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"He constantly punishes himself psychologically. In his eyes he is inferior in pedigree to those very confident college graduates against whom he competes."

The context on the story is the person who the book is talking about is from a poor family and when he grew up he tried to keep up with the rich college graduates by working hard, making big income, and buying expensive things like a $5000 watche.

I don't understand meaning of pedigree in this context.

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

Pedigree refers to the inferred ability bestowed upon him by his upbringing birth into a family of some importance, rather than the individual's personal ability.

The subject of your question feels inferior to the "rich college graduates" around him who have that high pedigree obtained by their membership in a segment of society the subject is not part of. He attempts to be part of this segment of society by purchasing items that show his success.

One quite inexpensive way of doing this might be the wearing of a bow-tie.

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Your pedigree is not your upbringing, but your birth, almost the opposite in many situations. You can learn how to wear a bow-tie, you can study and become rich, you can dress nicely and speak well, but you cannot "buy into" a pedigree: a pedigree is based on who your parents (grandparents) were, and hence, how "well-bred" you are. – oerkelens Jul 9 '14 at 14:17
Perfectly correct. One cannot "buy into" pedigree. You either have it or you don't. However, one can certainly attempt to look like you have pedigree. I've updated my answer to correct that bit. Thanks! – Max Vernon Jul 9 '14 at 14:18
Thinking of some of the more eccentric remnants of old nobility I wonder why someone would want to look like they share that pedigree - but that is rather beside the point in this case, I think :) – oerkelens Jul 9 '14 at 14:21
Agreed. Although eccentricity does convey a certain interesting sense of notoriety. – Max Vernon Jul 9 '14 at 14:58
What is the phrase “inferred ability” supposed to mean? – jwpat7 Jul 10 '14 at 18:15

He is referring to his humble social origins, see ( meaning 1 in a figurative sense): Pedigree:

  1. an ancestral line; lineage; ancestry.
  2. a genealogical record, esp. of a purebred animal.
  3. distinguished or pure ancestry.
  4. derivation; history.

Source: http://www.thefreedictionary

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