Working Class Hero

Quint: You have city hands, Mr. Hooper. You been countin' money all your life.
Hooper: All right, all right. Hey, I don't need this... I don't need this working-class-hero crap.
Jaws

When a character or group of characters is shown to be highly intelligent and capable precisely because he didn't do fancy things like go to school or study or stuff, that makes him cool. They did everything on the job. As a result, he has all this great timeless common folk wisdom that solves every problem.

This character tends to be disdainful and negative to characters who learn things through books and/or display conscious and unconscious elitist assumptions about class and society. In other places, for instance communist nations, a Working Class Hero reads books, learns about ideas, and generally isn't anti-intellectual - this character type is more common in socialist and communist literature, which usually works specifically to avert Working Class People Are Morons.

Historically, in the vast majority of literature and theater, the heroes and heroines tend to be from aristocratic families while middle-class and working-class family problems are confined to comedies. For a long time, critics and artists regarded aristocratic issues such as fall of a ruling family of high seriousness because it was united with the problems of state as it existed then. Also, realistically speaking, they had better career opportunities to be captains, commanders, soldiers and heroes, so artists should not be faulted for reflecting the confined and restricted worldview as it existed then. In the wake of the revolutions of the 19th and 20th Centuries, when social classes started uplifting themselves, the prevalence of the working-class hero and the artistic modes to represent them gained increasing currency.

Related to Farm Boy. See also Book Dumb, Almighty Janitor. For a more negative example, see Social Climber, who is usually regarded as a working-class villain, in that the working-class hero does not deny his roots or forgets about his family and where he comes from.

Examples:

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     Comics  

  • In Invasion! , Bill Savage was a lorry driver before the Volgans attacked, and his working-class common sense is frequently what allows him to succeed where the top military see no chance of victory.
  • Several observers and Grant Morrison observe that the original appeal of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's Superman was that of a Working Class Hero (though as a civilian news reporter he's middle-class) who in the early issues tackled the Corrupt Corporate Executive, slum lords, strike breakers and was a Wife-Basher Basher. Morrison specifically compared Superman to Batman as class opposites, the former grew up on a farm and needs to draw a salary while the latter is filthy rich.
  • Don Martin's Captain Klutz (from a Mad magazine paperback book) was impoverished nobody who tried to commit suicide from a high-rise tenament, wound up getting wrapped up in some clothing from a series of laundry lines and inadvertently thwarts a robbery. The burglar calls him a "klutz" before getting arrested. The policeman asks what his name was and dazed he says "I'm a klutz, Captain." So he became Captain Klutz.

     Film  

  • Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront was the embodiment of a Working Class Anti-Hero.
  • Henry Fonda as Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath and in Fritz Lang's You Only Live Once embodied the working-class hero to Depression audiences as noted by writer James Baldwin who noted that he was especially popular among African American audiences because they identified with him more than they did with WASP stars like Gary Cooper or Humphrey Bogart.
  • Played with in Jaws. Quint is a veteran, competent and savvy seaman who dismisses Hooper's knowledge of sharks outright because Hooper is a college kid. Hooper, treated with contempt, makes some mistakes in his assessment and also calls Quint out using the exact term. Deconstructed in that Quint's pride causes him to ignore important advice from Hooper, and ultimately gets killed for it. Hooper, although not exactly effective in his own right, at least survives at the end.
  • Seems to be the main point of Armageddon, where our heroes are oil drillers, none of whom exceptionally intelligent (with the exception of one character who specializes in geology and hides his intellect behind acting like a perv), but who get to save the day by being astronauts and drilling a giant hole in the killer meteor. It is stated, outright, that apparently it's easier to teach drillers to be astronauts than it is to teach astronauts to be drillers. Buzz Aldrin would like to have a word with you.
    • This one is debatable because it was a matter of how much time they had available for training. Offshore oil drilling is an extremely specialized technical field, and the only real "astronaut-y" task the drillers have to learn is how to operate in a space-suit, something that wouldn't take too long, since they're supervised the whole time anyway. It's not that the astronauts are incapable of learning, it's that there isn't time to teach them.
  • A deconstructed take on this appears in Gran Torino with Clint Eastwood: he's implied as not being a terribly intelligent or academic fellow, but he has lots of common sense wisdom and is totally effective at dealing with young gangsters. The drawback being, of course, that he comes off as incredibly racist.
  • The ultimate everyman is John McClane of Die Hard fame. He learned everything he knew from on the job honest policing in the NYPD. Then becomes a generic Super Cop in Die Hard 4.0.
  • Brothers Bifur, Bofur and Bombur appear as these in the film adaption of The Hobbit.
  • Silent comedians, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton created comedies where the heroes were poor and struggling. Keaton even moreso, since he played technicians - projectionist, train operator, navigator, cameraman - that were embodiments of working-class technical know-how and competence. Keaton noted with wit, that this was what made him different from Chaplin in that while his films were about the "common man" and the vagabond, they also had a "bum's philosophy of life" whereas his films are about people who work for a living.

     Literature  

  • The Joads from The Grapes of Wrath. Just like everyone else, they flee to California to try and escape the worst of the Great Depression. Tom Joad in particular became an icon in folk music as a hero of the Depression, for the likes of Woody Guthrie and Bruce Springsteen.
  • Étienne Lantier, Maheu and Souvarine in Emile Zola's Germinal.
  • Sam Vimes from the Discworld books is just a beat cop in the town watch who moves up through the ranks to become Captain and has a Duke-ship thrust upon him against his will. The ruler sends him as a diplomat/ambassador where he uses street smarts to beat the bad guys.
    • In more recent books we have Harry King, who built an empire on collecting and recycling garbage, after starting out as an urchin. However, he does recognise that fancy book learnin' can be useful at times. He is also impressed that William de Worde knows what a tosheroon is due to his love for the written word.
    • Unseen Academicals could also be regarded as a deconstruction, exploring how an actual Working Class Hero may end up being criticised for their achievements.
  • Wedge Antilles never went to an Imperial academy, and New Republic military academies didn't form until well after he became a serious Ace Pilot. Just in general his education isn't detailed, but it can be inferred that he got a lot of it on the job. He doesn't look down on people who were trained by the Empire, though, since so many of his friends and comrades are ex-Imperial.
  • Sam Yeager in Turtledove's Worldwar series. A minor-league ballplayer with an interest in science fiction who eventually becomes an Army colonel and the military's chief advisor on dealing with the Lizards, ultimately traveling to Home certainly qualifies.
  • Richard Sharpe is a great officer because he fought his way up from the ranks, defeating prejudice from the aristocrat-dominated officer corps who know far less about what warfare is like for the common soldier. Because of this Sharpe focuses on what he knows is important from his battlefield experience instead of getting hung up on theory like the book-taught officers. However, this trope is subverted in one way—Sharpe has a great respect for the upper-class William Lawford, who taught him how to read while they were imprisoned together in India.
  • The 1632 series has many main characters who are partially this trope. All of these characters are excellent at improvising with what they have, but very few of whom have higher education by the standards of the 20th century from which they were plucked by Alien Space Bats. However, these characters do not underestimate the value of education and knowledge. In fact, that is the primary asset the small Virginia town brings to 1632 Europe.
  • In George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire the feudal class divisions place a rather tough glass ceiling on the lower classes. But despite that the series has a few genuine examples in Ser Davos Seaworth, and ambiguous ones in Lady Melisandre and Ser Bronn of the Blackwater. Flea Bottom, The City Narrows of King's Landing is especially prone to this, one of the greatest knights in the history of Westeros, Ser Duncan the Tall started as a mere Street Urchin. His adventures are chronicled in Tales of Dunk and Egg.
  • Herman Melville's Moby-Dick has an interesting example in Captain Ahab. He's The Captain of a whaling boat but he began as a simple fisherman who steadily rose through the ranks, from crewman to his current position. He's regarded as a rare example of a working-class Tragic Hero.
    "Bear me out in it, thou great democratic God! who didst not refuse to the swart convict, Bunyan, the pale, poetic pearl; Thou who didst clothe with doubly hammered leaves of finest gold, the stumped and paupered arm of old Cervantes; Thou who didst pick up Andrew Jackson from the pebbles; who didst hurl him upon a war-horse; who didst thunder him higher than a throne! Thou who, in all Thy mighty, earthly marchings, ever cullest Thy selectest champions from the kingly commoners; bear me out in it, O God!"

     Live Action TV  

  • A lot of the recent Discovery/History Channel reality/documentary shows have focused on this, including Ice Road Truckers, Ax Men, American Loggers, Deadliest Catch and Dirty Jobs. The shows often emphasize the danger of these jobs to the workers, painting their struggles as epic battles for their lives, or for the betterment of ours.
  • The Wire has working class Anti-Villain Frank Sobotka, a union head for a group of stevedores working at Baltimore's dying docks. Sobotka, seeing the gradual death of the Baltimore docks and other local industries, has made a desperate deal with an international crime syndicate. Frank and his men smuggle their goods into the country, and Frank uses the payoffs to lobby the local politicians into rebuilding the docks and turning it back into a center of commerce. All Frank wants is to be a working class hero, and he essentially makes a Deal with the Devil to allow it to happen not just for himself, but his longtime coworkers and children.

     Music  

  • Ironically, the Trope Namer, John Lennon's song "Working Class Hero", is a Deconstruction in which the working class are duped into feeling like heroes but at the end of the day remain in "the working-class" and never break the glass ceiling:
    Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV
    And you think you're so clever and classless and free
    But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see
  • Name-dropped repeatedly in Green Day's 21st Century Breakdown, in what is probably a Shout-Out to the John Lennon song (which Green Day covered a few years prior). The trope wouldn't be noticeably present otherwise.
    My generation is zero
    I never made it as a working class hero
  • Dusty Springfield's "It Goes Like It Goes", which was made famous in Norma Rae.
    Ah, bless the child of a working man
    She knows too soon who she is
    And bless the hands of a working man
    Oh, he knows his soul is his
  • The Rolling Stones' "Salt of the Earth" is another subversion. It's sung from the perspective of wealthy middle-class liberals who lionize the working class as compliant underclasses who they have never have to interact or deal with personally:
    Let's drink to the hardworking people
    Let's drink to the lowly of birth
    Raise your glass to the good, not the evil
    Let's drink to the salt of the earth...

    When I search a faceless crowd
    A swirling mass of gray and black and white
    They don't look real to me
    In fact they look so strange...
  • The Kinks wrote many songs on the theme. Their album Muswell Hillbillies generally shows how working-class people are exploited by the state with poor housing, Conspicuous Consumption and have no real liberty or freedom. The song "Uncle Son" is about a simple working-class man who is hypocritically exploited by the people who promise that they won't "forget you/when the Revolution comes":
    Unionists tell you when to strike
    Generals tell you when to fight
    Preachers teach you wrong from right
    They'll feed you when you're born
    And use you all your life

     Religion 
  • One reason why Communists will never deny that Jesus Was Way Cool is that many of them consider him the first socialist. He is the only major religious figure who is explicitly defined as either a carpenter/itinerant labourer challenging the more aristocratic gods of classical religions and the more intellectual scholar-based tradition of Jewish prophets. He also identified with the outcasts of society, the vagabonds, the prostitutes and affirmed that rich people have a hard time getting to heaven and his only violent action was removing the priests from the temple.

     Tabletop Games  

  • Most Everyman Hero types in Feng Shui are this in a nutshell.
  • Hunter: The Vigil: The Union are made of blue collar workers, contrasting the scholarly bent of Null Mysteriis or Thule.
  • In 2nd edition Dungeons & Dragons, there is a kit (sub-class) called Peasant Hero, which lets you play as a heroic Farm Boy. Also, there is a myriad of lower-class backgrounds in 4th edition.

     Theatre  

     Video Games  

  • Atlas in BioShock. His real identity is anything but.
    • More of a double subversion actually. Atlas beguiles the masses and subverts the trope, but also subverts the Self Made Man trope.
  • Chris and Troy from Freedom Fighters start out as plumbers. (They are also an allusion to Mario and Luigi, as both are siblings, one is fat and the other is thin).
  • In Pokemon Diamond, Pearl and Platinum, a Worker on Iron Island refers to himself as a working class hero when he challenges the player and after being defeated.
  • Mario from, Super Mario Bros., remains highly original as a video-game hero. Despite being the first major video game star, and living in a fantasy world which is not realistic, he stands out as a stocky, mustached plumber in working overalls whose real powers are his ability to move with his hands and legs, as opposed to video-game heroes who are elites - soldiers, warriors, super-soldiers.

     Web Comics  

     Web Original