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Moving Away--A Rethought Essay: or, If I hear the word "socioeconomic" one more time I'm going to snap

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Imagine moving house.

Packing up, leaving, and not looking back.

Now, imagine that you new house is for all intents and purposes the same as your old one, because your socioeconomic status is based on where you live and your mobility is limited, so you have to live in basically the same place.

That situation is a very loose interpretation of the way Marxist economic theory works in regards to a person’s housing situation.

In NW,  Zadie Smith’s novel about people living in the Northwest portion of London, the three main characters—Leah, Natalie, and Felix—are all defined by their peers and themselves by their housing situations.

Natalie Blake wants to distance herself from the socioeconomic precedent set by her childhood home, and does so by buying a large house relatively far from where she grew up, though in the same neighborhood. Her physical distancing, however, only does so much to separate the economic eras of her life from each other. The people of the higher economic levels, whose circles she is trying to move and work within, still continue to judge her by the place she came from. They classify her by where she came from within the economic structure, as mobility within it is very odd. Felix, as well, has this characterization forced on him. In the news stories on him following his death, the reporters deem the fact that he was born in community housing one of the most important facets of his life, and put it into their coverage of his murder. This categorization of living and death based on what area of a map a person comes from and how economically rich the area is a prime example of the lack of the mobility within the Marxist economic system and how it defines each person accordingly.

Leah Hanwell went to University, has a steady job, and has a loving husband, Michel, who is also financially stable in terms of income. They are living in a Council Home, meaning that there are three apartments within one house and a garden shared by all. Leah is perfectly content living there, which makes sense, considering the flat is remarkably similar to the place she grew up—it is even in the same neighborhood.  However, her contentment is not a testament to the satisfaction she feels about her life; it is a testament to her inability to move within the social framework of her society. She does not leave Willesdan, her neighborhood, because she simply cannot go above what her economic status, as defined by her society, is.

Unlike Leah, Michel, her husband, acknowledges the role that their living situation plays in the definition of their social and economic mobility, and tries to smash that established framework. He tries to persuade Leah to move, saying that he doesn’t want their (theoretical) kids growing up with a sign in the front yard advertising it as a Council Home, meaning that he doesn’t want others to put a label on them based upon their living space. However, what the does not understand is that he cannot escape the categorization of his family by their monetary means, because, according to Marxist economic theory, it is inevitable. Even when Shar, the drug-addicted grifter, enters Leah and Michel’s house, Shar is described as inspecting the house “like a realtor” (Smith 9), judging Michel and Leah’s financial means based on their home, and rips them off accordingly. Her plan in general was to shake down someone in the neighborhood for money, because she judged their collective economic status based upon their houses, and categorized them as the type to have disposable income that could be given away for a sob story. She recognizes that the people living in these houses are of a different socioeconomic level from her, and tries to exploit that difference for her own benefit.

Works Cited
Mandel, Ernest. An Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory. New York: Pathfinder, 1973. Print.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. Existentialism and Human Emotion. [S.l.]: Allied, 1947. 1-20. Print.
Smith, Zadie. NW. New York: Penguin, 2012. Print.