Karl Marx was a German philosopher, economist, historian, political theorist, sociologist, journalist and socialist revolutionary. Throughout his lifetime as well as current day Marx’s work and writings continue to live on and shine light on issues going on throughout every generation. After reading Suzan Lori Parks The Book of Grace one can argue that Parks might have taken into consideration particular points of views when it comes down to some issues and debates pertaining to Marx’s writings particularly in the book Karl Marx Selected Writings edited by Lawrence H. Simon. One debate I would argue in which Parks might have had a spark in regards to one of her characters in her play is the Marxist theory of alienation. The theory alienation can be seen throughout the play The Book of Grace through the characters in Parks’s play, in particular through the actions of the character of Vet.
Alienation is defined as In Marxist theory: a condition of workers in a capitalist economy, resulting from a lack of identity with the products of their labour and a sense of being controlled or exploited. (OED) If you were to break down this definition a capitalist economy is defined as an economy in which a countries trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state. From this definition we can conclude that Karl Marx would believe that the usage of alienation exploits the workers and their labour that they are giving to the company as well as the owner of the company.
However, so long as man does not recognize himself as man and does not organize the world humanly, this common life appears in the form of alienation, because its subject, man, is being alienated from itself. (Marx’s 46) Marx’s is highlighting the point that once man gets engulfed with his work and does not distinguish a sense of border between personal and professional life they then intermingle and cause an alienation, which does not allow man to live a healthy balanced lifestyle. By man being brainwashed into thinking work is all they must live for they no longer get to enjoy having a private life.
Marx would argue that the bourgeois which is the higher class individuals in societies turn the lower class citizens almost into slaves of their businesses. Having them become so engulfed into their job that their trade and profession is all they know and see.To say that man alienates himself is the same as saying that society of this alienated man is the caricature of his actual common life, of his true generic life. His activity, therefore, appears as the essential bond connecting him with other men as something unessential so that the separation from other men appears as his true existence.(46) This quote highlights the fact that a common life’ no longer exists, your world and your existences is based solely on your job and your profession, the only importance you have to offer to this life is if you can master a trade and bring fruition to the labor at hand. By doing this one loses sight of the other aspect of life which is having a personal life you no longer see the balance and is able to live both a professional and personal life the two are intermingled.
Marx would argue that the bourgeoisie at this time enjoyed the fact that the two were intermingled because this then meant that his employees eat, breathed, and slept with thoughts pertaining to their labor and work at hand. If his employees were able to perfect a trade in which brought more capital into his pockets this was a win, win situation for the company owners which was more like slave owners at this time. The bourgeoisie did not have to hire an abundance of workers for his workplace, he would just have to hire one or two employees for a particular trade which allowed the bourgeoisie to profit off of the fact that his employees livelihood depended on him or her keeping their job and therefore completing task at their best abilities.
In Suzan Lori Parks The Book of Grace one of the characters that can be a prime example of alienation is Vet. Vet alienate himself from anything past his comfortable boundaries that he has placed in his life. Vet is a U.S. boarder patrol worker, he watches the boarder during work to make sure no one introduces upon his land, on his off time he secludes himself to his personal TV at home and watches the live feeds of the boarder so in a sense his work is never truly done.
Vet: That’s why Boarders are good. They keep us contained. Vet: Boarders keep Us on our side and Them on theirs. And that’s a good (Parks 8) Within this quote we can see a sense of alienation being a good thing in Vet’s eyes. He uses the word contained to conclude that by utilizing these boarders we are keeping out what will in his point of view harm the land in which he is trying to protect. When defined contained is said to To hold together; to keep under control, restrain, restrict, confine. (OED) This is indeed a sense of alienation due to the fact that to alienate is to withhold aspects from outsiders and Vet is indeed confining and restrict things with the utilization of his boarder. This can indeed be viewed in a Marxist theory of alienation as well, Vet allows his identity to be defined by his labor and what he is able to produce and allow the company in which he works for to profit off of him. The bourgeoisie loved it when their workers were engulfed within their work and Vet is a prime example of this. He allows his work to be who he is, he eats, breaths, and sleeps boarder patrol. There is no distinction of a personal and professional life he alienates himself and his main focus is his job which causes a huge strain on all his personal relationships that he has in his life.
Parks positions herself with agreeing with the Marxist theory of alienation due to the fact that Vet is all about alienation. In the eyes of the bourgeois he would be a star employee, he is a prime example of how owners expect their workers to behave, almost as computers that are systems to only worry about work. Now, just because Parks utilizes this Marxists theory that does not necessarily mean that this is indeed a good thing.
Vet ends up alienating everyone from his life in which he supposedly cares about. He kills Grace, Buddy is even more infuriated with him and the one thing he wanted which was for Buddy and Grace to go watch his speech none end up showing up for him.
Alienation is something that can be seen through many different lens, in regards to a Marxist lens alienation is definitely portrayed in The Book of Grace. Vet allows himself to get so engulfed into his work that he no longer has any personal purpose, this is not a good trait he no longer has an identity. His identity is now stamped as what he can provide for his employer, in which will only use him until they no longer have use for him.
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