The Autumn Garden dramaturgy: nouveau riche

Table of Contents

Nouveau Riche (406) – Nouveau riche (French for “new rich”), or new money, refers to a person who has acquired considerable wealth within his or her generation. This term is generally to emphasize that the individual was previously part of a lower socioeconomic rank, and that such wealth has provided the means for the acquisition of goods or luxuries that were previously unobtainable. The term can also be used in a derogatory fashion, for the purposes of social class distinction, to describe persons with newfound wealth and who are viewed as lacking the experience, finesse, or taste to use wealth in the same manner as old money – persons from families who have been wealthy for multiple generations.

Social status is often defined in relation to wealth and the power that is acquired through wealth. It can be said that throughout time upper ruling classes legitimize “their rule with claims of status and honor and moral superiority.” Ruling classes have often made claims to superiority of inherited wealth through “blood…and the concept of proper breeding.” Nouveau riche is often juxtaposed against Old Money, or those with trans-generational wealth, in order to display the cultural and societal differences between the two groups. Old Family ties, as traditional claims of status, are not found in the nouveaux riches, which challenges and ultimately redefines social traditions such as institution of debutantes and their debut to society. As seen through the rise in the number of debutantes, the social value of the debut has since shifted from the “family’s elite social standing and long family traditions” to “a symbolic value as an element of upper-class life style.” This transition allows for high social standing to be established by the nouveau riche through the institution of the debut. Social integration of these elite sects is extremely slow and sluggish, which prolongs and strengthens stereotypes. This rate of integration makes it more likely that the nouveaux riches will “retain identification with the traditional…group of origin; this is the basis for division between the groups. Furthermore, the isolation that minority nouveaux riches experience within their own class leads them “to prioritize issues of radical justice, civil liberties, and religious tolerance over pure economic self-interest”

Often referred to as parvenu, members of the nouveau riche, are often discriminated against by the “Old Money” sects of society since they “lack the proper pedigree.” These new comers to economic freedom are subject to even greater scrutiny from their lack of historical prestige as seen through Dye’s comments which reference new rich as “uncouth” and “uncultured.” The behavior of the nouveau riche is often satirized by American society by “implying that stereotyped, rather than real, behavior patterns are copied.” Many people have made claims to the inferiority of those of new money as compared to those with old money. Many have made claims that nouveaux riches “lack political and cultural sophistication” and others make comparisons saying that the old rich are “more sophisticated than the less cosmopolitan nouveau riche.” These assumptions further perpetuate the differences between the two and lead to even further stereotypes and have lasted for well over a century. In the 1920’s a Mrs. Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte protested that “the nouveau riche…is making places like Palm Beach no more exclusive than Coney Island. Newport, the last stronghold of the elite, has the moneyed intruder at the gates…Undesirables are penetrating everywhere.”


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