Social class is the leading cause in creating undefined barriers between people, with no legitimate reason as to why they form. These undefined social and economic barriers that society creates develop into divisions amongst people of different races, religions, social classes, and economic status. An example of these undefined barriers is the way in which people judge others around them to themselves, whether it be as inferior or superior. This principle is prevalent in literature, such as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.
K. Rowling, where Harry Potter has lost both of his parents and is now forced to live in his abusive aunt and uncle after an attempted murder by the world’s most powerful dark wizard. He goes to at Hogwarts where he experiences hatred and discrimination based on his past life events and who he is as a person. Another example occurs in The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, as Johnny Cade’s involvement in the neighborhood gang rivalry between the Greasers and the Socs alters the way members of the gang, including himself, develop throughout the course of the novel.
The final example is present in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, where a dystopian-futuristic version of the United States of America is illustrated consisting of two distinct classes, a rich Capitol and surrounding poor districts. Additionally, there is an annual barbaric event, known as the “Hunger Games,” where tributes are selected based on their social and economic status to fight to the death, including the protagonist from a poor district, Katniss Everdeen.
In each of these examples, the experiences that these characters face due to their relative wealth, upbringing, and norm of society have ultimately changed the way in which they develop, with a positive and negative outlet for each character. Classism and social class have an important role in the development of the lives of Harry Potter, Johnny Cade, and Katniss Everdeen, and with these trends, an analysis of how character development is affected by the social and economic status the characters grew up in can be derived, in addition to their overall upbringing.
One of the most prominent examples in the literature where the social and economic status of a character leads to differences in character development is in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. The novel follows the perseverance of Harry Potter, along with best friends Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley, throughout the many obstacles and hardships that they confront during their careers at “Hogwarts”. The main villain and antagonist in the series that Harry is faced with is Lord Voldemort, the powerful wizard who attempted to murder Harry as an infant. This ultimately shapes the path for his life going forward, including Hogwarts and his future. The absolute power within this wizard, including his murderous actions, is enough to drive an entire community into hysteria, as they even fear using his name aloud, Lord Voldemort. Professor McGonagall, a teacher at Hogwarts, dislikes the fact that people are full of fear when using the name “Voldemort” ever since Harry’s attempted murder, stating, “‘For eleven years I have been trying to persuade people to call him by his proper name: Voldemort’”.
Harry Potter faces discrimination based on his past daily, given titles like “The Boy Who Lived”, which happens to be the first chapter title of the series. In the wizarding world, labels are given based on family origin, largely due to money and power, forcing surrounding people to label them as superior to themselves. This has an effect in the wizarding society, with older, respected families being labeled superior to those without much money and respect, but also has an effect in school. Hogwarts sorts students into different houses. When joining Gryffindor’s Quidditch team, Harry experiences discrimination and hatred from classmate Draco Malfoy from Slytherin, saying, “‘You know how I think they choose people for the Gryffindor team?’ said Malfoy loudly… ‘It’s people they feel sorry for. See, there’s Potter, who’s got no parents’” . This quote from the novel is important as it demonstrates that even a simple school-organized event can link back to the character’s family and upbringing. Malfoy, opposite of Harry, has very respectable parents and a family with strong connections throughout society. He expresses comments towards Harry in an attempt to establish hs superiority towards him.
The fact that Harry does not have a well-respected family with connections to the wizarding world and his upbringing resulted in abuse from his relatives allows for members of society, such as Draco Malfoy and his relatives, to have prejudice towards him. Even though Harry is known to be the most powerful wizard in the world, he still had to overcome adversity and prejudice set forward based on previous family history and upbringing. Additionally to Harry Potter has to face prejudice based on his past days, he has no parental figures to look up as a role model, and moving into his relative’s household did not provide any love and affection at all throughout his life. If anything, the move to live with his relatives negatively affected Harry, as even his family discriminated against him and his past. The essential purpose to why the background and description of Harry Potter is necessary is because it lays the foundation for how he will grow up and develop. The economic and social status of Harry Potter, shapes and defines him in the long haul. Harry Potter cannot live a “normal” life due to his immediate fame of surviving the “Killing Curse” by Lord Voldemort, a curse explained in another novel to be unsurvivable, and getting a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead.
In addition to his murder attempt as an infant, he was deceived by his relatives, such as how his parents died in a car crash rather than the truth that Lord Voldemort killed them. This changes his whole understanding of his life and upbringing, resulting in a new pathway for development. Living with an abusive aunt and uncle has shaped Harry into who he is today. In summary, the way in which certain characters are described leads to different ways they can develop and change, with correspondence to the social class and economic status that they came from. Another influential novel in the literature that explores the changes in development based on economic and social position occurs in The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Although he is not the main protagonist in the novel, Johnny Cade is the best example of how a certain social position and events that occur based on said position can alter how you develop. A young and small kid, often abused by the opposing gang in addition to his parents, Johnny does not fit into the stereotypical gang member role.
A description from the novel by the main protagonist and narrator Ponyboy Curtis puts this into perspective, stating, “If you can picture a little dark puppy that has been kicked too many times and is lost in a crowd of strangers, you’ll have Johnny”. This quote has a literal and figurative meaning, as Johnny is subject to abuse inside and outside of the home. Being lost in a crowd of strangers is implying that Johnny does not know where he fits into society, largely due to his social and economic position. Always trying to find his place in society and his family, Johnny is a member of the Greasers gang, with their opposition being the Socs who comes from a wealthier and higher class. Based on this, the Greasers are often abused and attacked by the Socs for being inferior to them, primarily economically. The separation between the rival gangs has always been down to socioeconomic status, as the Socs are mostly upper class with money and the Greasers are lower class without money.
Being from a less fortunate area and surrounded by poverty, there are many signs of underage drinking, smoking, and strong language. Johnny does not have loving and affectionate parents to care for him, leading to his reliance on the gang for the support he never got at home. This is demonstrated in the novel that his parents are abusive, unresponsive, and ignore his needs, where it states, “If it hadn’t been for the gang, Johnny would never have known what love and affection are”. Johnny views his gang as more of a family than his own, frequently resorting back to them in times of trouble. While having to deal with the mistreatment and stress often at home, Johnny encountered abuse with the opposing gang, the Socs. The plot escalated quickly when he murdered a member of the Socs that was drowning Ponyboy in order to save his best friend’s life. As a result of killing a Soc, who was trying to kill Johnny’s friend and fellow Greaser Ponyboy, word spread, eventually leading to a rumble later on in the novel between the two rival gangs.
Eventually, as fellow Greasers met up with Johnny, they stumbled across a church that had caught on fire, leading to his attempt to save the people and children inside, ultimately breaking his back in the process. This is important because he comes from a family that is apathetic but Johnny still had the motivation to risk his life to save these children, ultimately leading to his death in the novel. This can be seen as Johnny paying back all the support he had received from the gang, as he gave these people the support they needed to survive in their dangerous situation. Overall, the author purposely uses this gang violence and activity, delinquency, and illegal acts in the novel as a result of the social and economic status to help support the development of the characters (Parr 1). Illustrating young teenage boys who are depicted as poor and often discriminated against is a clear indicator that the socioeconomic status of these individuals has a crucial impact as to how they grow up and develop throughout the novel.
A prime example in which a society is built and justified by oppression based on social class and wealth is in The Hunger Games. Young children are put into a ruthless battle royale to be the lone victor in what is known as the “Hunger Games.” The games are used to benefit the higher class and exploit the lower class, as those with more money are capable of receiving more training. Ultimately, this leads to a cycle of high-income inequality with a rigged system to exploit the poor and benefit the wealthy, as seen throughout the series. Katniss had to overcome adversity, after her sister, Primrose, was selected to participate in the games. Katniss chose to volunteer in her sister’s place, stating, “I volunteer as tribute!”. This shows that being from a poor district, no one is safe from the games and Katniss had the choice to let her sister fall into the exploitative system or for her to take her place.
She ended up winning the Hunger Games, outlasting all the other tributes except Peeta Mellark, as they were considered co-victors. In addition to this exploitative system, the oppressive government that Katniss and other members of society are up against displays how much power and control it can have over their lives. The capabilities for a ruthless government that favors the rich and exploits the poor are endless, displayed when the government-run by President Snow consistently kept citizens in a state of hunger and poverty for a long period of time. By forcing the citizens into entering and competing in the games, it serves as entertainment for the wealthy class and also a demonstration of power to suppress the districts. Citizens that live under this ruling power have absolutely no chance to overthrow the government and start a revolution, as the government holds too much power over their lives. Overall, the use of social class in modern literature is extremely important as it has a major influence on the way characters develop. As seen in the novels above, each of the characters faced obstacles and challenges relating to their social class, with different levels of development change.
Many of these factors altering the way they develop are based on their family, upbringing, and environment in which they are placed. The way in which people react is unpredictable, whether that be positively or negatively, with the same principle being used regarding social class and economic status. In Harry Potter’s instance, he manages to find a way to fight through adversity even though he has no parental figures to love him and care for his needs and is discriminated at Hogwarts and his relatives home. For Johnny Cade, mistreatment at home and gang violence takes a toll on his emotional state, along with him murdering an upper-class gang member to save his friend’s life. Lastly for Katniss Everdeen, coming from an impoverished district and being selected to compete in the games, she must overcome adversity and ultimately does so by winning the competition. In all of these situations, the character comes from a lower social rank and economic status and has to battle through adversity to stay alive and overcome obstacles. All in all, character development is commonly altered by social and economic status, as it is extremely important regarding their growth and maturity for the future.