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Old School Essay

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Old School Essay

The Marxist Lens helps the reader to see the influence of social and economic factors during the given time period of the novel. Old School by Tobias Wolff is set in the 1960s when women weren’t regarded very highly and World War II had only just ended fifteen years prior. The novel addresses the opportunities wealth provides, being set in an elitist school.

The school that the protagonist attends is in its own bubble, cut off from the real world.  Through this isolation, Old School creates a class criticism of the school as a place that is disconnected from the poorer parts of society and caught up in its wealth and prestige. “Class was a fact” (pg. 15) in the school. The prep school takes pride in the fact that it is home to some of the wealthiest kids in the nation. The students don’t have to worry about exams because their parents’ money and connections will buy them into the best schools. Snobbery is such an intrinsic quality of the school that it’s almost invisible to the members of the school. However, the students are sheltered which is why Robert Frost tells one of the students, Kellogg to leave the school and experience the real world. He is urging him not to just experience the physical world but to meet different kinds of people who aren’t the typical, upper class, white, prep school boy who he is exposed to on a daily basis.

Unlike most of the students, the protagonist does not come from a wealthy family. The fact that he is on a scholarship at the school sets him apart from the others. In fact, the principal even calls him out as a student “whose bills are paid by others” (pg. 144), implying that he should be honored to even attend such a prestigious institution as though he does not belong. He doesn’t believe that wealth provides better opportunity, in fact, “if privilege gave [the wealthy] a place… it was a perilous place" (pg. 4). Yet he does try to hide the fact that he is not as rich as the other students by creating a façade in order to fit in. He claims to reject wealth but he hides his lack of wealth. His description of Columbia and New York City, for example “how the city seethed up against the school” (pg. 109), shows he wants something different than the typical boy at his school. He doesn’t want to attend Princeton or Yale where the environment is similar to that of his current school; he wants to be free from that kind of place. His desire to escape is so great that he realizes he has to fit in for these early years of his life so that he can ultimately escape to a place where he can excel as a writer. Ironically enough, he exploits the world of wealth in order to escape it.

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