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Marxist Critique.

Lodge’s Points Regarding Marxism:

Human Nature (Pgs. 233, 234, 241)

  • Followers of Marxism believe that humans are completely materialistic.
  • Believe that humans are independent.
  • Theorize that humans are naturally social beings and a human’s interactions tend to define their conscious.

Class Struggle: (Pgs. 230, 232, 231)

  • The constant conflict between the people who have wealth and the people who do not. People in the higher class with more money will consistently control and keep down the people below them through money or even heredity. The lower class will be at constant conflict to try and rise above the person or people that are wealthier than them, attempting to obtain their level.

View on culture and Tradition: (Pgs. 230, 232, 233, 239)

  • Marxists see tradition as a way to keep those who have wealth, power, and authority keeping it and staying above those who do not. Also, it is a way for those who do not have money or wealth to gain what they desire.

While reading the novel “The Paradise of the Blind”, it is evident that a Marxist would have critical comments when analyzing this book. Although Paradise of the Blind is commonly called an Anti-Communist novel, it can still be viewed through the lens of Marxism. When reading Paradise of the Blind with the mindset of a Marxist, it is crucial to comprehend particular points to understand why a Marxist would critique this piece of literature. Through David Lodge’s defined points about the views of a Marxist, it is evident that Paradise of the Blind can be profitably examined through the critical lens of literary Marxism.

As stated by Lodge, Marxists define humans as materialistic and who indirectly/directly associate emotions with material objects. Marxists also theorize that humans are naturally social beings and a human’s interactions tend to define their conscious (Lodge, Pg. 233, 234, 241).  As seen in chapters 5-6 of Paradise of the Blind, Que discovers a new purpose by giving gifts to her nephews and fails to give much to her own daughter. This is return makes Hang feel unappreciated and unloved. This is proof that humans do associate intense emotions such as love with materialistic objects. It also confirms a Marxist argument due to the fact that although Hang is not necessarily concerned with presents or any tangible object, she still feels the love draining from her mother’s heart because received nothing, while her cousins were given so much.  Another example of humans being materialistic is indirectly in Chapter 3 when Uncle Chinh and Que are discussing the reasons why he was unable to organize memorial ceremonies for their parents. He openly states that humans are nothing but materialistic and ancestry is not a priority.

Que: “Dead or alive, we have no others. You were all they had to continue the family line”.

Uncle Chinh: “Come on, let’s drop this nonsense, We live in a materialistic age, no one cares about ancestor worship”.  (Huong, Chapter 3, Pg. 49)

In relation to the theory that the interactions humans experience tend to define their conscious, the author of Paradise of the Blind uses remarkable language to illustrate the interactions between different characters and this is later shown to affect Hang’s present state and her perception of the past. For example, the subject of fathers is sensitive for Hang, but this is only because one of the first interactions she had with a neighbor who insulted her. In Chapter 1, Page 18, it is seen that her neighbor snaps at her insultingly when she questions who handsome Ton is by saying “ “your own father you poor thing”. It also evident that she feels horrible about it and describes it as the following: “I ran into the garden. They had mocked me, insulted me, the fatherless child … I hid myself to cry”. Later,  Hang’s interactions with multiple other characters such as her mother, aunt, uncle and even friends late add emotion and feeling to the event and how she remembers it. An additional example could be the conversation that Hang has while in tears with her mother. This ultimately affects her memory of how she has ever gotten to her any information on her father and the interaction with her mother itself since she remembers it so intensely. It doesn’t only add to the pile of memories she has regarding information about her father, it also adds to her view of her mother and what kind of relationship they had. The conversation is as follows:

Que: “Don’t cry child, don’t cry anymore now”

Hang (in tears): “They all have a father, even if he is deaf or blind. Tell me. Tell me who is my father?”

Que: “Don’t ask these questions again, someday we’ll all be happy” (Huong, Chapter 3, Pg.46)

By viewing this scenario from the standpoint of a Marxist, it is easily seen the humans are portrayed as indirectly materialistic. In addition, the reader can understand how Hang’s interactions with many of the other character later affect her conscience views on people and events in her life. The author’s compelling language allowed one to see that the theory of Marxism may prove to be accurate to a certain extent, based on Hang’s interactions with other people in the story, she later develops her own conscience and perception of her past, not only this, but it can also be seen that even close relatives are materialistic and admit to that because it is simply in their nature.

Lodge defines the class struggle as those who have wealth in society, also control the means of production. Also defined as a consistent struggle between classes, those who have money will always try and make more to keep down those who do not. Those who do not have money will try to rise above those who do. In simpler terms, it will forever be the upper class versus the lower class (Lodge, Pgs. 230, 232, 231). This is clear in Chapter 3 of Paradise of the Blind, when hang’s Uncle Chinh describes street vendors as enemies to the revolution because they are considered being part of the bourgeoisie. When conversing with his sister Que, he openly states “Stop, you do not need to rail any longer. Small traders like you are bourgeoisie” (Huong, Chapter 3, Pg 51).  A different example of those who are wealthy controlling those who are not is seen in Chapter 7  when Aunt Tam is taking care and financially providing for Hang instead of her own mother. Her mother is disheartened because she does not want Hang to be provided for by her sister in law; however, because he is part of the lower class, she also has no choice but to bitterly accept this. These are just two examples, it is evident that through the impressive way the author structures her novel, it connects Hang’s memories to the various critiques of the major ideals of Communism. However, through the opinions of Que and Uncle Chinh, it is easily shown that class struggle is real and it is what keeps those who have wealth in power and those who do not under those who do.

Lodge establishes that Marxists see tradition as a way to keep those who have wealth, power, and authority keeping it and staying above those who do not. Also, it is a way for those who do not have money or wealth to gain what they desire. To further explain, culture and tradition are the reason certain people stay in power because there is societal pressure to follow tradition. On the opposite end people who do not have much gain what they desire because it is traditional to give to them (Lodge, Pgs. 230, 232, 233, 239).

Within Paradise of the Blind, it is seen that culture and tradition plays a major role in various events that take place and the location of the story itself. Uncle Chinh is an excellent example that confirms a Marxist argument regarding culture and tradition. Since he is the dominant male figure in the family, he is constantly given respect and has authority over his sister and her child. He is simply given power and authority because in the Vietnamese tradition women are always secondary and not given much power or control. Not only is he given control over making decisions, he is also given a large amount of respect from his sister, she even fears to disagree with him. This is clear in Chapter 3, Page 50, it is seen that even though Que is panicked and completely disagrees with her brother’s ideas, she still fears his authority over her. When in disagreement with her brother she fearfully says  “My mother started to whimper and plead. Please, I beg you”.It is clear through the language the author uses and the tone that is inferred that Que is fearful of disagreeing with her brother, simply because tradition has deemed men to have power, while women must obey.

To close, one can clearly see that through the defined points regarding Marxists beliefs, it is evident that Paradise of the Blind can be profitably examined through the critical lens of literary Marxism. The language, structure, and technique that Duong Thu Huong utilizes add to the critical argument a Marxist could make. Firstly, the authoring language when described her human characters and their interactions prove that humans are completely materialistic even if they do not intend to be. In addition to that, it also proves that the interactions that Hang has with different characters later affect her sense of the past, and the people in her life, which correlates with the argument that naturally the interactions humans have defined their conscious. Finally, through Huong’s noticeable technique and structure of various events, class struggle and tradition can easily be viewed through the eyes of a Marxist. Perhaps, all these components make for such an intriguing and astonishing novel.

Erum Ahmed

Word Count: 1,655

1 Comment

  1. sameehakhalil says:

    I applaud your detailed analysis for its many examples and explanations! To be completely honest, at first, I did not consider that marxism was evident inside the novel. However, I realized (through reading your analysis) that marxism actually has a major role in the novel and its characters. I even found a connection between time-shift and Marxist critique regarding male dominance and specifically how it affected Que. By emotionally attaching herself to the prosperity of Uncle Chinh and his sons, she gave an example of male dominance in society at the time and even allowed it to destroy her relationship with her daughter. Similarly, through shifts in time, Hang is able to lift the veil of her innocence and come to realize that this example of marxism is caused by the idea of male dominance in society.

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