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Working-Class Hero

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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.

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, at times, 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. Likewise, this character type, for a variety of reasons, tends to be male. Poor women when represented are usually wives, sisters or mothers of the male hero, and their issues are usually seen in gendered dimensions rather than class ones — such as being a struggling single mother, a Single Mom Stripper or in some cases working as prostitutes, in spite of the fact, that at least since The '80s, women represent a disproportionate number of the world's low-income earning population and were victims of some of the worst workplace disasters. Nonetheless, female examples of this trope have become increasingly popular in some media.


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. And in most cases, artists didn't really have much of a choice what with the restrictions in censorship. 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. Can overlap with Science Hero depending on the job.


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  • "Ruby Loftus Screwing a Breech Ring" by Dame Laura Knight: a portrait of a wartime munitions worker. From the linked page: "Miss Loftus had been brought to the attention of the War Artist's Advisory Committee as 'an outstanding factory worker'. Knight expected to do a studio portrait but the Ministry of Supply requested that she be painted at work in the Royal Ordnance Factory in Newport."

    Comic Books 
  • Captain America (Steve Rogers) is a notable Superhero of this trope due to his background Irish immigrant family.
  • 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.
  • Catwoman when portrayed as a hero is shown to be highly conscious of being a girl from Gotham's poor district and often acts as a Robin Hood type hero who hasn't forgotten her old neighbourhood even after becoming The One Who Made It Out.
  • Spider-Man:
    • One of the many reasons why Spider-Man and Peter Parker was such a fresh character from its beginnings. He very believably came across a poor scholarship boy whose daily pressures (education, being an orphan, having elderly guardians) was already a strain before his super-powers. It's also there in his identity as a "Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man" and a Small Steps Hero. This aspect tends to be toned down some adaptations (with the exception of The Spectacular Spider-Man) and more recent stories, especially when he became CEO of Parker Industries. Realistically, to continue living in New York, Peter would have to move up the income bracket and persist in the 21st Century.
    • Peter's long-term girlfriend/wife/Love Interest, Mary Jane Watson is also a rare female example. She was born poor, to a broken home, and essentially ran away to live with her Aunt Anna in New York and chose to work for a living. She eventually becomes entirely through her means a successful model and actress, a nightclub owner, and lately, a highly paid member of Stark Industries. Tom Beland's "Web of Romance", a one-shot written during their marriage has Peter reflecting on how his wife was more impressive than him:
    Peter Parker: "My wife is strong. My wife is smart. My wife is everything I could never be without that bite from a spider."
  • Don Martin's Captain Klutz (from a Mad magazine paperback book) was impoverished nobody who tried to commit suicide from a high-rise tenement, 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.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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. Civil rights activist and author James Baldwin 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. However, he is incredibly racist toward Koreans, has a massively restrained relationship with his kids that they want little to do with him (and appeared to have raised their own kids to resent him) and his attitude makes him lonely and miserable.
  • 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 Live Free or Die Hard.
  • 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 that this was what made him different from Chaplin, in that while the latter's films were about the "common man" and the vagabond they also had a "bum's philosophy of life", whereas Keaton's own films were about people who worked for a living.
  • The title character of Happy Gilmore is referred to as this without irony, and it's supposedly the reason why fans flock to his tournaments (of course, the fact that he can launch golf balls several hundred feet doesn't hurt either).
  • Played surprisingly realistically in Back to School. Rodney Dangerfield's character, Thornton Melon, is a college dropout who's nevertheless become incredibly wealthy with his chain of "plus-sized" men's clothing shops. Despite his fortune, though, he's a genuinely nice guy. When Thornton finds out that his son is considering dropping out himself, he enrolls in the same college (thanks to a generous donation that leads to a new business school being built) to inspire the boy. The trope is at its apex when Thornton enrolls in an economics class. The snobby professor speaks in pure theory, while Thornton, who has actual business experience, offers his own, practical knowledge of the economy (such as setting aside money to pay off the teamsters and other kickbacks for the mob's involvement in construction). It's so effective that the students start taking notes from him.
  • The titular replacements in The Replacements (2000) eventually win the fans over by virtue of being these instead of "superstars who want $8 million a year instead of $7 million."

  • 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 is a deconstruction, exploring how an actual Working Class Hero may end up being criticised for their achievements.
  • Joseph Conrad's titular hero Nostromo is the Capataz de Cargadores, the foreman of the stevedores for the Gould Mining Concession of the fictional South American city Sulaco.
  • 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 (his parents ran the spaceship equivalent of a gas station/garage), 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.
  • Sharpe: 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 R. R. 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 Ser Gendry of Hollowhill, 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!"
  • Tanner Sack from The Scar, a felon sentenced to what was basically death by hard labor in the colonies, ultimately ends up being the man to turn Armada around, saving it from destruction.
  • In Victoria, ex-Marine vigilante protagonist John Rumford hails from a humble rural background, whereas most of his major enemies are wealthy, liberal Anglophile establishment types.
  • In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Sam is the only member of the Fellowship who doesn't come from either royalty or nobility: Aragorn is a king to be, Boromir and Legolas are princes, Gimli is a relative of Dwarven kings, Frodo, Merry and Pippin all come from wealthy and influential families, and only Gandalf technically isn't royalty, but his status as a Maia mean he's not exactly working class either.

    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.
  • Game of Thrones: Davos Seaworth is a competent commoner who learned his trade on the seas before he was knighted.
  • 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 the future generations of Sobotkas that he imagines will still be working the same trade when he's gone. He sums up the slow death of the working class hero with the following, mournful quote:
    Frank Sobotka: We used to make shit in this country, build shit. Now we just put our hand in the next guy's pocket.
  • In Doctor Who, several of the Doctor's Companions have come from Working Class backgrounds, turning them into this trope:
    • Rose Tyler from the 2005 revival is one of the more well-known ones due to being more recent; in contrast with most prior British Companions, she speaks with a lower-class London accent, and before she jumped into the Tardis, was a low-level "shop girl" (retail worker), who was raised by a single mother in lower-class housing. One of the villains even refers to her as a "chav" which if you know anything about British slang, says that even to snobs from the year 5 Billion, she reads as Working Class.
    • Rose's boyfriend Mickey, who later becomes a Companion as well, works as a mechanic, and the fact that he has access to a tow truck is actually a plot point in the Series 1 finale.
    • She and Mickey are predated though by Ace, a Companion of the Seventh Doctor; Ace was a boisterous lower-class tomboy who got kicked out of school for having been a little too good at making her own signature homemade explosives and then somehow wound up on an alien space station because of some weird portal thing. As a character, she was inspired somewhat by the '80s Punk movement (which often embraced Working-Class Heroes to some extent), and the actress and producers have stated in the past that if they could have gotten away with her speaking a lower-class dialect in an '80s BBC production, they would have. Like many Working-Class Heroes, Ace had a very... direct approach to problem solving; more often than not her solution to a problem was to chuck an explosive at it, and she's the first Companion with the privilege of getting to attack a Dalek of all things with a baseball bat. As befitting this trope's tendency to embrace The Direct Approach, it actually works, since the Dalek wasn't expecting an attack from behind; Sophie Aldred has indicated that this was basically the Crowning Moment of Awesome for her whole career.
    • Played With with the later Companion Clara. Without spoiling too much for those who haven't seen Series 7, the first time we meet her by that name anyway she's working as a barmaid, where she speaks with a blatantly lower-class dialect, and it seems like she'll definitely 100% fit this trope... but she also is Living a Double Life as a part-time governess for a well-off family, because it turns out she can fake a posh enough accent to gain employment that way, too. Later episodes, after we meet the original version of her show Clara job-hopping a bit, working alternately as a nanny, a teacher, etc. That last one should imply a middle (rather than lower) class upbringing or at least some decent education, but we don't see enough to know how she got said jobs or education due to the Doctor popping in and out of her life at such intervals. It seems probable that some of her "echoes" were lower and/or Working Class too, though - at least for the culture they appeared in; for example, even the one on Gallifrey appears to either be working Security, or in the Repair Shop proper, since she's the one who directs him to the "right" Tardis

  • 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
  • Jennifer Warnes' "It Goes Like It Goes", which was made famous in Norma Rae and Covered Up by Dusty Springfield:
    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 affluent 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

    Myths & Religion 
  • In the Greek Pantheon, Heracles was often invoked as this. While a demigod (an illegitimate son of Zeus with a Mortal human), he grew up on a farm, and unlike other demigods such as Perseus, Achilles and Theseus who were associated with the military and nobility, Heracles was on the margin of government and treated as a mercenary and freelance adventurer, reflecting the itinerant and uncertainty of common people in the Ancient World. Heracles is likewise famous for his "12 Labours". Cults of Heracles were always popular among the common people in Greece and Rome, and during The French Revolution, Jacobins invoked him as a Republican symbol as part of their classical fetish.
  • In Judaism, Samson is invoked as a hero of the common man for reasons similar to Heracles, in that he had qualities closer to that of a common man: great physical strength, love of activity and danger, and also his tragedy is his inability to think and reflect and be easily manipulated.
  • In Norse Mythology, Thor was invoked in later traditions as a common man's hero. He was generally popular among the common people and seen as the most identifiable and relatable of the entire pantheon.
  • In Hinduism, Lord Krishna is very close to this. Although he would become ruler of Mathura and Dwaraka, and in later traditions, be regarded as an Avatar of Vishnu, a great deal of his childhood was spent as a village boy who participated in local games, flirted and teased with the local girls, protected the village from rain and generally spent most of his time performing pranks on elders. Festivals associated with Krishna's childhood, his foster-parentage with village communities are highly popular in India largely because it involved a much more common and earthy traditions than that of other figures in the Pantheon.
  • Jesus is one of the few, if not the only major religious figure who is explicitly defined as coming from a background as a carpenter/itinerant laborer. He went about challenging the more aristocratic gods of classical religions and the more intellectual scholar-based traditions of the Sadducees and Pharisees. He also identified with the outcasts of society such as the disease-afflicted, vagabonds, prostitutes, and affirmed that rich people have a hard time getting to heaven and his only violent action was driving away merchants that were doing business inside the part of a temple meant for orienting prospective converts.

    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.

  • Parodied all the way back in 1607 in the play Knight of the Burning Pestle, along with Chivalric Romance with a heaping side order of No Fourth Wall.
  • Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman was an attempt to make a working-class or a lower-middle class man a Tragic Hero, dramatizing the fatal pursuit of The American Dream on the part of Willy Loman as a Tragic Dream. His son is a more straightforward example especially when he tells his father, "I'm dime a dozen, Pop, and so are you."
  • Woyzeck by Georg Büchner is considered the earliest known major dramatic work featuring almost entirely working-class characters.
    Franz Woyzeck: Us poor people. You see, Cap’n – money, money. If you don’t have money. Just try to raise your own kind on morality in this world. After all, we’re all flesh and blood. The likes of us are wretched in this world and in the next; I guess if we ever got to Heaven we’d have to help with the thunder. [Translated by Henry J. Schmidt]

    Video Games 
  • Atlas in BioShock. His real identity is anything but. Bill Mc Donagh on the other hand is described as an actual working-class Self-Made Man and represented what Rapture was meant to have become. His disillusionment with Ryan and Rapture itself as everything began falling apart would lead to his death.
  • 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, etc.
  • Ryo of Shenmue very briefly does a stint as a forklift driver at the harbour. Eventually, he sticks up for his workmates against the bullying antics of the local biker gang, winning a fight against them and driving them away for good, but costing his job in the process.
  • Barney Calhoun in Half-Life is a humble security guard without the fancy education of Gordon Freeman or the advanced military training of Adrian Shepherd.
  • Scrap Mechanic features, as its protagonists, an assembly of mechanics, male and female, sent to an automated agricultural planet to maintain the robots and machines thereon. Of course, the planet happens to have had a little Robot Uprising, and mechanics have to MacGyver together vehicles and weapons to protect themselves. And hoo boy, are they good at it.
  • Rex, the main protagonist of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, ekes out a living as a salvager, in a Scavenger World where people live on the backs of Titans that swim on a boundless sea of clouds, at the bottom of which lie the remnants of long-lost technology. Salvagers dive into the Cloud Sea, braving submerged monsters to retrieve these trinkets and sell them at market exchange points. Rex himself makes a point of not getting mixed up in salvaging weapon-based technology, in spite of the growing military tensions between the Ardanian Empire and the Kingdom of Uraya making this a particularly lucrative option for salvagers.

    Web Comics 

Alternative Title(s): Blue Collar Hero


Example of: