The Princess Bride and How Class Does Not Initially Seem Relevant

When asked to think of their childhoods, most people look back on distinct memories and experiences that pop out. When someone asks me to think of my childhood, the first thing I think of is The Princess Bride. I was introduced to this movie at a very young age, and I vividly remember watching my dad and aunt talk along with the characters as it played. Now, as a senior in high school, I have to have seen that movie at least two hundred times and, like my dad and aunt, can now recite it from memory. I thought I knew this movie inside and out, and top to bottom, however, while watching through a Marxist lens I felt as if I was seeing it for the first time again.

The movie begins with a young boy sick in bed, and his grandfather coming over to read him a story that has been passed down for generations. The young boy is positive that he won’t like it due to the romance at its core, for he is only interested in action and fighting. Still, to not hurt his feelings, he allows his grandfather to read the book to him. Immediately he is thrown into an epic world of romance, action, comedy, and fantasy, a world of crazy characters and different backgrounds. Throughout the story, he begins to mature past his need for sports and action and starts to enjoy it. As a kid watching this for the first time, I was enthralled. The Princess Bride had everything you could ever want in a movie, it made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me jump, and it made me wish for someone like Westley to come and sweep me off my feet, and to this day, my family quotes the movie on a regular basis.

In the beginning, Westley is Buttercup’s servant on a small farm in the country, and initially, Buttercup doesn’t give Westley the time of day, even only refers to him as “farm boy”. In her eyes, he is just a lowly farmhand, and because of this she blind to his merits, and without any other words aside from “as you wish” Westley does the tasks he is assigned. Finally, after years of “as you wish”, Buttercup realizes that what he means by that is “I love you”, and with that revelation, she immediately falls for him. This is the first time in the movie where class division is evident, for although Buttercup is not wealthy she refused to see Westley as a suitor simply based on societal status, and he was below her. It took her years and years to see that the love of her life was standing right in front of her, just because of minor class division that separates them and regardless of his love for her.

While in today’s society, it is not a stretch for someone to meet and fall in love with someone from a different background or social status, there was once a time where it was unheard of. The Princess Bride takes place during medieval Europe in the fictional country of Florin. During medieval Europe about 90% of the population were peasants, and the differences between the peasants and nobility were blatant. However, due to this obvious and influential contrast between social statuses, the peasants and commoners adopted this view point of supremacy over others. Therefore, although Buttercup and Westley were both technically peasants, Buttercup was slightly more well-off and then refused to look at him as anything other than her servant.

After Buttercup and Westley finally get together, Westley decides to venture out on a search for fortune in order to further support themselves, and while on this journey his ship is attacked and he apparently dies. The movie then jumps ahead about five years and everything has changed. After Westley’s apparent death Buttercup becomes void of emotion and is forced into marriage to the dreadful Prince Humperdinck. The character of Prince Humperdinck itself is an example of the class differentiation and importance to this society. Prince Humperdinck is a spoiled man-child who has not gotten what he wanted. He refuses to walk through the streets of his own kingdom because he believes he is too good for the commoners, and when he addresses his subjects, he does it from a balcony a hundred feet above them. By doing this, he is constructing and enforcing a social hierarchy, where the monarchy is at the top and the commoners at the bottom, for they’re not even good enough for him to talk to at eye level.

Again, this aggressive class distinction and hierarchy affects everything and everyone within this society, and Prince Humperdrinck’s fondness and affection for this practice further instills it in the Florin population. However, this application of monarch supremacy was not even slightly abnormal for medieval Europe. The monarchy was the highest social status possible, and was almost impossible to reach without being born into it. This status allows for a life of luxury and wealth not afforded to the rest of the population. However, it can also come with great responsibility and stress. The monarchies of medieval Europe are known for their focus on their people, and less for their territorial focus. The notoriety that comes hand and hand with this elite status prompts those below them to idolize them, and causes the royals themselves to behave as if they are in any and all ways “better” than their subjects. Prince Humperdinck behaved this way and then some. His personal view of himself, and refusal to interact with his subjects only furthers the concept of higher status matching self-worth.

Again, this aggressive class distinction and hierarchy affects everything and everyone within this society, and Prince Humperdrinck’s fondness and affection for this practice further instills it in the Florin population. However, this application of monarch supremacy was not even slightly abnormal for medieval Europe. The monarchy was the highest social status possible, and was almost impossible to reach without being born into it. This status allows for a life of luxury and wealth not afforded to the rest of the population. However, it can also come with great responsibility and stress. The monarchies of medieval Europe are known for their focus on their people, and less for their territorial focus. The notoriety that comes hand and hand with this elite status prompts those below them to idolize them, and causes the royals themselves to behave as if they are in any and all ways “better” than their subjects. Prince Humperdinck behaved this way and then some. His personal view of himself, and refusal to interact with his subjects only furthers the concept of higher status matching self-worth.

This is interesting from Buttercup's perspective because she was once a strict adherer to social constructs, like everyone else, desperate for affluence. However, once she found love in Westley, all the things she once found important were now irrelevant, and she was content living her life poor on a farm as long as she had him. When he supposedly died, she was quick to receive everything she once wanted. Prince Humperdinck, astounded by her beauty, decided he wanted her to be the one he married, and just like that Buttercup was thrown into a world of affluence and royalty. She now, as betrothed to a prince, lives in a castle, wears the finest gowns, and only eats the best food. However, she is completely and undoubtedly miserable and depressed. When she was just a poor young woman living on a farm in the country she was blissfully happy because of her Westley, and no amount of wealth could ever fill the emptiness she felt when he supposedly died.

The Princess Bride demonstrated that wealth and status cannot make you happy. For example, Prince Humperdinck has both of those things and has devoted his life to reinforce those values and lives as a terrible, hideous excuse for a man. Although Buttercup and Westley's love was eternal, in the period of time where she thought he was dead, Prince Humperdinck had the ability to at least attempt to gain her affection, yet he destroyed any opportunity by demanding they be wed and treating her and everyone around her like dirt. Buttercup and Westley show that wealth and status are not everything by being perfectly miserable with it, and perfectly happy without it. They demonstrate that love and personal connection are more important than any amount of superficiality could be.

Watching this movie through a Marxist lens opened my eyes to the importance of wealth and class in its society. I was extremely surprised at the amount of material and examples I was able to easily find while rewatching this movie. I thought going in, that I was going to be able to find at least something to support the importance of class, it is a monarchy after all, however, I was startled to see that almost every aspect of the film was impacted in some way by social class or wealth. This film demonstrated that the accepted and maintained norms of a medieval society are not necessarily factual or morally right. The belief of the upper class being “better” than the lower was proven incorrect by almost all of Prince Humperdinck’s behavior, and Westlely and Buttercups undying love disproved the idea that love could not be achieved by crossing over social status and class.