This week: The American Dream and the Crab BucketEdited by: Kittiara
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As long as the crab mentality perseveres, class struggle remains a relevant topic for Drama novels.
This week's Drama Newsletter is all about dreams, aspiration and inspiration.
One common theme in Drama novels and movies is that of class struggle. From little orphan Annie to V for Vendetta, there are always those at the bottom of the system, and those on top, exercising power and influence, and often being less than welcoming to those they consider beneath them.
The American Dream of upward social mobility is a wonderful, inspiring ideal, and novels that reflect this give the reader a warm feeling of hope and justice. Why shouldn't the poor but honourable man or woman win the heart of their wealthier, more successful love? Instinctively we feel that money and status shouldn't stand in the way of romance, and that everyone deserves a chance to succeed.
Reality, of course, is different and complicated. Success stories of people escaping their less than desirable background are not uncommon, but a greater amount soon discover that it's all they can do to get by. Not everyone can become President.
This isn't unique to the United States of America – far from. It's the way life is for people around the globe. Even in societies where class distinction may not be as deeply ingrained as in my country of residence, the United Kingdom, people tend to “know their place”, and all too many plan their lives accordingly.
I have mentioned this before in newsletters, but it's suitable to mention it here – I am the first person in my family to attend University. I don't mention this out of pride. It is, to me, an example of how people's expectations can be affected by class. Within my family, and within our circle of friends and acquaintances, that expectation is to graduate from high school, get into the kind of job that everyone else gets into, and live a sensible life. There is no drive to aim any higher, and that is fine and well if people are happy with this, if it's what they truly desire, but when anyone breaks the norm, the crab bucket effect can kick in.
Terry Pratchett described this effect in one of his Discworld novels. A couple of characters are walking around the market and spot an open bucket filled with crabs. When wondering why this bucket does not have a lid on it, they are told that when any of the crabs try to get out, the others will pull them back in, so there is no need to block their escape route. In other words, those on the top of the social ladder don't even need to hold back those on the lower ranks, because they do quite a good job of it themselves.
The TV series The Wire deals with this issue – for a lot of the kids in that series, criminal gang life is all they know. It's the only way to escape the dreadful poverty they live in. They know that they're likely to die young, or end up in prison, but this is all part of the game. They don't believe that they'll ever have a decent career, and school attendance is discouraged.
I think that this is why novels on class struggle – novels that break down boundaries – are still needed. People should hope. People should dream. Despite all the progress society has made, a modern day Elizabeth Bennett is still unlikely to marry her Mr. Darcy. In fact, she'd probably be classed as a gold-digger if she tried.
Education and self-enrichment should always be encouraged. I don't mean to say that everyone should have the ambition to become a politician, or a banker, or a CEO. My point is that everyone should strive for the future they desire, and support those who may want to create a different future for themselves.
In an ideal world, there would be no class boundaries, and everyone, as well as every career, would hold the same value. That isn't the way things are, though, so I reckon that every bit of inspiration is very welcome indeed.
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blunderbuss - I warmed to this newsletter in a slightly guilty way. Why guilty, though? Just because I try to write, doesn't mean I can't find relaxation in reading, too. Try Elizabeth Jane Howard the Cazalet trilogy) if you don't already know it. Or, much less gentle, but will grip you - her novel 'Falling'. Sometimes, I want a writer who gives her characters time to make a cup of tea. All action, got to have a chapter ending which forces you on - yes, sometimes. But not always. That's like being a one-genre person - too limiting for me.
Thank you so much for those recommendations! I hadn't heard of her work before, but I will definitely try it out .
I fully agree with you. I like diversity in my reading - pace, tension, as well as genre. I love horror novels and chick-lit, crime and novels for a younger audience, like J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. You are absolutely correct - it would be too limiting otherwise!
Wishing you a week filled with inspiration,
The Drama Newsletter Team
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