Journal of American Studies

Research Article

Wealth and/or Love: Class and Gender in the Cross-class Romance Films of the Great Depression



A combination of social and cultural changes account for the popularity of, and the narrative permutations of class and gender in, the cross-class romance films of the 1930s. The analysis is based on a sample of eighty-five cross-class romance films released in the 1929–39 period. The films deal with a dilemma evident in the choice of partners: between interests of wealth and social status and the value of romantic, disinterested love, an ideal which had spread throughout the class structure. Gender distinctions are reinforced by narratives in which the wealthy male is redeemed by the poor female so that he can perform the appropriate male gender roles. When the female is wealthy, the poor male insists on her economic dependence on him. Films with gold diggers reached a peak in the early 1930s and provided imaginary solutions to social anxieties about class and gender among both women and men.

(Online publication November 09 2012)