Greg Heffley is obsessed with fitting in and rising to the top of the social hierarchy of his middle school. However much his efforts to be “cool” tend to backfire, popularity is the goal that most shapes his behavior and decisions. While Greg thinks that popularity will earn him the respect and admiration of his peers (especially girls), Greg’s preoccupation with his social position undermines his relationships with his friends, parents, and wider peer group. This is particularly painful in its effects on his friendship with his best friend Rowley Jefferson, who constantly embarrasses Greg with his lack of concern about popularity, but who Greg comes to realize is essential to his life. Ultimately, Greg learns that measures of social status or popularity can’t substitute for true friendship.
As a result of his preoccupation with popularity and what others think of him, Greg is very easily embarrassed—by his family, his friends, and by himself. He has to constantly guard against doing anything that could be regarded as uncool because he is afraid that small transgressions could lead to a further dive in his already precarious social status. Greg is constantly embarrassed by Rowley’s behavior, comments, and even clothing, all of which suggest a lack of interest in popularity. For example, Rowley asks him to come over and “play,” although Greg informs him that the cool term is “hang out.” Rowley also wears a Superman costume to a high school haunted house, which Greg considers gauche. Greg’s younger brother Manny calls him “bubby,” and Greg is terrified that his classmates will find out about this embarrassing nickname. When Manny shouts “bubby” at the school play, he even goes so far as to quickly transfer the nickname to another boy, Archie Kelly, who is then bullied for it.
Greg spends most of the school year trying to raise his social status through various means: weightlifting, running for student government, drawing comics. He is enraged, then, when his supposedly uncool friend Rowley in fact becomes more popular than him. Rowley’s comic strip “Zoo-Wee-Ma,” which Greg thinks is dumb, instead becomes wildly popular with students and teachers—whereas Greg’s comic strip fails. When Rowley breaks his arm, girls sign his cast and offer to help him eat lunch; when Greg tries to garner sympathy by covering himself in bandages, girls don’t seem as enthused. Greg sets his heart on earning a superlative in the school yearbook, which he thinks will solidify his social status. But to add insult to injury, it is Rowley, not Greg, who is elected “Class Clown.”
Greg constantly discusses and evaluates the social status of other students at school in relation to himself, even to the extent of coming up with an elaborate ranking system to measure the popularity of every one of his 150 classmates. In his evaluation, he’s “somewhere around 52nd or 53rd most popular this year,” but he hopes to move up a spot because another student is getting braces. Such precision in social ranking is of course absurd, but demonstrates just how seriously Greg takes the small gradations in status between himself and his classmates. He also remarks that Rowley is conspicuously uncool and would probably be ranked at the bottom of the class, at 150. But despite his callous and mercenary assessment here, Greg shows that he in fact clearly cares deeply for Rowley when he takes a social risk to spare Rowley from embarrassment: Rowley eats “the Cheese” (a moldy bit of cheese left out on the basketball court that dooms anyone who eats it to contagion from “the Cheese Touch,” meaning that they will be socially ostracized), but Greg steps forward and claims that he touched the Cheese instead. To save Rowley, he for once puts friendship before his own obsession with social status.
At the end of the school year, Greg still hasn’t achieved his goal of rising to the top of the middle school social hierarchy. However, his conflict with Rowley comes to an end when Rowley eats “the Cheese” and Greg chooses to protect him, even at a cost to his own popularity. This would have doomed Rowley to social isolation had Greg told others, but Greg’s decision to keep this a secret, protecting his friend, offers some hope that Greg might ultimately come to prioritize enduring friendship over popularity.
Social Status and Friendship ThemeTracker
Social Status and Friendship Quotes in Diary of a Wimpy Kid
I try to explain all this popularity stuff to Rowley (who is probably hovering around the 150 mark, by the way), but I think it just goes in one ear and out the other with him.
I have told Rowley at least a billion times that now we’re in middle school, you’re supposed to say “hang out,” not “play.” But no matter how many noogies I give him, he always forgets the next time. I’ve been trying to be a lot more careful about my image since I got to middle school. But having Rowley around is definitely not helping.
I figure if I bulk up now, it could actually come in handy down the road. The football unit is coming in the spring, and they split the teams up into shirts and skins. And I ALWAYS get put on skins. I think they do that to make all the out-of-shape kids feel ashamed of themselves.
I did my singing tryouts with a bunch of other boys whose moms made them come, too. I tried to sing as quietly as possible, but of course I got singled out, anyway. I have no idea what a “soprano” is, but from the way some of the girls were giggling, I knew it wasn’t a good thing.
Well, if one good thing came out of the play, it's that I don't have to worry about the “Bubby” nickname anymore. I saw Archie Kelly getting hassled in the hallway after fifth period today, so it looks like I can finally start to breathe a little easier.
In school today they had a general assembly and showed the movie “It’s Great to Be Me,” which they show us every year. The movie is all about how you should be happy with who you are and not change anything about yourself. To be honest with you, I think that’s a really dumb message to be telling kids, especially the ones at my school.
I sat at the end of the lunch table so there would be plenty of room for me to start signing autographs for my new fans. But nobody was coming over to tell me how great my comic was, and I started to get the feeling something was wrong.
I can’t believe Rowley went and backstabbed me like that. While I was sitting there getting chewed out by Mr. Winsky, I was thinking, I need to remember to give my friend a lecture about loyalty.
Ever since the worm incident, Rowley has been hanging out with Collin Lee every day after school. What really stinks is that Collin is supposed to be MY backup friend. These guys are acting totally ridiculous. Today, Rowley and Collin were wearing these matching T-shirts, and it made me just about want to vomit.
So here’s what I’m thinking: this school year has been kind of a bust, but if I can get voted as a Class Favorite, I’ll go out on a high note…Last night I was lying in bed, and it hit me: I should go for Class Clown. It’s not like I’m known for being real funny at school or anything, but if I can pull off one big prank before voting, that could do it.
If the truth ever came out about how the Cheese disappeared, Rowley would be finished. He’d have to move out of the state, and maybe even the country. That’s when I decided to speak up. I told everyone that I knew what happened to the Cheese. I said I was sick of it being on the court, and I just decided to get rid of it once and for all…if I threw away the Cheese, guess what that meant? It meant that I have the Cheese Touch.
Well, if Rowley appreciated what I did for him last week, he hasn’t said it. But we’ve started hanging out after school again, so I guess that means me and him are back to normal. I can honestly say that so far, having the Cheese Touch hasn’t been all that bad.