What character can relate to both luxury and poverty at the same time?
March 3, 2020 4:48 PM   Subscribe

Much in the same way a folkloric court jester combined wisdom and folly. Is there an iconic character (folklore, mythology, or world history) who could typically walked with kings and commoners alike?
posted by omar.a to Writing & Language (46 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

toss a coin for your Witcher...
posted by Kitchen Witch at 4:56 PM on March 3, 2020 [7 favorites]

Death, perhaps. He comes for everyone, be they king or commoner, after all.
posted by Alensin at 4:59 PM on March 3, 2020 [7 favorites]

Court Jester.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:11 PM on March 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

Priests, (good) popes, other such religious folk, perhaps.
posted by umwhat at 5:25 PM on March 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

I like bards! I think the art scene in general can often serve this function in bringing together disparate classes, even if it's not a character.

In stories, mercenaries can often serve that role; more broadly, the commoner-turned-lord can sometimes offer the same perspective. In the other direction, wise men or religious figures also might cross those lines easily. Detectives, too, might fit.

A jester, though, is a trope, whereas you're describing behaviours - I can't think of anything where you wouldn't have to describe that they do, in fact, associate with rich and poor alike.
posted by sagc at 5:30 PM on March 3, 2020

Well, if you want to include women in this, midwives cared for women of all social classes.
posted by mareli at 5:33 PM on March 3, 2020 [5 favorites]

According to Wikipedia, wet nurses might fit the bill. The entry discusses history, culture, social class, and mythology.
posted by Calvin and the Duplicators at 5:37 PM on March 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

In history - Leonardo da Vinci maybe? In general, people in the arts like painters, actors, singers, etc.. Military leaders like generals, admirals, etc.
posted by gudrun at 5:40 PM on March 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

the mythical self-made millionaire.
valets. livery drivers. executive assistants. groupies. concierges. sex workers. fine dining servers; sommeliers. doorpersons, footpersons. tailors, barbers, stylists. plumbers.
little orphan annie.
maybe oliver twist (dickens strikes me as a potentially rich vein for such characters)
nick carraway (who narrated gatsby)
the prince and the pauper.
jean-michel basquiat. james brown. davy crockett. benjamin franklin.
middle management.
perhaps the occasional professional sports star.
to the degree they aren't bards, many classes of musician or poets/writers.
wait, must they be able to enjoy being regarded by the elite as peers?
posted by 20 year lurk at 5:58 PM on March 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Prince Hal, aka Henry V, from Shakespeare's Henry IV?
posted by justkevin at 6:00 PM on March 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

Political advisers, consiglieres, aide-de-camps, and other servants have often acted as go-betweens royalty or people of power, and those underneath, throughout history. One might imagine that being able to context shift or "code switch" would be an important job requirement.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 6:13 PM on March 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

posted by dianeF at 6:14 PM on March 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

There are the prince and the pauper, from The Prince and the Pauper.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 6:23 PM on March 3, 2020

Kanye West.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 6:34 PM on March 3, 2020

This is a chain of associations, so bear with me. I was listening to an interview with Michael Chabon around the time that The Yiddish Policeman's Union was released, and he was saying that he had part of the inspiration -- the idea of a Yiddish-speaking Jewish nation -- but lacked a story hook to bring the reader into that world.

Then (he related) he had read something from a scholarly review of books which posited that a good private detective/noir story functioned a an unofficial tour guide to a city, whether real or fictional, because by the nature of their work a detective has access to lower-class establishements, criminal underworld, working-class people, etc. while at the same time a tale of corruption and vice usually stretches upwards to high-society parties, lavish chateaus, corporate boardrooms, private estates, etc.

So that's why he decided on making his alternate history into a detective mystery, using the investigation to poke into all corners of his made-up nation. It's something I noticed again when re-reading Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn, how Lionel's investigation takes him all around a very specific era in NYC history.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 6:35 PM on March 3, 2020 [8 favorites]

Politicians (successful ones).
posted by sallybrown at 6:38 PM on March 3, 2020

I suppose that guards would literally walk with kings and commoners alike, mostly in order to keep them separated.
posted by Calvin and the Duplicators at 6:42 PM on March 3, 2020

Wizards are fond of advising / shouting at kings but also hanging out with ordinary folk, for whom they point out useful things like enchanted weapons trapped in geology, prescient pigs, and especially good weeds.
posted by some little punk in a rocket at 6:43 PM on March 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Child care workers working in their client’s home, and live in housekeepers.
posted by rip at 6:53 PM on March 3, 2020

Littlefinger -- but he wouldn't want you to know that.


philosophers, priests, and pastors

Oprah maybe

little orphan Annie, adult or child versions

Anne of Green Gables

Meryl Streep, I bet, or any very gracious actor
posted by amtho at 7:00 PM on March 3, 2020

Rafting tour guides, yoga/Pilates/martial arts teachers, dude ranch workers, ghillies?
posted by clew at 7:01 PM on March 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

The tax collector.
posted by toastedcheese at 7:02 PM on March 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Napoleon I
posted by pompomtom at 7:34 PM on March 3, 2020

The characters in the movie Hustlers.
posted by matildaben at 8:46 PM on March 3, 2020

Basically all the gods and spirits representing death, decay, or disease. There is a LOT of visual history for this, particularly in grave and funerary goods (esp in times of plague), lots of Victorian stuff too. Most cultures have produced some version of "Kings and Commoner dance as puppets as Death pulls the strings" (Oddly enough, not so much in ancient Egyptian stuff...lots of depictions of what happens after you die, and explicitly stated that this process of entering the afterlife is the same for everyone...just, Pharaohs were gods, not kings...mortality didn't apply to them in the same way...it's complicated.)
posted by sexyrobot at 9:06 PM on March 3, 2020

I don't know if this is what you mean, but Spider-Man came to mind. Usually flat broke, knows everybody on his block, but also hangs out with gods and aliens and billionaires.
posted by jameaterblues at 9:17 PM on March 3, 2020

The bartender.
Ship captains, railway conductors, and ferry boat men.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:25 PM on March 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Nora Charles: "Oh Nicky, I love you because you know such lovely people."

Nick Charles.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:30 PM on March 3, 2020

Courtesans and Royal mistresses.
posted by thetarium at 11:14 PM on March 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Artists, musicians, architects, skilled tradespeople, doctors, experts in any field?
posted by Coaticass at 11:36 PM on March 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

teachers! especially public school teachers in mixed-income districts. my mom taught public school for many years and has dealt with extremely rich and extremely poor families in the same grade, class, neighborhood, you name it. professors can also fit the bill, provided that the school where they profess has the same feature in the student body.
posted by =d.b= at 11:43 PM on March 3, 2020

Captain of the guards or some other war dude. Just as likely to have the ear of the king and court and attend balls and make social visits as to spend the evenings in a tavern getting drunk with his men or skulking about the common folk.
posted by zengargoyle at 12:20 AM on March 4, 2020

Gandalf is notable for his familiar nature with both kings and commoners.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:46 AM on March 4, 2020

One trope is god/goddesses and royalty that disguise themselves to be among the middle and lower class.

Classic examples of connecting people in the Bible that come from humble beginnings are Moses (slave) David (shepherd) Jesus (Carpenter). Most prophets have humble beginnings.

Similar roles exist in classic tales and Shakespeare.

On the modern day prophet, Martin Luther King Jr., Ghandi, Dorothy Day, Greta Thurnburg, Gloria Steinem (journalism helps, Oprah is in this category too) Wilma Mankiller, Harvey Milk...
posted by childofTethys at 4:11 AM on March 4, 2020

posted by BibiRose at 5:18 AM on March 4, 2020

If you’d like to read specific stories, I immediately thought of the protagonists of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. Death features prominently, yes, but Sir Samuel Vimes, commander of the City Watch of Ankh-Morpork, is a character who explicitly thinks about class differences in society. He grew up in the poorest part of the city, but through his work as a policeman he not only ends up walking among the rich but also ends up marrying the richest woman in the city.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:15 AM on March 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

Wes Anderson movies sometimes have this contradictory element.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:48 AM on March 4, 2020

The first character that came to mind for me was Sara Crewe from the book, "A Little Princess".
posted by Fuego at 7:42 AM on March 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

Vanity Fair's Becky Sharp
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:34 AM on March 4, 2020

Henry V of England, at least in Shakespeare's version.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 10:52 AM on March 4, 2020

David Copperfield?
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 12:41 PM on March 4, 2020

Seconding Jesus. And Death, of course.
posted by Rash at 1:42 PM on March 4, 2020

Sherlock Holmes worked with people across all levels of society.
posted by slightlybewildered at 5:08 PM on March 4, 2020

Robin Hood?
posted by divabat at 2:07 AM on March 5, 2020

Ambulance drivers, fire fighters, and hospital emergency ward staff.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:36 PM on May 17, 2020

« Older Recommendation for beginner's YouTube video camera   |   Habit tracker app that tracks times of day Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.