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Sophia Koval

Denial and Portrayal of Class in America


Thesis: Americans attempts to deny the class system, and their subsequent compulsion to define
their own class to others, have heightened hostilities between classes in America.
The American Dream, a claim that all Americans have equal opportunity for success, has
veiled the reality of the nations class system. As a result of this denial, mere mentions or
examples of class climbing are met with hostility. The myth of equality is a central American
value, so much that the idea of class itself has become a forbidden thought (Stiglitz 17, Fussell
3). Those who openly address the issue of class in America are met with nervous glances and
defensive claims that we dont have classes here; they are seen as enemies of American
values (Fussell). Even without directly addressing class, attention, and thereby animosity, is
drawn to it by the sheer act of changing class. Indeed, successfully navigating the American
Dream and raising ones class status only subjects one to more class scrutiny. This suspicion of
class-climbers is reflected in F. Scott Fitzgeralds The Great Gatsby. Jay Gatsby has risen from
the lower class and become wealthy, and while the people of New York attend his lavish parties
and admire his beautiful home, they gossip their suspicions that he killed a man or was a
German spy (Fitzgerald 44). Although Fitzgeralds world is fictional, the publics unwarranted
suspicion of Gatsby in the novel reflects the unfounded skepticism that surrounds real-world
class-climbers and how they came to wealth. Another example of the publics aversion to classclimbers is the premise of anti-elite-educationalism (Applebaum 9). This concept is explained
by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anne Applebaum as the tendency of those in the lower classes
to feel that their inability to socially advance is of their own fault, since social class in todays
America is determined by education (Applebaum). As a result of merit-based scholarship
opportunities offered by top-level colleges, the social mobility of the American Dream can be

achieved (Applebum); however, those who climb the social ladder facilitated by education are
not free from criticism. These meritocrats are condemned as elitist, due to the inadequacy
their success incites within the members of the lower classes (Applebaum 8; Brooks). The
American Dream cannot be achieved without class, and class cannot exist without hostility; the
attempts to deny class in America only intensify resentment that emerges whenever class is
inevitably acknowledged.
Due to the aforementioned lack of class recognition in America, citizens themselves must
distinguish what class they are in. When citizens recognize that others are trying to display their
class, they are often taken aback, and resent the class-proclaimers. Since our nation lack[s] a
convenient system of inherited titles, ranks, and honors, citizens must themselves illustrate their
social status (Fussell 5). In Fitzgeralds The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby endeavors to distinguish
himself as a wealthy, upper-class man by throwing extravagant parties. His displays of wealth,
from the several hundred feet of canvas to the whole pitful of an orchestra, are all in excess,
revealing the fact that Gatsby is overcompensating for his modest background (Fitzgerald 40).
Tom Buchanan, a character who was born into wealth, resents Gatsbys overt attempts at fitting
in with the upper class by displaying his wealth, calling Gatsbys home a pigsty ravaged by his
weekly parties (Fitzgerald 130). Toms condemnation of Gatsby is a fictional representation of
the real-world tendency of people to frown upon undisguised presentations of wealth, especially
when that wealth is used to attempt to assimilate into the higher class. This phenomenon is again
exposed in social critic Barbara Ehrenreichs book Nickel and Dimed. Ehrenreich spent several
months in low-class occupations, one of which was being a maid. While Ehrenreich and her
coworkers spent their days exhaustedly in sweat-drenched uniforms, their manager Tammy, who
was once a maid herself, wore inch-long fake nails and tarty little outfitsto show shes

advancedand cant be sent out to clean anymore (Ehrenreich, 16). Ehrenreichs resentful tone
when describing Tammy echoes that of Americans scrutinizing those who have risen above their
class. It is Tammys blatant, visual claim of higher class that ignites antipathy between her and
the maids. Whether examining someone of lower or higher class than them, Americans distinctly
disfavor those who observably try to assert their own social class.

Bibliography
Applebaum, Anne. "The rise of the 'ordinary' elite." The Washington Post, 12 Oct. 2010. The
Washington Post.
Brooks, David. Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There. Simon &
Schuster, 2000.

Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. Metropolitan Books,
2001.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1925.
Fussell, Paul. Class: A Guide Through the American Status System. Touchstone, 1992.
Stiglitz, Joseph E. The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future.
NewYork, W.W. Norton & Company, 2012.