Hooker with a heart of gold

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Vasantasena from the Sanskrit play Mṛcchakatika.

The hooker with a heart of gold is a stock character involving a courtesan or prostitute with a hidden integrity and kindness.


The character type is defined by morally positive traits, which are contrasted with the character's employment as a prostitute. The narrative will provide extenuating circumstances for the character's prostitution, and emphasize her personal decency. Often, the character will be a foil for another female character who reflects negative stereotypes of uptight or frigid women.[1] Per Nell Damon Galles, the character is "the good girl who made one too many bad decisions—losing her virginity, becoming promiscuous, and eventually entering the dark world of prostitution."[2] The "hooker with a heart of gold" has also been described as a "modem “secular” counterpart" of the medieval sinner-saint.[3]

In American cinema, the "hooker with a heart of gold" archetype was most prominent in the 1980s. The development of the trope reflected a more lighthearted cultural attitude toward prostitution, which nonetheless overall condemned women for the social transgression of prostitution. The character of Mona in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982) exemplifies the era's hooker with a heart of gold: a wonderful woman whose goodness is surprising and amusing because she is also a prostitute, and whose love interest berates her for prostitution.[1] These films have been criticized as akin to sexploitation films for the way they present a glamorized and male-dominated view of prostitution.[4]

The stereotype may originate from certain traditions surrounding the Biblical figures of Mary Magdalene and Rahab,[5] or to the ancient Indian theatrical tradition of Sanskrit drama where Śudraka's play Mṛcchakatika (The Little Clay Cart) featured a nagarvadhu (courtesan) with a heart of gold named Vasantasena.[6]


See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Johnson, Katie N. (2017-10-30). "Consumptive Chic: The Postfeminist Recycling of Camille in Baz Luhrman's Moulin Rouge!". Prostitution and Sex Work in Global Cinema: New Takes on Fallen Women. Springer. ISBN 978-3-319-64608-4.


  1. ^ a b Griffiths, Heather (2010). "Cinematic Forced Atonement, 1960-2000: The Masculine Gaze and Violence Against Female Prostitutes". Sociation Today. 8 (2).
  2. ^ Damon Galles, Nell (2005). "Prostitutes, fornicators, and feebleminded sex-perverts: Social control and the Progressive Era woman". PhD dissertation, The University of New Mexico: 3.
  3. ^ Hand, Kelly Jean (2001). "Reading medieval legends of excess in the age of cinema". PhD Dissertation, Indiana University: 26.
  4. ^ Palmer, William J. (1995). The Films of the Eighties: A Social History. SIU Press. p. 256. ISBN 978-0-8093-2029-5.
  5. ^ Jakes, T.D. (2003). God's Leading Lady. New York: Berkley Books. p. 127. She may be the original hooker with the heart of gold
  6. ^ Pauwels, Heidi Rika Maria (2008). Indian Literature and Popular Cinema. Routledge. p. 84. ISBN 978-0-415-44741-6.
  7. ^ Rea, Steven (May 19, 2011). "'Hobo with a Shotgun': Vagrant vigilante cleans up a town". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved December 20, 2020.
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (1972-12-15). "Man of La Mancha". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2008-05-26. The only performance that really survives the movie is Sophia Loren's.... She has kind of a thankless role (they've cast her as the whore with the heart of gold again)....
  9. ^ Fox-Genovese, Elizabeth (1981). "Scarlett O'Hara: The Southern Lady as New Woman". American Quarterly. 33 (4): 391–411. doi:10.2307/2712525. JSTOR 2712525. Belle Watling, to be sure, is not a lady, but the classic whore with a heart of gold, a shrewd and successful business woman in her own right, has a far deeper sense than Scarlett of the essential qualities that informed true ladyhood.
  10. ^ Nava, David (2004). "Othello, the Moor of Venice: Message from the director". The American Shakespeare Project. Archived from the original on 2007-09-22. Retrieved 2008-05-26. Bianca, the "heart of gold" courtesan, deludes herself into believing that she can escape outsider status by an alliance with Cassio....
  11. ^ Pradhan, Vidya (2008-01-21). "Heart of gold, speckled with sin". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 2008-10-11. Retrieved 2008-05-26. Starting with Chandramukhi in Devdas, the commercial sex worker in Hindi movies has usually been depicted with a heart of gold, forced into her profession by circumstances beyond her control.
  12. ^ Welky, David B. (2002). "Stagecoach". St. James Encyclopedia of Pop Culture. Gale Group. Retrieved 2008-05-26. Dallas (Clare Trevor), the prostitute with a heart of gold....
  13. ^ Sullivan, Catey (2005-03-09). "Theater: Sweet Charity". Windy City Times. Chicago. Retrieved 2008-05-26. Ah, the hooker with the heart of gold. It’s a conceit that dates from Mary Magdalene to All My Children’s Donna Beck and beyond.
  14. ^ Wiseman, Andreas (5 July 2018). "'Downton Abbey' & 'Game Of Thrones' Stars Join Ricky Gervais in His New Netflix Comedy 'After Life', Shoot Under Way". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on 5 July 2018. Retrieved 5 July 2018.
  15. ^ Ebert, Roger (September 6, 2007). "Shoot 'Em Up review". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved December 20, 2020.
  16. ^ Wilonsky, Robert (2005-03-31). "Color Bind". Dallas Observer. Retrieved 2008-05-26. ...the blood-red bed on which hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Goldie (Jaime King) gives herself to psycho killer Marv (Mickey Rourke)....
  17. ^ a b Ghose, Anindita (August 2006). "Of Names of Women in Hindi Cinema: An Exploration in Semantics" (PDF). e-Social Sciences. p. 11. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-12-24. Retrieved 2009-04-02. In ‘Pyasa’ (1957) the prostitute who is pitted against the lead woman is called Gulabo. Similarly, in ‘Pakeezah’( 1971) the heart of gold metaphor is put forth in the name, which literally means ‘pure heart’.
  18. ^ Trillin, Calvin (2005-09-05). "Letter from Ecuador: Speaking of Soup". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2008-05-26. That led, not unexpectedly, to my mentioning the noted Mexican actress Katy Jurado, who, of course, appeared in 'High Noon,' playing the role of what I think could be fairly described as `la puta con un corazón de oro.′
  19. ^ Gallo, Bill (1995-11-08). "In Her Genes". Westword. Denver. Retrieved 2008-05-26. The whore with a heart of gold and the punchy fighter with a rosin bag for a brain are not exactly new movie types—not even for that high Manhattan intellect Woody Allen.[dead link]
  20. ^ Leib, Mark (2005-05-25). "The Half of It". Creative Loafing. Tampa. Retrieved 2008-05-26. He terrorizes London and confuses his friend John Utterson and his consort Lucy Harris (the prostitute with a - you guessed it - heart of gold).
  21. ^ "Loving Luenell: one on one with Borat's leading lady.(The Great Entertainers)". Curve. September 2007. Retrieved 2008-05-26. In addition to a multiple-decade career in film, theater and stand-up, Luenell is best known for her recent appearance as the hooker with a heart of gold (also named Luenell) in Sasha Baron Cohen's 2006 controversial mockumentary, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.
  22. ^ Garner, Dwight (1997-09-19). "Too Little, Too Noir". Salon. Retrieved 2008-05-26. Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger), a languidly glamorous hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold who resembles Veronica Lake....
  23. ^ a b Chopra, Anupama (April 2, 2001). "The Courtesan Club". India Today. Retrieved 2010-12-04.
  24. ^ Krämer, Lucia (2017). "Adaptation in Bollywood". In Leitch, Thomas (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Adaptation Studies. Oxford University Press. p. 258. ISBN 978-0-19-933100-0.
  25. ^ Johnson, Katie N. (2006). Sisters in Sin: Brothel Drama in America, 1900-1920 (PDF). Cambridge University Press. pp. 7–8. ISBN 0-521-85505-5. From the middle of the nineteenth century, no other character epitomized the demise of the goodhearted fallen woman better than Marguerite of La Dame aux Camélias, popularly known in the United States as Camille.... Camille soon became the iconic hooker with-a-heart-of-gold whose story would seduce audiences every Broadway season.
  26. ^ Morris, Virginia B. (1985). Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist. Barron's Book Notes. Woodbury, N.Y.: Barron's Educational Series. p. 14. ISBN 0-7641-9161-6. For many readers, Nancy is the most important character in the novel.... In contrast, other readers insist that she is just a cliché – the typical prostitute with a heart of gold.
  27. ^ Thomas, Colin (2007-11-29). "Oliver!". Georgia Straight. Vancouver. Retrieved 2008-05-26. Nancy, the whore with the requisite heart of gold....
  28. ^ Wile, Rob (June 27, 2013). "It's The 30-Year Anniversary Of The Greatest Wall Street Movie Ever Made: Here's The Story Behind It". Business Insider. Archived from the original on July 3, 2020. Retrieved July 3, 2020.
  29. ^ Ghose, Anindita (August 2006). "Of Names of Women in Hindi Cinema: An Exploration in Semantics" (PDF). e-Social Sciences. p. 11. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-12-24. Retrieved 2009-04-02. The names of these fallen woman are generally indexical of physical attributes while the lead women rarely have names which have overtly physical connotations. In ‘Amar Prem’ (1971), Sharmila Tagore who is a prostitute is called ‘Pushpa” which means ‘flower’.
  30. ^ Queenan, Joe (2001-09-01). "French kiss-off". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-05-26. Satine, the enigmatic hooker with a heart of gold, is obviously quite fond of the earnest but not terribly bright Christian.
  31. ^ Maslin, Janet (1995-10-27). "Lurching Through a Life Of Alcoholic Abandon". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-26. Ms. Shue gives a daring and affecting performance, but she's essentially playing one more whore with a heart of gold.
  32. ^ Wieland, Christina (2000). The Undead Mother: Psychoanalytic Explorations of Masculinity, Femininity, and Matricide. London: Karnac. p. 229. ISBN 1-85575-913-6. It is in the person of Sonya, a young prostitute with a heart of gold – the 'Holy Sinner,' one might say – that Dostoyevsky glimpses the essential goodness, a goodness beyond the morality of a paternal super-ego, which will act as a good external object.
  33. ^ Macdonald, Moira (2004-12-03). "The skinny: "Machinist" is daring, haunting experiment". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2008-05-26. 'If you were any thinner,' says his call-girl girlfriend, Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh, playing a scratchy-voiced whore with a heart of gold), 'you wouldn't exist.'
  34. ^ "It's Suzie Wong Doing the Town". Chicago Daily Tribune. 1960-05-22. p. G70. 'Suzie' concerns the life, loves, and woes of the proverbial tart with the heart of gold, the variation being that this one is Chinese.
  35. ^ Hagedorn, Jessica (January–February 1994). "Asian Women in Film: No Joy, No Luck". Ms. Suzie and all the other prostitutes in this movie are cute, giggling, dancing sex machines with hearts of gold. Reprinted in Shirley Biagi & Marilyn Kern-Foxworth, Facing Difference: Race, Gender and Mass Media. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Pine Forge Press, 1997. Pp. 32, 33.
  36. ^ Allende, Isabel (2003). My Invented Country: A Memoir. Translated by Margaret Sayers Peden. New York: Perennial. pp. 26–27. ISBN 0-06-054567-4. Even though I don't consider myself an expert on the subject, I am not innocent of creating a whore with a heart of gold; mine, from my first novel, is named Tránsito Soto.
  37. ^ Baumgarten, Marjorie (1994-09-02). "Milk Money". Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-05-26. The movie takes a recurrent narrative theme – the hooker with a heart of gold – and mixes it up with a suburban setting and a bunch of adolescent boys, one of whom, Frank (Carter), decides that this prostitute named V (Griffith) would make a perfect mate for his widowed dad (Harris).
  38. ^ Pauwels, Heidi Rika Maria (2008). Indian Literature and Popular Cinema. Routledge. p. 84. ISBN 978-0-415-44741-6. Vasantasena ... is the courtesan with a heart of gold, as she is genuinely in love with the hero even though he has lost his wealth.
  39. ^ Lidov, David (2005). Is Language a Music? Writings on Musical Form and Signification. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. p. 165. ISBN 0-253-34383-6. To go back to the root, this is the story of a prostitute with a heart of gold....
  40. ^ Orr, John (1998). Contemporary Cinema. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 211. ISBN 0-7486-0836-2.
  41. ^ Gibbs Van Brunschot, Erin (2003). "Community Policing and John Schools". Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology. 40 (2): 215–32. doi:10.1111/j.1755-618X.2003.tb00244.x. Retrieved 2008-05-26. On one hand, there is the image of the prostitute with a heart of gold simply doing the best she can (recall the movie Pretty Woman).