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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Our Gatsby Middleclass Shame

There is lots of middle class shame to go around these days. There are people who cant pay their mortgages, are on food stamps, Medicaid, assistance programs at schools. Middle class people don't talk about these things and this goes back to our Purtian work ethic that says failure is nothing less than losing God. Rich people are people who have served HIM and poor people need not apply. The gospel of the United States is one of shaming people who don't have jobs or who cant find jobs or who are homeless. We just don't really believe people can fail through no fault of their own.

But there is another kind of middle class shame. Almost a Gatsby shame evident in Fitzgerald's novel of course, The Great Gatsby. In the novel Gatsby refers to his home as something of a prize, saying it only took him a month to earn the money to buy the mansion. But at the end after his death we meet his father who said Gatsby used to chastise him because he "ate like a hog" and his father bragged about how Jimmy had pulled himself up and left the dirt poor farming existence of his childhood.

And like Gatsby there is a group of people who are ashamed of where they came from because during the boom they bought mansions. These are middle class people who do not believe they deserve their homes but are now stuck in them. Many are just hanging on in a sort of golden handcuffs perpetual state of illusion. The dream they saw when times were good and middle class people believed they could  be like rich people is now a nightmare where they cant get rid of the costume.

And like Gatsby, who at the end reverted to his roots, unable finally to pull it off for the Daisy Buchanan's of the world, these people are no longer able to pull it off for their neighbors, their friends, and ultimately, themselves.

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Books by William Hazelgrove