Essay: Philosophical and Literary Representation

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[. . .] When her family returned to Petrograd (Saint Petersburg), they were so impoverished that they were close to starving at times. Against this background, Rand's position on capitalism is not altogether surprising -- it seems that she was never able to emotionally mature past that psychological insult.

In Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conard implies that the corrupt Kurtz is typical of European colonizer. The first capitalistic assumption -- that the a company's purpose is to make a profit and not to benefit mankind -- naturally evolves to the point where the company does not hesitate to use power and violence to ensure profit. Conard illustrates this well through Kurtz's departure from his original mission to civilize the native population to a position in which he is willing to kill them all in order to have unobstructed access to more and more ivory.

Both Conard and Steinbeck allude to Marx's theory of capital accumulation, which holds that it cannot achieve a state of equilibrium, but must always be producing more capital. As a result, according to Marx, capital accumulation cannot be reformed into a system in which the needs of the masses are met. Steinbeck links the threat of eviction by the landlord to the big business interests in the East that are impervious to an appeal by the tenet -- and all seems hopeless, except for a small spark of audacious hope fanned by the tenant, who remarks, "We've got a bad thing made by men, and by God, that's something we can change" (Steinbeck, 1939, p. 41).

In 1930, with the publication of The Fur Trade in Canada, Harold Innis would draw much the same conclusion about the thrust of capitalism and its potential as both a destructive and a generative force. Innis' objective voice and scientific rendering of the growth of the fur trade in the northern territories chronicles the devastating effect of the fur trade on the native populations. He also aptly illustrates the enduring dependence of the native economy and the immigrant economy on the fur trade and the associated cultural changes which had both beneficial and detrimental aspects. As with most incidences of colonization, the clash between a technologically advanced culture and an aboriginal culture resulted in disastrous effects. The Europeans brought weapons and tools to the natives, which considerably improved their ability to hunt and to fight with members of other tribes. But tribal squabbles turned into major battles with the arrival of guns and ammunition, and the very thing that their new economy depended upon -- beaver pelts for European beaver fur felt -- was exterminated in their locals. Native hunters were forced to travel further to find fur-bearing animals, and they faced fierce competition from the French settlers. The increased contact with immigrants exposed the native populations to diseases for which they did not have immunity. The dependence of the native people on the iron that they traded for beaver pelts, in Innis' words, "disturbed the balance which had grown up previous to the coming of the European" (1930).

Capitalism continues to be characterized as both a destructive force and a constructive platform -- a debate that has achieved renewed interest in the aftermath of the fiscal crisis of 2008 to 2011. The same class issues that plagued the migrants in Steinbeck's writing continue to be an issue today. The revolutionary mindset that was felt as much as spoken in The Grapes of Wrath can be experienced today in the social protests that surround the Occupy Movement and the outrage the lower and middle classes feel toward the callously objective ultra-rich.

References

Cunningham, C. (2002). Rethinking the politics of The Grapes of Wrath. [In Cultural Logic, ISSN 1097-3087].

Denning, M. (1996). The cultural front: The laboring of American cultural in the twentieth century. London and New York: Verso.

Hicks, G. (1939, May 2). "Steinbeck's Powerful New Novel." Review of The Grapes of Wrath. New Masses, 22-3.

Innis, H. (1930). The fur trade in Canada: An introduction to Canadian economic history. Revised and reprinted (1977). Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press.

Marx, K. (1978). The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. 1852. [In Robert C. Tucker, Ed., The Marx-Engels Reader. New York, NY: Norton, 1978, pp. 594-617].

Rand, A. (1964). The virtue of selfishness. New… [END OF PREVIEW]

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