Breakdown of the 'unhealable wound' trope in popular culture

The unhealable wound is a situational archetype featured in a wide range of mediums and genres – from classic literature like “The Great Gatsby,” to Disney films such as “Finding Nemo.” The wound can be physical or psychological, and it never fully heals. Often times, it symbolizes a loss of innocence or purity and can drive the sufferer to the brink of desperation.

In “Finding Nemo,” following a barracuda attack, Nemo’s egg is cracked. As a result, he grows up with a permanently damaged “lucky fin,” exemplifying an unhealable physical wound.

Unhealable physical wounds can often transform into psychological ones. Because of his “lucky fin,” Nemo suffers from self-esteem issues, which are worsened by his overprotective father. To prove to his father—and himself—that he is just like any other fish, Nemo decides to touch a faraway boat, despite the warnings from his father and classmates.  

Darth Vader from the “Star Wars” series is another example of a character with an unhealable physical wound. After a brutal battle with Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker is dismembered and left severely burned in a volcanic river. He’s forced to wear a mechanical suit, which causes him to transform into Darth Vader, due to his injuries. Without the suit, he’s just a shell of a man- scarred and missing limbs. He cannot physically survive without it.

Though already having turned to the dark side, Vader’s injuries, inflicted by his former friend and mentor – further seal his alliance with the evil Emperor Palpatine – a sign of his unhealable psychological wounds.

Perhaps the most obvious example of an unhealable wound is Harry Potter’s lightning bolt-shaped scar, which he is left with after Lord Voldemort’s killing curse backfires. This unhealable wound not only signifies Harry’s identity to everyone he meets, but warns him when Voldemort or other evil forces are nearby delivering shooting pains through his head.

Voldemort’s attack also leaves Harry with severe psychological wounds. Harry’s greatest desire is to meet his parents, who he is unable to remember because Voldemort killed them when he was a baby. Tortured by this fact, Harry struggles to overcome their absence.

“The Great Gatsby” has another one of the most recognizable examples in literature of an unhealable psychological wound. After falling in love with Daisy Buchanan as a young man, Jay Gatsby spends his entire adult life trying to win her back. He amasses a fortune through bootlegging, buys a mansion conveniently across the bay from Daisy’s home and throws wild, lavish parties every night in the hopes that Daisy will stop by.

Though Daisy is now married, has a child and is far different from the young woman he originally fell in love with, Gatsby refuses to abandon his hope of winning her love.

Both physical and psychological unhealable wounds can easily be found in literature and film. Unhealable physical wounds often transform into psychological wounds, shaping the course of the character that suffers from them.


Helen Stec is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at helen.stec@uconn.edu.