Sherry B. Ortner in this book seeks to explore the hidden dynamic affecting the American culture by examining the lives of her high school peers, the Weequahic High School Class of 1958. She reviews the classmates’ experiences of their neighborhood and high school. She then chronicles their lives as a significant number of them move upwards socially and economically from their middles class origins to the wealthy upper middle class.
In the first chapter, she begins by explaining how the class shifted from their 1950’s origins to having over 60% joining the America’s wealthy “white overclass.” Considering that her previous work had been limited to Nepal, she highlights the reasons that drew her to examine her culture; anthropology is a two-way street and must also focus not only on other cultures but also on the dominant white culture in America. This approach has been prevalent in the field of anthropology with a marked shift from the cultures regarded as “primitive” “exotic” “modern” and “oriental” to the examination of the western and modern cultures. As such, Ortner focuses on the class of 1958 and the reasons that could have led to their eventual states.
In the next chapters of reading class, drawing boundaries and dealing with boundaries she first examines the neighborhood and the people who occupied the area at the time. For example in reading class, she outlines the cleanliness and general security of the neighborhood and the impact of the different social distinctions of the class of 1958. In drawing boundaries, Ortner examines the fact that the majority of the 1958 class, 83% was Jewish and its possible impact on the book. She insists that the book is about the class distinctions as opposed to about a particular race or ethnicity. This is especially relevant considering the significance often associated with different races and their socio-economic standing in America. In dealing with boundaries, Ortner continues with her examination of the Jewish ethnicity and the possible impact of such a percentage of the class being Jewish on their eventual emergence. The advantages of being a part of the Jewish ethnicity included relatively more wealth, and being a majority that offered then a greater chance at mobility.
Ortner, Sherry B. New Jersey Dreaming: Capital, Culture, and the Class of ‘58. New York: Duke University Press, 2003. Print.