A Critique of Marxism
On the shortcomings and merits of classical Marxism
Azure James Michalak
Just as right-wing classical liberalism dominated the 19th century and monarchy the 18th, the most influential force of the 20th century was Communism. Karl Marx’s teachings, after his demise, became a powerful force in great swathes of the world. His doctrine espouses, among other subjects, the avoidance of exploitation; the world proletariat community; the end of alienation and classes; gender equality; and public property. The situation in the world has changed in a multitude of ways since then, politically, economically, and technologically, however in some ways Marx was more than a hundred years ahead of his time.
A central tenet of Marxism is that in capitalism, the means of production is not owned by the workers, therefore they can be forced into dehumanizing positions as powerless underpaid cogs on the wheel of industry. This exploitation, supposed to give them reason to rebel against the capitalists, forms the backbone of communist theory. His vision of an ideal socialist state is where one is paid according to their needs and not their wants.
There are several psychological processes working against the claim that it is beneficial to be paid by needs. First of all, working is often done for the express purpose of receiving payment, not for the betterment of society, making the worker lazy enough to barely complete his job in order to get what he “needs”. Excess work, in opposite, does not seem to have any mechanism for remediation. In some socialist theories, all jobs have similar wages per hour, and this system seems in most situations superior to Marx’s “to each according to his needs; from each according to his ability” ideology due to its improved rewards for labor. Of course this does not mean there should be no social welfare for those who cannot work.
Exploitation in jobs still occurs but it is not an important enough hazard to make governmental communism viable, especially with its historical failings.
World Proletariat Community
This system of the triumphant proletariat was supposed to spread around the whole world, making nation-states as they are now known evaporate. As such, with no countries or nationalism, the world would unite as a unified proletarian group.
This may sound like a great idea in theory, but Marx seems to in some way fail to foresee the repercussions of a world of communism. Human greed would still be at play, and there would be a great chance of dictators, capitalists, and other misfits entering the scene. Because of the definition of Communism as the leadership of the proletariat, it cannot happen in nations without a proletariat per se, therefore it cannot not be global.
Alienation is an important aspect of Marxist ideology, and comes in many forms, such as the alienation of workers from their own product, the alienation of workers from each other, and the alienation of the proletariat and capitalist classes from the other.
Marxism was founded in Industrial Revolution-era societies, which is now one of its largest flaws. Economic systems have changed significantly since then. Instead of employees and their bosses being direct antagonists, as they are in factories, they are more balanced in the dimensions of power, control, and at times, wages. There are now more tiers to the capitalist system than simply capitalist and proletarian, and many jobs are exactly in the middle. North America has moved from a disciplinary society (one where the wrong decision necessitates punishment) to a society where employees have, and appear to have, at least a small amount of control over their jobs. Minimum wages, insurance, and other employment laws have also affected the economic system. America is still the most classically liberal, with no parental leave from work, for example, but Canada and Sweden, among with many other nations, have at least a few socialist principles.
Because of this, direct Marxism, the uprising of the proletariat caused by their discomfort and agitation, cannot occur in most developed nations due to the comfortable conditions of the same.
The views of dissolution of classes are now in some ways out-of-date, in others just as important or moreso. Wealth inequality is extremely high, around the world and in America. However, using the example of the ‘shapeless grey mass’ of the predominantly single-class Soviet Union, experiments in classlessness have not been totally successful. Even the Soviet Union and Pol Pot’s Cambodia still had some sort of class system, for example Shostakovich was paid more than the average worker and was much more famous, and of course the leaders of both countries and some of their cronies had access to more luxuries and privileges than everyone else. These could be thought of as fascist states instead of true communist communities, but judging from the difficulty and challenges posed in creating true communist nations, it is a rather hopeless situation. Democracies have had a much better track record. Treating everyone in an absolutely egalitarian manner is simply illogical, as genetics and physical differences cause people to have unique capabilities and distinctions.
Equality of Genders
Similarly to classes, Marx treated the genders in an egalitarian manner. “The less the skill and exertion of strength implied in manual labour, in other words, the more modern industry becomes developed, the more is the labour of men superseded by that of women. Differences of age and sex have no longer any distinctive social validity for the working class. All are instruments of labour, more or less expensive to use, according to their age and sex.” (Marx, Engels) It is interesting to compare this attitude to the rise of feminism since Marx’s death and observe that they coincide quite well. By inference it is clear that he did not approve of treating the feminine sex in many ways more politely then males, as many of his more traditionalist contemporaries did.
Communist sentiment in Soviet Russia involved the idea and practice of children being raised by society, not their parents. “But even if housework disappears, you may argue, there are still the children to look after. But here too, the workers’ state will come to replace the family, society will gradually take upon itself all the tasks that before the revolution fell to the individual parents. Even before the revolution, the instruction of the child had ceased to be the duty of the parents.” (Kollontai) Whether or not it was directly because of Marx, Soviet children were taught to prioritize Communism above all, rather than attaching themselves most strongly to their families. Aside from being unnerving for parents, in most circumstances would it not be better for children to get at least a large portion of their culture and routine from their mother and father? If freedom or nonconformity is valued, the answer is yes.
Marx was not a supporter of the capitalist notion of private property gained from the labor of others. ‘”The capitalist method of appropriation, which springs from the capitalist method of production, and therefore capitalist private property, is the first negation of individual private property based on one’s own labour. But capitalist production begets with the inevitableness of a natural process its own negation. It is the negation of the negation.” Here we have the three stages: the thesis—private property; the antithesis—capitalism; the synthesis—common ownership.’ (Beer) A number of drawbacks must be mentioned vis-à-vis private and public property.
Firstly, some property cannot be public due to sanitary or personal reasons. Secondly, with predominantly public property, there is little to work towards compared to in consumerist private-property societies, whether or not that is a benefit. No class distinctions rob people of the everpresent entrepreneurial drive in American mythology. Twenty-two percent of children in the UK said they “just want to be rich” when they grow up in a study with no leading questions.
Public property often has great merit but can be abused by people causing harm to the property or not treating it with the greatest care. This could be thought of with bicycles; if everyone borrowed the same bicycles for transportation, some would abuse them with racing and mud riding. On the other hand, with private property the only person harmed by misuse is the user.
Now vs. Then
When The Communist Manifesto was written, the trend towards classical liberalist, small government, production-based principles gave the author’s views a particular tinge. With today’s modern regulatory governments and service-based economies, there are no longer obvious capitalists disciplining their workers in the factory, for example, and the capitalist process has become more complex and bureaucratic. Unions have also changed the situation– Marx would probably be pleased with the improved conditions of the modern worker even though his life is still lived inside a capitalistic process. Although Marx taught that history is a history of class struggle, considering the situation-specific impetus for communism, it is an interesting question to wonder if Marx would be a communist if he was born now.
Analysis of Control
Looking at all the different economic systems from an unbiased standpoint, it seems that controlling every facet of the economy at a state level does not lead to the best results, as it causes shortages, maldistribution, and black markets. (e.g the Soviet Union and North Korea) On the other side, complete economic anarchy produces erratic results and the opportunity for worker abuse, environmental abuse, or dangerous products. (e.g parts of Africa and Asia).
As an example of free-market success, America did very well economically with a totally free market, including the institution of slavery, but it is obviously immoral from a humanitarian standpoint to run a country in that manner. The economic middle ground, on the other hand, encompasses many prime nations, to the left side in Scandinavia and to the right in England and Canada. A range of options in economic control can lead to healthy, first-class nations, when communism and anarchy almost always fail in this respect.
Social freedom follows generally similar rules. Stalin and Hitler’s rule, along with the rule of many other monarchs of the past, have caused many millions of lives to be lost from warfare, genocide, starvation, et cetera. Social anarchy and libertarianism have had their faults as well but have not generally caused such devastating problems.
State communism, with its state-controlled media, culture, and ideology, is rarely successful in truly leading the ideology of the people. Socialism seems more long-lasting or at least more humane, as nations leaning towards it now, even if they slowly change in their political beliefs, are quite stable with regards to treating people well.
Even when the US was more economically free, before the Great Depression, there was still quite a lot of social control. This caused a number of problems and repressions, especially among women, but also in the end made for a more vibrant and cohesive culture. A similar pattern can be seen in many areas with moderate social control.
No social control at all, in mixed locations, will cause a lack of a singular definable culture, like a more extreme version of Canada’s largest cities. It will also decrease homogeneity and impose few rules upon what people can or cannot do. Whether or not these symptoms are positive or negative depends upon the conservativeness of the observer.
Typically, however, it seems the best results can be had when nations have modest to moderately strict economic control combined with scanty to average social control.
Marxism in its past and present forms fulfills none of the above-listed criteria on freedom and ignores several human characteristics like greed, religion, and rebelliousness. In practice at least, and arguably in theory, it is an ideology far from perfection.
Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Project Gutenberg. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.
Marx, Karl. SparkNotes: Das Kapital. N.p.: n.p., n.d. SparkNotes. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.
Beer, M. The Life and Teaching of Karl Marx. N.p.: British Labour, 1921. Project Gutenberg. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.
Inequality. Digital image. Pew Research. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.
Kollontai, Alexandra. Communism and the Family. Trans. Alix Holt. N.p.: Allison & Busby, 1977. Marxists.org. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.
Winter, K. (2014, August 5). Generation Greed? Three-quarters of children between five and ten believe money can buy you happiness. Web. October 22, 2015.
I am finishing a historical fiction novel taking place in Russia about the famous warrior-acrobat Cossacks. It has been a challenge but also great fun. I consider it an “Eastern Western,” primarily true to its historical context but also containing, in my opinion, that great Western liberty and spirit.
Глава 1 (Chapter 1)
Ivan Petrovitch Shostakov sat silently atop his horse, a proud chestnut-colored animal from the Don river region. They were both perfectly still, as if taking part in a moment that, although eventually forgotten, could never be erased from the omniscient memory of history. Beyond them, as far as the eye could see, rolled a beautiful array of features; endless fields of tallgrass and feathergrass, splotches of sand, and rich black chernozyom dirt.
This was the Russian steppe.
Softly the white wind blew its murmuring song into Ivan’s ear, and softly the large clementine sun descended towards the horizon, that indefinable boundary between earth and sky.
This was his life; for he was a Cossack.
These were the moments, alone and at one with the world, which seemed to elevate a man’s life high above the realm of ceaseless labor, into a fleeting paradise. The sky turned purple and pink clouds drifted lazily across its neverending expanse. There was not another person in sight and both freedom and danger were so very close. How Ivan wished to fly high in the sky with the eagles he often saw, free of all cares, enjoying at every moment the endless undulating landscape. Alas, this was far from the truth. The gelding pawed the ground impatiently.
“I know you want to go, Smetsky, but I need one more minute,” spoke Ivan. He was busy thinking about his wife and her long pregnancy. She was already due. Time flew by quicker than the starlings flew at night; in a flash everything was changing. “If I only had a son, perhaps we could be rid of debt by the time he comes of age. As much as I can work, it is still not enough to keep the family afloat. Maybe with some help, some extra money eventually, we could keep going.”
Their monetary situation had been going downhill for years, and even though Ivan and his wife Lucya had started out somewhat wealthy, now they had a number of debts and only a modest fortune. His ancestors had consisted of registered Cossacks, but now his family was a shadow compared to its former glory. They had one daughter before, named Vadia, who was now six years old. Vadia was an adorable, thin girl with dark brown hair, and she helped around the house with small things, but the fact was that she would be gone eventually and Ivan would be stuck doing all the work himself without enough money to hire any help if things continued along their current path. Ivan prayed for good fortune as sincerely as he could, and finished his prayer with the sign of the cross made with three fingers as was the current fashion.
Smetsky’s ears perked forwards. Ivan heard a rumbling far away on the horizon, barely existent but threatening nonetheless. The man looked diligently for its source but saw nothing at all. There was a slightly nervous energy in the air. He lived a distance northeast of RostavonDon, in the transition zone between the primitive and untamed nomad steppe and the southern Black Lands of rich soil and plentiful farming. The Cossack had ridden out to the steppe in order to be alone and think without interference. “It’s time to go back now, Smetsky,” he declared, pulling the reins to the left and giving him a tiny bit of pressure from his right leg.
The horse cantered off, happy to be moving again. The fast rock of the speed and the grass hurrying by gave Ivan a familiar feeling of comfort. There was little he liked more than riding quickly, whether by himself or with other people. Ivan had been out by himself for many hours, and although he said he was hunting, that was actually just an excuse to be alone and clear his mind.
The Cossacks were formidable warriors able to shoot a hole through a playing card at a full gallop, ride standing up, or hang off their horses securely with only a foot in the saddle at that same blistering speed. Their skills at dancing and acrobatics were similarly masterful.
Ivan wore a long blue kaftan tied with a silk sash, a jambiya knife from Persia tucked inside. Atop his head was the traditional single long lock of hair, and atop that was his warm grey papakha hat, not that it was necessary to wear warm clothes at that time of year. At its lazy pace, the sun set further and the land began to darken. As he pressed on, Ivan passed by numerous hills and increasing numbers of human habitations. Eventually the lights of his settlement peered softly out at him. Ivan arrived at his town, Zernovoy, just as the sky was beginning to turn black. Millions of stars illuminated the heavens and there was scarcely a cloud in sight. The moon was nearly full, casting a soft glow the color of straw over the steppe and grasses. Ivan knew almost every star in the sky, and he could find his way home by their light or by the compass that seemed to naturally be in his head. He could not even remember getting lost once.
Ivan Shostakov dismounted as he entered the boundary of the village and walked with his horse past the houses of two of his neighbors. Smetsky followed him without the necessity of being led, as they had been close friends for years. Once they turned off the rutted road and reached his house, Ivan grabbed the reins and moved them forward, tying them to a small Tshaped hitching post.
The Shostakov’s dwelling was typical in style but larger than most of the others in the village. It had a thatched roof and white walls, and the inside was divided into three rooms and a root cellar. Something unknown made him very disconcerted, so the Cossack stopped for a moment as his horse’s ears perked frontwards warily. In the house they heard a dreadful moaning sound. There was a moments silence as the Cossack summoned up the bravery to take action.
Ivan ran inside.
His wife was giving birth, and the midwife was already there. Even before he heard anything, Ivan knew there was something wrong. Vadia was nowhere to be seen.
“What is happening?” he asked, terrified.
“Man is a goal-seeking animal. His life only has meaning if he is reaching out and striving for his goals.”
Political ideologies have a surprisingly differing view on the source quote. First of all, Marxist beliefs support worldwide egalitarian socialism as the end goal for humankind. The only way to make more money or move up at all in this system is by working faster or with better quality. In pure socialism, each day is essentially the same and every person is part of the same gray conglomeration of working-class citizens. Humanity is not generally pleased by identical routines, as happiness stabilizes over time, and in pure communism many people would either get bored or point out small flaws in the system and their life. It is always possible to have goals of some kind, however, even in a system that is one hundred percent authoritarian and left-wing. The goals change in this situation to either resisting the authority or being the best part of it one can. They are self-evidently different types of goals than the sort truly free people have, but they are goals nonetheless.
On the other extreme of the political spectrum, free-market supporters and free-market anarchists see a world in which everyone is theoretically perfectly free to set and reach goals, as there are no obstacles in the way of such undertakings. In contrast to Marxists, they agree almost perfectly with the source quote. Anarchies such as Russia during 1918 (before the Communists had much control) or Somalia in the present day seem to present varying challenges and have few absolute characteristics. Depending on the pre-anarchy circumstances of a nation, such as reliance on the government, or their level of technology, different events may take place. In Russia, society got along in a tolerable manner since they did not have to rely on the government for much in the first place. Actually, the anarchy was not horribly different than society was at the end of the Tsarist days. In Somalia, however, it is common knowledge that anarchy is not helping their situation as they have a serious crime and pirate epidemic. Odds are, some sort of government could take some steps to improve the situation in that country. Anarchy, therefore, does not seem to free people to live their dreams and set goals any more than liberal democracies do, except in anomalous situations.
Liberal democracies such as America and Canada give the people a huge selection of goals to choose from. They can set spiritual, religious, economic, self-improvement, or political goals with a high degree of freedom. On the whole, liberal democracies typically seem to have a larger amount of choice to set goals when compared to other political systems. But the motive of goals in the first place begs the question– does life only have meaning if one is striving for goals?
Personally, my life becomes somewhat meaningless and drab if I partake in the same labor everyday with no difference or objective as time passes. There is a pleasant, predictable quality and a certain amount of meaning to it but something is also lacking. When I worked on a dairy farm for a summer it was possible to see first-hand what it is like to essentially have the same routine every day, and it is pleasant enough, except when it goes on for years and at times turns into a prison. One of my friends who was in a prison would say the same thing; that in some ways it is tolerable to have little freedom but it lacks the energetic quality of liberty. It is not a terrible choice to have a predictable lifestyle with few goals, however, it is a much more human and satisfying thing trying to become an improved person, worker, or artist.
Available for listening here. I worked hard for long hours to write this, and it seems worth it in the end. My first real music score. There’s nothing like a real orchestra, even though solo instrument compositions are nice as well, so I wrote something for an orchestra. Or at least most of an orchestra minus a few strange instruments such as the bassoon.
Tell me what you think! :)
Picture a world not so long ago, when every single person you meet is truly there, attentive and tangible. How things have changed.
In a manner remarkably similar to the Industrial Revolution, and arguably with wider changes, the world has restructured itself to a non-physical web of communication and economy. At most restaurants, parks, and public places, it is amazing if less than a quarter of the populace is not truly there because they are lost in the unlocational but omnipresent Internet. Clearly, it is a blatant abuse of one’s life to overuse the Internet to the point of detracting from the myriad other experiences of life.
Whether or not one interacts with others on the web makes some difference concerning its effects. Being completely isolated for a long time can cause loneliness and depression, but even while having superficial interactions the same can take place. The only possible replacement for true friendship face-to-face, or at least temporary substitution, would be deep and fulfilling conversations online. You may ask yourself; how often do these occur? Are they normal and expected or surprisingly anomalous?
In interviews with baby boomers and the “Greatest Generation”, it is clear that in most cases children used to play outside often and relatively unsupervised, perhaps too much so. Nevertheless, they enjoyed their immediate surroundings. Nowadays, nothing short of a power outage could hope to produce a similar result. I have observed a subset of children using almost exclusively terms from the currently popular video and computer games, at this point Minecraft. If they are asked a question that would be exceptionally easy to answer in any other decade, “What is the durability of shears?” instead of saying “Good,” or “I’m not too sure, I’ve never used them,” they are more likely to say “238.” Children are either following adults in their addictions or overtaking them.
It is not necessarily in the presence of the online habit but in the absence of the overusers doing much else that its harmful effect is most strongly observed. When Internet addicts become a majority in an area, it quickly causes in most cases a dehumanization and communal numbing. There is much joy gained from online stimulus, but it is instantaneously fleeting on nearly every occurrence. Television has similar effects but is being slowly overtaken and replaced by the Internet. In one of these neighborhoods, if one decides to walk around and enjoy a beautiful sunset or sunrise, there will rarely be more than a small subset of people enjoying their immediate surroundings, as most will be occupied doing something else. All of their houses will be virtually bathed in EMF fields.
The electromagnetic field (EMF) caused by these numerous electrical devices truly do cause many observable changes. People have actually migrated to an EMF-free town in Virginia in order to avoid it. Some of the purported changes high EMFs make are increasing subconscious mental activity and dreaming and nightmares. If the power in a house or the whole street is turned off, a curious energetic change immediately takes place– the buzzing kinetic feeling drops gradually through floor and disappears, in its wake is a cleansing, peaceful, but creepily unfamiliar atmosphere. It’s as if the air is simplifying itself viscerally. If no attention is paid to these feelings, they are harder to notice, however to my friends and I these impressions are quite strong. The best way to experience this is to try it yourself.
There is no need to completely avoid the benefits in communication, the ability to buy otherwise unavailable goods, or the useful tools commensurate with the Web. It has many capabilities that truly come to positive ends. If you choose to partake in it, be confident that the Internet is being used in valuable ways by you, and not that you are being used and abused, your time being irreparably sucked away, by its everpresent authority.
A normal American family was talking mundanely at their dinner table. The house was on the border of a town, next to both other houses and sheer wilderness.
“I don’t think they’ll ever get rid of the penny,” complained Abbey, a young woman.
“Maybe,” said Bill. He wore a camo hat and old grey t-shirt.
“What did she think?” asked Lizzie.
“Shut up, Lizzie,” complained Sam, a ten year old boy. His grandfather heard what he said and slowly turned his head, menacingly.
“What did you just say, Sam? You have to learn your manners. Give me a stick.” Sam knew what was coming. He made up his mind.
“No,” he replied. His grandpa, quick as a leopard, walked over, grabbed him, and spanked him furiously.
“These stupid kids, never listen to authority,” he said. Abbey looked at him like he was evil. Bill also did not look very happy.
“What are you doing to him? You’re not a real grandpa!” hissed Lizzie, with improbable venom. “You’re a grumpa!” The girl took pride in her hasty nickname, and smiled triumphantly. Grumpa narrowed his eyes. He took a sip from his “BEST GRANDPA EVER!” coffee mug. After he realized things were going nowhere, he conceded and walked away slowly.
Grumpa collapsed onto a couch and opened a bottle of 14% alcohol barleywine.
His family occasionally took a glance at him and noticed his defeated and bitter eyes.
He had flashbacks of his horrible childhood, in the woods surviving alone to avoid his family, having no food to eat for days except that which he hunted himself, and getting lashed by his strict father for things he didn’t do. The old man put his empty bottle down and walked upstairs solemnly. The family talked pleasantly about many different things.
After a pause, Grumpa brought his .48 magnum downstairs and showed Bill, somewhat privately.
“It’s a .48 magnum, for when a .44 ain’t enough.”
“Not bad,” replied Bill, raising his eyebrows, noting the shiny stainless steel of the bulky sidearm. Abbey saw it and immediately retched.
“That’s disgusting. What are you doing pulling that out when there’s kids around? What if it backfires?”
“It ain’t loaded,” replied Grumpa, dusting her off.
“How are you sure?” asked Abbey. Grumpa pointed it at her and pulled the trigger. It clicked. He smiled triumphantly.
“Leave it upstairs,” she demanded. He hesitantly gave in. As Grumpa walked towards the staircase, he saw a headline about a communist invasion and saw fast-paced scenes of panic on the news channel.
“It’s all a bunch of bullcrap,” complained Grumpa. “They needs more viewers and that’s what they’re gettin’. Bullcrap.” His cousin walked into the living room.
“I don’t think so,” argued Bill. “It seems like it’s really happening. I know those Soviet commies finally got the nerve to do it. But we’ll beat their asses.”
“I worked on a cattle farm. I know what bullcrap is,” said Grumpa. “This is bullcrap.” Abbey, looking at the television from the kitchen, was scared but slightly excited.
“It is scary… but picture the improved labor and corporate laws we would get,” she admitted.
“Only labor laws they has is ‘work your ass off in the gulag'” said Grumpa, spitting. They were quiet.
“I’m hittin’ the hay,” said Grumpa. Bill waved goodnight.
The next morning, Grumpa saw even worse news reports about the Communists invading their state of Oregon by the boatload, having taken off from a port of the other side of Alaska. The power went out suddenly, leaving a nervous and viscerally horrifying feeling in the air. The other family members were in the kitchen, conversing in a slightly nervous way. They ignored Grumpa.
The old man walked outside to take a piss. He walked deep into the woods behind his property.
“Why waste a gallon of water fer’ a cup a piss?” he always said. There was a loud racket as armored vehicle after armored vehicle came in from the west.
“Soviets. Shit,” complained the old man. He knew it from their camouflage. As soon as he zipped up his jeans, he ran back into the house.
Five Soviet grunts had lined his family up in front of their wall and were preparing to shoot them. Grumpa gets out of the bathroom.
“Y’all communists can go to hell!” yelled Grumpa, pulling out his .48 magnum from his belt holster. He aimed it quickly on the head of the first soldier and pulled the trigger just as he spun around to aim at Grumpa. The bullet smashed through three of the soldier’s heads, as they were all in a row. The elderly man shot the other two within a second.
“More reds are a’ comin’!” said Grumpa hastily. Outside, another armored personal carrier stopped right in front of the house to investigate the gunfire. Before anyone knew what was happening, Grumpa ran off to the kitchen and came back with a mason jar full of moonshine, a rag, and a lighter.
He lit the rag, and as the front door opened, the old man lobbed it right at the squad of soldiers, setting them on fire.
“Come on! follow me,” said Grumpa, walking towards the back door and not wasting a second. His family was too paralyzed to do anything at all, and were still trying to get over their near-death experience, except little Sam, who ran quickly after Grumpa.
They left the house and entered the edge of the woods. There were more commies getting out of their vehicles on the main road. Grumpa reloaded and shot a few, but one of their gunners spotted them and fired a machine gun at them.
“Drop!” shouted Grumpa, knowing how to properly yell from being in the Marines. When he stopped shooting, they ran further into the woods to avoid death.
They lived out in the woods for a day and Grumpa showed Sam how to shoot. He saw a rabbit and shot it, killing it instantly.
“How are you gonna skin it? We don’t have any knives,” said Sam, hopelessly.
“Stop complainin’ kid,” replied Grumpa, pulling a knife out of his gun. “It’s custom-made,” he explained. He started a fire with gunpowder from a bullet cartridge and ignited it by shooting a piece of metal next to it.
“This is gross. How can I eat it?” said Sam, sad.
“It’s this or nothin,'” replied Grumpa. Hesitantly, the child ate three bites. It was surprisingly good considering the circumstances.
“Where’s the family?” he asked, worried.
“We don’t know and it don’t matter.”
They slept under the clean sky and millions of stars. The moon was a bright crescent.
In the morning, Grumpa gave Sam a pep talk.
“We don’t know if we’ll be here an hour or a year, but you can’t forsake your family. I’m going in deep into enemy territory. I’m seeing if they’re still alive. What are you doing?”
Sam didn’t know what to do. He decided to compromise between being courageous and being cautious.
“I’ll stay close to you, but I’m not going out of the woods,” he said. They found Bill camped out a hundred yards into the woods. He hugged Grumpa, who felt quite awkward.
“Are the others still alive?” he asked.
“No,” replied Bill, wiping his eye. Grumpa looked downtrodden.
Grumpa walked up and could see the house in the distance. There were no people in sight. He heard propellers off in the distance and saw a gargantuan Soviet bomber cruising through the sky, dropping bombs by the bucketload.
“No!” he said. “Sam, come!” Sam ran over speedily. “Get a log!” ordered Grumpa. Sam procured one in ten seconds and laid it down in front of his grandfather.
He steadied his revolver on it, laying down like a sniper. He was in perfect control of his body and breath.
“Three thousand yards away, fifteen degrees to the right, four hundred and thirty inches of drop… two thousand five hundred yards, twenty degrees, five mile an hour wind…” Grumpa put two hundred percent of his focus into steadying his firearm.
“Two thousand one hundred yards… three mile and hour wind, two miles… There it is!” Milimeter by milimeter, he pulled the trigger, until BANG! the shot whizzed through the air, gradually traveling a mile before it collided miraculously with the cockpit of the bomber. Just as the aircraft flew close enough to drop a bomb over the family’s house, the pilot turned the plane around quickly. Black smoke poured out of it and it started to drift downwards.
“That’s the end of that,” said Grumpa. Not long later, there was a huge explosion two and a half thousand yards away. “What goes up must come down.”
Bill and Sam looked at him and smiled.
Is Willy Loman a helpless victim of society or a tragic hero?
In the play Death of a Salesman, despite assurances to the contrary, Willy Loman is not a helpless victim of society. Rather he is a victim of his own severe delusions regarding The American Dream. As the story progresses, and Willy’s delusions begin to shatter, Willy becomes shattered along with them like a mirror, and all the broken pieces amount to only a shadow of his former self. Normal outside challenges combined with a severe lack of inner fortitude lead to Willy’s demise. He was not simply a victim of external forces, for if Willy would have probed deeper into his own psyche, he could have revealed some of his own delusions; superficial materiality, emphasis on likeability, or delusions concerning Ben and Howard’s personality traits. He could have looked deeper into his own mind and revealed the motivations of his own behavior, such as his own fear of abandonment stemming from childhood. If he had the introspection to reveal these patterns, as his son Biff did, Willy Loman could have led a happier, more honest life.
The Salesman had a number of positive characteristics, meaning the best for his sons, providing for his family and nearly paying off their house, and generally working hard. Along with Willy’s positive characteristics were a number of fatal flaws, which eventually contributed to his death. Willy’s friend’s son Bernard, as a lawyer, is dedicated to hard work and ingenuity. Bernard believes in a timeless morality– that hard work and determination can lead to success. Yet Willy, in contrast, doesn’t follow in Bernard’s footsteps very well. Instead, he thinks Biff can get away with stealing a crate of footballs, never tells him or Happy to work harder, and avoids looking at ways in which he can improve the execution of his job. Willy strong believes that superficial qualities lead to success, such as being handsome or charismatic, yet pursuing these characteristics never actually leads to any success, financial or otherwise, in his own life. Willy ends up as the play begins as an erratic person and has trouble getting by, even in the best of circumstances. The commencement of Death of a Salesman demonstrates this well – with Willy Loman driving crazily and erratically. He is not making enough money to survive or thrive, and has been trapped in the same life situation for a seemingly endless amount of time. His boss, Howard, is about to fire him, although he does not yet know. It is difficult to identify exactly what has brought about Willy’s faults, but it is clear he has been in this same situation for quite awhile and that he could have avoided his baleful situation. By the time the first scene of the production starts, Willy is already in a very difficult position.
Suddenly Willy’s friend Charlie offers him money and a job, for no reason at all aside from that he is a good friend. This again proves that Willy is not a victim of a cruel society. “Society” itself is actually offering him a valuable opportunity to break out of the situation that he has encaged himself in. Some of Willy’s faults include confusion, self-contradiction and pride. The latter fault, pride, is what prompts him to reject Charlie’s kind offer, denying a valuable opportunity to improve his lot and save his life. His self-contradiction puts Willy in a prison of unsureness and uncertainty. He becomes paralyzed and unable to move houses or change jobs. Willy’s strong sense of pride creates a similar predicament. The character Happy is a mini-version of Willy—and we also see these qualities demonstrated in him as well. Many people could take a situation like Willy’s and improve it by means of some virtue. But Willy stops himself and continues driving relentlessly into the brick wall of his own destruction, both metaphorically and concretely. He is not a victim of society, he is a victim of his own self-sabotaging nature.
Macbeth is a good example of a true tragic hero which we may contrast Willy against. Compared to Macbeth, Willy has several faults, not just over-ambition, Macbeth’s prime fault. He is deluded in his shallow interpretation of the American Dream. It all crumbles before him when he perceives that his own son—Biff—betrays him. Part of the package of Willy’s dream is that he always projected the same yearning for success upon his son Biff. There is a critical part in the story at Frank’s Chop House when Biff outright rejects his father’s idea of the American dream. Even though Willy, as a salesman, does his best to sell him on the idea, Biff severs himself from his father at that point and calls him a “phony little fake.” This also fuels Willy’s long-time fear of abandonment, stemming from his own childhood. Biff’s taking over his own life and fate benefits him as he is free to do what he truly enjoys, but it is a recipe for disaster in Willy’s psyche. From this point on the out-of-his-mind salesman is pushed over the edge.
Sadly, this fate was avoidable, as by taking Howard’s job or by truly looking at himself and thinking with ingenuity Willy could have changed his circumstances. Unlike Macbeth, Willy has several character flaws that all contribute to his downfall. His obstinacy, pride, and delusional thought patterns doom him to failure. He is clearly not a victim of society– he is a victim of himself.
“It’s in the Constituition- the right to bear arms. It protects us from tyranny,” said Jack Williard, speaking as if he were reading a rehearsed speech from a conservative playbook. He took another sip of beer and rested his coozie against his t-shirt.
“No,” replied Alex, shaking his head in unacceptance. “That was written for muskets, not AR-15’s.” He was dressed in a nice tucked button down shirt and tan slacks.
“If a robber comes in my house, I’m shooting him dead,” replied Jack the stone wall.
“Well I would fire a warning shot, even if I had a gun.” Alex looked off at the ground beside him.
“I’m sick of arguing about this. You just won’t listen. Let’s go talk to Grandma Elizabeth and she’ll tell us who’s right.” Jack smiled a little too confidently, inspired from the beer.
“This is why I don’t like barbecues, because of all you conservative nuts, but sure, if you’re so into it.” pouted Alex. Reluctantly, he followed Jack over to the table where the older folks were sitting.
“‘Scuse me, Gram, me and Alex here were having a fight–“
“What sort of fight?” she asked quickly, jarred suddenly from her conversation of seat cushions and window shades.
“Them again,” said Grandma Elizabeth, laughing. “Sit here a moment, will you, Alex?” She talked in a gentler way than Alex but much more authoritative voice than Jack.
“See, I know you’re a modern liberal. Believe it or not, when I was a girl, I knew someone a lot like you. They had ’em even way back then. This was about eighteen sixty when this event happened. I knew the man, James, his name was, when he was sixty or seventy. Back when he was a young man he had an expensive Standardbred horse that had won a few races in its day, and he used to take the girls on rides in his green surry. The most expensive one they sold.”
“Yeah,” replied Alex, a little impatient about the history lesson.
“So he was nearly a vegetarian, didn’t believe in violence, had a little trouble at school but got by in the end. His papa had a musket, he tried giving it to James, and James stuck it above the fireplace and then promptly forgot about it. One night, believe it or not, a thief entered his property, hearing about the expensive horse. He brought a bridle and some carrots, enough to fool most horses. James got up, pulled a lantern off the wall, and took the musket off the fireplace. You wouldn’t believe how scared he was seeing some stranger putting a bridle on his most prized animal.
He had a real conflict of interest at that point. James would never be the sort to shoot someone, unless he was about to be shot himself, but he couldn’t just stand there and let his fortune ride away, either. So he acted like you would.
‘Get away from that horse or else,’ shouted James. The thief saw him with the rifle and tried hopping on the horse. He slipped off and fell on the ground.
‘I’m going to take a warning shot,’ informed the young man. He aimed the rifle in the thieves’ general direction and fired, terrified that he would hit his horse or the thief. Once the robber got on his feet again, he noticed James had fired his only shot, so he ran up and hopped on the horse. As the stranger galloped away laughing, James kicked himself and decided he’d had enough of warning shots and vegetarianism, and a year later about that time he was a pretty tough customer. The point is, in eighteen sixty, you didn’t have warning shots. Now ‘nigh everyone acts like he used to it seems. Way ahead of his time, but not so smart, that man was.”
Alex silently stared at the ground, processing all the information. He didn’t know what to say. There were a few moments of silence, then Jack started smiling and chuckling.
“Took a warning shot with a MUSKET,” laughed Jack obtusely. “What the hell.”
“Why exactly are you so interested in this?” asked John Ivans, standing uncomfortably in his doorway. His guest was Jarl Winslow, English multimillionaire and eccentric. Their Pacific town had never seen anyone of his stature and it made John quite uncomfortable.
“I need him for my private collection. It’s a big affair, very exclusive,” replied the sure, foreign tone of Jarl’s voice. He was overdressed, wearing a creme blazer and white pants, making him stand out that much more.
“Well, I’ve thought about it a lot since you last called, and I can’t really refuse.” He summoned up his courage for a moment. “I’m not honestly so into this whole idea, but if you insist, I’ll help you out.”
“Thank you very much. You will have no complaints regarding payment, that I can assure you.” Jarl slid two hundred-dollar bills out of his black shell cordovan wallet. “Your advance.” John took it carefully, regarding it as one regards a dying bear on a bear hunt.
“Are you sure?” he stammered.
“Extremely. I shall see to to-morrow,” replied the gentleman, tipping his hat briefly and departing.
– – – – – –
“I suppose this man is the best in the area, as far as his knowledge of the land goes. We will have a shot at success with him on our side,” said Jarl confidently.
“The Sheriff wouldn’t recommend anyone but him, I don’t think,” said Robert Crawford, private investigator. He sighed and watched the road as he drove. Crawford had served in Chicago for ten years, seen a lot of tough stuff, and developed skin as thick as a rhinoceros. Anything during this trip would be a total piece of cake. The Northwest was a joke compared to a Midwestern metropolis. Or so he thought…
– – – – – –
The next evening, before sunset, Winslow, Crawford, and Ivans took the long drive to the edge of the county, where the woods were so thick there was scarcely a house. This was the area where there had been several sightings in the past years.
“But you seriously have an actual mermaid?” asked John Ivans, barely believing his ears.
“That is a secret. You would have to see for yourself, but I do not let guests in often. Perhaps I will invite you sometime later,” replied Winslow. The car slowed down, kicking a few final pieces of dirt into the air before stopping entirely. Crawford got out of the driver’s seat and leaned against the hood for a minute, breathing in the fresh mountain air. The three men stood silently for a moment, then started to study the treeline.
“Well, I think I’ll take a look n’ see if there’s any tracks,” ventured John.
“Of course,” said Jarl Winslow, putting on his brush poncho to keep his blazer clean. They walked down the hill before the treeline and the tracker pulled out his special tools, a multicolored flashlight and a rangefinder. Crawford stayed behind, hand on the butt of his Ruger Redhawk forty-four magnum. Something about the woods didn’t seem quite right to him, although John Ivans seemed to think it was normal. The sun was almost brushing against the horizon already.
“I brought two trail cameras,” informed John, placing one strategically on a tree and marking it with yellow tape. “We can come tomorrow and see if they find anything.”
Crawford nodded resolutely. They traveled another hundred yards and put up the next camera, but Ivans did not see any tracks except for one belonging to a small rabbit. As night fell, Crawford found himself feeling a bit off, scared of the slightest things. Winslow seemed to be acting less exuberant but not as affected as Crawford. Ivans kept to himself, and no-one else could tell what he was thinking and feeling. They headed back to the vehicle, tense but relieved to be done for the night.
– – – – – –
Winslow had never believed in the beast until he was driving out in the country after a secret business meeting. There, in the middle of the night, he saw a coyote run by. After stopping the car and listening resolutely, he saw a dark figure rushing through the leaves and heard horrible, gruesome sounds emanating from the forest. The canine yelped, and a fearsome deep-voiced mammal grunted and roared. Whatever it was, it made him think the old Indian legend was true. From then on, he was determined to capture it.
– – – – – –
After checking the cameras the second day, the men saw nothing of value.
“I do not want to sound heavy-handed, but are you sure there are no other steps to take?” inquired a disappointed Jarl Winslow. John stared at him for a second, then a light slowly came on in his head.
“Wait– I know. There’s an old man that lives around here, and if anyone knows about this creature, it’s him.”
“Where does he live?”
“He’s in an old shack a mile past the end of old Mill Road. It will be a hike to get there. No-one else lives in that entire section.”
Half an hour later, the trio found themselves trailblazing through the underbrush on the way to the house. The land was desolate and wild, teeming with energy.
“What do you know about this creature, Mr. Ivans?” asked Jarl.
“Not a whole lot, aside from what my dad told me. The Natives called him Dvahamochak, and they used to tell them stories about him to keep their kids from going outside alone. It scared them pretty well. There were no sightings for a hundred years, but recently they’ve started up again. Nowadays, around here we call him Big D.”
Winslow laughed for a moment. “Do you know anyone who has seen him?”
“No, not personally. We’re almost there. I’m going to set up another camera that views his house.”
“Good idea,” said Crawford, who had been silent for ten minutes.
The shack was from the generation that made things the old way, by hand with local materials. Logs, not plywood; nails, not screws. It was not in the best of shape, however. Crawford wondered how anyone could live in such a tiny area. Winslow broke the nervous waiting feeling as they stood in front of the house by knocking decisively. It was silent again for a minute.
The door opened, revealing an old bearded man with a face full of wrinkles.
“Who is this?” he asked, surprised.
“Jarl Winslow, Detective Crawford, and John Ivans,” said the millionaire, sweeping his hand. “We’ve come to ask you some questions, if you don’t mind, about this local legend.”
The old man looked scared.
“Uh, what are you asking?”
“Well, Willie, we thought you may have had some sort of contact with this creature, living out here like this.”
He felt suspicious about the whole matter.
“No, I’ve never seen it. I’ve never even heard of it. There’s no Sasquatch around here,” he pouted, looking at the ground.
“You’re sure?” followed Winslow.
“Yes, darned right.”
Winslow caught a look at the interior of the house, which was a total mess.
“Mister Willie, if you would like, I could get you some new furniture, a new bed? It seems the current one is… not in such good condition,” offered Jarl.
“No. No! There’s no point in that,” snapped Willie, slamming the door abruptly.
The men left downtrodden, again, and even Winslow found himself feeling that there was barely a point in their continued search.
“What did you think of Willie?” John said to Detective Crawford.
“He was pre-ty weird,” he replied concisely. The journey back was easier since there was already a trail, and before long, they were back in town, forced to wait another night. Morale was low, but Winslow and Ivans decided to give the cameras one more chance.
– – – – – –
“Oh my gosh,” said John, staring wide-eyed at his trail camera. “Look at it.”
“That’s just Willie,” said Robert Crawford, unsure what to think.
“I don’t think so,” replied the tracker. “It’s as tall as the whole house! And it looks like it’s about to wait in front of the door or go inside!” He could barely believe his eyes. “And look at this one, he’s going in the opposite direction, and it looks like it could have even been inside the house!”
Crawford could barely believe their success, but Ivans had stunning evidence. Besides, the bipedal thing caught on film was much taller than a person, especially Willie.
“Something is not right here,” said Crawford. “Willie must be hiding something.” He grasped his revolver again. Ivans felt for his pistol in his pocket as well, just to be sure. Winslow had stayed in town, tired of their past failures and feeling a little bit under the weather.
“We have to go talk to him again,” declared Crawford.
They knocked on the door, but nobody answered.
“Open the door!” shouted Crawford. “Or I’ll kick it down!”
The detective got ready to bash the door down but John stepped in and turned the handle, opening it. Crawford looked slightly embarrassed. Willie was inside, sitting on a chair, staring directly at them.
“We want to know if…” said the detective, cut off.
“No! He’s never been in here!”
John flashed a quick glance at Crawford and nodded.
“We found pictures of something, it looks like–“
Willie stood up and ran past at the two men, pushing John off to the side and escaping through the door. Quickly, Detective Crawford was onto him. They collided and Willie fell to the ground. The detective pulled out his firearm and pointed it at the old man while yelling.
“Where the frick is Big D?”
“He was never here!”
“I’m serious, we have pictures. Why are you denying this?”
“You don’t understand,” whimpered the old man. He shouted into the woods in a bizarre way.
“We know it was around here.” John Ivans appeared behind the detective.
“Just calm down, put your gun away, and I’ll tell you,” said Willie, slowly getting up. There was silence for a few minutes, then Crawford obliged.
“See, me and him, we have… a relationship.”
The two investigators were stunned. Willie turned around, seeing something important, and ran off into the woods. Crawford drew his revolver and fired, the bullet bouncing off a tree. They lost sight of the old man.
“What the hell?” said Crawford. They followed after Willie, and after barely making it into the forest, they saw him standing right next to a gigantic lumbering ape-like creature, talking to it. They were barely twenty yards away. Crawford and Ivans stopped cold, amazed.
“I can’t believe it,” whispered John. The detective was silent.
Willie was talking to the thing, quietly at first. Then, the two men heard it.
“Go get them!” shouted the old man, pointing. Instantly, the beast gave chase to them through the woods and across the open field as Ivans and Crawford ran for their lives.
“Get your gun!” shouted Crawford, panicked. They spun around and fired at the beast as it got closer and closer to them. The detective emptied all six shots in his cylinder, and the creature dropped right at his feet at the last second. Behind it was Willie.
“Why… Why did you kill him?” he yelled, hitting the ground and pounding it. “He was my only friend!”
“That’s enough, Willie. You’re going with us.” Crawford walked over and handcuffed the crying old man. John stayed put, staring at the huge body of their target. It had barely been killed in time.
“The place for you is at the mental hospital, Mister,” said Crawford, walking behind Willie all the way to the car. What do you think Winslow is gonna think of all this?”
– – – – – –
In the red, carpeted room of Jarl Winslow’s private museum, the newest exhibit was receiving a lot of attention, more than anything else in years. Killed in a gruesome fight to the death with a Northwestern hunter, the body of a massive ape was displayed in all its viscous glory.Winslow billed it as one of the toughest, most heartless predators in the world.