Study Guide

You Should Have Known Wealth and Social Class

By Jean Hanff Korelitz

Wealth and Social Class

"I just wish we had more, you know, artists and writers," said Sylvia, who—having raised this particular topic, was now obviously attempting to move on. "Lunch with an opera singer or a visit to the painter's studio. Why don't we have more artists?" Because they don't send their children to Rearden, Grace thought irritably. (2.38)

Grace's brain operates on such an interesting dichotomy. On one hand, she judges Rearden's high-rolling parents, who are more likely to own an autographed Jackson Pollack than to actually get a little paint on their Michael Kors jackets. On the other hand, she herself is a Rearden parent and graduate, so clearly she isn't put off enough by the classism on display to actually move Henry to a different school.

Grace noticed Birkins, and she possessed exactly one, in basic brown-pebbled togo, a gift from Jonathan on her thirtieth birthday...She took care of this beautiful object with great devotion, and it lived on a cloth-lined shelf in her closet with its dowager aunts, the two Hermes Kellys she had inherited from her mother. (3.57)

This quote perfectly illustrates Grace's social standing: She and Jonathan are wealthy enough to hang with the high-rollers, but not wealthy enough to be them.

"Wanting what you have is supposedly the secret of happiness. Somebody said that, I forget who." (18.311)

We remember who. "Happiness is not having what you want. It is wanting what you have" is a quote from Rabbi Hyman Schachtel, although it seems Grace might be twisting his meaning slightly. For Rabbi Schachtel, happiness came from being content with your life instead of constantly pursuing ways to improve it. Grace's ultimate goal was to be as happy as she thought her parents were, so she convinced herself that she was content in her marriage when she really shouldn't have been.

Either the local school would lag so far behind Rearden—with addition and subtraction in seventh-grade math, for example, Dick and Jane in literature—or the other kids would be backwoods degenerates, glue-sniffing video game addicts who'd finger her son as an aesthete intellectual... (19.321)

Apparently, you can take Grace out of her judgmental social circle, but you can't take the judgment out of Grace. It's interesting to note how similar her attitude toward Henry's new public school is to the hoity-toity attitudes of the Rearden parents she loathed so much.

Her era (the 1980s) had been the last of the school's innocence, before all those Masters of the Universe had swarmed the city's independent schools and hurled the old guard over the parapets. Back in those Elysian days, Grace and her classmates knew they were not poor, but they did not exactly think of themselves as rich, either. (3.55)

Once again, Grace the Magnificent operates outside of her own rules. It's not smart to fall in love with someone at first sight, even though she did. It's obnoxious for Rearden students to be so rich, even though she's an alum and mother to a Rearden student.

The doorman would be glad to hail a taxi for her. Grace had moved numbly to the door and stepped numbly into the elevator for the long ride down. In her own building, where she had grown up and still lived, the doormen were mainly Irish or Bulgarian or Albanian, friendly guys who volunteered for their local fire squad in Queens and showed you pictures of their kids. They also held the door and took your bag unless you waved them off. And they hailed taxis, of course. Of course they did. She did not need to be told that they did. (3.58)

Maybe we aren't fluent in NYC socialite insults, but Grace's absolute freakout over Linsey mentioning that her doorman could hail a cab seems majorly histrionic. It really didn't seem like Linsey thought Grace was out of her league and wouldn't know what a doorman could do; she was probably just trying to end their conversation politely.

The magnificent room was full of highly tended women, acknowledged (even celebrated) beauties who were aerobicized and massaged, colored and coiffed, mani-pedied and Brazilled, and clothed in the most editorialized clothing, yet the distinct aroma of attraction in the crowd came from the place occupied by Malaga Alves. It was remarkably pure and powerful, a force plainly capable of toppling titans, yet it seemed undetectable by any of the sparkling sisterhood. (5.83)

As famous British philosophers John, Paul, George, and Ringo once noted, "Money can't buy me love." Love might not be what these men feel for Malaga, but it's worth noting that she's easily the least wealthy, least adorned, least "mani-pedied" woman at the Rearden fundraiser, and yet the wealthy men who arrived with their own wealthy, beautiful wives are fawning all over her.

"Sold! One glass of New York tap water, aqua Giuliani, to the gentleman in the very attractive blue tie, for eleven thousands dollars. Sir? Your water." Amid thunderous applause, Nathan Friedberg made his way to the front of the room, took the glass from the auctioneer's outstretched hand, and drained his prize. "Delicious!" he reported. "Worth every penny." (5.88)

Okay, this whole exchange is just gross, and not only because there's no telling what's in New York City tap water—it also illustrates how disgustingly wealthy Rearden parents really are.

But no clear indictment was presenting itself in the death of Malaga Alves. It had not been her fault that she was Hispanic and presumably poor. And it was certainly not a bad thing that she had managed to secure a scholarship for her child at one of the city's best schools. That's what scholarships were for! Where were they—where was Grace—supposed to insert the wall that separated her from this poor woman?

Luck. Plain luck. And money, which in her own case had also been luck. (6.109)

When Grace hears about Malaga's murder, she's exceptionally bothered by the fact that she can't think of any reason why it couldn't happen to her. The two women were both Rearden parents, both on the fundraising committee, and both not as wealthy as the rest of their peers. Besides luck and Grace's inherited wealth from her parents, there's not much that separates them at all...and Grace doesn't know it yet, but they're even more closely connected than she recognizes.