After finishing Steve Yarbrough’s The Oxygen Man, I started thinking about the sense of entitlement. We had discussed this in my book club a couple weeks ago when we were talking about The Great Gatsby.
In Gatsby, Tom and Daisy exhibit their sense of entitlement throughout the book. When we first meet them they are lazing about doing little. Their daughter is an ornament for them and little else. They see all the environment of their lives as their right and due and for them to use. At the end, when Nick accuses Tom of pointing Wilson to Gatsby as cause of the car accident, Tom asked what else could he do? He had no remorse over the consequences of that action.
In The Oxygen Man, the main character Ned Rose works as Mack Bell’s right hand man at a catfish farm in Mississippi. They have known each other since high school. Ned’s family is the picture of poor white trash. Mack’s family is one of the rich farm owners of the area.
At first Mack’s sense of entitlement is not obvious. But as the book continues and goes between the current time (1996) and the high school period (1972) it starts to show. Because of their circumstances, Ned allowed Mack to have that entitlement without being aware he did so. Ned’s anger explodes in high school with consequences that will affect the rest of his life. This gives Mack yet another hold on Ned. And again, Ned allows and even helps facilitate that sense.
How much of it was because of their families and how they were raised? Everyone knew what type of parents Ned and his sister had. While Mack’s parents were financially strapped due to droughts and flooding, they were still rich landowners and respected because of it. Then Mack inherited the farm rather than working for it – another prop to enforce his sense of entitlement.
Since I’ve never moved in the type of social levels that encourage that sense of entitlement, it’s troubling for me to see it. I know it happens, but it certainly isn’t right. We can and should appreciate our finances and lifestyle – but not at the cost of others. Both these novels highlight that fact.