How is the book Less Than Zero critical of society?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that Ellis' work can be seen as critical of society on a couple of levels.  The first is that Ellis suggests that there has been a massive breakdown of family structures governing the kids that occupy the narrative focus of the novel.  These kids seem to operating without much in way of a family, or a family unit.  While the kids are financially well off, there is a hollowness that exists in their family.  The criticism here is that money has become the element that has replaced human connection and guidance.  Adults are absent, kids are acting older than they seem, and the presence of wealth is used to substitute emotional connection and affect.  It is here where the lifestyle of the wealthy Californian is criticized.  In a world in which parents are absent, the result seems to be the moral depravity of their children.  Another element that the book seems to criticize is the attitude expressed in the opening.  The idea of being "afraid to merge" is a social attitude that has raised privacy and individual freedom to a realm in which individual action is no longer needed.  People no longer seek to step outside their comfort zones in helping others because they are "afraid to merge."  It is a social condition that enables so much in way of vice because of a construction of personal freedom in which action can be taken without anything related to a social or substantive end.  This attitude seems to be a target of Ellis' work, suggesting that the hope of a youth cannot be present unless someone sheds their fear of "merging."

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