Created By: dragonslip on July 29, 2012 Last Edited By: dragonslip on August 3, 2012

Only Princes And Paupers!

This how many fantasy worlds have no middle class, only aristocrats and serfs

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Trope
In some people’s minds there was a default binary divide in the world through out most of human history, between “the oppressors” those who own everything, run everything and generally exploit the work of the second group “the oppressed” who own very little and either work directly or in directly for the “the oppressors” who pay them very little and just generally seek to limit their freedom and ability to prosper for their own ends. In it’s supposed pure form movement between the two groups is generally impossible and progress means moving away from this system.

As a result of this world view many fictitious fantasy worlds that are suppose to be more primitive then ours are often divided up exactly in this way without any evidence of a middle class or the people in-between the classes that existed in the real world

See Also: Fantastic Caste System


Examples

LiveActionTV
  • In Game of Thrones every character is either a titled noblemen or a low born commoner
  • Once Upon a Time is taken from the traditional fairy tales and everyone is either royalty, like Snow White, or a poor villager or woods person.


film
  • In Time: In a World where time is money, the world is divided into zones of rich and poor that can only be crossed by giving up years of your life. The poor can't afford to cross into the rich zones, and the rich have no reason to leave.

Community Feedback Replies: 36
  • July 29, 2012
    Euan2000
  • July 29, 2012
    lexicon
    Is there no tropes that relate to this that can be given links in the description?

    • Once Upon A Time is taken from the traditional fairy tales and everyone is either royalty, like Snow White, or a poor villager or woods person.
  • July 29, 2012
    abk0100
    ^^Looking at it, that might be the exact same thing

    "This type of fictionalized society generally consists of some measure of central planning by elites, with all of the "dirty work" being done by workers. Expect for the latter to be thought of as a different culture, and in some cases may even be a different species. "
  • July 29, 2012
    dragonslip
    @abk0100

    I really hate the way people on this site seem to think two things overlapping somewhat makes them the same in essence

    A rigid Fantastic Caste System need not necessarily have no middle class

  • July 29, 2012
    NimmerStill
    Wasn't this Truth In Television for the Medieval feudal societies that these works base their universes on?
  • July 29, 2012
    elwoz
    ^ Much less than is commonly believed. There were merchants and artisans throughout the Middle Ages; their political influence waxed and waned, but it was never nothing.
  • July 29, 2012
    NimmerStill
    ^And there are no merchants or artisans in fantasy works?

    Plus I'm not sure they count as a middle class in the modern sense.
  • July 29, 2012
    animeg3282
    Please use spell check.
  • July 29, 2012
    abk0100
    @dragonslip - I agree with you about that, and I barely ever say "we already have this" in YKTT Ws, but I was struggling to find the difference.

    Looking closer, I guess Fantastic Caste System does have some examples with more than 2 castes. Would it make sense to have this as a subtrope, and move all the 2-cast examples to here?
  • July 29, 2012
    Rognik
    Averted in Firan MUX. Characters have 5 social classes: Royals, for the leaders of the clans; nobles, who are much as you expect; middle class, who were closely tied to noble houses but lost status for some reason; commoners, who are essentially serfs; and outcasts, who are disgraced for one reason or another.
  • July 29, 2012
    lexicon
    @ dragonslip - Please add my example.

    @ Nimmer Still - The fairy tales would have us believe that there were two groups of people, the royalty and those who lived in the woods (hidden princesses and dwarfs). Historically there were royalty, nobility, gentry (knights, ladies, and gentlemen), commoners (free people who lived in the city), and serfs (farmers bound to the land).
  • July 29, 2012
    TompaDompa
    I'm assuming this is to Fantastic Caste System as What Measure Is A Non Human is to Fantastic Racism: not necessarily an example, but most of the time it will be.

    However, one could imagine a present-day story that does not seem to realize that there is a middle class, or a story that discusses whether putting down dying animals is tantamount to non-consensual euthanasia (in other words, murder).
  • July 29, 2012
    Tuckerscreator
    It's spelled "serfs".
  • July 30, 2012
    Frank75
    I am pretty sure that the middle class was way smaller in the Medieval age than now. There were artisans and traders, but a typical village may have had one single blacksmith, one single tailor etc. If people didn't go so far to make everything by themselves. But most people were peasants or farmhands.
  • July 30, 2012
    TBeholder
    Only Princes And Paupers!
  • July 30, 2012
    dragonslip
    I like it T Beholder
  • July 30, 2012
    lexicon
    You should note in the description what the classes were historically. You can use my note to Nimmer Still if it helps.

    • Sleeping Beauty could have been about a knight saving a lady but it was a prince saving a princess who had met as simple forest dwellers.
  • July 30, 2012
    Koveras
    What we call "middle-class" existed in some form or the other since the ancient world but it was only after the scientific and industrial revolutions, with the proliferation of urbanization, that the middle-class became a major force within European population. The reason why only aristocrats and serfs appear prominently in fiction is that the former mattered by default, while the latter had the sheer numbers to matter occasionally. It wasn't until the merchants, bankers, scholars, and other well-educated commoners grew in numbers and wealth in the 18th century that they managed to edge in onto the nobility's traditional place under the sun.

    The above not entirely true, by the way: the clergy was the third major player in Medieval power plays (at least, until the Thirty Years War). In fantasy works with major religions, the clerics always play major roles, as well.
  • July 30, 2012
    dragonslip
    @Koveras

    what do you mean by "matter"?
  • July 30, 2012
    Koveras
    "Had potential to be remembered by history". In other words, if history were a work of fiction, aristocrats and leaders of popular uprisings would be main or secondary characters, as opposed to extras, the majority of whom would be serfs. There wasn't much room for the middle-class to wedge themselves into this "story".
  • July 30, 2012
    dragonslip
    Koveras

    A work of fiction doesn't record events in the same way a historical text does

    I thought you where talking in some kind of sociological sense when said "matters", I thought you meant it in the sense that the middle class call weren't numerous enough to be included in any assessment of or plans to solve the social problems of middle ages

  • July 30, 2012
    jatay3
    In point of fact the Europes merchant class had considerable power in many places particularly in cities. By definition they had money and money is power. They also had ships and kings needed ships; cities often got a charter from a monarch for self government in return for providing ships just as nobles got similar rights for providing horsemen. In some places, notably Italy(which had most of the elaborate contractural customs of modern capitalism, including Joint-stock companies and insurance), merchants ruled independant polities as early as the 1300's or before. Merchants could often compete for power with nobles, or intermarry and in fact a big ship-owner could probably have more power at his disposal then a rural feudal overlord.
  • July 30, 2012
    randomsurfer
    In the Doctor Who serial "State of Decay" there are the Three Who Rule, and everyone else is a serf. Even the guards are serfs.
  • July 31, 2012
    Frank75
    Compared to nowadays, the number of ships owned by merchants, of goods transported, and money they were worth, the importance of merchants was minimal. Besides, most people used to think in goods, not in money. And the most important good (land) was owned by nobles, not by merchants.
  • July 31, 2012
    Koveras
    @dragonslip: Yep, because history is not a story but stories, plural.

    @jatay3: 1300s were the time when The Knights Templar brought banking to Western Europe (or rather, they stopped it from being the exclusive domain of the Jews), so of course merchants/bankers/goldsmiths began lobbying their interests with the nobles around the time. However, if you look closely at financially successful "middle-class" families, like the Medicis in Italy, they all sooner or later joined the aristocracy. If you were successful, you married into a noble family or received a title from the king, if you were not, you went back to the poor. There was no incentive to stay "middle-class" until the relatively modern times.
  • July 31, 2012
    dragonslip
    @Koveras

    "Yep, because history is not a story but stories, plural" it's neither (ideally) atleast not in the same sense

    "incentive to stay "middle-class"" why would any body choose middle-class over over being rich?
  • July 31, 2012
    abk0100
    • In Time: In A World where time is money, the world is divided into zones of rich and poor that can only be crossed by giving up years of your life. The poor can't afford to cross into the rich zones, and the rich have no reason to leave.
  • July 31, 2012
    TBeholder
    ^^ the same as usual? Still having a life, as opposed to spending off time in extra efforts for climbing, sticking to habits/tradition ("My grandfather had this shop. It's good enough for me."), safety, etc.

    Back to the trope, if this trope applies, merchants are either split into "hapless chap at the counter" and "merchant-princes and jewelers", or sometmes inexplicably get filthy rich by selling apples on a bazaar.
  • August 2, 2012
    jatay3
    Why would anyone choose middle class over being rich

    Because it wasn't that simple, Dragonslip. Big merchants and aristocrats are different not just aristocrats being more rich. Aristocrats and merchants were rival castes. Big merchants were shipping and banking people and aristocrats were warriors and landholders. Aristocrats had public and social obligations merchants didn't. Some of them were obvious like showing up wanted to go on campaign. Others more subtle like being restricted to a rigid source of income, having fewer employment opportunities, and having to give Fancy Dinner s more often.
  • August 2, 2012
    jatay3
    Koveras, by the time the Medicis joined the aristocracy they lived in a style way above many aristocrats and had more power to throw around.

    A lot of aristocrats were quite weak in power. If what you mean is "Great princes were usually more powerful then great merchants" yes that would be true. However Great Merchants would have been more powerful then average aristocrats and equally important Merchant City s would be more powerful then most baronies. Merchant cities were a threat to the aristocracy even on the battlefield simply because of the money they had.
  • August 3, 2012
    dragonslip
    @jatay3

    HE WAS TALKING ABOUT MODERN TIMES
  • August 3, 2012
    jatay3
    I assume that was a typo as the sentence does not make sense; he was clearly not talking about modern times and in fact was mostly talking about medieval times. I was talking about the relationship between the merchant class and the aristocratic as it evolved from the high middle ages onward. Before 1200, say(to give an arbitrary date) it was true that the aristocracy tended to have overwhelming power. After that it was not so clear because the merchant classes steadily gained more power; that was a general trend that could be seen continuing for centuries.
  • August 3, 2012
    dragonslip
    "There was no incentive to stay "middle-class" until the relatively modern times" yes he was
  • August 3, 2012
    wotnoplot
    Actually there are a number of middle class people in fairy tales, take the miller's daughter in Rumplestiltskin; their are number of tales of sextons which is a type of verger; there are guards mentioned in Sleeping Beauty, footmen in Cinderella, all upwardly mobile people.
  • August 3, 2012
    abk0100
    • The phrase "the other half" as in "see how the other half lives."
  • August 3, 2012
    SeptimusHeap
    This sounds dialogue-y. No Middle Class?
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