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Social Class In "Hard Times", By Charles Dickens

1650 words - 7 pages

Rachel DraperEnglish 201H9/25/14Hard Times Critical Response #1Class is an elusive term, one that philosophers throughout the centuries have tried and failed to successfully define. One such hopeful theorizer was Paul Fussell, who attempts to provide a window into the nature of class in his work, "An Anatomy of the Classes." Fussell describes a person's class not merely as the amount of economic stability they have obtained, but also as the mannerisms and habits of the person in question. He claims that it is a combination of class (amount of money and leverage), status (social prestige in relation to the audience), and party (political influence). As an example he discusses white and blue ...view middle of the document...

" While those in the upper middle class are highly successful and thoroughly content with what they have, those in the middle class are constantly looking around them to gauge their decisions against the reactions of others. Those in the upper middle class don't worry about what others think, and are satisfied with their lives, while those in the middle class are "terrified at what others think of them" and "avoid criticism" at all costs. Compliments are also extremely important to members of the middle class. They write of their various accomplishments and new affiliations often, using words such as "prestigious" and "executive" in order to impress. Their desire to belong makes them the targets of billboards that say things like "You Belong…You're Welcome…You're part of a big group…" Fussell actually describes their mindset as "status panic." They yearn for the praise and approval for others, are "always anxious about offending," and put on airs to create an illusion of wealth and luxury. Members of the upper middle class on the other hand have no need to flaunt their wealth, as they are already securely situated in it. For example, a middle class invitation to a dinner party would list the menu as "Champagne and Caviar," while a confident upper class member's invitation would simply invite their guests to "drinks," or "cocktails". Essentially, while someone may have the wealth of an upper class man, if they "[lust] for the illusion of weight and consequence" they automatically place themselves firmly in the middle class.Mr. Bounderby, a character in Dicken's novel Hard Times, is a perfect example of this, as he acts in such a way that positions him decisively in middle class structure. While there is a chance that Mr. Bounderby could be upper middle class in terms of wealth, it is his behavior and mannerisms that distinguish him as a middle class citizen. Fussell claims that those in the middle class are driven by an "earnestness and psychic insecurity." They are "terrified at what others think of them" and are "obsessed with doing everything right." Each of these characteristics is strikingly evident in Bounderby. Not only does he feel it necessary to constantly mention the fact that he is a self-made man, but he is hyper-aware of how others perceive him, even to the extent where he shuns his own mother to keep her from discrediting his past. Evidence of this middle class demeanor can be seen when he is first introduced in pages 11-12, as he boasts to Mrs. Sparsit about his troubled childhood. He tells of how he "was born in a ditch", and was "so ragged and dirty, that [Mrs. Sparsit] wouldn't have touched [him] with a pair of tongs." He feels the need to assert his authority, and is devoutly proud of the fact that he "pulled through it, though nobody threw [him] out a rope." His constant repetition of this story throughout the book demonstrates his insecurity and need for everyone to see how well he has done for himself....

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