Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

Paper #4 Revised

wwu2's picture

Marjorie Wu

Paper #4

September 25, 2014


How To Classify People

Because of its fast growing economics, Shanghai is a melting pot, attracting talented people to come, work, and settle here. The incoming people try to blend in this society; however, locals feel superior, are reluctant to accept the outsiders as part of the community, and signal their distaste by using dialects that the outsiders can not understand. The city is thus divided into two groups: Shanghainese and those “bumpkins”. Even though being defined as country folks, a large amount of them still are swarming into the city. What indeed attracts them to the city regardless of their family, their reputation, and their home?

In his memoir, Exile and Pride, Eli Clare has encountered a similar division. In Port Orford, Clare was restricted: he was placed somewhere in the middle of a comfortable middle class and a “white trash”, was considered as “queer” because of his sexual orientation, and did not have “money above and beyond the dollars spent on rent and food to buy books and music” (Clare 37). His economic reality and class issue seem never altered. However, carrying the goal of “upward scramble”, Clare left his home, abandoned his well-off social status, and entered into an urban community that he hardly knew of. Is that worthful? Eli Clare states that “[his] exile is about class” (Clare 37) yet he misses everything in Port Orford. But could he go back and settle there again? No, he can’t. Not only are jobs in his town scare, but also “employers are reluctant to hire him because of his disability” (Clare 37).

The word “class” is first used in 578-535 B.C. as “a group of Roman citizens who could meet a certain minimum wealth qualification” (Oxford English Dictionary). Now we still use “class” to describe a stratum dividing people by economic levels. In his memoir, categorized as a rural yokel, Eli Clare truly perceived the economic division at his time in the city. During a dinner with other white, lesbian writers from New York City, he felt “conspicuous and embarrassed” because all the others are dressed up in “diamond earrings, three-pieced suits and gold cufflinks, hair carefully molded and shaved in all the right places” while he was “in his blue jeans and faded chamois shirt” (Clare 41). The blatant financial distinction embarrassed Eli Clare, and he was categorized as the lower class. Another definition of “class” is “a set or category of things having some related properties or attributes in common, grouped together, and differentiated from others under a general name or description” (OED). In Exile and Pride, region segregates people into groups: some live urban; others live in rural. So when Eli moved to the city, he can’t be accepted because of his cultural background. During that dinner, a well-known editor joked him about “during the winter rains the mail carrier can not navigate the dirt road to her mailbox” (42). Coming from country side, Eli was automatically recognized as a bumpkin, who is poor, vulgar, and hardly know the world; therefore, they despise him. The class differences mark a threshold that Eli Clare could not step across.

Eli Clare defines himself as a mixed-class “bridge”. He describes himself with“one foot rooted in the working class, connected by way of familiarity and allegiance” to where he grew up; he has a deep felt connection with his hometown in rural Oregon. His other foot, however, “rest[s] in the middle class, understanding what I gained, as well as lost, in my parent’s’ upward scramble”(Clare 42). Eli has an ambitious dream—to be accepted as a dyke—which he only can accomplish in a more accepting and broader environment, so he moved to the city. However, the reality is that he still could not be accepted one hundred percent. He gained acceptance at the expense of home, familiarity and allegiance. All in all, class exists no matter how hard people try to change their livings and shift their identities. So what is the importance of moving into a new environment? Why still a large amount of people from countryside do their utmost to come to the city even though knowing that is effortless and useless? Is there any exceptions that some people rises their class by working in the city?


Works Cited:

Clare, Eli. Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation. Cambridge, MA: SouthEnd, 1999. Print.

"Class, N. and Adj." Home : Oxford English Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Oct. 2014.