trope talks

Trope Talk #3: Why do we hate the rich?

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I’m going to be a little vague in this discussion to avoid spoilers

For the post’s purposes, I’m considering the “rich” to be people in books who are well-off and (usually this is emphasized in the book when the author describes the character’s house. “Poor” is just the opposite in terms of material wealth.

I read The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler last month and I read about a trope that I’ve been seeing a lot in fiction especially YA contemporary. In this book, a businessman is interested in making Atargatis Cove into a tourist attraction to essentially make money. He is seen as kind of the bad guy of the story because he doesn’t appreciate Atargatis Cove for the small, quaint town that it is. Christian, the male love interest, also has a rich family and his family has problems that I find a lot of authors attribute rich people to having. Now a lot of fictional characters have family problems but I’m a little frustrated that rich characters in books have the same type of problems. Most of the time, their family is kind of “backwards-thinking” (think the family in The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks) or elitist and ignorant to the point where it’s a presented as an obstacle (Think Rose’s parents in Titanic) or the parents are distant even though they have money or the parents have marital problems or they want their son to enter a “respectable” position. And only these problems. I find it a little off-putting that the rich are isolated into this bubble that more often than not stereotypes them into having these problems, into them being people who have certain beliefs and only those beliefs. Does rich always equal conservative? Are rich parents always distant with their kids? But more often than not, I see the characters that are rich (in terms of material wealth) being portrayed as the villains of the story.

I’ve read a lot of books where the romance is between a rich and a poor character. Most of the time, the resolution of the two characters comes from the rich character giving up his/her ideals completely in favor of the more free and less stuffy rich life in a way that glorifies poverty. The message I’m getting is you are more free as a poor person and you won’t have much but you’ll at least get love. In Perfect Scoundrels by Ally Carter, Hale’s rich family is contrasted with Kat’s thieving, poor family. The parallels are not all that subtle: Kat’s family always supports her, Hale’s parents are distant and backstabbing. And clearly, the reader is suppose to sympathize with Kat and her family. In My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick, Samantha’s mother disapproves of the boy next door. There’s a big contrast between the two. Her mom is career-oriented, judgmental.So, of course the mom is portrayed as the obstacle to their relationship. Sure those can be bad things, but in the book, it directly relates to being well-off because her mom is so career-oriented and can afford all this fancy stuff.

Funnily enough, in a lot of of contemporaries, being rich is desirable in a male lead character such as Noah Shaw from The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin, though I suspect this leans more towards wish fulfillment.

The problem I have with these stereotypes is the fact that it causes these rifts of socioeconomic stereotypes, that rich people don’t deserve their fortune or they came upon it because of inheritance or whatever. It’s not great being poor obviously, but the glorification of poverty is also not exactly healthy either. I find a lot of these tropes coincide with the America ideals of politics. People favor taxing the rich. But I guess what I’m trying to say is that by segregating the classes, we convince ourselves we cannot relate to either class or maybe it’s self-righteousness…

*Disclaimer: This post was inspired by my own personal reading experiences. I’m sure there are other books out there that break this trope but I’m speaking about a trend I’ve been seeing based on my own experience.

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