Study Guide

Where'd You Go, Bernadette Society and Class

By Maria Semple

Society and Class

[Y]ou need to start raising large sums of moneyfor your own children's private school. To do this, you must emancipate yourselves from what I am calling Subaru Parent mentality and start thinking more like Mercedes Parents. (1.48)

The Galer Street School is the novel's pitch-perfect parody of elitist private school culture. But Galer's not at the top of the roost. Not by a long shot. Hence the need to convince so-called "Mercedes Parents" to send their kids to the school, providing not only their wealth but, more importantly, a sense of social credibility with the upper rungs of society.

We'd been living in L.A. when Elgie's animation company was bought by Big Brother. Whoops, did I say Big Brother? I meant Microsoft. (1.140)

Bernadette's comparison of Microsoft to Big Brother from 1984 is especially apt given that Elgin is working on a device that plugs into your brain and literally reads your thoughts. A TV screen with a built-in webcam seems quaint by comparison.

Their class was studying China, and the debate was going to be pro and con Chinese occupation of Tibet. [...] Galer Street is so ridiculous that it goes beyond PC and turns back in on itself. (1.336)

The citizens of Seattle are depicted as having a desperate need to be seen as "open-minded," no matter how silly things get. If you'd show them Star Wars, they'd tell you that Darth Vader makes a lot of fair points, and that if the Rebels have grievances they should discuss their civilly rather than resort to violence. Just think about all the poor souls that died on the Death Star, after all.

Wait, did I say Microsoft is marvelous and Utopian? I mean to say sinister and evil. (2.134)

Bernadette doesn't believe that corporations like Microsoft could ever have the best interests of regular people at heart. It contradicts their primary mission and purpose: making dough.

"At Samantha 2, our goal is to help our wounded veterans live independent and productive lives. The possibilities are endless" (3.216)

To Elgin's credit, he's passionate about his job at Microsoft because it gives him the opportunity to make a positive impact on society. As much as one can criticize the company, it's hard to criticize his motivations as an employee.

"As of the tenth, Samantha 2 is canceled [...] I've over. They're folding us into games." (6.335, 337)

As it turns out, Microsoft is much less interested in contributing to society than Elgin. It's ironic that the project is now a part of the Xbox division, as it transforms Samantha 2 from something that could change disabled people's lives to something that helps bored teenagers waste an afternoon. So much for making a difference.

"I thought you owned the patents," I said. "I own the commemorative cubes. Microsoft owns the patents." (6.342-343)

Microsoft is depicted as being instilled with a sense of community, but when push comes to shove, it's still a business. All those good vibes won't make one lick of difference when you're on the barrel end of downsizing.

But mostly, and I mean this, I hate the idea for you. You will simply not fit in with those snobby rich kids. (7.101)

One of the main reasons Bernadette doesn't want Bee to attend Choate is that she'll be stuck with a bunch of upper-crust snotters all day every day. How might that culture shock impact our young Seattleite?

Bee, darling, you're a child of the earth, the United States, Washington State, and Seattle. Those East Coast rich kids are a different breed, on a fast track to nowhere. (7.102)

Bernadette has plenty of issues with the Seattle lifestyle, but she still prefers it to that of the wealthy East Coast. Seattle can be annoying at times, is overly PC, and has way too many five-way-intersections, but at the end of the day its citizens are decent, hard-working people. You can't necessarily say the same about a bunch of trustafarians.

Do you know how absolutely exotic it is that you haven't been corrupted by fashion and pop culture? (7.102)

Bee's early life in Seattle has kept her totally isolated from pop culture, which from Bernadette's perspective is the best thing that ever happened to her daughter. It allows her to define herself without the pressures and standards that society would otherwise foist upon her.

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