Trope Explorer #3: Comforting the Widow

Photo by Kenny Orr on Unsplash

In many action or adventure plots there is a story arc that can contain this trope, or an equivalent. Comforting the Widow can be a trope that can either have negative or positive results, depending on the situation. Usually, comforting the widow involves a friend or family friend of the deceased comforting the widow in a way that leads to a close friendship that also, sometimes, leads to a romantic relationship or physical relationship.

Tvtropes.org outlines the variables.

Occasionally it’s given (or attempted to be given) a less negative spin: Overcome with mutual grief, they turn to each other and because of their loneliness and emotional vulnerability it leads to other things. But they’ll still feel incredibly guilty about it, and other mourners who find out are going to be pretty disgusted. Another somewhat better way to give it a less negative spin concerning Charlie at least is by having him not even being a friend of Bob at all and not even pretending that he mourned him at all, or even going as far as having him be Bob’s enemy.

As bad as this is, there are several sub-variants that make it even worse:

Alice and Charlie murdered Bob together.

Alice murdered Bob.

Charlie murdered Bob.

Bob isn’t dead after all.

tvtropes.org

Either of these variables can make for a more interesting story, but it will also cast a different light on your character. It’s one thing for Charlie (to continue to use tvtropes.org’s example) to fall in love with Alice after Bob is dead. There might be some censure with that, but if your readers are rooting for both characters, they could warm to the idea in time. But if Charlie straight up murdered Bob so he can have Alice, you just made your main character a villain in someone else’s story.

Or, maybe that’s what you intended. I’m not saying that wouldn’t be interesting, although it certainly would be hard to root for him after that.

My Thoughts

With this trope, I think it’s all about intent. Intent on the characters’ parts. Intent on the author’s part. How beloved the deceased character was to the readers also plays a part, though often, when this trope is used, it’s usually a character the readers either don’t know well, or they died ‘off screen’, so to speak.

  • Be Clear In Your Own Mind
    • If you’re writing a story where you use this trope, I would suggest knowing the particulars before you continue on. For example, if you’re writing a series, and “Bob” dies in book one, and “Alice” and “Charlie” are in love by book two, it’s probably best to know for sure that a) Bob is really dead or b) that neither Alice nor Charlie killed him. Because if, in book 4, you decide that Bob comes back, you have to figure out a way to make that work with what’s been going with your characters for the past three books. And observant readers are not really fond of retcons.
  • If “Charlie’s” a friend
    • If Charlie’s a friend, there either should be some sort of struggle internally about being in love with Alice (the same for Alice), or enough time in between for it to seem appropriate. If they fall in love not at an appropriate time (pretty soon after the funeral, usually), then the romance should be as genuine as possible. If not, you risk making Alice and Charlie seem fickle in their relationships or emotions, and that can cast doubt on their own relationship. If the relationship is just physical, that’s usually a little different, and a sign that the story is going in a different direction.
  • If “Charlie’s” not a friend
    • Then the question becomes: why is Alice falling in love with Charlie? If Charlie and Bob didn’t know each other at all, that’s one thing, but if Charlie and Bob were enemies, that puts it in an entirely different light. Either Bob was wrong about Charlie, or Charlie changes, or Alice changes. Either way, with this situation, comforting the widow trope is connected with the enemies-to-lovers trope, which, of course, is interesting reading (and, also, one of my favorites, I’ll admit).

Comforting the Widow in Popular Culture

  • “An example from one of my favorite series’ at tvtropes.org: “[Comforting the Widow] Discussed and deliberately averted in the case of Wedge Antilles and Iella Wessiri of the X-Wing Series. Though he’s around to console her when her husband dies (the two had known each other for years and been working together at the time, so it’s hardly unusual), he’s very careful not to put any romantic pressure on her despite the fact that he is interested. He confesses some years later that he felt it would be “morbid, crude, opportunistic [and] Janson-like” to have mentioned it at the time.” It must also be noted that Wedge and Iella never get together, though they do end up being close with each other’s partners.
  • Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series subverts this trope as well, or, at least plays around with it. Toby realizes she is still in love with Connor, who is married to someone else. When – SPOILER ALERT – Connor dies, it is Toby who receives comfort, not Connor’s actual wife, and not just from another love interest, but from almost everyone involved (in the sense that her friends knew her to be more in mourning than Connor’s actual wife). There is also an appropriate amount of time after his death that Toby starts a relationship with Tybalt, who, in another trope subversion, was not friends with Connor, but with Toby.
  • Also in the Star Wars Legends series, this trope is played with a bit, particularly in the novel Heir to the Empire. Mara Jade was the Emperor’s Hand, and therefore blames Luke Skywalker for his death five years before. She attempts to kill Luke for the Emperor’s death. Though Mara Jade was not married to the Emperor (ew), her character arc at first is very much like a grieving widow. Eventually, Luke does act as though he is comforting the widow and the two characters do get married later on.

Writing Prompt

Write a story/scene where the trope comforting the widow is present, but try to subvert the trope in some way. Are the characters enemies-to-lovers? Does the deceased spouse turn out to be the true enemy? Play with the trope in various ways.

Be sure to link any stories in the comments below!

Let me know what you think of the trope comforting the widow? Comment below!

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