Outliers: The Story of Success | Study Guide

Malcolm Gladwell

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Outliers: The Story of Success | Epilogue : A Jamaican Story | Summary


Key Takeaways

  • Gladwell ends Outliers: The Story of Success with an examination of the success of his own mother. Joyce Nation and her twin sister Faith were born to Donald and Daisy Nation, Jamaican schoolteachers. Donald was a strict disciplinarian and the main teacher; Daisy was known for her beauty. The twins earned scholarships to a boarding school at age 11 and then later left Jamaica for University College in London, England. It was there Joyce met Graham Gladwell. They fell in love, got married, and moved to Canada, where they had children of their own.
  • Gladwell says this version of his mother's story is "false in the way that telling the story of Bill Gates" without talking about his childhood opportunities is false. He then offers the "real" story of Joyce Gladwell.
  • Historian William M. Macmillan visited Jamaica when Joyce and her sister were four. His concern about the Jamaican school system and the lack of opportunities for its "humblest" classes led to a "wave of riots and unrest." That prompted the British government to offer scholarships for the highest academic achievers to go to private high schools. The program began in 1941, and Joyce and her sister took advantage of it in 1942. Had they been born just a few years earlier, they wouldn't have had a "full" education.
  • Gladwell's original description of his grandmother Daisy as being "renowned for her beauty" is "a careless and condescending way to describe her." Gladwell says she was "a force," and it was her drive and her support of her daughters that helped them succeed academically. Joyce didn't actually get a scholarship to the boarding school—only her sister did. Even though they couldn't afford the tuition, the Nations sent Joyce to the boarding school anyway. At the end of the first semester, Joyce was awarded a scholarship because a different student had been awarded two scholarships—and she gave one of them up for Joyce.
  • When it was time for the twins to go to college, only Gladwell's aunt was awarded a scholarship. His mother had to pay for the trip to England, room and board, and tuition. The family had no money, but Daisy was adamant Joyce go. Daisy borrowed money from a Chinese shopkeeper whose children she had taught.
  • Joyce Gladwell owes her success to William M. Macmillan, the student who gave up her scholarship, the Chinese shopkeeper, and her mother, Daisy Nation.
  • Daisy herself "was the inheritor of a legacy of privilege" thanks to her light skin color. Jamaica began as a nation of slaves owned by European sugar barons. Her great-grandfather, William Ford, was Irish; her great-grandmother was a black slave and Ford's mistress. Their son, John, was mixed race, which put him higher on the social ladder than his mother. Children of these types of relationships were usually emancipated, or freed from slavery, and educated. John had more opportunities than darker Jamaicans, and his privileges passed through each subsequent generation.
  • Though Gladwell's mother could "portray her success as a straightforward triumph over victimhood," her story is much more complicated than that. Everyone's story is. Nobody is successful on their own—there are always hidden opportunities and helpers at every juncture. If those same privileges were extended to others, the world would be a much better place.
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