Clichés: family feuds

Family feud is another very old cliché. While it was probably made the most famous by William Shakespeare, it has much older roots. In this post, I’ll share my look into it and try to explore the ways it can be used.

As I hinted, the roots of the cliché date far into history, as far as the 2nd century BC. There were many takes on it throughout the time in literature – but this is not to be a look into literary history.

The base

The base of this cliché is, in essence, very simple: two (or more) families (usually prominent ones) are sworn enemies due to something in their past or conflicting interests. This “barrier” can take many forms, from taking a different side in war or politics down to something as simple as two families of farmers competing for reputation and profit when selling their produce.

This conflict (whatever form it takes) forms only the backstory, though this backstory is very important as it has direct impact on the involved characters.

The main part usually comes when a next generation, removed enough from the source of this conflict, cares little for it. Most of the time, it uses other clichés to create the main drama/tension, such as “forbidden fruit” cliché (as the simplest way to bind sworn opponents is through the love between their descendants) and eventually the “star-crossed lovers” cliché (wiki link, though I might cover it myself later), its name coming from the most known example, Romeo and Juliet. In fact, this trio of clichés is often wowen together to form the base of a story.

Story utilizing this cliché then focuses on this youngest generation standing against what they see a pointless conflict (no matter how petty or severe the conflict actually is) – and thus against their own families. The outcome can vary based on the author’s approach and genre. In history, it usually took the form of a romantic tragedy. In present times, the use varies in forms, ranging through retellings of the ancient tragedies through present-time soap operas to action-packed sci-fi approaches such as James Cameron’s Avatar.

The variations

As I’ve mentioned in the “forbidden fruit” post linked above, one of the ways to put a divider between characters is social stratification. This, in turn, ties into what I called “the Princess cliché” (I touched this topic once but I might return to it in a more general manner) where the divider is not an animosity or enmity between several families but the difference in social status.

As hinted above, another possibility used is the pairing between the member of a native tribe and an invader. This was used in several stories (and movies) in past and is the base of the abovementioned Avatar movie (but moved into space).

Present-time variations can be seen in paranormal romance and urban fantasy (or both at once), though these usually utilize a third party – such as a “common” girl getting into the conflict between werevolves and vampires, leading to heavy use of “love triangle” cliché – to the point it might seem absurd to those who disfavor these kind of stories.

The result

As the ancient approaches were based on a tragedy, the end result was often the death of those defying those long-formed feuds. Through the shock – and the loss of young lives – the families were finally able to see how petty their conflict was.

Different iterations of the cliché (and different genres) might lead to a different result. Relationship between two sides of an armed conflict will have a significant impact if one of them changes sides (such as the mentioned Avatar exmaple). Uniting two powerful houses will lead to a shift in power structure – something that will make an impact on the story as a whole if the family feud is a subplot resolved before the end.

Likewise, the degree of action the characters are willing to take is a way to show more about their personality and, especially, values. Their goals and the reasoning behind their actions can wary as well.


This is all I’ll share on this topic. Feel free to share your thoughts – or give examples of either good or bad execution you’ve came across.

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