Americans, while occasionally willing to be serfs, have always been obstinate about being peasantry.

from F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby (Chapter V) on Rap Genius

Meaning

With the word “serf” Nick alludes to the fact that Americans are willing to work as wage slaves in a capitalist economic system, because there are no inherent limits to the levels to which once can rise in such a system. The word “peasant” implies a class system in which an aristocracy rules by chance of birth, and there is no chance to rise—a system abhorrent to Americans.

Another difference between a serf and peasant is that a serf is legally tied to the land he works, or to the manor he works for, and can be inherited; a peasant by contrast is (generally) free to migrate elsewhere. Americans have not had a regimented system of serfdom, although there have been similar instances — mostly indentured servitude in the early days of the colonies (slavery, by contrast, would be an unwilling serfdom).

In all this statement suggests that Americans are, at times, willing to indenture themselves or have submitted to such a system under compulsion; however, they despise being perceived as part of a social underclass. Yet while Americans are proud and zealous about their freedoms, when it comes down to it, serfs and peasants are both dirt poor.

“Low wage? Fine. I’ll do what I gotta do to get where I wanna be. Getting called the lower class? No way.” -The American Dream.

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