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A Tale of Two Classes

Updated on October 18, 2013

Between the wealthy and the poor

"Any city, however small, is in fact divided into two, one the city of the poor,
the other of the rich; these are at war with one another."
Plato

In Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, there are two cities that Marco Polo travels to that depict the disparity between the wealthy and the poor. Moriana is a city with two sides, one for the poor and one for the wealthy and Zobeide is a city where the poor search for a dream that is never fully realized.

The same token

Moriana is a city with two distinct and separate sides that never interact. Moriana is described as "a sheet of paper, with a figure on either side, which can neither be separated nor look at each other."

The figures, I believe are the poor and the rich. The fact that both sides can't be separated implies that you can't have one without the other. What an interesting concept, I thought. A concept, which means to me, the poor can't be considered poor if the rich weren't so exorbitantly wealthy. By the same token the rich couldn't be considered excessively wealthy if there weren't very poor people. Also, the rich have made their wealth on the backs of the poor and the poor cannot advance due to the wealthy's need to keep the poor working for low wages.

In Moriana, the fact that both sides also can't look at each other means to me that each side never comes in contact with the other. That might be because each side doesnt' want to be reminded of the other's existence. I imagine the poor wouldn't want to see what they don't have and the wealthy wouldn't want to see where they could wind up if they lost all their money somehow. It could also be that people feel more comfortable dealing with people who are of the same social class. Whatever the reason, it doesn't help anyone when people of different classes don't interact.

A lot less polished

Another city described in Invisible Cities is Zobeide, a city where immigrants moved after having dreams of an unattainable woman. This woman, I believe, is a metaphor for wealth. Sadly their dreams of attaining this wealth are never fulfilled once in Zobeide.

These two cities reminded me of New York City, which has an upper class and a lower class that never interact such as in Moriana. Just like in Zobeide, immigrants who moved to New York City, as well as native New Yorkers, are in search of a dream that may never come true.

Some areas of Manhattan, where some of the wealthiest people in the country live, is relative to Moriana, a city "with alabaster gates transparent in the sunlight, its coral columns supporting pediments encrusted with serpentine..." Now, while these things don't really exist in New York City, the upper class does enjoys a lifestyle relative to this side of Moriana. The wealthy in Manhattan live in large, decadent apartments worth millions of dollars in high rises with respectful, helpful doormen in clean, safe, quiet neighborhoods.

On the other hand, the other side of Moriana is described as "an expanse of rusting sheet metal, sackcloths, planks bristling with spikes, pipes black with soot, piles of tins... and ropes good for hanging oneself from a rotten beam." Apparently in this city, the poor people lived in the more industrious area. That's probably because that's where the poor worked. While the poorer neighborhoods located in the outer boroughs of New York City aren't exactly industrial, they are a lot less polished than the wealthy areas of Manhattan.

Just to make ends meet

When the people of Zobeide dream of living in one of these polished places, it's just that--a dream. To the inhabitants of Zobeide, "the city's streets were streets where they went to work every day, with no link any more to the dreamed chase. Which for that matter, had long been forgotten."

Just like in New York City, non-wealthy people work hard everyday, but get no closer to living the American dream. They work in low level jobs that pay the minimum wage with no hope of working their way up. Unfortunately in New York City, like most cities in the United States, once people are born into poverty it's very hard for them to pull themselves out. That's why people forget about the dream, like in Zobeide, and keep their head down and work just to make ends meet.

While it may be understandable that this dream crushing may have occurred centuries ago in a city like Zobeide, the fact that this is still occurring today in the United States is not only incomprehensible, but also reprehensible. Considering our Constitution states we are all entitled to the pursuit of happiness, it is unfair and unjust that this pursuit is becoming so difficult and discouraging for so many. "Our inequality materializes our upper class, vulgarizes our middle class, brutalizes our lower class." Matthew Arnold

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