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Written by Claire Cornwall
Social class is one of the predominant themes of the novel and is really the source of the majority of Lee Fiora's feeling that she does not fit in. Ault is an historic institution that has always educated the wealthy children of high society families and its traditions seem to confirm Lee's feelings of isolation. There is also a great difference at Ault between wealth and social class; Aspeth Montgomery's family are very wealthy but not nearly as wealthy as Conchita Maxwell's parents. It is the fact that the Montgomery's are "old money" and have been so for several generations that brings Aspeth a social status that Conchita, despite having a billionaire father, can never attain.
Lee notices subtle signs pointing to someone's social class one of which is a certain discretion about money - truly wealthy people never talk about how wealthy they are. The higher social standing a student has the less likely they are to demonstrate any emotions or to act in a way that might be viewed as unseemly.
Although at first it seems like the students from outside of the higher social class are marginalized, it soon becomes apparent that it is Lee who is far more preoccupied with class than they are, essentially marginalizing herself. Other students are not at all concerned about doing or saying the right thing because they instinctively know what the right thing is. Social class is also transcended by certain students who see how to fit in and make an effort to do so thus enabling themselves to go to the "right" colleges and make friends with the "right" people.
There is no direct racism at Ault and students of all nationalities and races are accepted there. However, there does not seen to be much interraction between different heritages; the Latino students make friends with each other, the white students make friends with each other, and for the most part they only mix at a surface level. Darden Pittard, a popular black student, is hugely liked and fits in seemlesslt but he tells Lee that this is the result of studying carefully what is needed and delivering it. Lee has the luxury of choosing not to fit in because she is white and Darden does not have that luxury. The issue of race is always under the surface in the novel but does run all the way through it.
Lee embarks on her journey of self discovery a month after arriving at Ault and we see her wondering if she is gay,questioning her sexuality and ultimately sacrificing her school experience for her infatuation with Cross Sugerman. The theme of sexual awakening is on every page of the novel as each microscopic action that Cross makes has enormous weight and importance to Lee.
Ault is a co-Ed boarding school but has not always been so. Although great pains are taken to create gender equality - such as adding a female Senior Prefect position - the underlying feeling is that without enforced measures there would not be equality - we are told when there was only one Senior Prefect position it was always a male student that won the election.
Despite an appearance of respect between the sexes, the female students are objectified behind their backs, the most degrading being the game of Fish Or Cheese played by the more popular male students which keeps a record of what each girl they sleep with smells and tastes like. As with all things at Ault the political correctness that is on the surface hides the traditional male bias gender politics that have thrived since the school was founded.
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