Hooker with a heart of gold

Vasantasena from the Sanskrit play Mṛcchakatika.

The hooker with a heart of gold (also the whore with a heart of gold or the tart with a heart) is a stock character involving a courtesan or prostitute with a hidden integrity and kindness. She (the character is traditionally female) is usually an example of irony: an allegedly immoral woman who demonstrates virtues absent in others.


This character is often a pivotal, but peripheral, character in literature and motion pictures, usually giving key advice or serving as a go-between. She is sometimes established in contrast to another female character who is morally correct but frigid or otherwise unyielding. Hookers with hearts of gold are sometimes reluctant prostitutes due to either desperation or coercion from a pimp. Or her prostitution may reflect an overall lust for life, as in Ilya in Never on Sunday.

The stereotype might owe something of a debt to certain traditions surrounding the Biblical figures of Mary Magdalene and Rahab, 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.[1] But this stock character is pervasive enough in various myths and cultures in the form of a tragic story of the concubine who falls in love with her patron/client or, alternatively, young and often poor lover. Therefore, this might be considered not just an archetype but also fairly universal, and somewhat indicative of various societies' complex ideas about sexual decency and moral character. A variation on the theme, the dancer (stripper) with a heart of gold, is a tamer version of the character.

The fictitious courtesan Chandramukhi (character) in Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's highly acclaimed Bengali novel Devdas has been adapted into film numerous times, most notably into Hindi in 1955 and 2002 with the character-role of "Chandramukhi" being played by actresses Vyjayanthimala and Madhuri Dixit, respectively.

In opera and musical theater, a hooker with a heart of gold is most often portrayed by a mezzo-soprano. (One notable exception is the heroine of Giuseppe Verdi's La traviata, Violetta Valery, portrayed by a soprano.) She is portrayed in a tragic light and often dies a tragic death. Another classic example of the "Tart with a heart" character is the character of Nancy in Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist and the stage musical derived from it, Oliver!.

In television history, the "tart with a heart" has become an important archetype in serial drama and soap opera, especially in Britain. During the 1960s, the character of Elsie Tanner in British series Coronation Street set the mold for future characters such as Bet Lynch (also Coronation Street), Kat Slater, Stacey Slater and Dawn Swann (all three characters from the British soap opera EastEnders). Characters of this nature are often depicted as having tragic lives, but put on a front when in public to create the illusion of happiness. More often than not, these female characters are vital to their respective shows, and inevitably become some of the biggest stars in British Television.

The hooker with a heart of gold is also a prominent character in many American western movies. In The Usual Suspects, detective Dave Kujan says to Roger "Verbal" Kint: "... so don't sell me the hooker with a heart of gold."


In Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata, the courtesan Violetta Valery turns to love when she meets Alfredo and subsequently sells all of her possessions to support them(unbeknownst to Alfredo). She is later persuaded to leave him by Alfredo's father Giorgio Germont in order to keep the family's nobility from falling(as her reputation has threatened his daughter's engagement). She is also coping with tuberculosis and keeps this a secret, leaving Alfredo who later comes after her.

In Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel Crime and Punishment, protagonist Rodion Raskolnikov is persuaded to confess to murder by the prostitute Sofya Semyovna Marmeladova, who consistently exhibits characteristics of the archetype throughout the novel.

An episode of Firefly titled Heart of Gold has the crew of Serenity defending a brothel from a wealthy, misogynistic local rancher.

The Marlene Dietrich role "Shanghai Lily" in the 1932 Pre-Code Shanghai Express

Two Shirley MacLaine roles—Ginny Moorhead in 1958's Some Came Running and Irma la Douce in 1963's Irma la Douce

The "hooker with a heart of gold" also appears as "Cabiria" (played by Giulietta Masina) in the 1957 film Nights of Cabiria.

The character appears in modern action films as "Chris" (played by Angie Dickinson) in the 1967 action film Point Blank, as "Rosie" (played by Maria Bello) in the 1999 re-make Payback and as "Donna Quintano" (played by Monica Bellucci) in Shoot 'Em Up (2007).

In modern comedy films, Jamie Lee Curtis's role in Trading Places has been called an example of this archetype,[2] and the 1990 film Pretty Woman (starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere) is probably the most recognizable modern depiction of the 'hooker with a heart of gold'.

Moulin Rouge! is another modern-day film, in which the main character is a courtesan named Satine who does end up having a heart and falling in love, but ultimately (tragically) dies of tuberculosis during one of her performances and never actually gets to be with the one she truly loves.

In the 1970 highly successful Pakistani film, Anjuman, Rani played the virtuous prostitute "Anjuman". The role was later reprised by Sara Loren, in the remake of the film in 2013.

In the 2011 Pakistani film Bol, actress and model, Iman Ali, played the acclaimed golden-heart prostitute, named, "Sabina (Meena)".

In the 2012 film Fury (originally titled The Samaritan) ex-con Foley (played by Samuel L. Jackson) falls in love with a disturbed but ultimately good hearted prostitute named Iris (played by Ruth Negga).

In the 2004 Hindi film Chameli, Kareena Kapoor plays the highly acclaimed golden-hearted prostitute named "Chameli".

In the 2012 Bollywood film, Talaash's main plotline involves around a prostitute, Rosie (also played by Kareena Kapoor).

The songs "Carmen" by Lana Del Rey and "The A Team" by Ed Sheeran each describe such a character.

The 2010 thriller mini-series The Hooker with a Heart of Gold, by independent filmmaker Brad Jones, takes the proverb literally, in giving the main character a kind-hearted prostitute simply named "Hooker" (played by Sarah Lewis) a heart made of gold.[3]

Madhuravani was a prostitute in Gurazada Apparao's popular Telugu play Kanyasulkam, who was portrayed to be very progressive, opinionated and independent and played a key role in the play.

The story of Rahab in the Book of Joshua is a classic example of this trope.[4]

See also


  1. Pauwels, Heidi Rika Maria (2008). Indian Literature and Popular Cinema. Routledge. p. 84. ISBN 0-415-44741-0.
  2. Soars, Emily. "Trading Places". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 16 September 2013.
  3. The Hooker with a Heart of Gold. "The Cinema Snob" Official Site. Retrieved 12 October 2014.
  4. 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
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