Malcolm Gladwell

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Privilege, Heritage, and Cultural Background Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Success and Failure Theme Icon
Talent, Opportunity, Work, and Luck Theme Icon
Timing and Historical Context Theme Icon
Privilege, Heritage, and Cultural Background Theme Icon
Solutions and Implications for the Future Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Outliers, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Privilege, Heritage, and Cultural Background Theme Icon

One of the most complex and subtle thematic elements of Gladwell’s argument concerns the idea of privilege, and the crucial role that cultural heritage plays in determining success. Cultural heritage can be an advantage or a disadvantage, and sometimes it can be both at once. For example, the rise of Jewish-run law-firms in New York City in the early 20th century had much to do with the fact that Jews were discriminated against, and forced to form their own (often litigation-oriented) firms. This ended up giving Jewish firms a major advantage when corporate takeovers became common practice later in the 20th century. The tremendous success of many of New York’s most legendary lawyers stemmed from the disadvantage that religious discrimination had formerly imposed on them: a disadvantage became a huge advantage over time. Gladwell expands on this point throughout the book, examining ways that our cultural heritage can influence our attitudes towards race, religion, honor, work (and what constitutes “meaningful” work), money, and entitlement. Cultural forces even generations removed can determine success as much as timing, talent, hard work, and luck.

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Privilege, Heritage, and Cultural Background Quotes in Outliers

Below you will find the important quotes in Outliers related to the theme of Privilege, Heritage, and Cultural Background.
Intro Quotes

They had to look beyond the individual. They had to understand the culture he or she was a part of, who their friends and families were, and what town their families came from.

Related Characters: Stewart Wolf
Page Number: 10
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Chapter 4 Quotes

[Oppenheimer] possessed the kind of savvy that allowed him to get what he wanted from the world.

Related Characters: Chris Langan, Robert Oppenheimer
Page Number: 100
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The sense of entitlement…is an attitude perfectly suited to succeeding in the modern world.

Page Number: 108
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No one—not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses—ever makes it alone.

Page Number: 115
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Chapter 5 Quotes

Since we know outliers always have help along the way, can we sort through the ecology of Joe Flom and identify the conditions that helped create him?

Related Characters: Joe Flom
Page Number: 120
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Is there a perfect time for a New York Jewish lawyer to be born? It turns out there is.

Page Number: 131
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Chapter 6 Quotes

I realize that we are often wary of making these kinds of broad generalizations about different cultural groups—and with good reason. This is the form that racial and ethnic stereotypes take. We want to believe that we are not prisoners of our ethnic histories.

Page Number: 170
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Chapter 7 Quotes

[The pilot’s] plane is moments from disaster. But he cannot escape the dynamic dictated to him by his culture in which subordinates must respect the dictates of their superiors.

Page Number: 208
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Chapter 8 Quotes

Throughout history, not surprisingly, the people who grow rice have always worked harder than almost any other kind of farmer.

Page Number: 233
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Chapter 9 Quotes

This idea—that effort must be balanced by rest—could not be more different from Asian notions about study and work, of course.

Page Number: 254
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Schools work. The only problem with school, for the kids who aren’t achieving, is that there isn’t enough of it.

Page Number: 259
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Her community does not give her what she needs. So what does she have to do? Give up her evenings and weekends and friends—all the elements of her old world—and replace them with KIPP

Related Characters: Marita
Page Number: 266
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Marita just needed a chance. And look at the chance she was given! Someone brought a little bit of the rice paddy to South Bronx and explained to her the miracle of meaningful work.

Related Characters: Marita
Page Number: 269
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Eplg Quotes

These were history’s gifts to my family—and if the resources of that grocer, the fruits of those riots, the possibilities of that culture, and the privileges of that skin tone had been extended to others, how many more would now live a life of fulfillment, in a beautiful house high on a hill?

Page Number: 285
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