Sins of the Parent Placed on the Child

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Well, that’s not fair.  I mean, a parent screws up, so a child has to be punished?  It doesn’t make a lot of sense by most modern standards.  Though, I’m sure it probably happens in some places.  Odd how the rarity of this plot point in the real world is the opposite of how common it is in fiction.  Having a character trying to transcend the mistakes of their parents, which they suffer for, is a favorite.  So, how does it work?

It’s exactly as it sounds.  Both or one of the parents does something so terrible that their child gets punished.  Maybe their act got them killed, so the local government decides to punish the child in their place.  It could be that the action cost them money, home, respect, or any number of things.  This type is more understandable though since it isn’t a third party unleashing punishments, but simply consequences.  I mean, a person’s actions don’t just affect themselves, but those around them.  For a parent, that is incredibly true because they’re responsible for the child.

In fantasy, you get characters who carry this burden with a strong sense of determination or extreme bitterness.  They aren’t happy and are clearly traumatized by the events.  If the parent is alive then you may have a confrontation.  A child in this position while hate the parent for clear reasons.  They may wonder about what their lives could have been without that mistake or the connection.  Depression and anxiety can be caused by this, which really makes this a dark, negative plot point.  It’s hard to take this one on and not pose it as a bad situation.  I mean, one person is being punished for the actions and decisions of another, which is unfair.

Keep in mind that this is different than the child simply hating the parent for what they have said or done.  That can happen without the element of unfair punishment.  You need to have the child suffer because of something the parent did.  Strange how it’s so simple, but people can mix this up with basic ‘child/parent’ conflict.  This is certainly an extreme version of that since it includes society in the mix.  Other people are treating the child in a negative way because of what the parent did, which is different than a smaller, family issue.  It’s bigger and can reveal a lot about the society and culture that you are showing in the story.

Have to admit that I’ve never tried this storyline.  I’m toying with it in a few ideas.  I’ve always had issues with the idea too.  Maybe I’ll finally get to it at some point when it feels right.  Then again, I’ve designed so many characters that I may have it in the pipeline and not remember.

So, what do you think of stories where the child is punished for the parents’ actions?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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16 Responses to Sins of the Parent Placed on the Child

  1. L. Marie says:

    What an interesting topic. I struggled to think of a book with this storyline. Perhaps Luke and Leia in some ways suffered because of their dad’s evil deeds.

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  2. If you think of some of the big mistakes parents can make it does seem logical that the kids would carry some shame. In society, there could be some punishment reserved for the children of parents who violated decent norms as well. The transgression would have to be pretty bad though. I’m thinking if John Wilkes Booth had a kid a name change would have been smart. Great subject.

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  3. geeudeewriter says:

    Reminds me of Philip Larkin.
    “They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.”

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  4. I danced all around this in my pirate trilogy, but never brought it together the way you describe. The son was confused for his nefarious father, then forced to start a war because that’s the kind of thing his father did. Close, but not quite how you describe it.

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