Exposing Social, Economic and Historical Realities through Marxism Karl Marx was a theorist of the Realism period, this time period brought a revealing of the truth and great change with a shift toward more democratic governments. Marx concerned himself with realistic issues that carried over in literature even though he was not a literary critic. Many writers during this time wrote realistically, writing stories that represented their own lives with minor changes or of their surroundings. Both, D. H.
Lawrence, author of “Odour of Chrysanthemums” and William Faulkner, author of “A Rose for Emily”, are products of their time with accurately representing their social, economic and historical realities of alienation through their works. The Realism period brought a severe separation between the three social classes; the aristocracy did not commonly form relationships between the proletariat and bourgeoisie unless it consisted of work and the same goes for relationships between the proletariat and bourgeoisie classes.
Often times even people within the same class did not socialize because their cold and lackluster surroundings reflected onto their social relationships. Elizabeth Bates from “Odour of the Chrysanthemums” did not socialize with the other miners wives and mothers and even her husband because she was a product of her surroundings, “the fields were dreary and forsaken, and in the marshy strip that led to the whimsy, a reedy pit-pond, the fowls had already abandoned their run among the alders…” (pg. 51).
One would think that with surroundings like this socialization with others would make it more bearable but it has the opposite effect, making the only incentive to go outside either for Walter to provide for the family, go to the bar which would make Elizabeth resent Walter or for Elizabeth to meet John or Annie on their way home from school. Emily Grierson in “A Rose for Emily” represents the opposing spectrum; Emily is from an Old South aristocracy but is also socially alienated from her surroundings.
The change the Realism period brings for Emily is a more modern outlook for society, Emily comes from an old fashioned way of doings things that the younger generation looks forward to changing and because she is one of the few that represent and participate in old southern traditions she further alienates herself from her town while everything but her and her house change, “only Miss Emily’s house was left, lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and gasoline pumps—an eye-sore among eyesores” (pg. 86).
Emily can be understood as deeming her surroundings lackluster compared to her vivacious and lively southern traditions that she has worked to keep alive even though the town is moving forward without her, “when the next generation, with its more modern ideas , became mayors and alderman, this arrangement created some little dissatisfaction” (pg. 86), Emily will only suffer more from lack of socialization because no middle ground can be sought where she is not willing to change and where the younger generation will only become more modernized.
Elizabeth Bates and Emily Grierson are accurately portrayed by D. H. Lawrence and William Faulkner’s realization of social hardships faced during the realism period that alienated people from society. Money is the single most distinctive factor in the hierarchy of classes and the Realism period made the effort to reveal the injustices of poverty and slavery that society was forced to deal with during this time. The economic injustices during this time made the separation of classes even greater with the rich becoming richer and the poor hitting a new low.
Elizabeth Bates represents the proletariat class and represents the extremity of some working class families by relocating so Walter can better provide for their family in “Odour of Chrysanthemums”. Economically, the alienation between her and Walter stems from the fact that he works long hours in the mine and then chooses to spend his earnings at the local bar,” he was merely drinking over there at the ‘Prince of Wales’ (pg. 56).
While Walter works Elizabeth’s very limited past times include sewing and making clothes for their children, “he was dressed in trousers and waistcoat of cloth that was too thick and hard for the size of garments. They were evidently cut down from a man’s clothes (pg. 51), the Bates family is already alienated by being a part of the working class but Elizabeth alienates herself further when their money tight situation is stressed when the family cannot provide new clothes for their children but Walter is blowing money at the bar. A Rose for Emily” offers a different outlook on the economic issues surrounding inequality, Emily coming from the aristocracy class owns a Negro slave named Tobe, this is not uncommon in the Old South but considered unethical as the realism period reveals socio-economic injustices. Already alienated because of Emily’s southern traditions, owning a slave in a town where there are a majority of bourgeoisie and proletariat families who did not own slaves, makes the town feel as though she is using her wealth for the wrong reason.
Granted there is no indication that Emily treats Tobe inhumanely he is still used as a servant, “…Tobe! The Negro appeared. Show these gentlemen out” (pg. 87) and often ran errands for her “…and the only sign of life about the place was the Negro man—a young man then—going in and out with a market basket” (pg. 88). Given two very different views on the economic injustices of this time shows, regardless of class, the alienation in this period is prominent due to the financial situations of families and differing of classes.
Both, “Odour of Chrysanthemums” and “A Rose for Emily” were written in the Realism period, where writers wanted to accurately portray everyday life and the historical background behind each story brings understanding to the alienation and struggles of each character. The historical background behind “Odour of Chrysanthemums” consists of a time where coal was the leading energy source and the men that became coal miners normally came from a long family line of previous coal miners.
The areas in which the coal mines were located were often wastelands which had no other purpose than to retrieve coal from and reflected the lives of the people who worked in them who led uneventful and unrewarding lives. The social and economic alienation of the Bates family stems from being financially unstable. Oddly enough, in “A Rose for Emily” Emily Grierson’s social and economic alienations are rooted in the exact opposite reason of the Bates family, because she belongs to the aristocracy class.
Emily lives in the Old South in the time where many of the old southern traditions are dying out and many people of her age have already passed. Emily is unwilling to change with the new order of the younger generations which socially alienates her and manages to hold onto her wealth in a town where few aristocrats live making her the minority. Historically, the background during the Realism time period offers more understanding for “Odor of Chrysanthemums” and “A Rose for Emily” and why their alienation is caused by the same yet different social and economic issues.
Karl Marx revolutionized literature in a way he could have never imagined; by wanting to study the historical view and notion of class struggle he created realism in literature. William Faulkner and D. H. Lawrence capitalized on this and became famous writers of their time; both “Odour of Chrysanthemums” and “A Rose for Emily” were the outputs of their author’s time period. Both authors represented the social, economic and historical realities of their main characters that experienced alienation from society and even members in their own families and portrayed everyday life during the Realism period.