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Thursday, October 24, 2019

Marriage, Money and Class

After hitting the trifecta of stressors early this year, I exhumed the literary classic novels (and some plays and narrative poems) to uncover large structure meaning of what this world is supposed to be about. I've had crises of faith before where I dove into scriptures seeking answers, so this wasn't new. But I hadn't ever asked what do most authors in history think the point of life was.

Now the Bible is a curious document and doesn't really say what the point of this life is except as transition period to the next although some suggest that the point of this life is God, which is true enough as far as ancillary activities (or perhaps the motivator of primary activities), but what about primary activities themselves? What should they be?

For most novelists, the point of life has been the struggle for marriage, money, and attain one's class (one can only surpass one's station in life only through luck and marriage). Few writers seem vested in the spiritual realm (Tolstoy being one)--possibly because religion was too divisive.

The most curious fact for most of these books is that each one--marriage, money and class--is largely magical. How does one fall in love? It's just a thing that happens. No reason is involved (or if reason is involved, it's criminal, such as the pursuit of money or class). The closest that uses reasoning about why people fall in love might be Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë where some explain why they're in love (or not) although the primary couple isn't fully explained.

I forget the Trollope novel, but one has a guy who falls for a woman who pressures him into marriage. He likes her, but isn't ready for marriage. Once he commits himself, however, it becomes scandalous that he doesn't want to marry her until he earns enough money. Later, he falls for a higher class woman and does the unthinkable: He rescinds his offer of marriage in order to marry into class. Then he suddenly gets a raise and prefers the first woman he proposed to, but he is far too scandalous now to marry. And he ends up with no woman and loses his attractiveness.

But why should this be scandalous to change one's mind before marriage? This is never explained but accepted. Women, though, can change their minds up until marriage, however. Perhaps this is their primary power. This becomes a major issue in Dickens and Tolstoy novels although in Tolstoy it also becomes scandalous that Natasha changes her mind before marriage. In twentieth century movies like The Graduate, this change of mind is not only accepted but also cheered.

Class also conveys a social magic just by its presence. If the king or queen wanders into a hospital, then one should expect an amelioration of pain. Their random assortment of genes somehow has them touched by God. If I exaggerate, it isn't by much.

Money is a curious, powerful but lower pursuit. It too is magical in that there is no explanation of how one attains a large sum except often through a rich dead relative, which at the end of a novel usually falls into the lap of a poor sap who has been a good soul. But the monied themselves are often striving to reach up, which is seen as vulgar but sometimes necessary. The relatively poor but high class might, with reluctance, marry below themselves. It is the job of the monied to help out these poor, high classed to return them to their former glory.

Now a classy guy can gamble away his family's fortune which makes him foolish, morally lax, yet pitiable. If a poor guy does the same, he gets what he deserves.

All nineteenth century writers buck against the idea of class not marrying below themselves. Dickens is quietly subversive in that his best characters end up having to work for their money (as opposed to being lackadaisical rich just because you belong to a certain class). Writers like Henry James wrestle against his English predecessors in his work by coming from the angle that the monied may be the true moral center, albeit still there to support the classed who are lovely fools.

In twentieth-century America, we abandoned class in favor of "status" or job where factory owner > doctor > lawyer > architect > etc. Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy has an interesting examination of these topics from this new American point of view.

Many Mary Higgins Clark suspense movies (I read a few novels when I was a kid) support a very traditional view of marriage, money and status. And they are still magical quantities. [Note: I refrain from discussing the quality of these films except as a sociological lens to examine the world we live in--to see how we see the world.]

A curious phenomenon is society's increasing separation from the original trio of life pursuits. Where does an Edgar Allan Poe story fit into this schemata? Maybe these represent quirky returns to the spiritual via various physical or mental crises.

One store's forgotten 1970s hit by Herbert Hunter spouted lyrics that sounded something like "I was born to love you. You were born to tear my heart apart." Very strange. Is this desire or his belief in what reality is or should be? Considering the long history of those who have laid claims on our life's purpose, where does such a world-view come from? Is the lyric-writer (and those who buy into this philosophy) asking for a life of pain? Well, it wouldn't surprise me that I got the lyrics wrong as I can't find them online.

What should the point of life on Earth be?

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