Class: It's the great unspeakable in a society dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal, with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that believes in the redistributive power of personal ambition, hard work, self-intention and self-definition. It might be the most powerful and intractable of social divisions, its effects potent even within culture, race, or gender. Whether we buy in consciously or not, we are all subject to the shaping power of class.
But what exactly does it mean to be shaped by class? How does this shaping affect what we long for, strive for, believe is possible—not just for us but for those around us and the world at large? What happens to our understanding of class, of our society and of ourselves, when we cross class boundaries upwards or downwards, willingly or unwillingly, through education, employment, marriage, divorce, friendships and other meaningful relationships, immigration or emigration, illness, economic or political upheaval? How does our experience of class mobility, wanted or unwanted, change our understanding of ourselves, our social relationships, our sense of social agency, our sense of our society? How does it change our understanding of the possibilities and challenges of living out E Pluribus Unum? Thirty contemporary writers help us explore the impact of class and inequality through fiction, memoir, poetry—and some graphs.