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Private Citizens


By Zack Lynch

In the novel Private Citizens, Tony Tulathimutte illustrates the unconventional and
unforgiving life college students have to face after graduation. The narration of the story shifts
between four friends who all graduated from Stanford together and they each reveal what their
current lives consist of. Cory, Will, Linda, and Henrik each illustrate their current situations and
the struggle each go through in order to make ends meet, thus allowing for different perspectives
on life after college. While each of the them differ tremendously in all aspects, the sole similarity
is that life hasn’t turned out the way they thought it was going to be. A college degree used to be
a symbol that represented not only stable, but successful future in the world, but that just isn’t the
case anymore. The dominant impression expressed in this book is that millennials who graduate
from college aren’t guaranteed anything in their life due to the prevalence of highly experienced
individuals. Private Citizens can be viewed through a Marxist perspective because as we
approach a classless society where everyone is as qualified as each other, we are beginning to
challenge the ideals of capitalism that are deeply ingrained into our culture.

College graduates can’t find jobs anymore. Going to college has become the norm in
modern society. While it is still an impressive feat, it is still expected from a large amount of the
population. Throughout our history, a college degree more often than not guaranteed a high
paying job. So, our society has learned to tell children that college is synonymous with success in
life. This has led a growing number of high school graduates attending college after receiving
their diplomas. Each one is determined and confident that they will be able to reach whatever
goal they set out for because it is the message they constantly hear. But that’s just not how it is
anymore. A large number of these graduates will come to a rude awakening because after
spending years studying and preparing for their future after college, a large proportion of
millennial graduates are confronted with unemployment. Leah Mcgrath Goodwin reveals this in
her article as she states that 14.2% of 18-29 year-olds were unemployed at the beginning of
2015, which is very different from the national unemployment rate of 5.2% at that time
(Mcgrath). This proves that millennials will face an unfair life in the real world when compared
to older generations. This is occurring because there used to be tremendous class distinctions
between individuals in society, but now these distinctions are decreasing as more people are able
to pursue a college education. Our capitalist system that tells us that if we work as hard as we
possibly can that we will succeed and get that high-paying job we are striving for, but that just
isn’t true because everyone is trying to reach success and has gone through the same steps as
each other to reach that goal. We are approaching a society that will have more people and less
class distinctions, thus ensuring some people that they will not be able to get a job, despite their
experience.

Often when college graduates do find jobs, they are forced to settle for occupations that
they are overqualified for. Despite the challenges previously noted, the majority of graduates are
still going to be able to secure a job in the workforce. Unfortunately these occupations are highly
unlikely to be the high-paying job that students intended to obtain after college because there are
millions of other people who are determined to get that job. This has led to a workforce that is
filled with workers who, more often than not, deserve a better job. In Private Citizens, Linda
earned an English Literature degree from Stanford and despite getting her degree from one of the
most prestigious colleges in the world, she was unable to find work in her field after college. So,
she settled for a job babysitting her friend’s daughter during the day in order to just barely make
enough money to survive. Babysitting is usually known as the first job for kids to take in order to
start making some money on their own, but now it’s a job for engineers, doctors, and writers.
This circumstance is a recurring image seen throughout the US. It will continue to be like this
because as we approach the classless society that Marxism intends to create, high-paying jobs
will become extremely rare and the large majority will be forced to take jobs that all have around
the same salary. From a Marxist perspective this is great because we are creating a world where
competition will decrease and most will have an equal paying occupation. But this is extremely
different from the capitalist foundation our nation was created upon, and thus challenges the idea
the college graduates rightfully deserve a successful job because they worked hard for it.
Causing many graduates to often have to settle for jobs that are much below what they are
qualified for.

Even though more people are going to college, students are usually facing tremendous
debt after graduation. College is expensive, so it has always been common for student to take a
loan in order to graduate. This hasn’t been an issue in the past because students have usually
been able to find profitable jobs, thus allowing them to pay back their debt. But since it is now
much more difficult to find jobs with a high income, or even a job at all, in the workforce, many
students are finding it to be nearly impossible to pay back their debt. What adds to this increase
in debt is that colleges need to make money in order to pay their professors and constantly create
new buildings or other projects in order to make their school more appealing. In a Marxist
society this wouldn’t be an issue because all colleges would be the same, thus not creating
competition between them to be the best and expand their universities. Jillian Berman revealed
the magnitude of this problem as she stated that the US college loan debt was $1.2 trillion as of
2016 and that the class of 2015 graduated with an average student debt of $35,051 (Berman). So,
not only is it harder for students to earn money in the first place, but they can’t even spend that
money how they please because they owe it to the college they graduated from. This causes
many graduates to be unable live how they intended because they aren’t going able to buy the
nice, luxurious houses and sport cars that they envisioned, instead each day is going to be a
struggle to make ends meet, and whatever money is left over has to go towards paying back their
loans. This further reveals the issues capitalism has on our current society because while some
people will be extremely successful, it ensures that a large number of people will struggle in their
lives.

Furthermore, many school budgets are being cut to the point where students are unable to
pursue their passions as thoroughly as they would have liked. Capitalism promises americans
that we can become whatever we set out to be, and almost all of us believe it. Yet despite this,
the budget for public college education continues to decrease as our government decides to spend
that money elsewhere. This leaves students who are exceptionally driven in their fields to often
not be able to pursue their interests at the extent they wanted to. They could look to do it at
private institutions, but they are usually much too expensive for an average family to pay for. But
even private institutions have a budget and have to sometimes give up some classes and
opportunities for others. In the novel, Henrik initially worked in a research group for one of his
professors at Stanford after he graduated in order to gain even further knowledge. But
unfortunately, the professor was forced to let Henrik go because the funding he had received was
not enough to support Henrik’s research. This shows that even private schools are not always
capable of allowing the select few who are privileged enough to attend the full extent of their
desires. But the case is even worse for the majority of college students who are forced to attend
local state colleges or public universities that receive funding from the government. Thus causing
many students to not be able to reach their dream jobs because of lack of experience. Even if
funding for public education increased in the future, our capitalist society will forever ensure that
the majority of people will not be able to pursue their dreams.

In Private Citizens, Tony Tulathimutte illustrates the challenges that qualified college
graduates face in the real world. This issue will continue to grow as the US population increases
and the capitalist ideals continue to be spread. While not certain, the Marxist approach may be
the only solution to escaping the difficult life ahead of millennials, and future generations, who
graduate from college.


Works Cited

Berman, Jillian. “America’s Growing Student-loan-debt Crisis.” MarketWatch. N.p., 19 Jan.
2016. Web. 02 Apr. 2017.
Goodman, Leah McGrath. “Millennial College Graduates: Young, Educated, Jobless.”
Newsweek. N.p., 31 Mar. 2016. Web. 01 Apr. 2017.
Tulathimutte, Tony. Private Citizens. London: Oneworld, 2016. Print.

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