"A self-made man, who worships his creator."This person owes very little to anyone for their success. The little advantages that they possessed is disproportionate to the scale of their achievements; the principal cause of the latter being their own skills, talent, and merit. Be it through hard work, dedication, commitment to their work, a little cunning, some business acumen, and a dollop of serendipity, they have gone from unimportant to important. This is usually who you get at the end of Rags to Riches, but this is not that trope because the Self Made Man is often there right at the start of the story, whereas Rags to Riches follows the course that leads a character here. Often the conflict of this kind of story revolves on societal acceptance and reputation. Typically, in works set further back in history, they are looked down on as upstarts, a reflection of the dislike a lot of the nobility had for the power shift following the Industrial Revolution. In more modern settings they might be respected to the point of Cult of Personality, basing their ascent on how they had to climb the ladder from the bottom. In other kinds of stories, the story have characters looking back on the process by which they made themselves, wondering if the rest of their lives are going to be as exciting and adventurous, or if what they built and sustained can last, or if it has any meaning in wider society and history beyond their own personal success. Expect them to show fewer social graces but often more political savvy than the more traditionally wealthy, except when he is feverishly trying to imitate and become socially accepted by the Blue Bloods, when he generally comes off the worse. The Arranged Marriage for the Impoverished Patrician is often to a Self-Made Man, or his daughter (or any situation where Nobility Marries Money), though it also is possible that his rise was because he was Unable to Support a Wife, and she did indeed Wait For Him. In p, the will-making character is often this trope, because refusing your children the inheritance you got comes across as petty. The archetype of self-made men can involve politicians, soldiers, scientists, artists and of course, businessmen. In the case of artists, novels like Bildungsroman and Kunstlerroman often serve as coming-of-age story for how people make themselves into these kinds of individuals. In the case of scientists, it deals with the times they spent until they found the Eureka Moment. A Self-Made Man can appear as a protagonist, a Tragic Hero, a Tragic Villain, a hero or anti-hero. They can also be supporting-characters, where their interesting plot is mostly over and at times serves as backstory or foundation in which one can mine for dramatic gold, guilt, baggage, Dark and Troubled Past or Glory Days. A less positive spin on this trope is the stereotypically boorish Nouveau Riche. As this character tends to Default to Good, it can be seen as an inversion of Ambition Is Evil. A second variant of this trope is that of a character who, for whatever reason, chooses to change their basic nature in defiance of normal expectations of what they are "meant" to be or are likely to become — a naturally selfish or evil-inclined character, for example, forcing himself moment-to-moment to act generous or good because he has decided to make himself that way. This archetype is similar to ‹bermensch. They might be the middle generation of the Three Successful Generations. What is necessary for self-made also differs. Doing well after graduating at the top of your cause and maintaining high academic standing (all of them being markers of merit) is somehow not as remarkable as achieving something without going to university, either by being self-taught or being a "savant". As the gendered trope name suggests, this trope has generally been Always Male. Indeed the trope Never a Self-Made Woman, explains how successful women have historically had their achievements tied to connections with men, who had to make it possible for them. This is more how the trope is portrayed than it is in reality, since there are indeed quite a number of women whose achievements are no more over-advantaged than that of men. And of course what seems self-made in one era and context changes from another. If he forgets that it's not always just a simple matter of effort and determination, that's the Hard Work Fallacy. Not to be confused for the book by Norah Vincent, a chronicle of immersive journalism in which she passes for a man for more than a year.
— John Bright on Benjamin Disraeli (and many other people on many other people)
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- Referenced with an old Tim Horton's commercial. An old man is speaking to his grandson (or perhaps great-grandson), saying that when he came to Canada he had only two dollars, but by working hard and saving his money, he was able to provide for his family, and now things were good for them. In turn, he gives his descendant two dollars, to use to make his family proud. Subverted when the child promptly buys a 20-pack of Timbits, though of course the grandfather is not disappointed with the gift of pastries.
Anime and Manga
- Seto Kaiba He stole his adoptive father's company from him, then rebuilt it from the ground up, leaving his own stamp on it. Regrettably, he just about broke himself in the process, becoming nearly as bad as his father. If what his father says is to be believed, he too was an example of this.
- Katsuya Jonouchi/Joey Wheeler of the same show is an unusual example. Starting out with a mediocre Duel Monsters deck and a smattering of chance cards, Jonouchi enters one tournament after another and with a combination of skill, luck, and being thoroughly underestimated by his opponents, manages to be a success. Flashforward five seasons—he's been the runner-up at Duelist Kingdom, a finalist at Battle City, and is the third-ranked duelist on the planet. Interestingly, Kaiba and he hate each other.
- Kaiba's GX Expy Jun Manjoume comes from an incredibly rich family, but decides he wants to be this character instead, and resolves to achieve success via his own merits and not his brothers' money or fame.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's:
- Jack Atlas started as a rat from Satellite. But once he had a chance to escape from there, he became the King of Duelists not shortly after. However, this is subverted much later, as it is revealed that Goodwin and Yeager payed strong duelists to lose against Jack on purpose when Jack's career began.
- It is revealed that Rex Goodwin himself was the Legendary D-Wheeler from Satellite. Somehow he managed to become the CEO of Public Security of Maintance Bureau and Neo-Domino City's most famous man.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V: ARC-V's version of Jack Atlas plays it straight in contrast to his original counterpart. Everything started when a single card, that was probably discarded as a trash card by someone from the Tops, fell from the sky and a very young Jack found it. Years later, the boy from the Commons became the man who won the Friendship Cup and earned the title of King, being the hero of the entire City.
- Jack Rakan of Mahou Sensei Negima!; the reason that he's a beloved invincible war hero is because he literally fought his way to the top despite starting out at rock bottom as a gladiatorial slave. Tohsaka, Mama Bear and Vargas have very similar backstories.
- As part of his being the poster boy for Eagleland (both versions), Mobile Fighter G Gundam's Chibodee Crocket was an orphan who built himself up from street urchin to the Heavyweight Boxing Champ as well as America's representative in the 13th Gundam Fight. This is the reason why he believes so fiercely in the concept of the American Dream - he's living proof that it's possible.
- Kiri no Mori Hotel has Makio Shidara and Kalen Hasumi, two characters who worked themselves to the bone, to get where they are today. Makio is studying to become a lawyer, all while working part-time to pay for his student loans and living expenses. Kalen became a model and successful actress, after leaving her small hometown behind.
- Marianne from Code Geass can be seen as this. In a society where you only matter if you're from a noble lineage, she manages to get into the most elite knight order of the empire and eventually becomes a consort to the Emperor. A position usually reserved for daughters of important noble families. Her son Lelouch may also count. He obtained half the world on his own, later, the entire world for himself, without relying on his royal lineage.
- In The Secret Agreement, Yuuichi is an orphaned Street Urchin who eventually builds his own business. Even when he found out he had an uncle he didn't go to him for anything he needed.
- One Piece: Franky Self Made Man in a... different sense, still related to making himself by himself, but in a more literal manner. The original definition could still apply to him - despite being the son of a pirate, he managed to be one of the few apprentices of Tom, the closest person to an ultimate shipwright there was, by proving his skill to him, then managed to gather a sizable gang, becoming just about the most infamous person of the city - certainly not helped by anyone in the endeavour.
- Surprisingly, Wapol actually manages to become this eventually. He started off as the King of Drum Kingdom, but as a major example of The Caligula. However, after fighting Luffy and being forcibly exiled from there, he uses his Devil Fruit powers to make toys from garbage. From that starting point, he eventually becomes a business tycoon, becoming so successful that he is even allowed to create a new kingdom for himself.
- Fujioka Yukari, the female protagonist of Billionaire Girl, amassed a fortune of 170 billion yen working as a day trader. And she's just 18.
- Fujitaka Kinomoto from Cardcaptor Sakura. He was orphaned at a young age, pursued a schoolteaching career on his own, fell in love with an Uptown Girl and was accused of being a Gold Digger, married her anyway despite her disownment, worked hard alongside his wife to make a living for themselves and their children, and by the time we meet him he's a rather succesful archeologist and uni professor. In his mid to late 30's, and did it all without realizing he is one of the reincarnations of the most powerful mage in the CLAMP meta-universe.
- Medabots: Dr. Aki sold patents of some medabot models to other companies to have the money to start Medabot Corporation.
- Ozymandias from Watchmen gave away all his money to charity at a young age to prove that he could get to the top without any help. Being the smartest man on Earth with a drive to match, he pulled it off, becoming both a superhero and super-wealthy.
- Lex Luthor (DC Comics) and The Kingpin (Marvel) are sometimes shown as coming from poor families in rough neighbourhoods; the Kingpin especially, though that fits for a career criminal.
- Scrooge McDuck rose from shoe-shiner to the richest duck/man in the world. That's how he became Mr. Vice Guy instead of a Corrupt Corporate Executive (although this isn't always true of his characterization under artists besides Carl Barks and Keno Don Rosa).
- Scrooge went through various adventures and trials to become the richest duck in the world. In his words:
Scrooge: I made it by being tougher than the toughies and smarter than the smarties! And I made it square!
- The one time he slipped on the making it square, it cost him the only family he had left and left him a broken man for decades.
- Scrooge's Evil Counterpart Flintheart Glomgold also apparently started from humble beginnings, although in his case he didn't make his fortune square.
- Don Rosa portrays John Rockerduck's father, Howard Rockerduck, as someone who became rich from a gold rush.
- Rosa also depicted Theodore Roosevelt as a man who aspired to make his own career, despite being from a wealthy family. His words inspired a young Scrooge in Buckaroo of the Badlands: "Being born wealthy is no accomplishment! That's why I became a cowboy! To find the life I missed by not being born poor like you!"
- The Carl Barks one-shot Somethin' Fishy Here (remade as Something Fishy) has him start over and rebuild a small fortune in a single day.
- The story "Once Upon a Time in America" reveals this is true of many of Mickey's ancestors, who, for whatever reason, abandon the wealth left them by their ancestors only to become wealthy on their own efforts. The best example is Mickey's own father, who had lost his wealth due a scam and, after loaning some money from his future wife, became one of the richest men in America (he later sold his economic empire when he realized that he had become a jerk and almost a villain, and gave most of his money to charity during The Great Depression).
- Scrooge went through various adventures and trials to become the richest duck in the world. In his words:
- An interesting variation occurs with the Green Goblin, Spider-Man's archenemy. While Norman Osborn's family was initially very wealthy, Norman's incompetent, abusive father nearly wiped out the family fortune, until Norman founded Osborn Industries and rebuilt the family wealth from the ground up.
- In Judge Dredd, Martin Sinfield is proud of the fact that he wasn't cloned or fast-tracked to the top, but instead worked his way up from the bottom. The fraud, bribery, and criminality were completely for the good of the city. Absolutely.
- Though Tony Stark was born into wealth, it's been taken from him multiple times, causing him to build it back up by himself every time, the most notable being when Stane took his entire company from him and Stark built a new one from the ground up. However, he did retain his education and decades of business experience and contacts.
- Batman's ancestor Solomon Wayne. He arrived in Gotham with nothing but a law degree and a bible, and worked as a judge. He then started a number of businesses, and quickly became the wealthiest person in town. Down the line, that money became the now enormous Wayne fortune.
- Code Geass: Cornelia of the Defection turns this Up to Eleven for Marianne, who wasn't only a commoner, but a street urchin who got caught stealing food from a military camp. Not wanting to shoot a little girl, the soldiers tried to subdue her by hand only to get their asses kicked. She was promptly enlisted in the army as a Private First Class and the rest is history
- GF Serendipity: A Gravity Falls Alternate Universe has this as the premise: Fiddleford McGucket and Stan Pines meet in a bar and Stan uses his business savvy to market Fiddleford's laptop and they become multi-millionaires and captains of industry in a couple of years.
- Somos Familia: The entire Rivera clan (and blood brother) gets this treatment. Imelda, Hector, Ernesto, Oscar and Philippe all grew up in an orphanage together, with little more than their friendships, talents and minor bits of history to their names. But thanks to some determination, hope, talent and a lot of luck, they all ended up in a VERY good place as the richest people in Santa Cecelia and Beyond.
- Palpatine from Star Wars counts. Born a minor noble on some backwater world, he clawed his way to Senator, Chancellor, and eventually got voted in to be galactic Emperor through trickery, deceit, and magnificent bastardry. He wasn't born an Emperor, but he sure as hell worked his way up the top, whether the perspective be simply from the movies or including the Expanded Universe.
- Thornton Melon (Rodney Dangerfield) from Back to School is a man with little education and class (well, it's Rodney!), but possesses uncanny financial skills. He built his fortune selling a plus-sized line of clothing to obese men. But seems to make the real money with his ability to invest his assets to maximize profits. In this regard, he is better suited to teach economics then the snobbish instructor whose classes Melon attends.
- George Kittridge in The Philadelphia Story
- The eponymous serial killer in Mr. Brooks founded, owns and runs a successful box-making company.
- Nick Vanderpark, the character portrayed by Jack Black in Envy, used to be the average working man until he invested four thousand dollars on the development of a spray that vaporizes dog poop. The investment made himself wealthy. The film never stated how much Dmitrioff, who invented the spray, got from the deal or how it changed his life.
- Roger Calloway in It Takes Two.
- Biff Tannen looked like one to outsiders in Back to the Future Part II. In reality, he got immeasurable help when his self from 2015 traveled in time to give his 1955 self an almanac with sports results from 1950 to 2000 so past Biff would become wealthy from gambling. Sure, it ended up being for naught, since Marty and Doc undid the damages to the timeline but, he was quite wealthy in 1985 until then.
- Titanic (1997): The Self-Made Man in this case doesn't appear since he's already dead but his widow is disliked by some of her fellow first-class passengers because of this trope.
- Happy Gilmore: Though not in the most conventional manner, Happy Gilmore goes from a down on his luck man with an incredibly short temper to a nationally acclaimed golfer who wins a national golf tournament and becomes famous all around the country and winds up pretty wealthy.
- Arthur: The father of the titular character's arranged bride.
- High Society: George, the Disposable Fiancť, is very proud of being this, in contrast to the ex-husband.
- Mostly Kingo Gondo in High and Low, who started out as a cobbler's apprentice and rose to become factory manager for National Shoes, but he also got help from his wife Reiko's dowry.
- The Richest Cat in the World: Oscar Kohlmeyer was merely the owner of a roadside diner until some land developers decided to buy it. They granted his request to let him keep all rights over minerals found on the land. They found oil.
- Cleo McDowell in Coming to America spent his early life in a slum. He went on to open a successful (but obviously plagiarized) restaurant. While he tries to marry off his daughter to a rich guy, part of it is because he doesn't want her having to struggle like he did.
- Niki Lauda as depicted in Rush (2013): His family is the rich business people, but he violently ditches himself from the family's money to race in Formula One (which is viewed as low-class job by his father). Even before he starts, he claims to his team mate he can build his own economy out of the job.
- This is the backstory of the Rivera family in Coco; After Imelda's husband abandoned her, she taught herself how to create and sell shoes in order to support herself and her young daughter. The family buisness was so sucessful that it's still supporting her living descendants nearly a century after she first started.
- In A Brother's Price, Jerin's grandmothers worked their way up from thieves to government spies, and were knighted for their part in winning the war. The Whistler family is very well-off at that point, partly thanks to the grandfather, who was a prince the grandmothers kidnapped. After his family lost the war and was executed, Prince Alannon saw no point in revealing his identity, and instead wrapped his kidnappers around his little finger. As a result, the Whistler offspring don't only have money, they also have good manners, and everyone, even the boys, is taught how to read and write. Grandpa insisted.
- Perhaps the most famous example in western canon is Jay Gatsby of The Great Gatsby. Born poor, he falls in love with a girl above his station and dedicates himself to making money to win her back. He's fantastically wealthy by the time the story starts, and is famous for the lavish parties he constantly throws in his opulent mansion. Alas, his true love still rejects him.
- Artemio Cruz in "The death of Artemio Cruz"
- Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. After feeling betrayed by Cathy and leaving the Heights as a teenager, the gypsy foundling returns... somewhat mysteriously wealthy three years later. He then proceeds to swindle both Hindley and Edgar out of their respective properties.
- Discworld has a few.
- Harry King (AKA Piss Harry, The King of the Golden River) went from gutter-born mud lark to one of the richest men in the city by realising there is nothing so foul that someone doesn't want it—and what's more, you can usually get people who don't want it to pay you to take it away. Not liked, and even disrespected, by most of the traditional power players in the city, the protagonists and most other characters the reader is meant to sympathize with tend to have at least a grudgingly positive opinion of him.
- Vimes is a peripheral example, in that the Watch ended up in its modern place of power because of his hard work, but in his personal life he married way, way up.
- C.M.O.T. Dibbler is not an example, despite all his best efforts. But he never quite sinks under either and is already ready for the next Big Thing.
- Mr Bucket in Maskerade, whom Salzella contemptuously thinks of as "a self-made man who's proud of his handiwork".
- Willie Hobson, of Hobson's Livery Stable, another businessman in the mold of Harry King who had 'found a niche, occupied it, then forced it open so wide a lot of money dropped in'.
- Sir Willoughby Parfitt in ''Sharpe's Justice''.
- Hagbard Celine in The Illuminatus! Trilogy quit his job as a lawyer, sold his property, gave half of it to the poorest people he could find, and the other half to the richest people he could found, hitched a ride to Europe to start fresh. A few years later, he's the leading private importer of contraband after the mafia. Off course, it could all be a great big lie, he might not even exist.
- In Fifty Shades of Grey, Christian Grey calls himself this, saying he started up his business and has made it as large and influential as it is now, all by himself. He seems to forget that it was Elena Lincoln who gave him the starting capital for his business.
- Johann Sebastian Bach Smith from Robert A. Heinlein's I Will Fear No Evil is a rare protagonist example.
- Atlas Shrugged: Hank Rearden, Midas Mulligan, Ken Dannagger, Ellis Wyatt, the posthumous Nat Taggart and Sebastian D'Anconia... the list goes on. Even Francisco D'Anconia, heir to the massive D'Anconia Copper empire, qualifies, as his family has a rule against assuming you're "born a D'Anconia" — you have to earn it. He started by working at a copper foundry in college and managed to earn enough money on his own to purchase the foundry himself, while still learning the family business.
- Honor Harrington is a moderate example. Her parents were always well-off, a pair of respected and successful doctors who were themselves descended from successful professionals, but they were solidly in the yeoman social class and never had the money to really be "rich." Honor herself earned her first several million dollars with prize money from ships she seized for smuggling during her stationing in the Basilisk system, then reinvested the modest fortune into numerous investment opportunities around Manticore; the proceeds from her investments turned her from millionaire into a billionaire. She then founded Grayson Skydomes, Ltd. on the planet Grayson, bankrolled by her offworld fortune, the proceeds of which made her the wealthiest individual on Grayson and in shouting distance of the wealthy on Manticore. Throughout the novels her fortune continued to expand through regular reinvestment in the many financial opportunities a sustained war provides anybody with capial and resources, along the way also earning a knighthood, a Duchy on Gryphon and investment as a Steadholder on Grayson. The later books have her as one of the most important figures, exonomically, politically and militarily, in the entire galaxy. However, all along the way Honor is quick to point out that her financial success is primarily the doing of her hired financial consultant, and she was always quick to deflect any praise or reward from her personal actions.
- Klaus Hauptmann is another, albeit antagonistic, example and bears a hidden distaste for old money.
- The benefactor in Charles Dickens's Great Expectations is a ringing example. From escaped convict to Wealthy Australian.
- Dr. Bledsoe in Invisible Man is almost a deconstruction of this type—he seems at first to have earned his way to the top honestly, but it becomes clear just how much he lied and schemed.
- Well before the time of The Thrawn Trilogy, Thrawn had made Grand Admiral despite literally being an alien who had been picked up off of a distant planet. He'd been a Commander among his people, but had been exiled to an unpopulated world. The Empire was quite biased against nonhumans and he started with no rank among them, but he was a strategic and tactical genius the likes of which the galaxy had rarely if ever seen, so despite his many oddities he was able to pull himself up into a position that let him command the Empire itself, in that trilogy.
- Wang Lung, the hard-working Chinese farmer from The Good Earth.
- Captain Frederick Wentworth of Jane Austen's Persuasion: "I have been used to the gratification of believing myself to earn every blessing that I enjoyed. I have valued myself on honourable toils and just rewards." Those rewards amount to £25,000, making him equivalent to a millionaire. Sir Walter, on the other hand, objects to the navy precisely because it makes it possible for people like Captain Wentworth to enter the upper classes.
- In Robert E. Howard's "The Scarlet Citadel", Conan brags that his Rags to Royalty climb was all his own, and that he had shed blood himself as well as shedding that of others.
- Alexandria's Character Arc in the Emperor books consists of becoming one of these; she starts off as a slave, but manages to earn her freedom in the first book and goes on to become a successful jeweller.
- James T. Sedgwick, maternal uncle of the protagonist of Brewster's Millions, built his fortune in Montana, where he arrived with just a few thousands of dollars on his name and ended up owning some ranches and gold mines.
- Rourke, from the In Death series, starts out as a poor Irish street brat and becomes an obscenely wealthy member of the Fiction500 through a combination of illegal and legal business ventures.
- In L. M. Montgomery's The Blue Castle, Dr. Redfern.
- Jason Currie of The Stone Angel never misses an opportunity to tell his children how he is this.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish and Varys "the Spider" are the From Nobody to Nightmare version of this. Both started out with next to nothing compared to the other major players of the Game of Thrones and both could arguably be considered two of the most dangerous people in Westeros. Littlefinger in particular got to where he is simply by being really good with handling money (at least in his his day job; he's actually even better at playing Xanatos Speed Chess).
- Simona Ahrnstedt has two very straight examples, complete with the prejudice from the "old money": Seth Hammerstaal in "Överenskommelser" and Markus Järv in "Betvingade". And even Gabriel Gripklo in "De skandalösa", who was born as an aristocrat, had to make money on his own to save his family from actual bankruptcy.
- Tom Broadbent of Tyrannosaur Canyon aspires to be one of these. Born to a wealthy merchant family, he turned his back on his connections and started his own business as a veterinarian. While he has over $100 million inheritance, he never actually touches it since he values eking a living from his own labor.
- The Stormlight Archive: Jasnah is a pretty straight aversion of Never a Self-Made Woman. She's the sister to a king, but insists that she'd be able to exert the same authority if she merely convinced people she was royal. While she's never shy about using her wealth and connections, she's far more likely to use her own intelligence and natural charisma. She even refuses to marry in a world where both men and women are expected to pair off by their mid-twenties; she scoffs at the idea that she'd need a man for anything (and her demonstration with some muggers proves that she definitely doesn't need a man for protection). Her mother wryly claims that Jasnah has been a sour-faced scholar since she was five years old, and never needed even a mother.
- In Alien in a Small Town, Indira became this after she first left home in her youth, leaving a Mennonite farm, getting an education, and becoming a high-paid engineer on a Space Station. After her life falls apart, she returns home to the farm for many years... and then later goes back out into the world and achieves it all over again.
- Wolf Hall portrays Thomas Cromwell as this (although as his career unfolds, certain people have reason to see him go From Nobody to Nightmare). He starts as an abused blacksmith's boy, becomes a mercenary in Europe and finds his way to an Italian banker after an especially nasty battle. He begins by scrubbing the floor before getting into the counting house, then enters the wool trade, returns to England and becomes the Hypercompetent Sidekick of an aging merchant (who sets Cromwell up with his daughter), enters the legal profession, and becomes the right-hand man of Cardinal Wolsey, the Lord Chancellor to Henry VIII. After Wolsey's fall, Cromwell joins Henry's privy council and eventually takes the position of Master Secretary, which gives him enormous latitude and power—all the way along he's building substantial wealth. This being Tudor England, his origins are frequently hurled in his face as an insult regardless of the ability he shows.
- Military thriller Victoria has Terry, the former Marine aviator and aviation buff who made a fortune in real estate and fulfilled his dream—buying and restoring a real-life World War II jet bomber. Naturally, this becomes a plot point...
Live Action TV
- Deconstructed in an episode of Blackadder the Third, which parodies the rising industrialists in Regency England with Amy Hardwood's father, a farmer's son who invented the "Ravelling Nancy" and now owns more mills than the Prince Regent has brain cells (seven). Unfortunately, he seems to have squandered his wealth on god-knows-what and is currently dirt-poor.
- In Brass, Bradley Hardacre, a Magnificent Bastard industrialist, is a full-time parody of this trope. He is not the nice sort of self-made man.
- Danny Wilde, Tony Curtis' character in The Persuaders!, is a self-made millionaire who grew up in the Bronx. The contrast between him and Roger Moore's character, British aristocrat Brett Sinclair, is frequently played up for humorous effect.
- Game of Thrones: Given the feudal setting, very few characters accomplish much without their noble name, as moving between classes is nearly impossible. However, there are a few exceptions:
- Varys had nothing, even less than Littlefinger, who was at least a minor noble, being born as a slave and prisoner. After he was castrated and thrown into the slums of the Free Cities, he became a pocket thief and whore. There, he learned to extract secrets from his clients. Gradually expanding his power, through his shrewdness and clever use of information he eventually rose to become Master of Whispers, with a seat on the Royal Council.
- Daario was once a slave, but through his martial skill earned his master's respect and was eventually freed. He then moved up the ranks of the Second Sons, eventually becoming their leader.
- Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish is born into the very lowest ranks of nobility, with holdings barely worth mentioning and being seen as the son of an upjumped merchant by the ruling class, but parlays his twin talents of manipulation and money-lending until he's playing cyvasse with kings and queens as pawns.
- Xaro Xoan Daxos was a poor immigrant from the Summer Isles when he arrived in Qarth, but became a member of the ruling Thirteen.
- Daenerys Targaryen went from abused child to independent woman; from glorified sex slave to fully-realized Khaleesi; from penniless widow to commander of eight thousand elite soldiers and liberator of over two hundred thousand slaves. She remarks that she did the last two things in only a fortnight.
- Mad Men: Don Draper casts off his old life (literally) and rebuilds himself as the best ad-man on Madison Avenue after the Korean War.
- George Jefferson. He's not as rich as the other guys on this list, but he started off as a janitor and with the help of an insurance settlement opened and ran a successful dry cleaning store in Queens, New York. He managed turn one store into a chain and got enough money to "move on up" to the Upper East Side of Manhattan into a deluxe apartment
- Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was originally a farmboy from a small rural town who managed to better himself and eventually became a rich and successful lawyer in California. This meant that he usually displayed more common sense than all his children combined — usually. Sadly deconstructed at the end of one episode after he had all but alienated his farmer parents. He confesses to Will that, for all his Self Made Man rhetoric, he didn't have it that rough since his parents were always there for him. In a later episode, he chides Will for not asking Phil for help out of a misguided desire to emulate Phil since people had opened doors for Phil too in the past.
- Nikos Karabastos from Brazilian soap opera Uga Uga was originally employee of a toy factory who, tired of his employers not seeing the merit of his ideas, started his own toy factory.
- Lionel Luthor in Smallville started his fortune with half the insurance money he collected when he had his parents killed in a fire (the other half went to pay the killer). He's not actually happy about this, and tries to pretend to be descended from Scottish nobility.
- Stymie Bundy in Married... with Children accumulated half a million dollars.
- General Martok in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine clawed and hacked( probably literally at times ) his way to flag rank in the Klingon forces despite his poor birth and the opposition from aristocracy. He was a badass by Klingon standards.
- To get an idea of just how low he started, a Klingon aristocrat was offended at the idea of a commoner trying to go through the Klingon equivalent of officer candidate school, and this prevented Martok from even enlisting as a foot soldier. He had to start out as a civilian worker. But when the ship he was on got boarded by Romulans, he impressed a Klingon general with his fighting prowess and was given a battlefield commission. And he continued to badass his way all the way to the top, becoming ruler of the entire Klingon Empire.
- Even though Lorelai Gilmore comes from money, she ran away from home as an unwed mother, got her first job basically because the inn's owner took pity on her, lived in a tool shed and less than twenty years later owned her own house and was part owner of her own inn.
- Stephen Colbert, as a response to one of Mitt Romney's comments, deconstructed this trope on The Colbert Report by claiming that being forced to acknowledge his 100+ staff had a role in his popularity removes all the significance of his many accolades. As a result, he fired all of his staff and attempted to continue the show purely by himself using nothing but a desk lamp, a dry erase board, and an iPhone.note During his solo segment, he starts choking on a marker cap and falls unconscious after refusing to let someone help him via the Heimlich maneuver. After the commercial break, Colbert had rehired all of his staff, taking a stance of Let Us Never Speak of This Again.
Colbert: The only accomplishments I value are ones I create entirely by myself. Thatís why Iím not that crazy about my children.
- These have been suspects (as well as victims) from time to time on Law & Order in its various forms. At least one case notes some of the less admirable qualities common in the Self-Made Man — a sense of entitlement (because they have already worked hard enough that the world owes them acceptance of their success) and a tendency to be very thin-skinned when it comes to criticism and political viewpoints.
- Spartacus: Blood and Sand:
- Quintus Batiatus is a successful owner of gladiators, making him wealthy but low-born Roman citizen. His ambitions for political office are not taken seriously by the Roman aristocracy.
- Marcus Crassus (whose real-life counterpart was quite possibly the richest man in history) earned his wealth and power through his strength and intelligence rather than by lineage. The Roman Senate has a particular dislike for him as a result.
- Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock started out as a poor kid from a broken home in Boston. By working odd jobs from the age of 12 he put himself through Princeton and Harvard Business School and went on to become an immensely powerful and wealthy executive.
- Wolf Hall has Thomas Cromwell confess his origins as son of a Putney blacksmith when he's newly hired by Cardinal Wolsey. Wolsey, a butcher and innkeeper's son, is delighted to find another working-class man in his world of Upper Class Twits. Cromwell survives Wolsey's fall and joins Henry's privy council, swiftly taking the position of Master Secretary and becoming the king's Number Two. Most people he deals with find having to deal with (and sometimes answer to) a lowborn man anywhere from faintly distasteful to mortally offensive.
- A villainous version occurs in Doctor Syn ("The Scarecrow") with General Pugh, who started in the ranks and expresses his disgust for the commission-purchasing system of the Georgian British army. It seems to make him worse than a highborn officer would be, since he disdains "gentlemanly" conduct like not threatening civilians and instead goes for the ends justifying the means.
- The Hamilton Mixtape:
- "My Shot (Rise Up Remix)" celebrates the ability of people to rise up from circumstances of poverty and societal opposition to become something great.
- "Wrote My Way Out" centers around the ability of writing and song to help downtrodden people make a name for themselves.
- "Washingtons By Your Side" calls out people for complaining that successful people have it easy, even when they've had to work hard all their life to earn their wealth and acclaim.
- "Where did you go to my lovely" and "Last of the Breed" by Peter Sarstedtis this story but Marie-Claire is a woman.
- The song "Stuck in the Middle with You" by Stealers Wheel is sung to one of these, as the second part of the chorus has the line "Well, you started off with nothin' and you're proud that you're a self-made man."
- Surprisingly relevant in the role-playing game Paranoia; the setting of Alpha Complex is a grinding dystopia, but it has no heredity aristocracy, and even the most powerful of Ultraviolet High Programmers started his/her existence as an anonymous drugged-up Infrared drone.
- Yermolai Alekhseevich Lopajin from Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, who became rich despite starting as peasant, as a direct contrast with Impoverished Patricians like Madame Ranevskaya, Gaiev or Simeonov-Pischik.
- Mr Birling from An Inspector Calls made his way up the social ladder from a lower-class background and intends to become even more successful; this is the ulterior motive behind his support of the engagement between Gerald Croft, from a richer and more prestigious family, and his daughter Sheila. He firmly believes that "a man has to make his own way" and expresses disapproval of "community and all that nonsense".
- The Illusive Man from the Mass Effect franchise. Started out a mercenary amongst the human armed forces during the First Contact War, after publishing his manifesto made for the defense of humanity, he builds up all his assets and winds up eventually creating and leading Cerberus, a powerful Human Alliance black-ops division funded through many front companies and sympathizers amongst the Alliance Industrial Military Complex.
- In Dragon Quest VIII, Angelo's half-brother Marcello claims to be self-made, having worked up from being an orphan in an abbey to the leader of the world's religion. You watch his rise to power throughout the game, but he only gets there through tossing around blame to imprison or otherwise dispose of those in his way to the top, and really only gets there by exploiting others, rather than through any earnest effort of his own. Because of that, he loses it all pretty quickly.
- Geese Howard is called "The Ultimate Self-made bad guy" for a reason. He began as an illegitimate child (actually, the bastard son of the Earl of Stroheim) from the lower part of South Town, worked as a policeman, became the chief of police of the city, and by the time the Fatal Fury story properly starts, he's a Corrupt Corporate Executive.
- Teyrn Loghain mac Tir in Dragon Age: Origins was common-born, but won his title (approximately equivalent to the real-life title of duke), a great deal of money, power, and influence, and got his daughter to marry the King of Ferelden by his sword and his wits fighting off the Orlesian occupation.
- Grand Enchanter Fiona from Dragon Age: Inquisition began life as an alienage elf, was enslaved as the concubine to an evil Orlesian nobleman, killed him and was taken to the Circle of Magi, was freed and inducted into the Grey Wardens, underwent a unique process by which the Taint was removed from her blood, and then rejoined the Circle, became First Enchanter of Montsimmard, was elected Grand Enchanter, led the mages in rebellion, and she can become the leader of the free mages of Southern Thedas. All this, in one life.
- In the same game is the return of Dagna, a dwarf girl first encountered in Origins whom the Warden could assist in her desire to study the principles of magic. Not the application, since dwarves can't do magic, but the bare bones structure. As a result, she has in the ten years since turned herself into an arcanist, a position that she literally invented because she's the only one who has the requisite knowledge, and it brings her to serve the Inquisition as a Gadgeteer Genius.
- Cullen also qualifies for this by the time of Inquisition. According to The World of Thedas, vol. 2, he first declared his intention to join the Templars at the age of eight. He left for formal training at age thirteen, and worked his way up the ranks through an awful lot of horrible situations, finally serving as Kirkwall's provisional Knight-Commander following the events of the second game. It was his heroism and commitment there which made Cassandra think him worthy of leading the Inquisition forces, bringing him to his current position.
- The Player Character in Neverwinter Nights and the one in the Shadows of Undrentide/Hordes of the Underdark storyline both rise from a position as an apprentice adventurer to stations of great wealth, power, and influence by undertaking a variety of mad quests to save the world.
- Common in community modules, too. The Player Character in Tales of Arterra is an orphan raised by simple farmers, who wins a title of nobility at the end of the first module and goes on to (depending on your choices) head one of the most powerful churches in the world.
- The Player Character in Sanctum of the Archmage was the child of poor foresters, who (as the story stands) is presently set to become a close adviser to the next King/Queen at the very least.
- Robert House of Fallout: New Vegas. While he was born to wealthy parents, he was cheated out of his inheritance upon their death by his half-brother. That didn't stop him from attending MIT, founding RobCo (the company responsible for building most of the robots of the series, including Liberty Prime) and buying out several companies within Vegas, including his brother's. Using his vast resources, he managed to mostly preserve Vegas from the nuclear war, giving the Mojave Wasteland a possible chance for restoration.
- Street Fighter
- Fei Long, according to his backstory. He began training in Kung-Fu as a 6-year-old child, as a teenager he became a stuntman for HK movies and got into informal streetfighting, and from then on he worked hard in minor roles and training to reach the top. An assistant director asked him to show his skills in a single scene take, and the rest is history.
- All but stated in the case of Sagat, too. The humble Thai village that he visits in Street Fighter IV is strongly hinted to be the "Emperor of Muay Thai"'s hometown, and the elder of said place is one of his relatives (apparently, his eldest brother).
- The Player Character in Game of Thrones: Ascent, earning nobility for a heroic deed and getting more and more powerful as the story progresses.
- Gray Mann of Team Fortress 2, as stated by his quote.
"Unlike you two pampered imbeciles, I built my empire. I have studied. I have plotted. I have waited."
- This is one of the possible backgrounds for your Presidente in Tropico. It boosts the production rate of your factory workers and your relations with the capitalists and the US. It is also one of the few capitalist backgrounds that does not lower your relations with the communists.
- In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, David Sarif is the epitome of a self-made man, having fought every step of the way to turn Sarif Industries from a tiny biotech firm to a corporate empire, while still caring for every single worker under his roof with no strings attached.
- In contrast to demon princes Kakeru and Meguru, Satoru Kamagari of 10 Days with My Devil clawed his way up from nothing to a respectable status in the demon realm's Deadly Decadent Court entirely on his own steam. It's greatly informed the way he sees his world: he doesn't believe in trusting others, and instead views the people around him entirely on the basis of whether or not they'd be able to facilitate his further advancement.
- RWBY: Weiss' grandfather, Nicholas Schnee, was this years before the series began. He not only founded what would become the largest Dust mining company on Remnant, but he also personally led each expedition and helped protect them from Grimm attacks. Unfortunately, people in the present tend to forget this and instead associate the Schnee name with Weiss' Corrupt Corporate Executive of a father, Nicholas's son-in-law Jacques. Weiss' main-motivation for becoming a Huntress is to follow in her grandfather's footsteps.
- Homestar Runner: Bubs claims to be a self-made man. That's debatable.
- Phase of the Whateley Universe. After being thrown out of his wealthy family, he used a payoff from his father and his knowledge of Goodkind Enterprises to make money using derivatives in the stock market; then he put together a consortium and bought out a series of corporate units that he realized would work better when consolidated. As of spring of his freshman year in high school he's a billionaire.
- The Simpsons:
- Frank Grimes is a ridiculously exaggerated example. He was abandoned by his parents, worked delivering toys for rich kids which he would never get himself while studying in his free time, then was caught in a silo explosion, after which he had to rehabilitate himself, teaching himself to feel pain and hear again. His story touched Mr. Burns (another "self-made man"), who summoned him to work as Executive Vice President, only to give the job to a heroic dog at the last minute and send Grimes to sector 7G. Having to work with Homer (who, to put it mildly, doesn't share his work ethic) unhinges him, particularly once he learns of all the amazing things Homer had accomplished despite his laziness (having a big house, hanging out with Presidents, going on tour with the Smashing Pumpkins, going into outer space - would you like to see his Grammy? And the episode only begins to cover it.)
- Parodied with Mr. Burns, who declares himself a self-made man, but Mr. Smithers responds by pointing out that Monty inherited his money. When Burns glares at him, he hastily adds, "Not That There's Anything Wrong with That." Of course, since Burns wrote on a medical form that the "Cause of Parents' Deaths" was "Got in my way", he still counts. He apparently had many older siblings who all died under "unfortunate" circumstances, mostly poisoned potatoes, leaving him the sole heir. He did, however, gain his entire fortune back in the course of one episode after it was taken away from him. He did this, of course, by recycling, which he still managed to make evil.
- Herb Powell, Homer's illegitimate half-brother, grew up in Shelbyville Orphanage, washed cars for his college classmates to pay for his education and became a car manufacturer, with said classmates being now his board of directors. Homer ruined this, sending Herb to the poorhouse until he invented a device that translated baby talk. Despite the invention being a success back when it was made and the Simpsons having a baby, the device was never seen in any other episode.
- Xanatos in Gargoyles likes to call himself a self-made man, but does abusing a time trip and leaving himself a note really count as "self-made?" It does when it's a self made causality loop. He turned $20,000 into a multi-billion dollar company all on his own. He could have sent back future financial information on stock, commodity, real estate, and currency markets, but that would be too easy. Xanatos sent himself a coin that he earned for services rendered in the past, maximizing his bragging rights. That's just how he rolls. He drags his father into the loop specifically because he wants to prove to him that he's a Self Made Man. His dad isn't impressed.
- Long Feng from Avatar: The Last Airbender. It's mentioned briefly that he worked his way up to head of the Earth Kingdom's Secret Police from a middle class childhood. Part of Azula's Breaking Speech is insisting that he could never match her "divine right".
- The Legend of Korra:
- Hiroshi Sato started out as a penniless kid in the slums of Republic City and became a millionaire by his twenties, all due to hard work and the foresight to see the then-untapped potential in consumer automobiles.
- Eccentric Millionaire Varrick was a poor seal-hunter's son who built up a global shipping business from a single canoe.
- Cornelius Robinson, brilliant inventor and industrialist in Meet the Robinsons who is responsible for just about all the amazing futuristic technology found in the year 2037. He is the future self of Lewis, the main character.
- Mr. Ridgemount in Stōked—according to the "Golf Caddy Speech" that he gives to his kids whenever they've done something really bad (such as setting a boathouse on fire or throwing a huge party that got way out of control), he worked his way through college as a golf caddy, and the work ethic he developed ultimately led to him becoming the founder/owner/head of Ridgemount Resorts, an international chain of luxury hotels (the flagship of which is world-renowned surf resort).
- Virginia's father in Lola & Virginia.
- The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes! retcons Simon Williams into one. Instead of inheriting Williams Innovations from his father, he built it from nothing.
- Rarity from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is one of these. From what we get from her parents, she didn't exactly grow up wealthy and refined. She got that way by working hard to improve her skills (she made five elaborate costumes using a sewing machine at the pony equivalent of 11 or 12), getting her own shop in Ponyville, and now sells clothes across all of Equestria. It isn't until season 6 that she starts opening other stores and even then she helps start them up.
- The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin: With his surfing skills, Tweeg's father earned enough gold to fill a bucket.
- Kaijudo: Alexander Carnahan is one if we can trust on what he said about building his fortune while fighting against Ray in "Gargle, Gargle, Toil and Trouble".
- In the "Freaky Friday" Flip episode of I Am Weasel, Weasel is reduced to being a bathroom attendant after his brain is stuck in Baboon's body. Undeterred, Weasel!Baboon provides exemplary service (earning big tips in the process) and promotions. By the end of the episode, he has become just as beloved and successful in his new identity I.M. Baboon as he was prior to the switch.
- Gravity Falls:
- Grunkle Stan had been kicked out of the house by his father for accidentally sabotaging his brother's chances of getting into a top university with only a car and a bag of clothes to his name. He was pretty much on the verge of poverty until Ford finally contacted him. After Ford's disappearance Grunkle Stan rebuilt his lab and turned it into the Mystery Shack, a moderately successful tourist trap.
- Ford, while only being able to attend a third rate school, was able to complete his PHD and get a research grant. Three years ahead of time.
- The Stingers from Jem started out as Street Musicians living on nothing before slowly gaining popularity. When they're introduced they're one of the most popular up-and-coming bands. They act like Manipulative Bastards and jerks to anyone but each other.
- Scooby-Doo! Abracadabra-Doo: Curdles' background. He used to struggle with an ice cream cart and now, thanks to his hard work, owns a big ice cream business.
- Parodied in this joke involving Upper-Class Twit woman Pollak von Parnegg, trying to make smalltalk with an American.
Frau Pollak: "Do you have a father?"American: "No."Frau Pollak: "Do you have a mother?"American: "No."Frau Pollak: "Oh, you're a Self-Made Man!"
- The parody article http://www.freewoodpost.com/2012/08/04/tea-party-honors-most-self-made-man-in-america/ takes this Up to Eleven with a man that literally did everything by himself in his entire life to the point of being a Memetic Badass. Examples include delivering himself from his mother's womb, teaching himself how to walk, teaching himself how to read from books that he, himself, had written, etc.
- In history and reality, the very idea is heavily mythologized, exaggerated, and in some cases entirely fabricated. It's a common motif in Propaganda Piece and Cult of Personality. There are moments however where this legend does coincide with fact.
- At this point, it's worth explaining the page quote. Benjamin Disraeli wanted to go into politics. This was expensive. So he became a bestselling novelist, just to pay for his political career. He ended up as Prime Minister of the UK. Twice. It didn't hurt that he also married a very rich woman. (Happily, he also loved her as a person.)
- U.S. patriots owe a lot and pay homage to Benjamin Franklin. According to Wikipedia "he exemplified the emerging American nation. Franklin was foundational in defining the American ethos as a marriage of the practical and democratic values of thrift, hard work, education, community spirit, self-governing institutions, and opposition to authoritarianism both political and religious, with the scientific and tolerant values of the Enlightenment."
- Abraham Lincoln as per myth (and in real-life) was born in a log cabin, and historically ranks among the lowest-income holders of any US President coming into office. He also did not go to elite educational institutions unlike other Presidents before and after him, being almost entirely self-taught and autodidactic. He worked as a teenager chopping wood and later as a bartender, and studied independently to qualify for his bar exam before building a very successful law practice. By the time he arrived on the political stage, Lincoln was reasonably well-off, married into the wealthy Todd family and had what we would now call "social capital".
- Many figures in The French Revolution were this. Maximilien Robespierre, Georges Danton, Louis Antoine de Saint Just were mostly nobodies with middling careers in law who in the course of the Revolution gradually became famous across France and Europe. Since there was no political career and opportunities before the Revolution, all of them made their careers on their ability at oratory, their education and their dedication and hard work, qualities that made them and other Jacobins promote the idea of meritocracy and insist on people earning their ranks in army and political office.
- One of the beneficiaries of the above is Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon made meritocracy part of his mystique, with the idea of soldiers being promoted Up Through the Ranks and earning their titles via achievements, a myth that he occasionally did live up to. In actual fact, Bonaparte came from a family of minor Corsican nobility, and who on account of mere chance, became a French citizen at birth, and got to study in an elite military institution in France. However, Napoleon faced considerable racism in France for his origins and his accentnote and would never have received rank and advancement had it not been for the Revolution and the army reforms of 1793; and later the support of wealthy patrons like Paul Barras. Napoleon's achievements were immense and prodigious but it owed a great deal to luck and "a little help from my friends".
- Toussaint Louverture, the leader and hero of the Haitian Revolution is a bigger example than any of his French contemporaries. He was born into slavery into the Carribean plantations of Sainte Domingue who on the outbreak of revolution, despite limited education, and zero military training and education, became the military commander and leader of the revolution, defeating many professional armies and becoming an adept politician who could moderate various factions. His downfall came out of underhanded betrayal and low cunning from Napoleon rather than any mistake by Toussaint.
- Mahatma Gandhi was the son of a middle-class lawyer's family and had very little family connections, and was far more modest in background and bearing than many of the other elite politicians in the anti-colonial movement. And yet he became the Icon of Rebellion for India and the man who made Independence an issue of national struggle, through his strategies and tactics for protest and his writings.
- Many famous artists and writers are this:
- William Shakespeare was the son of a village alderman in an unremarkable small town who had no university education, no noble connections or military career (unlike other playwrights of his generation). Yet thanks to his incredible talent and genius, and his popular success by the time of his death, he had acquired a reasonable amount of wealth, property in London, a coat-of-arms and a title for his family.
- Leonardo da Vinci was the illegitimate son of a minor nobleman who would not have inherited much by virtue of being a noble bastard (his surname Leonardo da Vinci signified the village of his origin, Vinci, rather than actual family connections). He apprenticed with the artist Verrocchio who admired his talent and patronized him. By the time of his death, he was renowned across Italy for his talent, genius and skill and ended his career as an artist-in-residence for the King of France.
- Charlie Chaplin, poor East-End street kid who became the world's first movie star and became one of the defining figures of the 20th Century.
- Stanley Kubrick was a self-made autodidact who didn't go to college, worked as a photographer on the streets, taught himself film-making on the cheap, and step-by-step made himself into a world-renowned film-maker without ever working for a great deal of time in Hollywood, without working in other media, or coming from independent wealth.
- A good recent example (one taught in some schools in fact), is Jay-Z; who over the course of 20 years went from being a drug-dealer in Brooklyn to being one of the most successful rappers ever, as well as the CEO of a media empire (including his own record label); with a net worth estimated at around $500m. Famous in that he did not do this alone, however his business partners (who are mostly now at best moderately successful and at worst in prison) have not reached the same heights - so he must've done something right by himself.
- Madame C. J. Walker is considered the first case of a self made woman in the USA.
- Oprah Winfrey is this trope turned Up to Eleven. From humble beginnings as an illegitimate child in rural Mississippi, Oprah became the driving force behind a $2.5 billion media empire and a political kingmaker (she may have delivered as many as one million votes to Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign). Oprah is currently one of the wealthiest women, and the only black billionaire, in North America.
- Scientists and mathematicians owe most of their achievements to their remarkable brains and insight.
- Albert Einstein for instance was born into a family of middle-class businessmen who fell into hard times, and who showed remarkable prodigy in his school and college examinations but struggled to find a post to better support his long-term research. Most famously he worked for two years at the patent office in Switzerland during which he wrote his first prominent papers.
- Marie Curie was a Polish scientist born when it was part of the Russian Empire, and she had to study underground in the "Flying University" in Poland before coming to Paris and studying physics while being a poor student living in bad housing with no heating. Her passion for science nonetheless allowed her to proceed undauntered, becoming the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, and the only one to win two.