Prep is a Story by Curtis Sittenfeld about High School Life
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“Prep” is a story by Curtis Sittenfeld that revolves around the main character, Lee Fiora. Ault is located in Massachusetts and has taught sons and daughters of the wealthiest families on the East Coast. In the story, Lee Fiora, who is also the narrator of “Prep”, recounts her experience at Ault school for the four years she is there. She tells the story of her teenage years in the form of memories when she is thirty years old. The story is a selection of experiences that, according to her, sum up all the knowledge she gained in Ault. Lee is from South Bend, Indiana. Leaving for Ault was not merely a matter of going to a different city and attending a new school, but it also meant experiencing a completely different world.
Paradoxes that Lee focuses on in the book include her trying hard to fit in while dealing with issues of social class. She concentrates on the conflict with her parents, the difference between them and other Ault parents, and on the conflict between her, her education, her teachers, and her classmates. Although Lee expects to experience a wonderful life at her new school, she ends up documenting major conflicts throughout her four-year course at Ault, which conveys the observations of a typical high school teenager.
The first conflict that Lee faces is her desire to fit in and navigate through social class. Lee is a character who has developed both interpersonal and intrapersonal conflict. For example, she is trying to integrate herself within a specific social class. This social class, however, creates a sense of exclusion. Given that Ault is historically a school for the wealthiest families, Lee often feels isolated, particularly in her beliefs. Besides the wealthy, there is another conflict that Lee faces concerning social class. She observes that all the people in the school, precisely because they come from wealthy families, exist on different social tiers. The families of Aspeth Montgomery and Conchita Maxwell are examples of affluent Ault families. Montgomery’s family is referred to as “Old Money,” implying that their wealth has been passed down through several family generations.
This changes their social status from Maxwell’s family. The parents of Maxwell are considered billionaires but not in the same social class. When dealing with issues of social class, Lee pretends not to have the urge to fit in, but deep inside, she wants to fit in. Lee is fond of judging other people. Conflict arises when she isn’t ready to be judged as she decides to judge other people. Lee also likes to care, but it is conflicting that the amount she cares is not enough. Although racism is not practiced, it seems to play a role in Lee’s urge to fit in. From Lee’s understanding, students only befriend peers from the same heritage. There is a black student named Darden Pittard who, according to Lee, can be friends with everyone. According to Darden’s advice to Lee, this is because he carefully studies other people.
This is one of the reasons Lee does not seem to have the urge to fit in – because she is white, which, according to her, is a ‘luxury’ that Darden lacks. Although she pretends that she does not want to fit in at this particular point, she simultaneously wishes to blend in, especially when she sees the other girls and their friends. Lee also loses the urge to fit in when she realizes that her social class and family background are different from those of other Ault families.
The second conflict that Lee faces arises between the other parents at Ault and Lee’s parents. Lee feels as if her family and the Ault families are from different worlds. The background of the parents also poses a conflict, as the school is known to consist of the creme de la creme in terms of social class, which is not the case with Lee’s background. Lee’s family is not as affluent as other students’ families at Ault. During her sophomore year, Lee anticipates a visit from her parents at Ault. She is uncertain if they will conform to the behavior of the other parents, and she feels this way because other parents are perceived to have a high social status. Her parents belong to a relatively lower social class, which incites conflict as she believes they may either embarrass her or support her. When Lee’s parents visit her at Ault, an argument ensues between her and her father about the issues she has with her parents. After their visit, her parents leave a day earlier because Lee insists that they should. They express to her that she does not fit in at school or at home. Furthermore, Lee encounters a conflict with her parents when they call her about an interview she participated in with a magazine, discussing how Ault was a dreadful experience for her due to conflicts with teachers and other students.
The last conflict Lee faces is her ongoing struggle with teachers, students, and education generally. To some extent, this could be attributed to the other conflicts she endures, which may further compound her difficulties with education and her peers. Lee’s issue with education arises when she discovers she is the only one who is consistently preoccupied with classwork, unlike her classmates. This realization triggers a sense of isolation from her peers, who don’t seem as dedicated to their studies. Lee also has a contentious relationship with both the teaching staff and the education system as a whole. Her enrollment witnesses an immediate hiccup when she is embarrassed in her Ancient History class for completing the wrong assignment and consequently leaves the session prematurely. Lastly, there tends to be a major conflict with other students due to the stark disparity in their respective social classes.
For example, while still a freshman, her roommate Dede Schwartz and her friend Aspeth Montgomery complained that they had lost money. Dede was blaming Lee, accusing her of stealing the money which Lee had not done. It was later proven that Lee was innocent, but she was still upset about being falsely accused. Lee also had an incident with a classmate, Conchita Maxwell, during her freshman year. While Lee was teaching Conchita how to ride a bike, Conchita accused Lee of stealing her best friend Martha, and took revenge on Lee by killing her in a game of assassin, knowing it meant a lot to her. Lee’s conflicts with feeling isolated, her parents, and her school experience can be compared to that of a typical high school student, according to Sittenfeld.
The author decided to depict the high school setting as a conflict because students can originate from diverse backgrounds. It is accurate that the conflict portrayed by the author is a reflection of the realities school students confront consistently in high school. A high school student may consider themselves an outsider when they realize they do not fit in with other students. They might feel embarrassed to tell others that they are attending school on a scholarship. This mostly happens when there are disparities in social class and wealth status. Students may also find it difficult to make friends in their high school environment.
Students can also deal with conflicts with their parents about certain situations in high school. Students might disagree with certain teachers, have trouble with their education, and may not like all of their classmates. Although teenagers think high school is glamorous, Sittenfeld portrays high school as what it can really be, through Lee and her story at Ault. The theme of conflict is instrumental in the development of the story, and it has created an impact on all the students in high school facing the same challenges.
In Prep, the author has made it clear that there are various conflicts that Lee faced. Although she did not expect to encounter these battles, some of the conflicts were between herself, her friends, and the parents of Ault, the students, teachers, and education. At thirty years old, Lee realizes that all the conflicts she had gone through and her other experiences have never disappeared from her mind. Sittenfeld uses the conflicts and struggles that Lee faced to demonstrate what a typical high school teenager would experience in high school.
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