Mighty Wedge of Class by Todd Erkel Class is a curious, almost elusive thing. It makes rare appearances now and then in talk of the economy and such or in more heated academic debates, but rarely in private. It seems American pretty much avoid the subject at every opportunity by attempting to deny that these class divisions between people exist. But the stark reality is that class structures in America create the very nature of society, setting the hierarchical framework on which every American maintains an identity. This identity is often easily defined by economic standing or material wealth. But it can't be that easy.
As R. Todd Erkel seems to imply in his essay, 'The Mighty Wedge of Class,' which explores his working-class background, 'class' is largely a construction of environment, while money factors little. But does it? Careful analysis of his essay shows that, although the cultural environment of a class, particularly the influence of parents and education, are important factors in determining one's class, it is clear that money essentially determines and ultimately defines one's class status in American society. Although Erkel presents evidence that the culture into which one is raised influences one's future class status, he clearly suggests that it is essentially the possession of money that constructs this culture. His experience of growing up in a working class environment made him familiar with the general environment of the working class culture, particularly the behavior of those around him, especially his parents. However, this common behavior among the working class is largely shaped, if not determined, by common financial status.
It is his parents's tatus of low wealth in society that causes this behavior. He notes that, 'the message received by children whose parents have battled with the world and come away feeling defeated is that they are better off not even trying.' Erkel's parents are one of many who try to make it financially in this 'land of opportunity,' but fail to achieve great wealth, fail to land the jobs that could elevate their status to one of high economic standing; thus, they are 'willing to settle.' Implied by his parents' example is that the inability to find success financially in life shapes the common lifestyle of the working class and way of approaching life, particularly behavior. This behavior, the appearance of low wealth, creates and perpetuates the culture of the working class. Erkel was naturally influenced by this and learned to imitate this appearance. When he went to college, he found that he lacked not only 'poise or spending money,' but the social skills and speech of his peers. He writes of his encounter with his childhood friend, who was shocked by his appearance, his 'college-issue wire frames, $20 haircut, and button-down J.
Crew' which, Erkel writes, 'confirmed [that]: My aspirations had changed me; I was no longer one of his kind.' This behavior among working class parents caused by having little money, however, in turn heavily influences and usually determines the future socioeconomic level of the children. Erkel recalls of his childhood memories of the men who worked 'as mill hands, ironworkers, railroad switchmen... ,' his father being one of them, and the common pattern of the adults: 'They endured high school, married young, bought homes, and looked forward to a week's vacation every summer,' he says. He familiarized with this pattern, especially his working-class parents's tatus in the world-'low achieving, poorly spoken, lacking confidence... willing to accept their situation...
,' and thus came to expect a similar fate of failure for himself. In this working class culture where most do not go on to continued education, Erkel came to see that 'knowledge counts for less than good behavior.' Good behavior is valued perhaps more than education because of the common failure of adults like his parents to make it anywhere in life with a good education and the resulting need to make immediate money, working similar 'working class' jobs. Therefore, Erkel's upbringing made caused him to be, 'vulnerable to low self-expectations,' causing him to struggle with overcoming this 'sense of hopelessness' and expected behavior of low wealth, instilled in him by his parents. This includes his choice to pursue higher education: 'When I decided to go to college, my mother and father offered the only advice they could: 'Well,' they said, 'we hope you know what you " re doing.' ' Erkel was unprepared for the road ahead because it was unfamiliar to his family and those like them- he was unprepared for the environment of those above the working class who grow up with higher expectations and ambition. As he says of his present state, he has, 'learned to pose in the middle-class culture, but at a price.' In other words, the behavior of the working class culture caused by economic deprivation and incomplete education, which shaped him from birth, made it difficult for him to adopt any other kind of behavior in life than that which gives the impression of low wealth. He states that he now, '[lives] on borrowed instincts, afraid to trust that part of the working class I still carry inside.' This cycle of behavior stems from, and creates, a cycle of wealth.
It is a cause and effect, where money is essentially the cause and the effect is all which is shaped thereafter for an individual and their participation in society on the basis of their material wealth. Therefore, it is hard for Erkel to escape his working class culture because he is an important part of the cycle. As long as there are disparities in wealth, there will always be class structures and thus, the perpetuation of class behavior. bibliography Erkel, Todd. 'the Mighty Wedge of Class'.