Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Affluenza in the English Classroom

"Through tatter'd clothes small vices do appear;
Robes and furr'd gowns hide all. Plate sin with gold,
And the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks;
Arm it in rags, a pigmy's straw does pierce it."
Teachers of AP Lang & Comp certainly recognize this tidbit of wisdom from King Lear which appeared as an argumentative prompt years ago. The disparity between "wealth and justice" is a topic ripe for criticism, and it forms the heart of many literary works. It is significant in one of the great American novels, Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.  The essence of the theme and conflict is the misguided belief that money can buy anything, even the past. In the novel, Daisy basically gets away with murder because of her wealth, and Fitzgerald reminds us that the Buchanans and wealthy elite are "were careless people, Tom and Daisy--they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money of their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made."
These days, that gap between wealth and justice is getting attention again with the story of Ethan Couch, a teenager who killed four people in a drunk driving accident, yet was inexplicably released from jail time after his high priced attorneys successfully argued the "Affluenza Defense." If there is anyone who "smashed things up," it's Ethan Couch, who was driving drunk at nearly three times the legal limit when he slammed into a group of people who were stopped by the side f the road. After his high priced attorney successfully argued that he needed rehabilitation, rather than jail time, and that he couldn't be held responsible because his privilege had shielded him from any responsibility in life. In essence, Couch's parents spoiled him so terribly that he never learned consequences for his actions and shouldn't be held accountable.

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