Suburbs and class in Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere

Indiana Humanities began an initiative, called INseparable, which asks us how we contend with boundaries like class, race, and urban and rural spaces. After teaching Celeste Ng’s amazing novel, Little Fires Everywhere, and Season 3 of the podcast, Serial, I am inspired to think of the in-between space of the suburb.

In my research, I’m often preoccupied with liminal spaces and who occupies them. Together, Serial and Ng’s novel provides the perfect examples of the divergent issues that can occur in those spaces. Not to mention that the consequences of the history of Shaker Heights in Ng’s novel are fascinating, as are the dramatic differences between Shaker Heights and the very nearby suburb of East Cleveland that takes up a lot of the interest of the creators of Serial. In some ways, the suburbs are the ultimate liminal spaces. At the same time, however, many center suburbs in our thinking of “real” America.

Here’s a quote from Robert Beauregard that solidifies this idea of the suburb as the embodiment of the US:

"Suburban life anchored a standard of living commensurate with the nation's status as the leader of the ‘free world’ and established the country’s economy and form as the best hope for affluence, democracy, and world peace. Life in the suburbs was a mark of American exceptionalism and a model to which all nations could aspire."

When we think of popular depictions of suburbs in literature, the ones that often come to mind are predominantly white and middle class:

  • John Cheever – Bullet Park
  • Richard Yates – Revolutionary Road
  • Alice Sebold – The Lovely Bones
  • Jeffrey Eugenides – The Virgin Suicides
  • Rick Moody – The Ice Storm
  • Judith Guest – Ordinary People

In fact, other than the above examples of Serial and Little Fires Everywhere, the one example that came to mind of a non-white family at the suburban novel’s center is Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake (2003), and it’s fair to say that even with this immigrant family, we are looking at people with fairly privileged backgrounds. With Ng and Serial, we have some versions of the above, but also other stories and experienced highlighted from the margins.

The link to the post on Little Fires Everywhere and suburbs is here: https://indianahumanities.org/inseparable-suburbia

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng and Serial logo, season three

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