise to Earth.
- Mithos Yggdrasil from Tales of Symphonia 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 eliminate discrimination. And on the side, he 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. And the fans cried.
- 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 Nie R 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.
- Several characters in the Nasuverse:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Then of course there's the part where it turns out Archer is what happens when Shirou followed his tragic dream by sticking to his ideals without questioning them. "Bitter and broken" was mentioned at one point.
- Maji de Watashi ni Koi Shinasai! has Wanko, in her path, when she finds out that she lacks the talent to become an assistant instructor of the Kawakami style. Despite having maintained a grueling daily training schedule for the last 10 years, Hard Work Hardly Works is invoked, and untimely interference from Chris leads to this trope. Fortunately, it leads to Character Development and not one but three Love Confessions, so it gets better.
- 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 Shape Shifter 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 (lets 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.
- 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.
- Doctor Horribles 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 Chewbot's Let's Play of the Oregon Trail "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.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, 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.
- Let's not forget that dear old daddy Firelord Ozai gave Zuko the task of capturing the Avatar well before anyone found the iceberg containing said Avatar.
- Or the fact that when they did find the iceberg, he sends his general to go and find the Avatar, even going as far as trying to forbid Zuko from actually pursuing it.
- Let's not forget that dear old daddy Firelord Ozai gave Zuko the task of capturing the Avatar well before anyone found the iceberg containing said Avatar.
- 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.
- Granted that whole plot was done by someone not watching other episodes featuring her mother as a 50's housewife that was just annoyed by Peggy's obnoxiousness instead of full disappointment.
- Yes but they likely retconned her into the new character because she was too similar in manner and appearance to Hank's mother.
- In Don Bluth's flop 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 Incredibles, Buddy Pine wanted to be a superhero. Unfortunately, he never managed it. He even gained some abilities, but became a Super Loser. The results weren't pretty.
- Similarly Tai Lung wanted to be a Dragon Warrior, which also didn't work out well. In his case, the real tragic thing was that he couldn't become the Dragon warrior because he was specifically raised to become a Dragon Warrior - or, rather, being raised to have the kind of physical qualities such a warrior should have, at the cost of neglecting the spiritual ones actually required to become it, resulting in an very powerful but very arrogant warrior unable to take a no for an answer.
- Subverted with Po. Everyone thinks his dream of becoming the Dragon Warrior 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.
- In the sequel, Lord Shen. As an albino peacock who spent most of his childhood ill and separated of his parents, he wanted to be worthy of his parents' love and prove them to be their rightful successor. Unfortunately, he's also The Sociopath, unable to get that his parents already loved him, so when he tried to prove his worthiness by genociding a whole species to avert a prophecy, he couldn't understand why his parents were now horrorized at this and sent him to exile, . By the time the film takes place, his parents are long dead and the prophecy he tried to avert is coming to him, and yet he is still stuck on demonstrating that he is a worthy, powerful lord, only proving to be completely unqualified due to his Drunk with Power antics.