Study Guide

The Corrections Society and Class

By Jonathan Franzen

Society and Class

Around eight o'clock he ended up outside the new Nightmare of Consumption ("Everything—for a price!") on Grand Street. (2.650)

Although this is played as jokey satire, there's something sinister underlying Chip's grocery store experience. The well-orchestrated chaos is something we'll see associated with consumer culture throughout the novel.

Most important of all was that the bride and groom themselves match: have similar backgrounds and educations. (2.960)

Enid has very traditional views on class. This might be surprising, given her own personal insecurities, but it's very much in line with her generation's thinking.

It was true that Alfred believed the only thing wrong with the death penalty was that it wasn't used often enough; true as well that the men [...] were usually black men from the slums on St. Jude's north side. (2.1023)

Alfred is as conservative as you can get. As is often the case in American society, race and class get mixed together to create a dangerous cocktail.

"Hey, funny thing, Fred, the only people that don't belong in your jail are upper-middle-class northern European men. And you're on my case for wanting things my way." (4.531)

This line, it must be mentioned, was spoken by a hallucinated talking turd. Yeah, really. Jokes aside, it shows that Alfred is at least aware of the cultural biases he holds against his fellow humanoids.

It rankled her that people richer than she were so often less worthy and attractive. More slobbish and louty. Comfort could be found in being poorer than people who were smart and beautiful. But to be less affluent than these T-shirted, joke-cracking fatsos— (4.595)

Enid came from poverty and has worked her butt off to build a middle-class lifestyle. So you can understand her frustration when the upper class lacks, well, class.

Eager, perhaps, to repay the favor of listening, Sylvia nodded with encouragement. But suddenly she reminded Enid of Katherine Hepburn. In Hepburn's eyes there had been a blank unconsciousness of privilege that made a once-poor woman like Enid want to kick her patrician shins with the hardest-toed pumps at her disposal. (4.712)

The idea of "privilege" is one that's central to The Corrections. While the concept is bemoaned at times, there's no doubt that it's present in the novel's wealthier characters.

"Imagine the Uzbek upper middle class," said Dr. Roth. "One of the families had the same Ford Stomper we have. In fact the only difference between our upper middle class and their upper middle class was that none of them, not even the richest family in town, had in-door plumbing." (4.883)

It turns out that America isn't the only country with class issues. In this case, we see how consumer culture can hinder individuals from making wise decisions with their money.

Although her parents weren't wealthy, her mother so yearned for a certain kind of elegance and had worked so hard to achieve it that to Don Armour the house looked liked the house of rich people. (5.255)

Of course, the Lamberts have less money than it seems—they're just good at crafting the illusion of wealth.

"I rilly hate the phony democracy. The people in St. Jude pretend they're all alike [...] There are class differences, there are race differences, there are enormous and decisive economic differences, and yet nobody's honest in this case." (5.457)

So what's a better solution to this problem? Should the people of St. Jude be shouting the biases from the rooftops? Or should they try to meet each other halfway?

Poor people with their ailments constituted a subspecies of humanity that thankfully remained invisible to Gary except in hospitals and in places like Central Discount Medical. They were dumber, sadder, fatter, more resignedly suffering breed. (6.219)

Gary's class issues are so irrational that he associates the lower class with death. Well, he's going to get a rude awakening…