Incentive & Social Mobility

Social mobility provides a chance for all people to improve their life, subsequently making it to upper social classes. Individuals within the lower classes have greater challenges in making it up the ladder in all societies, particularly in societies with strict adherence to these classes. Vertical or upward social mobility within America, as illustrated by the term “American dream”, is a great desire especially for the lower classes; and for many of them it is just that, a dream (Schnell 3). The movie, 2006: In pursuit of Happiness (Muccino 2006), illustrates the real life struggle of Chris Gardener, a role played by actor Will Smith, and how he finally makes it up the social ladder with his situation being the incentive for his determination. The wide gap between the classes is outlined in the movie which emphasizes the ability of a determined individual to actualize social mobility in spite of prevailing social challenges.

Social classes refer to large groups of people ranked closely within the same social level in relation to their wealth and financial status, occupational prestige and power.  In spite of the unified structure that is portrayed by the American society, it is highly stratified along social lines that define various classes within the country. Social class in the United States! No way. Many still think that classes like these only existed in the past, and in some countries such as India with caste systems. With the capitalistic nature of our country, laws that give equal opportunity and social standing to all its citizens, and a culture that highly esteems personal achievement autonomy, it is no surprise that most people view all its members as equal.


Regarded by many as generally a “middle class society”, there exist great disparities in among the classes with a great tendency for individuals to socially interact with other of the same class and similar social standing (Strauss and Gusfield 198). Upper classes are control much of the wealth and thus wield more power in comparison to the lower classes. In spite of social differences existing between the classes, individuals have the ability of making it through “taking advantage of every opportunity that comes their way” (Muccino 2006).

Opportunities for social mobility are highly connected to money, occupational prestige and education. The 2006 movie, In pursuit of Happiness, directed by renowned Hollywood director, Gabrielle Muccino, depicts the true life story of Chris Gardener, played by actor will smith and the social challenges he has to face in achieving “the American dream” (Schnell 4). Chris comes from a poor background with no family connections that could provide some opportunities for personal developments along the social ladder. Finding work provides some income but with the pedigree of education he has and the lack of prestigious academic attributes, he like many of his class, is confined to a lowly paying Job; one with limited prestige. He has to change his less prestigious occupation as a research laboratory assistant and take up the internship offered by Dean Witter stock brokerage firm. Occupational change does indeed offer him a chance in advancing in life, but the essence of the new position is the having the prestige of meeting with successful people in the upper social classes.

Coming into contact with such wealthy individuals presents Chris with opportunities unavailable to other homeless people at the Shelter (Strauss and Gusfield 219). Social gaps between these classes at the extreme ends are visible with the lack on any interaction between them and the perceptions that upper societies associate with them that serve to keep Chris quiet about his dire situation as a homeless single parent. His really tough situation becomes his incentive and motivation for striving to make it up the socio-economic ladder at all cost and live a better life as he sees his colleagues at work and bosses.  Improving the quality of life available for his son Christopher, a role played by Jaden Smith, and himself requires money which he does not have at the time but desperately makes all attempts at gaining such. Money may not always be the key to happiness but it does make great changes in the lives of people, and would have significantly changed Chris homeless situation (Kessel 2011). On the other hand it is what makes the upper classes influential within the American society.

Attaining good education requires money; the one thing that most of the marginalized black communities of the 1970s did not have. Money is the one need that could have made the situation different for these communities, elevating their standards of living and their social standing (Kessel 2011). In comparing his situation to an individual coming from the upper wealthy class or upper middle class, the story would be different. Having the ability to access high quality education offered by prestigious universities, enables the upper class member’s better opportunities to advance socially and economically. In spite of his lower social background, Chris evidently knows the incredible benefit of being in a meritocratic environment (McNamee and Miller 101). During the stockbrokerage internship period, he perseveres keeping in mind that the fact that success will be earned on merit rather than any other factor; giving an equal chance for all the 19 candidates pursuing the same position. Social mobility is in this case depicted as independent of the individual background but attached to individual display of their value addition to the company. This provides motivation to Chris, who works harder with determination keeping in mind that this one opportunity to change his life and that of the people he cares for (Muccino 2006).

The lower classes in the America society painted by the movie include the working poor and the underclass. The struggling Gardener family, with both working parents having little to go by after paying the bills, and other essential expenses, such as food and clothing illustrate the social and economic conditions of the working poor class. In spite of having some source of income, Chris does not remain with enough money to meet all the demands of family (Muccino 2006).  The underclass is clearly exemplified by the needy situation of the homeless individuals. This class holds the poor of the poorest in the society who not only lack a home to call their own but also food and clothing. Individuals of this class, where Chris finds himself after a series of ill fated and unfortunate events, find themselves with reduced opportunity to make it up the social ladder (Strauss and Gusfield 220). Chris sees the difference in the quality of life presented to these two classes; further igniting the desire to associate with the upper class, ensuring all efforts are geared towards attaining this goal.

Personal motivation and determination give Chris the impetus for social mobility. Incentive for social development is provided by the desire for the good life he sees his upper class clients live, at the same time the need to move away from the rather harsh conditions of his underclass situation (McNamee and Miller 102). Chris’s interaction well to do individuals presents the striking difference between the classes; portraying a large social gap. At the end we see a successful Chris Gardener with the epilogue of the movie detailing his later achievement in establishing his own brokerage firm (Muccino 2006). Social mobility can in essence be achieved by the incentive of a better life as illustrated by the 2006 movie, In Pursuit of Happiness (Muccino 2006).

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