End of Year Reflection
The College of General Studies is truly a hidden gem. I have made so much progress this past year and it was the help of faculty that I did so. I definitely have improved my writing and oral communication skills. In Rhetoric, each paper I have written has improved grammatically and I have been able to explain and portray my thoughts in a variety of ways. I did this through creative writing—describing in specific detail an event. I also did it through my research papers in which I had to formally explain a thesis and the history behind the topic. I even improved orally—within and out of class. The fact that I became the president of the World Affairs forum has taught me how to communicate and grab people’s attentions to events that are going on. Within the classroom in all classes (humanities, Social Science, and Rhetoric) my way of speaking has greatly improved through discussions and occasionally being a discussion leader.
I have also gained more comprehensive insight on how to gather, analyze, document, and even integrate all this information into a research paper. Rhetoric was a key in doing so. By writing two detailed 12 page research papers I now know how to start working on research. I first go onto the BU library and go to encyclopedias and fact books in order to gain understanding of my topic. Then, instead of going to google.com, I would look up scholarly articles and books on JSTOR and similar sites. However, it is important not to get bogged down in all the information found. I now know that I need to check and understand biases and I know how integrate my own ideas with others—without accidently plagiarizing. Through research I have also become aware of cultural and historical contexts. Rhetoric has taught me how to incorporate them into a paper without either giving too much history ( and not enough opinion) and to look at the culture from different viewpoints to get a clear understanding without biases.
What I really enjoyed about the courses at CGS was the fact that they tried to integrate knowledge from the different classes creating interdisciplinary subjects. Although I noticed that in social science and humanities we were talking about literary and social movements from the same time period, I wish that the teachers incorporated and talked about the connections more. However, throughout the year my ability to notice and connect ideas from different classes made my papers and my understanding of certain subjects much stronger. Although it was difficult, the joint paper we had to write for social science and humanities really made my writing much stronger because I had to think very deeply about connections in Maggie: A girl of the Streets and Marx—which seem like completely different and irrelevant subject matters even though they connect a lot.
Overall, one of my goals for next year is to take my writing even further. Even though my ideas are always original and take the question at hand to a new level, I still need to perfect my skills in persuasion and organization. I also would like to appreciate humanities more. At times I would ask myself why some of the readings were important or why I should be finding the “inner meaning”. But, I hope to connect the ideas of humanities to the real world more in order to truly understand why the writers of certain ages wrote the ways they did.
Hum/SS Joint Paper
Sparking a Revolution: The Proletariat and the Girl of the Streets
Revolutions do not occur because of inequality but because of many conditions. One of these conditions is inequality, which combines and creates repressive conditions for a certain group of people, usually a minority. A question that many people forget is how do people gather together to revolt or revolutionize their surroundings in the first place. There is usually a trigger that lets people realize these problems. What creates a movement rather than an infinite cycle of poverty as in the novella, Maggie: a Girl of the Streets by Stephen Crane? Marx does not mention the trigger that leads to a revolution in the Communist Manifesto. He also fails to realize that self-interest could lead many of his theoretical ideas towards failure. This can be seen in the moments that communism was put in place in some countries. Both Marx and Crane explore the conditions of the working class. However, there is much tension between these two writers because of their different mind frames. Crane focuses his attention on social aspects of the working class while Marx talks about the working class in the context of the work place. Crane uses the idea of naturalism to emphasize the conditions and struggle of survival that occurred during the Industrial Revolution. These harsh conditions created an endless cycle that show that Marx’s revolution may not have worked out in Crane’s novella. If we take Marx as a foundation for talking about the characters in Crane’s novel, we can see multiple reasons why the characters are not on the verge of a revolution.
“A specter is haunting Europe- the specter of communism,” wrote Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto. Marx wrote at a time of great deprivation. The Industrial Revolution had begun and conditions were disastrous and unsanitary. Slums and smoke disrupted the landscape. Focus moved from a love of nature to a love of money. Therefore, he created his own character---the specter called communism. Creating this theory led to many international changes that did not necessarily reflect his initial intentions for the creation of communism. There must be a reason for this difference between what Marx actually thought and what actually happened. Marxism is a hypothetical form of communism. Marxism only worked in theory but, due to several factors not accounted for, communism did not become a solution to a problem but a problem in itself. People did not act together for the betterment of government, but rather each person wanted power and each person wanted to be the one to rule the masses. That is because humans innately act out of self-interest. Thus, absolutist governments arise because of the fight for power enacted by self-interest. It is not Marx’s criticism of capitalism that was faulty but his explanation of how the proletariat will go about forming a revolution. Although Marx mentions the formation of unions and increase in number of the proletariat he never gives a direct connection between the movements from reforms to a revolution. A revolution would require massive changes and revolts by a great number of people but a reform, that is, changes within the system, seems much more practical.
Marx believes that capitalism has created the beast of self-interest. He stated that “the bourgeoisie…has left no other bond between man and man than naked self- interest” ( Marx 12). However, self-interest is a natural trait of human beings; it was not simply created by capitalism. Taking this into account, a revolution is much harder to have. Even if the people ignore their self-interest and revolt for the good of the people as a whole, there still remains a fundamental problem in regards to confusion about the new form of government. After the excitement of a successful revolution dies down, chaos erupts as the people try to figure out the new system. At the most, reforms will occur to make it easier to improve the system. But, to change the whole system means that everyone would have to act together as a whole. However, it is very difficult to change another person’s mindset since a person’s environment also shapes a person’s outlook of the world, as we see in the novella by Crane.
Marx said that class relationships are defined by the means of production. There are the proletariat who create the products and the bourgeoisie who own the factories and see the workers as a commodity. He believed that these classes exist purely for economic reasons. If this is the case then it makes sense that a revolution can occur because the majority, the proletariat, would want what is best in their self-interest which is better conditions. People would act in self-interest so that they could be in the best economic position possible. Marx’s argument is flawed because, as we see through Crane’s novella, economic reasons are not the only reason for the existence of classes. A person’s prestige, honor, and power are other factors for social stratification. Although they seem to be connected economically, there is something greatly social about having power and honor that goes beyond monetary value. There has to be respect and individual admiration for these people; we see this in Maggie’s awe of Pete. Therefore, Marx’s idea that the proletariat will want an economic revolution is false. If some sort of revolution were to occur it would be because of a general social and economic distress of the situation that the proletariat has to face.
Now that we understand Marxist ideology we can apply this knowledge to the characters in Maggie: A Girl of the Streets. Crane’s defense of the working class is seen from a different perspective than Marx. Crane describes those in the social margins through social interactions while Marx talks about the working class through the industries or work places themselves. Stephen Crane wrote the novella during the time of the industrial revolution as well. He was inspired by French naturalism. The literary movement of Naturalism is important to understanding the circumstances of the working class during the industrial time period. Naturalism uses detailed realism to suggest that social conditions and the environment have an inescapable impact in shaping a human’s personality or character. By replicating believable everyday circumstances, the author can emphasize the normality of severely bad conditions. Although Marx would have enjoyed the emphasis on the working class, he would have encouraged Crane to show the anger of the masses that could start a revolution. However, Crane shows that even the slightest attempts at escape never led to anger, but only led to hopelessness for this working class. People accepted their position and their main goal was survival. A revolution was an idea that simply was not in the minds of these people. For the characters to have even thought about a revolution seems impractical. However, there is the possibility of reform for people like these characters. By Crane physically writing the novella, publishing, and distributing the novella, although it was a “risqué novel,” he sparked a chance for reform to occur. He was able to write a social book that could influence people’s mindsets and maybe even help people out of a cycle of hopelessness.
In order to see whether or not something similar to a Marxist revolution could have occurred to characters such as those within Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, one must first identify the elements of naturalism. By understanding the circumstances of the character, one can then come to conclusions. Even within the first paragraphs of the novel, it is clear that the world of these characters will be one of violence and degradation. There are young boys with “crimson oaths” fighting in a location named “Rum Alley”. From this scenario we can clearly see that this novella will not have the ideal characters we find in many novels. Crane enjoys adding much irony to the novella. The mother who would be thought to be a caring and nurturing character, named Mary, is twisted into something close to a devil. The fact that her name is Mary simply adds to the irony since she seems to be the opposite of a pious religious figure. Mary’s drinking and abusing her children shows her prominent flaws. Chapter Two introduces a look inside the family of Maggie. The neglected baby Tommie eventually dies and is given no true burial. The abusive mother, the careless father, and Maggie (who seems to be the most pure and motherly character) are all described in their interactions with each other. The family is always fighting and yelling, and this shows the broken nature of the family. Even the neighbors could not care less about others. They are concerned with their own troubles. The conditions of all these individuals are portrayed through detailed realism. It seems that the poverty has led to a broken environment that everyone has adapted to. Through these elements of naturalism one can see that the main troubles of these individuals come down to the simple concept of survival. These characters do not have the time to ponder over Marx’s ideas of a revolution. The most of their thinking is whether or not they have a meal for tomorrow.
Maggie, unlike most of the characters who have accepted their condition, tries to escape the world she lives in and find an ideal lifestyle. By being with Pete, who supposedly is of a higher social class, she can escape her troubles. She sees Pete, a bartender, to have obtained an “elegant occupation” (Crane 38) and looks up to him because he seems to be well off in her perspective. However, Pete leaves her for someone who he sees as of even higher status. Ironically, at the end of the novel he is sitting drunken when Nellie leaves him because of his low status. These relationships are not simply based off of monetary status but by how one presents themselves. Although Pete does not have much money, through his actions he exudes “richness”. This connects with the idea that Marx was not correct in saying that social classes are purely economic. How one sees another person is perception which is very much a social factor.
Escape seems impossible in Crane’s world. The innocence of Maggie diminishes by the end of the novel and she herself becomes a part of the cycle as a prostitute. Maggie’s forced loss of innocence shows that it is not necessarily the characters fault but the corrupt system of the Industrial Revolution that has diminished the value of each character and created a monster that even those who try to escape it only become even more tightly gripped by it. Because of injustices similar to this, Marx and Engels rose to write the Communist Manifesto in attempt to revolutionize the system. Nonetheless the question arises, how could a person like Maggie, realize her worth and break the cycle? How could Maggie possibly have the initiative to create revolution?
Crane’s characters are not on the verge of a revolution but, because of environmental factors, they are stuck in a cycle. Although Crane wrote a naturalist based novel, with realistic elements, it is overall fiction. Therefore, Crane is the one who created a world where no social movement could occur and purposefully moved the novel towards one of entrapment to provoke emotion and prove a point about the general lifestyle of the lower class of the time period. But for this purpose, one can treat the characters in the novel as realistic humans of the Industrial time period.
One of the environmental factors that restrict a revolution from occurring is that the generations of children born under slum conditions will follow the lead of their parents like Jimmie from Crane’s novella (who becomes a replica of his father). Even Marx realized the effect of capitalism on the family. He stated in the Communist Manifesto that “all family ties among the proletariat are torn asunder, and their children transformed into simple articles of commerce and instruments of labor” (Marx 28). This was exactly the case for the characters in Crane’s novella. The family was broken and always fighting while Maggie tried to work and make some money at a collar and cuff factory to help keep food on the table; but at the end she was only supplementing to her parents alcohol addiction and the chaos of the family. A sense of family is lost because of the impersonality that was created by the Industrial Revolution.
A revolution can’t occur in Crane’s novella. However, if a revolution occurred, Maggie’s family would not have been happy and would not have fixed their personal problems. Marx believed communism would fix a family’s problems. However, he once again does not take into effect that a purely economic revolution would account for social problems. Maggie’s family seemed to have problems that go beyond basic economic problems. Maggie might have not had to been forced into prostitution (thus becoming a simple article of commerce) even though the mother might have still been drinking and abusing her children. Crane was trying to show the broken family as contributing to the inescapable cycle. Marx even relates to Maggie and prostitution by explaining how the bourgeoisie would abuse the proletariat to the fullest including using the wives and daughters of the proletariat as a sexual commodity who abused these women, “not to speak of common prostitutes” (Marx 28). However, a difference is that Crane believed that environmental factors led to Maggie becoming a prostitute while Marx would have believed that Maggie’s becoming a prostitute was as a result the economic factors of capitalism. Because Crane wanted to portray a non-escapable hell for the characters, not even reform was possible within the book. However, the book itself is a symbol of reform since the first step to action is acknowledgment to the situation.
Marx and Crane both spoke about the working class. However, Crane was more realistic in his claims that the environment shapes a character. Marx on the other hand held a radical view of a revolution that is actually quite difficult to attain because as one critic says, it requires a “transformation of social consciousness” (Manier). A person’s realization can come by either the environment or man. However, “the transformation of social consciousness is not likely to occur abruptly through revolution but gradually through evolution” (Manier). Also, even if this revolution would occur, in the long-run revolutions usually occur with a concentration of power in one person’s hands. The goals of the revolution fade as extremists take over the government and a totalitarian government forms (Encyclopedia Britannica). Therefore, Marx’s idea of a revolution was extreme and unpractical. Reform is the best way to approach the flaws of capitalism. Crane would have agreed that reform is the best since he wrote a book of entrapment to show the world the degradation created by the Industrial Revolution. Advocating for reform can take positive steps toward creating unions, as Marx suggested, and positive steps toward change certain aspects of the system.
Beer, Samuel H. The Communist Manifesto - Marx and Engels. USA: Harlan Davidson, 1955. Print.
Crane, Stephen. The Open Boat and Other Stories. New York: Dover Publications, 1993. Print.
Encyclopedia Britannica. "Revolution (politics)." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica. Web. 23 Apr. 2012. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/500584/revolution>.
Manier, Damien. "Flaws of Marxism." â Damien Manier. Web. 21 Apr. 2012. <http://damienmanier.com/essays/flaws-of-marxism/>.
Joint Paper Summary
I would like to talk about Marx’s and Engels in comparison to Maggie and the working class in two main points. For my thesis I will argue that Crane’s characters are not on the verge of a revolution but that because of environmental factors these characters are stuck in a cycle (taking into account that this is a fictional novel that the author framed in a certain way).
For my second argument I will say that Marx’s idea of communism is flawed and because of that it is very rare for people such as Crane’s characters to be on the verge of a revolution. The problem with Marx’s idea of communism is not even communism itself. But, it is the question of how these lower middle class workers will even come together in the masses and revolt to take over the government. This is difficult because of the poorer classes being stuck in a cycle that occurs such as in the novel by Crane. Also, this is not as easy as one would think because each will act in self-interest and everyone will want to gain power and want to be a leader. Communism can never truly achieve equality in that sense so it is flawed. Lastly, Marx’s communist revolution occurred under different environmental factors and each country’s history influenced whether or not it welcomed a communist revolution.
My first argument is that although Crane wrote a realist novel, it is overall fiction. Therefore, Crane is the one who created a world where no social movement could occur and purposefully moved the novel towards one of entrapment to provoke emotion and prove a point about the general life style of the lower class of the time period. So, I will discuss the reasons Marx’s views are not square with the portrayal of Maggie’s world. Crane’s purpose was to show the social lives of the lower class and how social class is important. Marx focused on the bigger picture of the economy. Crane shows a lack of private material in Maggie’s life to try to show us poverty. Marx would have said no property is good, however I think that Crane would not have agreed with Marx and Engels.