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After reading many texts throughout the semester and considering the numerous different theories presented to us in this class, I have found Marxism to be my favorite. I have paired two of my favorite stories by William Faulkner that will complement this theory. Marxist theory enables us to analyze a piece of literature and see beyond the author’s intent. The different perspective this theory offers are revealing. Although Marxist criticism is a complex theory, it is the best criticism to analyze literature because it pays special attention to the division of class, class struggle, oppression, and political background of the story.
From a Marxist standpoint, socioeconomic differences between individuals are more divisive than that caused by religion, political affiliation, race or gender. For these critics, the real battle lies between the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat. The Bourgeoisie is considered the one percent of the population that controls the world’s economy and natural resources. In contrast the Proletariats are considered the working-class Americans who perform the manual labor, coal mining and trench digging who are isolated from their labor in exchange for monetary gain.
But the Proletariat fails to see that they are only helping the rich get richer. Marxist theorist claims that the proletariats are the last to acknowledge this matter and that they are easily divided by their differences in religion, race or political affiliation. This in turn puts them at a disadvantage when trying to fight for a cause. For Marxist theorists the fundamental premise then lies in controlling the economic structure of America.
I was hesitant at the beginning of this class as English is my weakness and it is something that I seldom get excited about. But after the first month I started to gain interest in the stories we had for homework along with the text “Critical Theory Today”. I am glad that the second chapter of this text is Marxism because that’s when I truly became enthralled in this class. Marxism deals with many issues including politics. This resonated with me as I care greatly about politics in general, thus piquing my interest in this theory. Interacting with many of the stories that were presented to us, I always found myself interpreting them through a Marxist viewpoint. Using this critical perspective of Marxism gave me the ability to interpret certain texts with a greater understanding that otherwise I would not have been able to attain.
Applying this theory to certain texts such as “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner, something that was obvious to me was the author’s interpretation of classism portrayed in the story. The class structure and differences between classes was something that I was able to appreciate due to my understanding of Marxism. Many actions in the story emphasize Miss Emily’s class such as teaching china painting, which is something that during that era would be predominantly of importance to the upper class. There is also the interaction between the townspeople and Miss Emily who was perceived by most as “a tradition, a duty, and a care”, even as her financial conditions were in decline (Faulkner 1). From Marxist theory we know that the idea of “getting ahead” is embedded in the American dream and according to this school of thought, no one moves down in class. This prevented Miss Emily to recognize she was no longer a part of the upper class (Tyson 55). There are certainly other factors that make this story one of my favorite ones as it involves love, murder and a surprising twist at the end. Analyzing this story through a Marxist perspective aided with Psychoanalytic theory was easier to analyze the psychological issues that Miss Emily portrayed towards the end of the story.
Throughout the course of this semester we have been presented with many theories on how to evaluate literary texts. After I was presented with Marxist theory, I found myself fascinated with this newfound ideology. The reason I feel drawn to Marxism is because unlike the other theories that focus on one aspect of a text; Marxism goes well beyond that, focusing on other ideologies as well. A clear example of this is Feminist Criticism, where the main concern is to look at the factors that deal with women oppression and expose them. This type of criticism may not be relevant in the current social environment where women are now seen as equal and not just in the home but also in regard to a professional level. For instance, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives is a woman. Nancy Pelosi considered one of the most powerful women in American politics. Moreover, Feminist Criticism in a way is more appealing to women as it focuses solely on women and exposing the factors of oppression in society.
In contrast Marxism is concerned with exposing the economic structure of any given society considering other underling factors such as class, religion, politics, race, ethnicity and gender, giving the critic a greater understanding. Furthermore, Marxism is still relatable today. The struggle between the upper class and the minimum hourly wage worker still exists in our society. The city of San Francisco, California is a good example where you can visibly see the disparity in the wealth gap. Nonetheless in accordance to the article from Verban and Orren “The Meaning of Equality in America” “income gaps are needed to drive economic productivity” (377). As seen in the previous example this theory can be implemented in literary and in current events. Marxism allows the reader to look beyond the superficial aspects presented in any text, inevitably exposing other factors apart from the author’s intent. Moreover, regardless of which country, religion or race one may be, this impacts most people around the world. Analyzing the next story with this ideology in mind, one can see the real struggle between classes.
When initially exposed to “Barn Burning”, I found myself intrigued by the family dynamics portrayed in the story. It’s easy to get completely consumed by this story without considering any theories and just enjoy a good read. But after reading the story for a second time through a Marxist lens, I came to understand the behavior portrayed by Abner Snopes. From the beginning of the story we are presented with a troubled person, Mr. Snopes. His pride and envy would not allow him to see straight. He continued to get into trouble, and it seems that he was always trying to challenge authority and rebel against the establishment that oppresses the poor. In the first case with Mr. Harris, Abner is given wire to fix his fencing so that his hog wouldn’t be able to get out and damage other crops. The second time this happened, Mr. Harris angered by the damages that the hog had caused to his crops, confronts Mr. Snopes. While doing so he discovers the wire “still rolled on the spool” he had given Mr. Snopes (1). Mr. Harris then charges Snopes one dollar in order to release Abner’s hog. Abner pays the money but decides to retaliate by setting fire to Mr. Harris barn. Abner was angry as he was tired of being subjugated to the wealthy white landowners.
The second occasion that caused so much trouble for the Snopes was also over something that could have been prevented. This time over a rug that Abner purposefully stained and subsequently ends up destroying. Mayor de Spain humiliating Abner while in the confrontation over the rug tells him “it cost a hundred dollars. But you never had a hundred dollars. You never will”, which only fuels Abner’s anger (7). Abner was humiliated and reminded that his miserable life may never get any better. He then decides to retaliate against the landowner in the only way he knows by setting up a plan in motion to burn down the de Spain’s barn. The only difference was that Sarty was tired of covering up for his father’s crimes. Sarty warns Mayor de Spain of his father’s plans and in turn unknowingly causing the death of his father and brother.
From a Marxist critic point of view there is one major factor that triggers Abner’s rage throughout the story. Abner is absolutely bothered by his socioeconomic position in life as he is as white as the landowners, yet he must work their land for a mere portion of the crop. Abner’s role in society is more commonly attributed to African Americans, especially during that time period of the South. This in turn makes Abner want to rebel against the authority and the wealthy landowners that practically see him as a slave. At this point in Abner’s life he knows it’s almost certain that he will never amass a fortune or a more comfortable way of life. In his mind he has nothing to lose. Abner blinded by rage yet again devices another plan to burn Mayor de Spain’s barn. According to Tyson, the “American dream blinds us to the enormities of its own failure past and present; the genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement of African Americans, the virtual enslavement of indentured servants” (55). Mayor de Spain’s wealth then lies in people like Abner Snopes who rely on the land of wealthier individuals for sharecropping. Furthermore, through the ideologies of Marxism one can see that the economics surrounding sharecropping is more beneficial to the wealthy landowner and the indentured servants have minimal gain.
From the previous two stories and utilizing Marxist theory and its numerous ideologies one can see beyond the author’s intent. Unconsciously or unknowingly the author reveals the struggle between classes and the power structure in which both stories operate. Trough Marxism I can relate and connect with my own interest in politics and expand my knowledge and understanding of literature. The different qualities Marxism has to offer are what drew me closer into becoming a Marxist critic. The many ideologies that make Marxism a complex theory are the same ones that enrich this theory and continue to increase its popularity between today’s critics. Present and past literature work as well as the current social issues taking place in America and around the world can be interpreted through a Marxist lens.
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