The Pursuit of Happiness (summary Essay)

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The Pursuit of Happiness explains the life struggle of a single father named Chris Gardner. His wife had left him due to financial issues and him and his son were constantly fighting an uphill battle as they were kicked out of multiple apartments with no place to go. Chris eventually lands an internship at Dean Witter, a prestigious brokerage firm, but this position pays no money. Gardner continues to sell bone density scanners while taking on the unpaid internship, with slim chances for advancement to a paid position. He leaves the internship early each day in order to receive a position in a shelter, meaning he must work double what all of the other interns work in order to keep up. Chris works harder than any of the interns and despite all of his disadvantages he manages to receive the paid position at Dean Witter’s firm. He goes on to make millions and even started his own company. 

This movie demonstrates many different aspects we have studied such as race, social class, marriage, jobs, and relationship trends. The movie begins with Chris and his wife, Linda and they are having financial issues and struggling with a process we know as the “Second Shift”, an article written by Arlie Hochschild . They are both trying to develop the right emotional balance between child, spouse, home finances and their outside jobs. Chris is determined to sell his scanners and Linda is working long shifts in order to pay for their home and child care, but along the way they forget to focus on the emotional balance between spouses resulting in them separating. This supports Kathryn Edin’s theory that low-income women don’t believe being married substantially improves their lives, Linda believes staying married to Chris was only causing negative effects and more stress in her life. It also reinforces the statistical results that African Americans are more likely than whites and Hispanics to have children that live in a single-parent home. Chris also falls under the category of the working and poor class, he is poorly educated despite his natural intelligence, and works a full-time job of attempting to sell the bone density scanners while being on the verge of poverty. He had chronic difficulty in making money to support his and his son’s basic needs while depending on public benefits, such as shelters, in order to survive. This demonstrates aspects of the conflict theory, Chris is constantly trying to provide for his son, meaning he even left his internship early in order to pick up Christopher and receive a spot in the shelter every night. Chris and his son also transition from relative poverty to absolute poverty throughout the movie, as they lose their home, and Chris no longer has any bone scanners to sell and is relying primarily on his internship. 

In the beginning of the movie they are in relative poverty, Chris and his family have a much lower living standard than most families, they still have food, water, shelter, and basic necessities, but they are struggling to maintain them. After Chris’ wife leaves Chris and his son, they transition into absolute poverty as they cannot meet the minimal standards for food, shelter, clothing, or health care. At the bottom of the scale Chris experiences difficulties in the job market and endures periods of unemployment once his last scanner is sold. The job of selling scanners doesn’t make a good use of his skills, he is intelligent and determined but is forced to try to sell scanners to make a minimum living. However, the movie also shows an aspect of the upper-middle class compared to Chris during his encounter with Walter Ribbon, who is a member of the upper class. The movie shows a clear comparison through the use of the baseball game that Chris and his son were going to watch from “higher up seats” versus Walter who had his own private box. The difference was also made clear through Walter’s car and mansion and how he owned a dog, demonstrating a picture perfect family. Walter got support from investors but depended primarily on his salary, and showed basic characteristics of an upper-middle class citizen. Another aspect we studied demonstrated in the film is the concept of social mobility. Chris and his son were able experience social mobility because they lived in an open system society. Chris is given an ample opportunity to move from one class to another based on how he performs in his internship position. He is presented with the opportunity to move from below the poverty line to the working class as a stock broker and eventually make millions. Chris quit his job in order to sell the bone density scanners but he began to lose money because they didn’t sell as effectively as planned, demonstrating vertical social mobility as he moves from the working poor class, to absolute poverty. As Chris receives the internship at Dean Witter he experiences horizontal mobility, he stays in the same social group but he spends more time working, and changed occupation despite the fact he isn’t receiving any annual income. 

This movie also demonstrated the sociological theory called the Weberian Theory. This was shown through Weber’s belief that an important element in social class has to do with prestige, the social honor granted to people because of their membership in a certain group. This is demonstrated through Chris’ relationship with Walter Ribbon. He is given the opportunity to meet other people in the upper class in order to promote Dean Witter’s retirement plan and get ahead of the other interns. Due to the fact Chris had met Walter Ribbon he had a variety of doors open up for him and that interconnected with Weber’s theory of wealth, power, and prestige being interrelated. Chris challenges the theory of symbolic interactionism. When Chris attended his meeting with Jay Twistle he was covered in paint and barely wearing a shirt and he didn’t have much going for him. He had no education after high school and no steady job with annual income. The council viewed Chris as an inferior individual at first glance, but Chris challenged the belief that we stick to our split-second judgements on appearance. Chris fought for his spot and proved he wasn’t going to stick to the status quo, he knows how to get a job done efficiently and is hard working and will do anything to provide for himself and his son. Overall the film accurately explains the concepts of socioeconomics and the different concepts of social class based on race and income. 

This movie focuses on the substantive area of social class and the structure of social inequality. It demonstrates the aspects of social mobility, poverty, the lower class along with the upper class, prestige, and the different sociological theories. The film conveys an accurate depiction of an open system by allowing people in poverty such as Chris to be capable of moving from one social class to another. The film also demonstrated the difficulty of social mobility and how easy it is for someone to move down a social class, for example relative to absolute poverty, versus how difficult it is for someone to move up a social class. In the film there is an accurate depiction of what it is like to be in the working poor class and the underclass and how they face everyday challenges of providing basic necessities and often need public assistance to help support them along the way. When in correlation to the theories of social class the movie accurately depicted the conflict theory by showing the challenges of someone’s social standing. However the movie countered the Symbolic Interactionism theory by having Chris challenge the “first glance judgement” and fight for his spot in the internship. 

Another aspect of social class the film focused on was family based off of a socioeconomic status. This was demonstrated in the film accurately through Chris and Linda’s relationships challenges with finances to the point where it wasn’t worth it to Linda and she abandoned her family leaving Chris as a single father. Although this is a stereotype for African Americans it is statistically proven that they are more likely to be single parents, as demonstrated in the film. 

The film A Pursuit of Happiness, showed insight into social inequalities and struggles of social class and helped to tie all of these concepts together in a real life scenario. 

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The Pursuit Of Happiness (summary Essay). (2021, Jun 27). Retrieved July 25, 2024 , from

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