The Depiction of Class in "Gilmore Girls"

The Emancipated Version of a Slumming Drama

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2009

22 Pages, Grade: 1,3


List of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Gilmore Girls – The Plot

3. A Class Drama
3.1. A Cross-Class Drama
3.2. A Slumming Drama
3.3. Lorelai's Slumming Drama
3.3.1. Lorelai's Upbringing
3.3.2. Lorelai's Slumming
3.3.3. Lorelai's Slumming Drama - Conclusion
3.4. Rory's Slumming Drama
3.4.1. Rory's Slumming
3.4.2. Rory's Slumming Drama - Conclusion

4. Life After Slumming
4.1. Changing Images of Women in the Media
4.2. The Tough Women's Living Space
4.3. Middle-Class Life in Gilmore Girls
4.4. Emancipation in Gilmore Girls

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

This paper aims to analyse how and why the TV show Gilmore Girls has contributed to a new development in cross-class fiction. To answer this question satisfactorily, the concepts of the "slumming drama" (Gandal 2007: 12) as well as 'new womanhood' and 'middle class' will be explained precisely and applied to the series. In order to give the reader an idea about the show's content and to enable an easier comprehension of the analysis, the paper will start with a short introduction to the major story-lines.

2. Gilmore Girls– The Plot

In the refreshingly "humorous" (Brooks 2005: 216) weekly TV drama Gilmore Girls, known for its witty and fast spoken dialogues, created by Amy Sherman, starring Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel as the major characters Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, it is a white single middle-class mother in her thirties and her teenage daughter, whose lives in the small US-American town of Stars Hollow in Connecticut at the beginning of the new millennium are depicted. After Lorelai has given birth to Rory at the age of 16, she refuses to marry her upper-class boyfriend, Rory's father, but leaves him and her upper-class parents Richard and Emily Gilmore as she cannot bear the restrictions and values of this elite life any more, which have become unendurable during her pregnancy. The 16-year-old mother drops out of school without graduating, escapes with her daughter and starts working as a chamber maid in an inn, which she she runs when the series starts. She has built up a respectable middle class life by herself, has a deep sister-like relationship to her daughter and is appreciated by the people of the town. Rory is hard working at school and dreams of studying at Harvard University. For doing so, she needs to attend the "exclusive Chilton Prep" (Tim Brooks 2003: 464). As Lorelai cannot afford the school money for this elite institution, she asks her parents for support. They assure her to help Rory on condition that the girls re-establish their relation with the grandparents. Thus, many of the story lines during the seven seasons of this TV show mirror the tense confrontations between the Gilmore Girls and Lorelai's upper-class parents, as well as the girls' romantic, educational and professional adventures.

3. A Class Drama

As the plot illustrates, Gilmore Girls ranges among class dramas. The following chapter will place the TV show within current fictions of this literary genre and ends with an exact analysis of the 'slumming' part, examining Lorelai's as well as Rory's experience.

3.1. A Cross-Class Drama

When Gilmore Girls started being broadcast in October 2000, the show was created in the manner of two recent developments within class depictions in films or in TV series: On the one hand, it contributed to the popular screening of class-crossing dramas of the late 1990s. On the other hand, the drama portrayed an emancipated middle-class life of women. According to Keith Gandal, fictions of class crossing in the late 20thcentury and the new millennium had undergone a clear change from the 19thcentury's rags-to-riches novels or seduction stories that mostly focused on poor characters' fates, to popular 20thcentury's fictions of class mainly starring rich characters who move downwards. These tales distinguished between depictions of either downward degradation by a representative of a lower class, portrayed in "class traumas" or "slumming traumas" (Gandal 2007: 12), or liberation by a poor character or simply by poverty, called a "slumming drama" (Gandal 2007: 12). Before Gilmore Girls started, class-crossing films such as the historical film Titanic or the present satire American Beauty, both "slumming dramas", depicting major characters who were liberated by a lower class, the working class, had been shot and become genuine box-office hits (see Gandal 2007: 5-13). Gilmore Girls follows the tradition and depicts an upper-class teenage girl's self-chosen downward mobility to the working class in a contemporary TV drama as the following chapter will analyse.

Hereby, it has to be noted that in this paper, the term 'drama' will be used in its classical meaning in accordance with Cuddon's Dictionary of Literary Terms : "[A drama is i]n general any work meant to be performed on a stage by actors. A more particular meaning is a serious play; not necessarily tragedy." (Cuddon 1991: 259). The term 'drama' is usually applied to today's film productions because our present-day films and TV shows have originated from antique theatre plays and have thus similar characteristics. As in the Greek tradition, 'drama' must not be confused with 'tragedy' because the downward-moving characters in 'slumming dramas' are not tragically punished for their decisions, or die as a consequence. The author of this paper uses 'drama' as a superordinate concept that covers both 'comedy' and 'tragedy'.

3.2. A Slumming Drama

The genre of the slumming drama first appeared at the end of the 19thcentury in novels such as Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn (1885) or later in the first third of the 20thcentury in Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) by Zora Neale Hurston. In these novels, characters from a more sophisticated class seek liberation from the restrictions their class prescribes. The suppressed characters get liberated by a representative of a lower class, often by a male hobo, who introduces the former ones to "brotherhood and equality" (Gandal 2007: 30) and does not care about capital or social ranking. Instead, the lower-class character is independent of capitalist thinking and is happy and thus enjoys a world the rich population cannot grasp. Today's slumming dramas do not deal with liberation from a restrictive upper class any more, or exclusively. The present upper class characters do not have to fear to lose their livelihood if they do not fulfil their class' expectations. Instead, it is status rivalry that is the main reason for escaping the upper or middle classes in contemporary slumming dramas. Moreover, in fictions with a contemporary setting as in American Beauty, there is no need for a liberator as the repressed characters are capable of liberating themselves. However, they are often magically or luckily equipped with money so they can afford continuing the pleasant living standard they are used to even though they have left their class. The working class, to which the predominantly male heroes escape, show more ability to care about fellow men while looking for freedom and selfless adventures whereas the upper class is depicted as being motivated by their "ego and status" (Gandal 2007: 34). Both the old and the new adaptations of the slumming drama have in common that the escape helps the oppressed hero achieve pleasure and the chance to self-actualise (see Gandal 2007: 1-44).

3.3. Lorelai's Slumming Drama

In Gilmore Girls, the actual story of the drama starts when Lorelai is 32 years old and attempts to re-establish the relation to her parents for the sake of Rory's education. The slumming drama itself is only depicted in Lorelai's flashbacks which exclusively portray her in 1984, at the age of 16, shortly before and after Rory's birth, such as in the present-time episode where Rory's father, now a grown-up man, and his new girlfriend expect a child, which reminds Lorelai of her own troubled pregnancy with Rory (see season 3, episode 13). Whatever limited the number of flashbacks, though, they introduce the viewers to Lorelai's upper-class life and her own liberation from it.[1] Lorelai's parents Emily and Richard Gilmore have remained the stubborn upper-class representatives from 16 years ago and can thus be called static characters. Their present life style helps complement the fragmentary picture from the past and enables the viewer to comprehend why Lorelai felt suppressed in her adolescence.


[1] A character named Lorelai, being strong and getting involved in class-crossing, does not seem surprising. For, there is clear reference to the character Lorelei from the German poet Heinrich Heine's famous poem "Ich weiß nicht, was soll es bedeuten" (Heine 1962: 95-96), where Lorelei, a siren on a rock, distracts a fisherman by her looks and singing so that he finally loses control over his rowing boat and dies in the midst of the floods of the River Rhein. The use of the name Lorelai in Gilmore Girls indicates Lorelai's tendency to be powerful and unconventional. The name Lorelai seems to have been derivated from the Old-Provençal name Eleonore, whose first part means 'alien' (Auberle 2007: 121), which underlines Lorelai's unhappiness and subsequent estrangement with the upper class. Furthermore, the link to German poetry is only one of many evidences of the series' weakness for German culture, perhaps due to the author's personal infatuation with Germany.

Excerpt out of 22 pages


The Depiction of Class in "Gilmore Girls"
The Emancipated Version of a Slumming Drama
University of Leipzig  (Amerikanistik)
Fictions of Class
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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"You developed a highly interesting and sophisticated project - to read the tv-series "Gilmore Girls" through the lens of Keith Gandal's models of class-crossing fiction. Your discussion and application of Gandal is both well-informed and compelling. (...) Your discussion is highly perceptive, to the point and well argued (...)."
depiction, class, gilmore, girls, emancipated, version, slumming, drama
Quote paper
Maja Schulze (Author), 2009, The Depiction of Class in "Gilmore Girls", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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