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The story has a setting in the rural American South in the late nineteenth century (Toomer 1). This setup corresponds with the Renaissance Period: The Rise of Technology, Industries, and Agriculture. The story revolves around the White dominance against the African American individuals, ‘Niggers’. An analysis of the working conditions and life struggle yields evidence of blacks’ suppression, discrimination, and abuse. The blacks are engaged in hard labor within the cane fields and the few remnant cane factories. For instance, Tom Burwell would spend long hours in the fields. There is high contrast in the quality of life among the whites and blacks; the blacks lead a low-quality life in a factory town, while the whites enjoy the services of the blacks in luxurious homes. Louisa, an African American young woman, would walk back to the shantytown after spending a day at the white man’s house working.
Slavery was no more, but the black race was considered inferior; blacks were mistreated and abused. Bob Stone, an American residing in the Southern, constantly sexually abused Louisa. She only realized that Bob had no respect for her unlike Tom, who at one time professes his love for her, without offering material possession. Her superficial affair with Bob would only give petty gifts, silk stockings, and purple dresses (Toomer 2). This pay is meager. It is clear that Louisa had no love for Bob irrespective of his ‘superior’ position; she would never accept him with all the evils subjected to her people. In her reasoning, the evils, and abuse correlate to the evil face on the rising moon. The blacks always had the ambition of setting themselves free. Their focus was on ending the white dominance. Liberty would only come through fighting and struggle; lives were lost. At the climax, Bob and Tom engage in a fierce battle, fighting over Louisa. Bob succumbs to the deep cuts inflicted by Tom, while Tom is burnt to death. The liberation ends the white dominance finally, the White man; ‘Red-nigger moon’ would never come out of the factory door. Louisa was already gathering her people against the white men in the former cane factory (Toomer 3). This was the parallelism, a revolution, the worker against the owner. The blacks could no longer take more of the white man’s oppression.
Marx and Friedrich Engels Perspectives
Marxist criticism takes the theories of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and applies them to “readings” of literature. What the text signals about historic and social, economic realities become central for a Marxist critic or interpretation. Common angles are the exploitation of the individual at a profit for a certain few, the effects of industrialization and capitalism, and the struggle between classes of society. There is a difference between “early” Marxists and post-structuralist Marxists basically in terms of how strongly historical context should be emphasized in interpretation. A Marxist critic believes that every writer is permanently but unconsciously influenced by the ideology of the social class he or she comes from and by the social assumptions of the period the literary work is done. This social context has also a strong influence on the form and the content of literary works. The Marxist critic focuses on the relation between the literary work and the writer’s social class and applies Marxist theories to literature.
The October Revolution caused by workers’ strikes in Russia in 1971 became a turning point for the long-suffering they had experienced at the hands of their masters. It is necessary to acknowledge that the slave trade and slavery were long gone and forgotten, but oppression existed among different classes of people (Lucacs 39). The story by Toomer shows that most forms of oppression occurred in factories that were owned and controlled by the whites. This means that black Americans were still considered as slaves even though this was not put in black and white. There was no difference between the lives of workers before and after the abolishment of the slave trade because they lived in the same regions that were marked by shanties and poor sanitation and their salaries were extremely insufficient and could not afford them a good life. In addition, the story explains that darkness and unhygienic conditions define their ways of life and there was no hope that one day there would be a brighter future for them.
It is necessary to explain that the domination of whites over black Americans was possible because the former had the economic, political, and social resources that were important in exercising power and authority over others (Lucacs 42). In addition, they had the numbers and support from the ruling governments to ensure that their needs were considered over those of their counterparts. Therefore, Toomer explains that class differences deepened after the abolishment of the slave trade and this is through to be a strategy developed by the bourgeoisie to ensure they protect their interests. It is necessary to explain that oppression thrives when a group has more influence over the economic, social, and political resources of society over other groups.
The whites owned land and factories. These were the only places that blacks could get employment opportunities to earn income for survival. Therefore, this allowed the whites to dictate the lives of black Americans. The introduction of industries and mechanized farming practices opened rural areas where most black Americans lived and thus they could get jobs as casual laborers. In addition, he argues that people should place their literal contexts in a proper historical time frame to ensure they are appropriate and applicable in analyzing situations (Williams 51). This means that texts are seen as products of history and this makes people to be alienated by various ideologies depending on how they perceive them to be important. Most pro-Marx theorists argue that there was the exploitation of workers during the industrial era and this led to strikes and demonstrations aimed at protecting the rights of employees. The suffering they experienced under their masters was too much to bear and thus they were frustrated because their rights were violated (Lucacs 49).
Walter Benjamin’s Beliefs
Walter Benjamin believed that people should break from traditional forms of art and argues that people should not use social realism to explain critical pragmatism. He believes that writers should focus on the most important aspects of changing their societies and avoid issues that may cause or widen the existing conflicts between people. However, this perspective seems to promote the ideologies of the bourgeoisie because it does not want writers to focus on what is happening on the ground. This means that its literal concern is based on imaginative issues like a better tomorrow and improved standards of living and this becomes a serious weakness in presenting critical realism. This scholar seems to forget that society teaches its members what is right and wrong and helps them to differentiate each of these factors.
Therefore, there is no way people will learn to avoid becoming evil if they do not understand what it means. In addition, people cannot be directed like machines and they need time to learn and adapt to new ways of life (Lucacs 63). Therefore, the use of overt and covert descriptions of situations helps people to understand the differences between good and bad and make informed decisions. Benjamin is not right in advocating for a break from the traditional way of art and he thinks that epic theater is the better option for artists. However, he fails to understand that even his works originated from people who derived their discussions from the ideologies that existed during their time.
However, a critical understanding of literal works should involve the understanding of class conflicts and how they cause power struggles. The rich and poor want to ensure that their interests are protected and that they live better lives that are full of oppression. Therefore, they devise ways of ensuring they achieve maximum benefits by exploiting their enemies. Benjamin argues that the rich want to pay little salaries to workers and sell their products at expensive prices so that they can get high salaries. On the other hand, the poor want to be paid high salaries and buy goods cheaply so that they can save money for other uses (Williams 77). This causes a power struggle between these classes and makes them fight hard to protect and advance their concerns. This causes the dominant group to exploit the weak one and this explains the huge gap between the bourgeoisie and proletariat. The commodification of human labor creates false consciousness among workers that think that they are being helped by the little salaries they get from their bosses (Jameson 49). However, the continued oppressive hegemony leads to violent revolutions because the bourgeoisie had never been willing to cede their power to their employees since this will reduce their profits and dominance over the poor.
Different ideologies were presented by various theorists that argued in favor of their arguments. Sociologists, economists, historians, and philosophers believe that it is not easy to understand the contexts of a literal work without knowing the background of authors and their experiences. Authors develop their ideologies based on what they understand and are socialized to believe in.
Louis Althusser explains that Marxism should not be taken to such far extremes because some of the ideologies presented in his argument do not hold any water. However, Benjamin argues that relative autonomy is important in determining the cause of literature; therefore, socio-economic factors should not be considered when preparing, presenting, and analyzing any literal work. Benjamin argues that this condition escalated and became a resistance as workers joined hands to demand that they be paid reasonable salaries. Therefore, the demonstrations were an illustration of the suffering they experienced. This means that the worker’s strikes were the surface expressions of what was affecting their lives. A person would easily condemn workers for striking and claim that this was a crude way of demanding pay increases; however, the same person would understand the plight of workers by spending a day in a factory and getting exposed to the long working hours and tough conditions that black Americans experienced to earn meager salaries. Therefore, the ideology of strikes was a surface expression of the hidden suffering that workers experienced in factories.
Caudwell defines the upper and lowers economic class citizens using terms that are considered to be ‘vulgar’. He refers to the rich as bourgeoisie and poor as proletariat and his ideas focus on literature that is commercialized. Benjamin supports this argument and explains that most reading publics are bourgeois and writers must produce work that will attract these audiences. Therefore, writers have no options except to change their art because they become exploited. Therefore, this confirms that the relationship between a literary text and economic base is very strong and cannot be broken by ideologies that struggle to create equality and social understanding between the rich and poor.
Benjamin argues that writers cannot sell their art to the poor because they do not have money to buy them and have other urgent needs that cannot be substituted by reading materials. In addition, most proletariats consider buying and reading novels, plays, poems, and short stories as an unnecessary luxury (Horkheimer 73). They hardly attend cinema halls and theaters because they do not have money to pay for the expensive entrance tickets. Benjamin believes that extreme poverty that defines the proletariats makes them poor and they cannot afford to buy literary texts; therefore, artists do not consider them to be important clients for their works.
Lack of economic resources or abilities forms the basis of understanding various themes advanced by writers. In addition, the struggle to achieve a balanced society where people are respected and treated equally regardless of their economic situations creates a power struggle between the rich and poor. This creates different scenes that help writers to shape their work by describing how power struggles to shape the personalities of the characters used in plays, novels, poems, and short stories. Therefore, they do not produce work that targets them, and this explains why economic domination and literary texts have close relationships. Caudwell believes that there is a simple deterministic relationship among history, literary texts, and the economic base of individuals and this shapes the course of the decisions they make and their life.
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In addition, he argues that literary texts represent the dominant groups in society and advances their ideologies. Moreover, the Marxist approach stipulates that the economic strength of a society shapes its activities. This means that economic activities, determine the nature and structure of social and political institutions that shape the ideologies, institutions, and practices of a society. These critics argue that literature is shaped by what a society produces and the systems involved in the creation of wealth and utilization of resources. The industrial era was marked by literature that exposed the inefficiencies of political and legal institutions that promoted inequality in society. Therefore, the literature of this era presented the different aspects of social and political inequalities that were created by unequal distribution of wealth and unfair allocation of resources to members of the society.
It is necessary to explain that this approach to literature shapes the superstructure of a society by examining the weaknesses of institutions and how this affects the lives of individuals. Therefore, the strength of literature’s backbone is determined by how well writers understand the economic positions of their societies. Literature exposes the evils of regimes and the weaknesses of institutions to offer equal opportunities to all members. This means that traditional writing has always reflected the importance of economies in shaping the behavior of individuals and characters in a story.
Horkheimer, Max. Dialectic of Enlightenment (Cultural Memory in the Present). Stanford University Press, 2007. Print.
Jameson, Frederick. Marxism and Form: Twentieth-Century Dialectical Theories of Literature. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1974. Print.
Lucacs, George. History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics. Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1972. Print.
Toomer, Jean. Blood-Burning Moon. English 204-DCC, 2011. Web.
Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature (Marxist Introductions). London: Oxford University Press, 1978. Print.