Tobias Wolff’s short story “The Poor Are Always with Us” portrays one man’s discovery of the road he will choose to follow in life. Set in California during the 1970’s on Easter weekend, Russell is an affluent computer genius who finds himself completely remote from society and unhappy. After meeting Dave and Groves at his mechanic’s garage, Russell faces many tribulations, particularly when trying to deal with Dave’s pugnacious demeanor. Through self-discovery, Russell finally comes to the conclusion that there will always be winners and losers in life. The saying, “It just wasn’t in the cards for him…” may depict Wolff’s resulting indeterminate view on life and how the universe functions. Russell realizes that through reverse social Darwinism, he too, can find his meaning of happiness.
After trying desperately to fit into society, a portrait of a sad, completely alone Russell is painted. In Russell’s case, “fitting into society” means having friends. His lack of friends causes him to have conversations with himself, lie about his age, and gamble his car in a pointless bet. Russell’s quiet desperation is showcased when he takes a hit of marijuana and jauntily states, “Gracias. That’s righteous weed.” (Wolff 67).
Revealing how easily he falls into peer pressure, Russell acts like a high- school dropout just so that he can impress two strangers. Also, his use of the expression “righteous” is an example of one of his many attempts to be upbeat and “cool.” A strong representative of one of the “weakest” in society, Russell’s struggles seem to portray that money elevates positively one’s favorable status in society.
In Brave New World, by Arduous Huxley, a new and controversial society is presented to its audience. A world of artificial intelligence where humans are cultivated in test tubes and social class is predetermined by the chemical mix they receive in vito leads John Savage into corruption. He is torn between a world in which people's fates were placed upon themselves and a world in which Alphas and ...
The phenomenon of a community’s protection towards those who are socially incompetent, or reverse social Darwinism, allows Russell to come out on top in society. In our contemporary time, the “fittest” in society is defined not by those who are gregarious, clever, attractive and athletic, but rather by those who have money.
Considered to be two of the most powerful men in the history of our world, Bill Gates and John D. Rockefeller portray this type of social system clearly. In a conversation the story’s social outcast frequently has to himself, Russell answers his “roommate” by disclosing to him that he made “more money that you [he] needed, almost twice as much as your [his] own father made after thirty years of teaching high school math” (Wolff 70).
Despite his many character flaws and personal insecurities, Russell is twice as successful as his hardworking father. Living society’s “good life,” Russell’s Porsche and nice apartment put him in the highest level of a society where even opportunists like Groves will come to envy him. As Russell evolves from a complete “loser” to a “cool” partygoer, he soon learns to distinguish between what matters in life and what doesn’t.
Through much self-inflicted pain and contemplative introspection, Russell’s conflicts with Dave culminate in the final understanding of his meaning of “happiness”. In Russell’s situation, “happiness” is defined by coming to terms with inflictions from the past and learning how to love yourself for who you are, despite what society has to say. Almost on the brink of insanity, Russell’s deficit of this “happiness” leads him to a paranoia that causes him to “rehearse again and again the proof of his own decency” (Wolff 76).
During the story’s most profound moment, “Russell’s heart went out to the man. At that moment he would have given Dave everything he had- his money, his car, his job, everything…but…Dave couldn’t be helped”(Wolff 77).
The question as to whether happiness is defined by money is often times brought up. Many people would argue that money does not create happiness, and rather make the argument that happiness is created through what you make out of your life. On the other hand, one could argue that happiness is related to monetary gains, and that the more money you have the happier you are. There are probably a ...
Willing to throw away his façade of upward mobility and meaningless a possession, Russell proves his discernment that money or the things that he buys with money is not what constitutes “happiness”. Allowing him to justify inauspicious parts of his life, Russell’s ensuing fatalistic belief that all occurrences are predetermined and based solely on fate is another step towards his progressive “happiness.” Although the virtuoso may never reach his “happiness”, Russell’s biggest achievement comes in the verifiable truth that he knows which pathway he wants to walk down in the journey of life.
Russell realizes that through reverse social Darwinism, he too, can find his meaning of happiness. To conclude, Russell must face many adversities in order to discover that the end of his El Camino will be one that was all the worthwhile. Initially starting off with no friends, Russell develops a hopeless view on life and very low level of self-esteem for himself. Progressively, the former underdog becomes the winner of a more momentous battle, life. In one way or another, we can all relate to Russell in the fact that we all must overcome our weaknesses and vulnerabilities in order to expose the good aspects of our lives. Finally,