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The story of 'A & P' through the lens of Marxism

By: Beatrice,Foraiyah, Halla, Lekha and Rawan

Foraiyah Babar

on 2 March 2011

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Transcript of The story of 'A & P' through the lens of Marxism

Karl Marx Created the Communist Manifesto in 1848 •A Marxist is someone who follows or strongly believes in the theory of Marxism. • Marxism as described by Karl Marx is a society in which the state owns all the land and the property. It is a system which works on behalf of the working class (Haberman and Shubert 348). • In the Marxist belief system, the community does not revolve around a capitalist system, money does not exist and people work certain hours a day. From this everyone gets exactly what they need. • In this ideal society, people wear the same clothes and have very little to no luxury. People also have to rotate every year from house to house to avoid any property ownership. • Karl Marx stated that there were two classes, the Proletariat and the Bourgeois. The Proletariats were the workers of the land, such as servants while the Bourgeois were the corporate owners. Random Facts •This theory is a form of socialism, which is a belief in there being no class division among people of any sort, whether it be economical or social. It is equality all around.
•Today, communism can be found in countries such as China, Cuba and North Korea.
China became a communist state in 1949 (McCauley 3). Through a Marxist Lens, an overall statement that this story is sending to the audience is that poor people work hard and still get stepped on while those that are deemed to be indecent and unintelligent are getting a higher stand in society. This relates to real life, which undoubtedly has inequality and class division in it. • Power structure questions asked would be who has power? Why? What makes them powerful?
• Economic Structure questions would be who has money? How does that affect who they are? Does what they can afford put them in a place in society?
o Power Structure
o Economical/Money Structure
o Class Division The Marxist Criticism- 3 main points “A&P” Quick Summary: • A&P is grocery store in United States; the time setting of this story is around 1980’s as indicated in the story. • There are two cashiers in this store, Sammy and Stokesie. Sammy is the character whose point of view we’re getting the story. He is the protagonist. While Stokesie is just his friend who is 22 years old and has 2 kids. From this you can tell how early people got married and got jobs, which also indicates that the time frame was 1970 to the1980’s. • One day these 3 random, very beautiful girls walk into the store with nothing but bikini’s on. As any normal person would do, Sammy and Stokesie stared till their eye sockets hurt. • Sammy names the girl walking around in the front a queenie by the way she walked, the way she led the ‘other girls behind her’ and her body shape; she was much prettier than the other two girls. • They girls pick up what they needed and head towards the cashier. While making their way there, Lengel, the store manager comes up and talks to the girls. • He tells them they are not decent and that they are infringing store policy.
• Sammy decides that he wants to be the girl’s hero and quit his job in front of them so then he could be with them. So Sammy quits his job and by the time he gets out of the store after the girls, they have undoubtedly gone away.
• From this Sammy is now jobless and he is still poor. Thesis The Marxist theory applies well to the story because it identifies many different power and economic structures due to class division, which we can associate with reality. Power Structure What is power structure? Power structure is identified as different people, in a society, that obtain powers according to their positions.
Such as, Hazel Maccallion who is currently our mayor in our society, because of her job, she leads the city, therefore she has a lot more power than us. Power Structure seen in the Story In the story, “A&P” written by John Updike power structure is presented throughout the text. In the beginning of the story a “queen” is introduced. Even though the girl is just a normal girl like rest of her friends, she is labeled as the “queen”. This shows that she is the one who controls the group and in a way has power of over them. In the text it is stated that, “She was the queen… she kind of led them… she didn’t look around”. This is emphasizing that the queen is very independent and self-absorbed. Sammy, who is one of the main characters in the story, he always tends to focus more on the queen instead of anyone else. She is the one who leads the other girls to Sammy’s check out slot. When she walks, she leads her friends, leaving them behind to follow her. This signifies that she is better and holds more power than that of her friends. Because the queen is identified and treated like a “queen” it sets a division between who has power. Since a “queen” is identified as rich, beautiful, respected and looked up to, Sammy and Stokesie are mainly giving attention to her. Sammy is able to distinguish between the girls and is aware of the different power structure that exists between them. Since the girl is the “queen” he is aware of the fact that she holds the most power in the group. There is another example of power structures that exists within the story. Lengel, the store manager, holds the most power in leading the store. Since the store is a place where everyone comes, he wants the girls to dress decently and not ruin his store’s reputation. He states: “Girls, I don’t want to argue with you, after this come in here with your shoulders covered”. This shows that he is in a higher position and has more authority than the girls. He is the one running the store and does not want his own reputation to be ruined in front of other customers. According to the Marxist lens power structure is a bad because people try to obtain power and lead others according to their own beliefs, whether one agrees with the rules or not. It is important to recognize that power structure is built in society according the roles people play. A mayor is placed higher up in the society than that of a garbage collector. While in a Marxist society, everyone is at the same level, no one’s higher or lower than the other. Since the queen has the most power within her group of her friends, and the store manager holds the most power in running his store, it is good to notice that there can be more than one hierarchy in a society. For example, relating to today’s world in many countries the prime minister or the presidents hold the most power in leading their country. Such as Obama (America’s President), Stephen Harper (Canada’s Prime Minister) and Manmohan Singh (India’s Prime Minster). Since all the rules are passed through them, they have the most say in what is right and wrong and they have the right to make the decisions for their countries. The Story A&P is written by John Updike. Characters Sammy Lengel Stokesie The 3 girls Customers referred to as "few house-slaves" The Cashier lady Mr. McMahon Other Customers referred to as "scared pigs in a chute" Economic Structure Class Division A term that refers to the hierarchal arrangement of individuals in a society into divisions of wealth or power.
Karl Marx refers to the wealthy citizens as “bourgeoisie” and the unfortunate citizens as “proletariat”.
The proletariat represent the labour class as the bourgeoisie own the means of production which includes the proletarian labour power. Bourgeois Proletariats Capitalism Capitalism happens when the means of production are privately owned and the objective is to obtain profit. Social mobility is very common in capitalism and people believe that working hard and making a lot of money, they will be able to go up in the social ladder. Marxism and Capitalism • It creates class division; low class and high class. The classes are divided by who has more money (high class), and the ones who has less money (low class). The lower classes are not able to obtain everything that is needed, such as good health care, education, food, etc.
• Marxism does not believe in the value of money, but in the needed things. In Capitalism people become materialistic and loose the value of sentimental things.
• A 20 dollar bill has no real value for Marxists, it is paper with 20 printed on it.
• Capitalists are very objective about brand names, logos and buy based on advertisements.
Marxists Solutions/Beliefs • People should get what they need, not money, such as food, shelter, water, clothing, health care and education.
• Jobs are established through merit. The government should be the provider and make sure people have equal opportunities.
Social Mobility The story shows examples connected to social mobility. Sammy’s friend, Stokesie believes he will become a manager some day. Another example of this is the moment when Sammy quits his job and his manager tells him: “You’ll fell this for the rest of your life.” According to Lengel this means that he will not be able to have a better life because he is quitting his job. He believes that staying at the store, Sammy would be able to grow. Social Conflict Rich people do not always work as hard as poor people, however they still have a better life. Many people, who have more difficulties in their lives work hard for their money, but they do not get everything they deserve. This is an example of what happens to Sammy, he works hard at the store, while the manager sits behind a door that is marked “MANAGER”. This clearly shows the higher class not deserving the power they possess. Marxist theory does not believe that society should be divided in classes. All people are equal under the law, meaning that everyone should have same access to all their basic needs. Marxist theory applied in A&P: • Class division is very apparent in A&P where the narrator noticeably compares the life styles of the rich and poor, and where he gives the reader a chance to apply their own Marxist criticisms to the story.
• As the three girls walk into the store in nothing but bathing suits, they challenge the acceptable social standard of society.
• In the story, the girls are identified with unique identities such as “queenie”, “big tall goony goony”, and “plaid” while he refers to the other customers without uniqueness as “bums”, “sheep” and “pigs in a chute”. The narrator, being part of the lower to middle class, portrays the girls as people from a high social standard worth the special attention. • In order to impress the rich girls after they had been embarrassed, Sammy states “I quit” loud enough for the girls to hear because, as he clearly stated, he wanted to be their unsuspected hero. The narrator quits his job knowing he will financially struggle only to attempt to astound the rich girls. • There is a conflict between Marxism and hierarchal classification apparent in the story, two things that are very contradictory to one another. When lengel demanded the girls dress appropriately just like the other customers, he represents Marxism because he demands equality between his customers. On the other hand, Sammy represents class division because he stood up for those girls and therefore provided them with special treatment. stereotyping trying to impress the laddies? • The narrator reveals that his parents depend on him and his job for the money. Once he quits he says, “my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter” He realized that without his job at the market his life would be extremely difficult. The reader is conditioned to accept the status quo as the story ends with the narrator being worse off than he had started due to the realisation that he is a low class citizen and that his life is going to be much more difficult without his job as opposed to the rich girls driving back to their rich families. • The girls are neglecting their religion when under dressing at a public market place. On the other hand, the manager, lengel, who is a middle class citizen, teaches Sunday school and is therefore portrayed as religious in this story. In conclusion being part of a higher class and having all you need and want allows you to live in comfort and confidence neglecting god and faith, like the girls portray. On the contrary, having two jobs like lengel and still being a middle class citizen gives a person the need to look for greater happiness in god and religion. Religion Educational Level In the story, it is implied that high class people have a lower educational level as the narrator referred to queeny’s voice as “flat and dumb”. In addition, she said “we are descent” referring to the way they are dressed, which does not meet policies or the standard way of dressing at a market, this proves she is minimally educated about the middle class society’s expectations. While on the contrary lengel has two jobs and is a teacher himself. This comparison in this story proves that people within the higher class have a lower educational level due to their possession of money.
Age Sammy realizes, “that’s policy for you, policy is what the kingpins want, what others want is juvenile delinquency”.
Juvenile delinquency: a violation of the law by a minor
From this quote, the narrator proves his frustration because of another stereotype where every time a policy is broken, it is due to the immaturity of a minor. People always associate being older to being wiser. The narrator also referred to the girls as “kids” in paragraph 11. In this particular story, the high class citizens are portrayed through young adolscents, while the middle class citizens are portrayed through lengel, and adult with two jobs. In Conclusion Stereotyping is also a big part of Marxist criticism, and it is apparent when the narrator heard the girl’s voice and identified that she comes from a wealthy family. Even though he had never met her family before, he imagines the men in bowties and women in sandals holding their glasses with olives and sprigs of mints in them.
In addition, he reveals his insecurity as he compares his own middle class to the high class citizens. After examining the three different aspects of the Marxist theory in relation to the story, it becomes evident that a Marxist message is being conveyed through the text.
• Many of the events that take place in John Updike's "A&P" would not have happened had the town lived under a Marxist society. There are three major social conflicts that can be realized after reading the story:
1. A conflict between Sammy and his manager, Lengel
2. A conflict between Sammy and the three girls, particularly “the Queen”
3. And a conflict between the three girls and the rest of the shoppers in the store.
• Clearly, there is a conflict between the rich and poor—Sammy, a young man from the “lower class” is struggling to make an honest living, while his manager, Lengel does less work, and obviously lives a more luxurious life.
• Economically, Sammy is dependent on Lengel for his living. Clearly, his salary isn’t as high as his manager’s, and he ultimately admits to it when he quits even though he knows the world will be hard and dark for him afterwards.
• Power is shown to be unequally divided. The proletariat in the story, Sammy seems to be exploited in addition to having his whole future dependant on the bourgeoisie, being his manager.
• The “Queen” is said to be more beautiful and she is shown to hold greater power than the two girls; she is aware of that, and takes full advantage of it by leading them.
• The rich ironically have less education than the middle/low classes. This proves that class division doesn’t necessarily mean that the rich are more educated than the poor, in fact, it proves that the lower classes value essential things like education more than the rich that prove to be more materialistic.
• Sammy’s modest job at A&P is at such great value to his well being, even though it’s not that great of a salary, nor does it have the greatest working conditions.
• The three girls together symbolize defiance; they challenge the set standards set by the society around them. This silent rebellion shows that people of that time were aware of the norms, yet weren’t too happy with them.
• Most importantly, the narrator— being Sammy—recognizes social differences and the capitalist society he is surrounded by, and he proceeds to poke fun at brand names as the story develops.
• The narrator also recognizes the difference between the three girls, and the society; to him, they are from a higher class, and the rest of the people are “bums”
• Lengel displayed ironic behavior when he told the girls to dress “decently”; he demanded social equality between them and the rest of the customers which shows Marxist thoughts, even though he is clearly a capitalist. 1. Religion
2. Educational Level
3. Age
Class Division affects: • The story serves as a typical representation of capitalist societies because it clearly shows the conflict between the capitalists that control the salaries, working conditions, and other elements of the exploited working class.
• It is important to realize that Marxism is commonly mistaken for communism. Even though they are related, attempts at communist governments have failed most of the time with some exceptions. Eg. Soviet Union, which became poorer after the downfall of communism, and with communism, they were among the first to land on the moon, but on the other hand, their autocratic leader Stalin is amongst the worst leaders in the world. • For the most part, Communism has failed, examples of that would be Germany and North Korea.
• China which is known as a communist country actually has the second largest growing economy, and soon it will be the first. The government is officially “Communist” while in reality, the country’s economic structure shows otherwise; in fact some call china: “the world’s most Capitalist country”
The Berlin Wall • To conclude consider these questions:
1. How many people would actually rather have Canada be a Marxist society? Why or why not?
2. Does it bother you that CEOs of companies that most of the time don’t study as much in universities as the company’s engineers get more money? Keep in mind that engineers also do more hands-on work.
3. People like Bill Gates get more money just because they inspired an idea, but what about the computer programmers/engineers/scientists that helped him in his journey to the wealth he lives in right now. Don’t you think that their efforts went sort of unnoticed? Compared to the work they did, and continue to do, don’t they deserve as much money as he gets? Remember that Bill Gates alone couldn’t have built the Microsoft Company.
4. What about those athletes that were “blessed” with a talent. Do they deserve the millions of dollars that they get while all they do is “entertain” the crowd? Compare them to surgeon that saves lives, the money he gets doesn’t compare to the money that some athletes get just for “signing a contract” with a club.
5. Don’t you believe that the people in developed countries such as Africa deserve just as much of luxuries that we enjoy here? Would it be different if the whole world was Marxist, and their well-being mattered to us more than the latest video game?
6. Compare the countries that attempted Implementing Communism to the theory of Marxism. What did they fail to do? What are the similarities?
• Maybe Marxism is a theory that will take many years to implement properly, but before that, people need to be educated about the theory and not only about the failed attempts of communism.
• Before anything can change in this capitalist world, people need to be taught not to be greedy, and stop to consider their need before their wants and to take only what they need
• Since greed is in human nature, it is hard to abolish it and have a world where workers work hard for the money they earn without the desire for more money
Discussion Questions 1. Identify two to three conflicts you recognize in the story from a Marxist perspective.
2. Identify the bourgeoisie (Capitalist), and the proletariat (exploited working class).
3. Are the characters aware of the social class boundaries and differences? 4.What can be noticed about the bourgeoisie’s job in relation to the proletariat? 5. How does the protagonist character finally overcome oppression?
6. What is the message that the text is trying to convey about social mobility? Questions Asked by Marxist Critics
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