Economic/Social transitions in literature Essay
Economic/Social transitions in literature
The great plays staged in London and its more modern counterpart, the films, that are accessible to all, depict the social issues, biases and struggles of not only the characters in the plays or the films, but also the society of that time. As for instance, the acquisition of wealth as a social activity, which is very primitive to man, as primitive as his quest to survive, has been portrayed in varying degrees of need, as if so urgent. The problem arises when one realizes that the quest is not a solo act.
There are still other members of the society one belongs to and interacts with, who seek wealth in their own ways. Since man made discoveries of and developed the tools or things he could use for purposes that serve him, benefit him, and enrich him, man became a part of the race for the survival of the fittest. Self-interest is his order of the day that, by hook or crook, he has to engage in activities that will earn for him his status, prestige, monetary rewards, properties and other ‘successes’ or things he finds worthy of his taste.
The means by which such ‘rewards’ are achieved are just an afterthought, and most of the time, immaterial to him. The beginning of the 16th century marked the trend towards Industrial Revolution in England and writers have recorded in their manuscripts the daily ordeals their society faced, literally and figuratively. In Christopher Marlowe’s “The Jew of Malta” as in William Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”, it is evident that religious differences or conflicts are present and the Jews figured greatly in these conflicts. They are despised by the locals – Maltese and Venetians alike.
They are spat on and called by other names for the Jews are easily identified by the red wigs they are required to wear at all times. Shakespeare echoes the thoughts and social issues regarding the Jews of their time. Sentiments against the Jews are present in both plays although it still remains debatable if Marlowe or Shakespeare were anti-Semitics. The term anti-Semitism came about in 1879, but anti-Jewish agitation was already present for thousands of years. Even during the ancient Roman Empire, the Jews were already discriminated upon politically for their religion and special forms of worship.
Discrimination was also used as a ground against the Jews from obtaining Roman citizenship. As they were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ during his time, they have been considered a race with a bad reputation. As the gospel of Christ spread from Jerusalem to surrounding Gentile lands to as far as the western hemisphere and brought about the eventual domination of Christianity, Jews had been the object of universal and systematic hatred where religion is concerned (“Anti-Semitism”, 2009). Equally disdainful are the Jews’ regard to the Christians’ religious hypocrisy.
Both plays present the utter hypocrisy of Christians who are superficially devout but are inwardly rotten as Barabbas’s slave, Ithamore. The materialistic friars Jacomo and Bernardine, leaders of Christianity from different orders in a certain locality, are keener at the wealth of Barabbas than of the heavenly riches they preach. Evidently, social structure is at play. An invisible social structure somehow manipulates important social systems that includes the manner society conducts its trade, or handles and interprets its laws, its political affairs, its cultural norms and other areas.
All institutions of human affairs are considered social structures, including family, religion, law, economy and class and all these are under a larger and more encompassing chunk called “social system” (Lopez and Scott, 2000). Marlowe’s portrayal of Barabbas, closely resembling the murderous Barabbas who was freed during the time of Christ, also performed a killing spree he masterminded. There was no telling at the end, though, of the motivations that drove him to such state, especially after he has regained his wealth after streaks of political deceptions.
Poor men marrying wealthy women as a form of emancipation from their present state seems acceptable. In “The Merchant of Venice”, Bassanio’s urgent love for Portia is ambiguous that he even tells Antonio to consider the arrangement an investment. In “The Jew of Malta”, Barabbas dislikes the Christian men courting his daughter for he does not want any of them sharing the wealth he stored up for her. Men and women are used to cross-dressing. On the very stage where Shakespeare’s plays are performed, no women are allowed to take part. So men in women’s roles cross-dress.
Quite intriguing also is the love of Antonio for Bassanio that he was willing to shed off a pound of flesh to prove his great love for his friend. “The Shoemaker’s Holiday”, Thomas Dekker’s comical play, was staged around the time the fame of Shakespearean plays were a hit in London and it also echoes the type of social structure where men of stature cannot marry women of lesser stature as the characters of Rowland Lacy and Rose Oteley depict. There was prejudice among the lower class and vice versa but for true lovers, social classes do not matter.
The working class, as in this case, the shoemakers, are at the forefront and where one of them by deception and sheer luck makes it to become Lord Mayor Simon Eyre. According to Lopez and Scott (2000), distinctive between institutional structure and relational structure are some patterns that exist within each structure. They stated that “social structure is seen as comprising those cultural or normative patterns that define the expectations of agents hold about each other’s behavior and that organize their enduring relations with each other” (Lopez and Scott, 2000, p. 3). They contrasted it as such,
“social structure is seen as comprising the relationships themselves, understood as patterns of causal interconnection and interdependence among agents and their actions, as well as the positions that they occupy” (Lopez and Scott, 2000, p. 3). Both in the former merchant plays of Marlowe and Shakespeare, deception has always been present in the situations, whether for good intentions or to inflict harm. However, Dekker’s play is more idealistic than it is a real depiction of the working class and the government of his time, for unlike Shakespeare, Dekker did not have the same privilege Shakespeare enjoyed.
Meanwhile, Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” portrays the now evident gap between the rich and the poor in 18th century England and the deeper problems the gap brought in with it ? poverty and social injustice. As Dickens’ play tackles serious issues present in society during his time that no one but Ebenezer Scrooge can greatly personify, it is unmistakable that Dickens was calling on his fellowmen to take a closer look at the plight of the others who were not as fortunate.
Dickens asks, in effect, that his fellow Englishmen understand and act on the dilemma facing those displaced and eventually sent to poverty by the dark age of the Industrial Revolution (Dickens, 2003). The Scrooge’s utter disregard towards everything but money makes him the monster that will invoke doom for all. If from the earlier merchant plays, self-interest seems like the rule-of-thumb, in “A Christmas Carol” the call for selflessness points out that social responsibility does not end when taxes are filed.
The story has become one of Dickens’ best and one of four other Christmas books he had published. In fast-paced New York, the 80s “Wall Street” film by Oliver Stone (1987) revolves around the ruthless corporate character Gordon Gekko played by Michael Douglas. This film depicts human nature back to its fullest and is personified by greed and corrupt morals. The film deals with the basic craving for wealth and power, getting things done at all cost in no time. Honesty and simplicity have no place; if someone has to go up the ladder of success quickly be greedy.
Gekko’s portrayal of the “Greed is good” speech came from complaints that management owns little of its stock while it supports too many vice presidents, an allusion to real-life speeches and comments signified by Carl Icahn, known as the shrewdest investor in the planet, regarding companies he tried to take over. Also, the defense of greed came from a paraphrased commencement address on May 18, 1986 at the UC Berkeley’s School of Business Administration, delivered by Ivan Boesky, now a Wall Street incognito as he was found guilty of insider-trading.
In his address he said that greed is just all right, healthy and still feels good about it. The “Greed is Good” line may also be adverted Adam Smith, the leading expositor of economic thought on his conclusion about human nature. Smith believed “rational self-interest in a free-market economy leads to economic well-being. ” Smith wrote in his “Theory of Moral Sentiments” that no matter how selfish a man may be, there is in his nature that will always interest him in the fortune of others and render their happiness necessary to him though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.
His view on self-interest is benign and denies that self-love can be virtuous in any degree and that charity, though virtuous, cannot in any way provide the essentials of living by itself. “Wall Street” mirrors a society so laid-back it has to time for hard work and doing work well; a society that got used to getting big bucks quickly (Stone, 2003). Another New York-based film, “Working Girl” (Wade, 1988), directed by Mike Nichols shows how Tess McGill, a character played by Melanie Griffith, decides to climb up the ladder of success, out of the secretarial pool she has been in for so long.
Despite her resourcefulness, hard work, and degree earned from college, she stands no chance as she lacks the prestige of acquiring a degree from a prestigious school. Intelligent as she is, it is her boss who sucks out good ideas from her. A person’s social position within the social hierarchy in a society indicates a set of people’s opinion of their own place or position in society; and these are very subjective, depending on who a person talks to or who a person associates himself/herself with.
Kristina Lindemann (2000) adds that education, occupation, and income are also related to the subjective social position where a person’s environment provides great impact on how an individual sees himself in the context of social hierarchy in society or one’s objective characteristics. Lindemann (2000) further divides these characteristics into ascribed and achieved characteristics. Ascribed characteristics are innate as age, gender and ethnicity while achieved characteristics are acquired or learned as education, occupation or income.
While studies show that acquired characteristics are relevant to how one sees himself positioned in the hierarchy, some theorists do not believe so (Lindermann, 2000). The environment McGill works in is too competitive where everyone keeps a watchful eye as to whose idea works and whose idea will push one higher. Reaching the top then has to be done with cutting-edge guts. Out-witting her boss in presenting what is her own original idea for the company, she has to deceive their company’s major client.
Other moral issues may also come into play as, to be able to advance notches higher in the corporate world, one has to have to sleep with who is in charge, one has to be mindful of what his colleagues are up to, which may be translated to office politics. REFERENCES Anti-Semitism (2009). Retrieved August 3, 2009 from http://encarta. msn. com/encyclopedia_761574855/Anti-Semitism. html Lopez, J. and J. Scott (2000), Social Structure, Buckingham and Philadelphia: Open University Press. Murdock, G. (1949). Social Structure. New York: MacMillan. Dickens, C.
(2003). A Christmas Carol. Grand Rapids: Saddleback. Stone, O. (Writer) (1987). Wall Street. USA: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation Wade, K. (Writer) (1988). Working Girls. USA: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation Vitt, L. A. (2007). Class. Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology Retrieved August 3, 2009, from http://www. blackwellreference. com. libproxy. lib. unc. edu/subscriber/tocnode? id=g9781405124331_chunk_g97814051243319_ss1-49 Lindemann, K. (2007). The Impact of Objective Characteristics on Subjective Social Position. Trames, 11, 54-68.