Introduction and Thesis
Throughout history, the social and economic views of Karl Marx have influenced the world and have developed into principles used to analyze various literary works. The critics used in a Marxist reading focus more on the ideas and content represented in a particular work of literature than on the actual text itself. The classic fairytale of Cinderella tells the story of a servant girl who can go from rags to riches over a few days. However, below the surface level of this ordinary fairytale, there lies a much more in-depth commentary about social and economic standards set within a society. In a Marxist reading of Cinderella by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, the characters Cinderella and the Stepmother represent the determination of strictly defined economic, social classes, the sinfulness of the bourgeois or the Capitalists, and the overall struggle between the different levels of the existing class system.
The establishment of a distinct social order and a classification system consisting of the aristocracy, bourgeois and proletariat are reliant upon materialistic values coupled alongside economic status. The Marxist believes that man’s social life determines his consciousness. In contrast, the perceptions of social classes as a collective body within society are “determined by the material interests of the dominant class”(Carter 55). This demonstrates the dependent relationship that exists due to materialism that results in economic status. According to Marxist theory, individuals are not known by who they are as a person; instead, their identity is defined by what possessions they own. Therefore, the society in which an individual life is categorized through different levels of economics according to material wealth. However, when material goods and resources are scarcely available within a society, competition arises among the classes to processes the products that are needed. Traditionally, the lower level or the proletariat is favored among the Marxist critic because the lower quality is thought to be oppressed by the two more well of classes within the society.
The realm of Marxism is home to the undeniable sinfulness and heartless demeanor of the capitalists within society. Capitalists pride themselves in being able to advance in society at the expense of others, and for this reason, “they have much to answer for in the final judgment” (Anderson, IV:7). The bourgeois is obsessed with the concept of having and gaining more power regardless of if the ends are justifiable. Their unending thirst for money and status is a primary reason for crushing the head of the proletariat under their feet and preventing the lower class from bettering itself and surpassing them in economically in society; A struggle born among classes due to the all-out race for material goods; and the oppression of the proletariat class. In the context of “Marxism, the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” (Marx,79). Marxists believe that the basis for economic and political policies are in some context related to one another. The struggle is why everything is based on a class system, and producing a product becomes a competition. Furthermore, the upper class becomes consumed with the idea of increasing money supply and creating and surplus when it comes to their wealth and well being.
Analysis and Interpretation
The Brothers Grimm represented the lower class proletariat through the character of Cinderella, whose few possessions, economic status in society, and working-class job prevented her from escaping oppression. Cinderella forced to live and work as a servant in her own home at the request of her Stepmother. And, as a result, loses the majority of her possessions. This lack of personal belongings shows the oppression of a working-class woman who is unable to obtain the necessities require to live respectably within a capitalist community.
Cinderella is forced to work endlessly, sometimes doing meaningless tasks only for the enjoyment of her Stepmother. The latter is better than Cinderella because she has used Cinderella as a stepping stone to further herself within society. Cinderella is so discouraged by her present reality in her life brought upon her by her Stepmother that “Cinderella would sit before her mother’s grave and cry”(Grimm 125). Cinderella’s lack of possessions and social status among the community is demonstrated further while attending the festival because initially, she did not have any proper “clothes or shoes” to wear. (Grimm 125). This Statement shows that Cinderella did not have any reason to do to her social class to attend the festival because of the lack of resources she had available to her.
In contrast to Cinderella, Cinderella’s Stepmother is representative of the bourgeois’ harmful and sinful lust for power and money within a capitalist society. This is demonstrated in the way that the Stepmother and her daughters treat Cinderella and ask their father for “new dresses and pearls” ( Grimm 125). All of these women searching for additional power to gain in any way they can, even if it is over a person supposed to be their sister. For the Stepmother, life is ruled by money, and that is the only thing she and her daughters are subject to but, in every other way, they think they are free beings.
The struggle between the different classes of society is symbolized through the three-day festival everyone in the town is allowed to attend. When Cinderella can participate in the celebration, the entire social order of her community is at risk. For the first time, every woman is allowed to change her social status, possibly, and this threatens the bourgeois class. Every individual in attendance has the potential to change her social status by meeting the Prince, and it is something that the proletariat and bourgeois classes do not get to do often. The idea is realized when the Prince only dances with Cinderella, referring to her as “my partner” throughout the night (Grimm 131). The idea that the Cinderella goes on to become the Prince’s bride at the end of the story only further exemplifies how individuals living in a society based heavily on social orders do generally not go from rags to riches so quickly.
A Marxist critical analysis examines and deciphers the world of literature through the context of class structures within a society. The theory takes the side of the proletariat; it has a longing for justice to be served, desiring inequality to become a concept of the past. The Marxist critic of Cinderella would recognize the existence of the sinful nature of the bourgeois in the Stepmother and her children. The struggle between class is symbolized through the festival. While the proletariat in the character of Cinderella as well as the bourgeois in her Stepmother.
Carter, David. Literary Theory.Harpenden, Herts: Kamera Books, 2006. Web. Pocket essentials; Pocket essentials 55
Grimm, Jacob, Wilhelm Grimm, and Margaret. Hunt. Household Tales by the Brothers Grimm.Auckland: Floating Press, 1812. Web. 124-131
Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto.London: Electric Book Co., 2001. Web. 79
Warnock, Robert, and George Kumler Anderson. The World in Literature. Vol.II.Chicago: Scott, Foresman, 1950. Print.