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File:Sour grapes.jpg

You can't always get what you want...

Truly An Aesop for the ages. And, like a great deal of Aesops in the entertainment industry, writers can make it downright Anvilicious.

Sour Grapes Tropes are tropes and aesops that exist largely to convince the viewer that, not only is it unlikely that their dreams and fantasies will come true, but it's a good thing that they don't. This can be done in two ways:

  • Introduce a character who has received some kind of boon, and explain how the character is either miserable or downright evil because he got Power At a Price.
  • Give something to an existing character, allow there to be negative consequences, and then apply the Reset Button after the climax.

(The whole thing is sent up in this Minus strip... then played straight in the very next comic.)

The trope name is based on a famous Aesop fable about a fox who tries to seize a bunch of grapes from a vine without success, and then declares them sour after his failure. This reads more like an observation than An Aesop, though. (Which happens to be the case with quite a few of Aesop's Fables.) If you can't have something, it's easy to say that you don't want it.

Stories that don't do this run a risk of becoming mere Wish Fulfillment fantasies. Not That There's Anything Wrong with That. Fiction has been providing wish fulfillment for centuries. In fact if the story is loaded with other kinds of wish fulfillment, but for these, it can seem to be downright hypocritical to suddenly be selective about it. Moreover, Sour Grapes Tropes are in of themselves a kind of Wish Fulfillment; they help to assauge the audience's jealousy by showing that a 'good' thing is actually bad in some way so it's not the end of the world if they don't have it. This can create the Unfortunate Implication that a reader is only able to accept a character better off if they're flawed or demonized in some way. Needless to say that is not the case in real life--oftentimes, RL Alice will not only be smarter than you but also hotter, healthier, and have more friends. Deal with it, Bob.

The other bad side about some of these tropes is that they can be used to teach very harmful lessons to the audience. If one of the things the Sour Grapes Tropes is grousing about is something the viewer can genuinely fix (e.g. dissatisfaction about their undeveloped education as opposed to dealing with the fact that they will die someday), it can encourage them to stay in their bad situation rather than doing something about it. Notice that a lot of these tropes have the stealth Aesop of 'so don't try to better yourself'.

And of course the whole thing is really a form of Adaptation Decay that is only slightly Older Than Radio. The fox's original comment was, "The grapes are not yet ripe." He thought he'd try his luck again later and maybe succeed. And gosh darn it, given the advances in science (including medicine) the fox has been rather close to the mark so far. Somewhat ironic that it was the advance-obsessed Victorians who changed the meaning from "try try again" to Failure Is the Only Option.

Contrast Sweet and Sour Grapes.

... But if you try sometimes
You just might find
You get what you need!

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