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Class in America

Issue #45, Fall 2010

Walt Whitman, the great poet of democracy, wrote that "other lands have their vitality in a few, a class, but we have it in the bulk of our people." The reality is that America is not a classless society, nor is it a meritocracy. To acknowledge that we do have fixed classes (especially to a Tea Partier), with marked signifiers and mores, is considered downright un-American. Yet this friction between the ideal and the reality is the great stuff of art. Charles Baxter enters the kingdom of the super-rich in his story "The Winner." One can argue that society can be further divided into two classes: those who go to war and those who don't. In Benjamin Percy's "The Locksmith," an Iraqi war veteran's return home is fraught. Legendary editor Gerald Howard pays homage to Raymond Carver and Ken Kesey, and poet Major Jackson injects another taboo—race—into the conversation, with four stunning new poems. And looking to the future, one of our country's most astute observers of American society, Lewis Hyde, delineates the digital divide that will mark new class barriers.

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Benjamin Percy

THE LOCKSMITH • He was lucky, they told him. He wasn't dead.

Charles Baxter

THE WINNER • He has more than enough love for both of us, and the children. And the previous wife and the previous children.

Gustave Flaubert

EXCERPT FROM MADAME BOVARY, TRANSLATED BY LYDIA DAVIS • Her trip to La Vaubyessard had made a hole in her life, like those great chasms that a storm, in a single night, will sometimes open in the mountains.

Dan DeWeese

LEVIATHAN • It was really just a nice April evening when everything ended for me.

Sarah Gambito


Major Jackson


Charles Harper Webb


Erika Meitner


Ed Skoog


Rose Bunch

SUSTAINABILITY • I pull in four hundred a week as a full time Executive Assistant at Tyson Foods--a job my boss says I got because I was the best-looking applicant.

Danniel Schoonebeek


Luc Sante

The translator, essayist, and critic sits down with Tin House's Paris editor, Heather Hartley, to discuss, with his characteristic clear-sightedness, Tea Party theatrics, the multifariousness of the middle class, and the enigma of education and elitism.

Lewis Hyde

THE ENCLOSURE OF CULTURE • The author essays the problems of Art, profit, and growing the cultural commons under America's draconian copyright laws.

Antonya Nelson

FRIVOLOUS AND NECESSARY • The American novelist and short story writer tackles Flaubert's voyages through the land of fantasy.

Gerald Howard

NEVER GIVE AN INCH • In the future, will literary heroes still hail from the working class? Look to history for the answer.

Elissa Schappell

THE FORMER QUEEN OF PINK AND GREEN • A former inmate of Lacoste-and-Lilly-Pulitzer prison casts a critical eye on all things Preppy.

Albert Mobilio

IMPERFECT UNION • A father's brush with Hoffa and his life as a Teamster haunt his son's life in academia.

A. N. Devers

ON THE OUTSKIRTS • In her search for her own sense of home, one woman lingers and loiters about the many houses of Edgar Allan Poe.

Katie Arnold-Ratliff

ON ALLISON ROSE'S Better Than Sane AND GLORIA VANDERBILT'S A Mother's Story • Working through the lives of women of leisure.

Hugh Ryan

ON RICHARD HALLIBURTON'S The Glorious Adventure This peripatetic travel writer of the twenties aimed for high literary success and failed, but later inspired the likes of Susan Sontag.

Susan Scarf Merrell

ON SHIRLEY JACKSON'S The Sundial A delicious lampoon of smug entitlement and apocalyptic mythmaking.

John Thompson

ON NELSON ALGREN'S Who Lost an American? One man's unwavering faith in literature as society's moral polestar.

Michael Joseph Gross

ON H. G. WELLS'S Tono-Bungay This romance of commerce has oodles of fun poking holes in the world of advertising, and was written long before it was hip to do so.

Geoff Niicholson

PEASANTS • Names can be misleading; turns out a

Amy McDaniel

PORTRAIT OF A CHEESEMONGRESS • Is that smell the sweat-yummy stink of ripe Gruyere? Or the mephitic reek of gentrification?