Though I’ve heard it said that money can’t buy you happiness, this summer’s movie lineup has brought out the dollars signs in my eyes. From The Great Gatsby to The Bling Ring, I’ve watched the money/happiness theory being tested time after time. Luckily, literature is rich with gold diggers we can turn to when the movies run out. Let’s take a look at whether my favorites found happiness in the almighty dollar:
1. Becky Sharp (Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray). A clever orphan and the founding foremother of shameless gold digging, Sharp engineers her own marriage for money, launching herself into an elite universe of parties, social intrigue, sex, and, of course, wild consumption.
Happiness factor: Negligible. “Her success excited, elated, and then bored her.” But even though war, debt, and that pesky impoverished background are always nipping at her heels, it’s hard not be impressed by how much Becky manages to accumulate before her empire starts to crumble.
2. Milo Minderbender (Catch-22, Joseph Heller). No amount of absurdity can nullify the value of cold, hard cash. Minderbender of M&M Enterprises (or the mess hall of the 256th Bombardier Squadron) begins his career as a war profiteer, hustling eggs and fruit through the markets, but advances his business ambitions until he’s bombing his own base for the Germans to turn a profit.
Happiness factor: High. Minderbender is able to pay to pay his way out of every treasonous scrape he gets into, leaving him free to pursue the dream of a true free enterprise capitalist: attain more profit.
3. Llewellyn Moss (No Country For Old Men, Cormac McCarthy). While hunting in the south Texas desert, Vietnam vet Llewellyn Moss stumbles across the bloody site of a drug deal gone wrong. Unwisely, he takes the case of money (complete with tracking device) left behind, putting him in the sights of ruthless hit man Anton Chigurh. Even as Chigurh closes in on him, Moss refuses to yield the money to him or anyone, in spite of the fact that refusing to do means his days are numbered.
Happiness factor: It’s hard to be happy when you’re dead.
4. The King and The Duke (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain). From attempting to steal the inheritance of orphans to printing a false reward for escaped slave Jim in order to make a buck turning him in, these guys invented the get-rich-quick scheme.
Happiness factor: The jury’s out, but I’m optimistic. As the King (of France, remember?) aptly claims, “I do lots of things—most anything that comes handy, so it ain’t work.” If that includes getting tarred and feathered for their crimes, these two are the happiest duo on the Mississippi.
5. Holly Golightly (Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Truman Capote). We all know about the infamous trips that self-made Manhattan It Girl Holly Golightly takes to the powder room, each winning her a handful of cash from her rich date of the moment. We also know about Sally Tomato, the girl that Holly once was, before she fled her country roots. And we can guess how expensive it would be to drink three martinis before noon on the Upper East Side. But did Holly’s unshakeable belief, that money makes the world go round, make her happy in the end?
Happiness factor: At her story’s conclusion, she still hasn’t found the home, or the cash cow, that she’s looking for. Whether she ends up satisfied is anyone’s guess, but I, like Capote’s narrator, wish her the best.
Who’s your favorite character who’s only in it for the money?