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Written by Callie Labrador
The British Class System
The class system is mentioned on almost every page of the novel, obviously or as an intimated explanation for something that Gordon feels resentful towards. From the start of the book, class is referenced and given as a reason for his despising himself and others of his class. Although Gordon believes it is money that makes people judgmental of others it is actually class, but he equates having money with being a member of the upper classes, probably because he was educated at a private school where all of his classmates came from wealthier families than he did. This made him feel cast out and isolated. Similarly, he despises his upbringing because it was characteristically middle class; he felt that he should have come from an upper class family because it was his role in life to be paid for and funded whilst pursuing his academic goals and writing for a living. He sees advertising copywriting as the poor lower class cousin of academic writing and, more specifically, poetry.
The title, and the reference to the aspidistra, is a direct reference to the class system in Britain. In the 1930, and later on into the early part of the Twentieth Century, aspidistras were extremely popular indoor plants among lower middle class families. They would generally be grown in ceramic pots and placed near a window where they could be seen from the street. This was a symbol that the family had reached a certain level of financial stability and achievement, and the fact that Gordon suggests purchasing an aspidistra at the end of the book shows that he has given in and become another member of the middle classes with a suburban house and a regular job, something which he despises.
Gordon is poor on purpose. He has skills and is a good advertising copywriter. Before he walks away from his job he actually receives a promotion. He has no money because he chooses not to work. Yes, he is poor, but he is not a victim of poverty, because it is self-imposed. However, the author shows poverty as something that can affect the way in which a person feels about themselves beyond being unable to afford things. Poverty is an isolating experience. Gordon is unable to afford to go out with the friends he has left. He becomes socially isolated which makes him resentful, even more ornery and therefore even less likely to be invited to socialize because he is just not very nice to be around. It is also isolating in that even when he does try to take his girlfriend to the country for a pleasant day out, he is unable to afford anything but the worst pub that they find. He cannot pay the bill at the more expensive restaurant and therefore receives verbal abuse from the waiter and has the ignominy of asking his girlfriend to pay. This is also isolating because although Gordon does not acknowledge it, it makes him different from everyone else, and aware of the difference. Eventually there is nobody around him that he can relate to.
Gordon believes that people are obsessed with money to an unhealthy agree, and worship it. He also believes that one is judged on whether or not one has money. Although this is true to a degree, money is not nearly as important as perceived class when being judged in British society. However, money is a theme of the novel because it has become the theme of Gordon's life. The more he obsesses about people's attitude to money the less of it he seems to have. His life becomes an example of the Law of Attraction in reverse. He is scathing of money and seems to view it as something abhorrent, therefore he does not attract any. Money rules Gordon far more now that he is boycotting it than it ever did when he had a cash flow just like everyone else.
Propriety and Social Acceptance
It was not acceptable for young women to be pregnant outside of marriage, and even less acceptable in the middle classes. Rosemary's pregnancy illustrates this theme of social acceptance. Her family, who love her, are nonetheless ashamed of her pregnancy and would rather that she marry Gordon, who has no visible prospects, than have a baby on her own. Propriety is definitely more important than their daughter's happiness to the Waterlows, and this is one of the themes of both the novel, and of life for women in the 1930s in England.
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