Everyone is familiar with the tale of the secretly virtuous and beautiful girl who lived in some unique misery, until a handsome prince rescued her from all her troubles and took her to live happily ever after. As an adult, one can see that these stories are simply that, stories. But what about as a kid? What impressions do these fairy tales leave on a young audience regarding one’s ability to move upward in society from working class to the elite?
In Keywords for Children’s Literature the word class is defined as “an order or distribution of people according to their several Degrees,” (48). These Degrees can refer to either social position and status, or economic power and wealth. In most cases, especially in children’s literature, these two Degrees are strongly related. They work together to create one superior class and classes that fall below their dominancy. Children’s literature emphasizes that an individual can move to a higher class though “personal merit, virtue, and hard work,” (50). Take the story of Cinderella; this young, beautiful woman is forced to live with and serve for her evil step-family. She has no economic resources, and she her status in society is near the bottom. However, through her astonishing virtue she is able to make the prince fall in love and take her away from the gloom of her old life, moving her working- class to upper-class.
But what children’s literature leaves out, perhaps for it’s harsh reality, is that hard work and dedication does not always lead one to achieving her dreams. Society has created several attitudes and factors that keep the class system immobile. The term “glass ceiling” refers to the unofficially acknowledged barrier that keeps minorities from advancing professionally and socially. In the United States, there are a considerable amount of unearned privileges afforded only to those born with white skin. Being in the right family can guarantee a health, safety, education, and opportunities in the workforce. From limited representation in the media, to racial profiling by cops; IRS audits; and potential employers, people of minorities face institutionalized attitudes that impeded their social mobility.
Children’s literature is notorious for their stories of the underdog who surprises everybody and comes up on top. In many ways these stories are inspiring and shed light on hard work and self-sufficiency. But what they leave out is the fact that this idea of upward class mobility easier for some than others. Factors such as race, ethnicity, and religion that do not match those of the upper-class are deemed inadequate and are characterized as an inferior status. It takes a lot more for people who fall in these groups to overcome this institutionalized discrimination and work their way to a higher class.