Strangers in Their Own Land

Strangers in Their Own Land

by

Arlie Russell Hochschild

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Strangers in Their Own Land: Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Jackie Tabor, an exuberant stay-at-home mother, guides Hochschild through her home. In the living room, she mentions that her husband Heath built the walls and shot the bucks whose heads are mounted on it. To Hochschild, she looks like “it seems a miracle to her that this could truly be hers.”
From the beginning, Jackie adopts a stance of gratitude and reverence toward her life and world. Whereas Janice attributes all her accomplishments to her own hard work, Jackie does not seem to take credit for anything—rather, she feels lucky to have the life she does.
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They say prayer and eat dinner, which is a fish Heath caught himself in the Gulf of Mexico. He saw the Deepwater Horizon fire burning in 2010 but never worried about its effects on his food, and Jackie shows Hochschild a picture of her ten-year-old son featured in a children’s fishing magazine.
Jackie and her family disconnect their preferred pastime (fishing) from the environment that sustains it.
Themes
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Jackie credits Jesus for “all she treasures”: she lives in a beautiful suburban house outside Lake Charles with her husband and the children she cares for full-time. She declares that she “came from nothing!” and Hochschild explains that her childhood taught her to sometimes “give up wanting something very badly.” Jackie feels she has achieved the American Dream but recognizes that “this could all vanish tomorrow!”
Like the Tea Party women Hochschild mentioned earlier, Jackie sees the fact that she does not have to work as indicating that she has achieved the American Dream. Her path through life seems defined by trust: she trusts other people or agents to take care of her, so she need not take action on her own.
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Jackie told Hochschild about her love for nature—unlike Janice, who “quickly moved on” when Hochschild mentioned environmental pollution, Jackie brings it up herself: she saw a boy swimming in Lake Charles and fears he might get sick. She worries about their local air and soil and even wishes she could move, but she also loves the oil industry.
Whereas Janice did not let herself worry about pollution to protect her loyalty to the oil industry, Jackie manages to simultaneously grasp oil’s environmental impacts and recognize the industry’s benefits—she does not feel obligated to defend it.
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Hochschild explains that Jackie’s childhood might explain her loyalty to oil. Once, she was “nineteen, jobless, homeless” and moved in with her sister, and every day she wrote up a list of rules—“I will not lie. I will save my money. I will stop drinking”—that she promptly broke each afternoon. She grew up in Kansas City, where her alcoholic father abandoned the family and her mother worked three jobs on top of welfare to pay their bills. Her stepfather was “a ‘dirty-talking’ sexual predator” and Jackie left home, never to return, at age 19.
Jackie’s childhood is the polar opposite of her adulthood—she found it difficult to trust the people around her and had little sense of spiritual guidance. Notably, she relied on welfare throughout her childhood—contrary to most Louisianans’ picture of a welfare recipient, her mother needed the money in addition to work rather than taking it in place of work.
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One day, lying on her sister’s floor, she had a religious epiphany and realized that Jesus would grant her all her wishes “when everything’s right.” She looked in the mirror and saw a completely different person: “who I am to Him.” She credits all her successes in life to that single moment of realization. Jackie contrasts great figures like President Lincoln, who are hidden in the past, with Jesus, who “is always there.” He taught her “to trust to Him that good things would happen” if she waits, instead of trying to “make things happen.” Nevertheless, she “greatly admires her mother, who did make things happen.”
Jackie’s comparison between Jesus and Lincoln becomes the model for her elevation of religion above politics—she sees the world as naturally developing toward a divine perfection and learns that she can ensure her own progress in life by simply letting God’s will take its course. From a secular liberal perspective, this looks like a resigned refusal to take positive action in the world.
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Jackie asks whether she can take Hochschild “on an adventure,” and the two drive around to Jackie’s three previous houses. The first was a one-floor townhome in a working-class neighborhood where she lived for eight years but never got to know the neighbors. Then they built their second home, “an attractive red brick ranch house” in the slightly wealthier Pine Mist Estates. The third house was in Autumn Run, a neighborhood that Jackie “used to dream about when she lived in Pine Mist.” This third house, “the house she didn’t dare want,” was bigger than the previous two but smaller than the house where she lives now.
Jackie’s series of previous houses shows the gradual rise in socioeconomic class that confirms her religious faith in natural progress. Her attitude of resignation does not preclude her from coveting better things—but she realizes that she can refrain from interfering with fate by enduring the tension between her desire for more and her knowledge that she should not act on that desire.
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Hochschild explains how Jackie became “an obedient Christian wife” who puts her husband’s desires before her own. Like Adam and Eve, Jackie wanted to “be as a ‘rib’ to Heath, a helpmate.” This is why she “never breathed a word about wanting this [third] house to Heath.” Now that this third house is past its prime, her kids have taken to calling it “Autumn Run-down.” She emphasizes how much she wanted the Autumn Run house, even though her current one is much nicer.
Jackie sees her husband as an agent of God’s plan for her—if only she subjugates herself to him and bottles up her desire to change things in her life, she thinks, she will be rewarded for her endurance. Her family’s dissatisfaction with the house they used to covet demonstrates how capitalism demands constant economic progress—the same promise that is no longer available for many white conservatives in Louisiana.
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Hochschild sees each different house as “a step on a ladder to the American Dream,” but Jackie realized that “on one rung she had yearned too much for the next: that was the lesson.” Although she knows the even wealthier neighborhood where she wants to move next, she has intentionally refused to drive over and look at the houses. She remembers living on the poor side of Elliott Road in Chicago and envying the rich girls on the other side, but she sees her current house as God’s reward for her ability to give up on wanting everything those rich girls had.
Like Janice, Jackie sees economic success as reflecting and rewarding moral virtue. For Janice, these virtues center around hard work, but for Jackie, they are based on resignation: paradoxically, she sees a promise of progress in the refusal to pursue progress.
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Related Quotes
Similarly, when Heath insisted on tithing 10 percent of their income to church, Jackie worried that they could not afford to both tithe and pay off their debt. But, as a “dutiful Christian wife,” she gave up on paying the debt. Hurricane Rita struck shortly thereafter; Heath, a contractor, suddenly began making a fortune, and the couple paid off all their loans.
Jackie’s family is wealthy because of Louisiana’s accelerating economic disasters: as a contractor, Heath when others’ homes are destroyed, so he actually has a financial interest in the region’s worsening environmental conditions (particularly due to climate change). She feels she was rewarded for giving up on her own financial prudence for the sake of faith in her husband and religion.
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Even though she knew she was a natural and strong leader, Jackie believes she was created to be a “helpmate to her husband” and she values the chance to stay home and raise her kids. Jackie considers herself a “dutiful Christian wife” who was “created to be a helper” for her husband. This meant renouncing her own desire for control in family and professional life.
Jackie sees a tension between her natural instincts and her religious calling; again, she must resign herself to what she has and give up on a career. This kind of attitude reflects the broader trend in Tea Party women that Hochschild noted earlier: their identities are based on their domestic roles, while their husbands’ identities are individualistic and grounded in work. In the book’s afterword, curiously, the reader discovers that Jackie has opened up a fitness center, which again suggests that she got exactly what she wanted by choosing resignation over will.
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Jackie mentions Louisiana’s “terribly polluted environment” and remarks that her son’s nine-year-old best friend recently died from a brain tumor that might have been linked to pollution. Since all the area’s wealth is tied to oil jobs, however, Jackie thinks it better not to mention oil’s environmental consequences. She “could be talking to two moms whose husbands work in the plants” and worries she might “remind them of dangers” or look like she is “blaming them for the work they do.”
Jackie recognizes and has deeply suffered from her state’s polluted environment, but again she resigns herself to silence. Here, she fears the social consequences of speaking out, which demonstrates how the structural amnesia and institutionally enforced silence that Hochschild outlined in earlier creates immense pressure on the level of individual feeling.
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Hochschild sees Jackie as a Worshipper who had “developed a worshipful attitude and a capacity for meaningful renunciation.” Just as “Team Loyalists like Janice Areno,” Jackie is able to “do without what [she] wanted” by accommodating pollution for the sake of her income. Whereas Janice Areno avoided feeling anxious about pollution’s effects, Jackie “allowed herself to feel sad about these things” but “renounced the desire to remediate” environmental damage because “that would call for more dreaded government.”
The Worshipper is another expression of the endurance self: a Worshipper endures emotional pain, like Jackie’s pain at empathizing with the suffering that surrounds her. If Janice Areno endures pain to support her team, Jackie does so because she does not believe she is the right agent to address that pain and does not want to risk upending her life’s march of upward progress.
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To Hochschild’s surprise, Jackie says she is named after Jacqueline Kennedy. She still admires her namesake but thinks today’s government “has gone rogue, corrupt, malicious, and ugly.” She thinks Obama is neither “a real Christian” nor “a true American” and has come to distrust the government at all levels, including in its capacity as environmental regulator. She finds it ridiculous that anyone would feel grateful for government and makes fun of Warren Buffett for wanting to pay higher taxes (although Hochschild notes that he actually said that “he didn’t think it fair that his secretary paid higher taxes than he did). Jackie wonders “why aren’t you [Buffett] writing a check?” and Hochschild sees her disdain for him as expressing a conflict of feeling rules.
Jackie is unique among Hochschild’s Louisiana friends because she actually grew up as a “line cutter,” surviving on government welfare. But she does not believe that the government is genuinely helping people now, and like many other Louisianans she sees a clean break between the past (when, in fact, the welfare state was far more robust) and the present, when Obama symbolizes a government that has become thoroughly rotten on all levels. Her basic distrust in government prevents her from empathizing with liberals who want redistribution, although she does not seem to hate or blame the poor in the same way as Janice Areno or Lee Sherman.
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Jackie wishes polluters could be regulated but trusts neither the government, which she thinks uses pollution “as an excuse to expand,” nor the environmentalists who encourage this expansion and she thinks “have their own financial interest in solar and wind too.”
Jackie renounces her desire to minimize pollution because she does not trust the agent tasked with doing so (the government), just as she renounces her own desires because she does not think she is the agent who should realize them. Unlike Janice, Jackie does not feel particularly loyal to industry—rather, she is suspicious of polluters and would want regulation if she could trust the government.
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Despite her malaise about the government, Jackie remains loyal to the Constitution and the American flag. At a school function, Hochschild recalls Jackie’s son reading from a Bible passage before “America the Beautiful” played over a video of the American flag; Jackie insisted on taking a picture. She thinks “the American government is a betrayer” but feels that “the American flag stays true.” On the car ride home, Jackie expresses her concern that the liberal media will corrupt her children into rejecting Fox News and believing in global warming. She explains that she used to be more politically active but now thinks “a lot of activists are self-serving” and unwilling to “put up with things the way they are.” “Pollution,” she concludes, “is the sacrifice we make for capitalism.”
Jackie disconnects her loyalty to abstract symbols of American governance from the concrete institutions that do the governing. Ironically, she feels that on some original, constitutional level, the government was designed to preserve capitalism, yet today’s government wants to quash it—even though Hochschild thinks precisely the opposite, meaning that the government’s job should be regulating markets, and Louisiana’s fails because it bends over backwards to please industry. Jackie wants to police the media her children consume because she worries they will catch the wrong kind of feeling rules, on which she knows loyalty to media is based.
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