Marx and Conflict in Maycomb County

In high school, when reading To Kill a Mockingbird was a requirement, I had paid no attention to one of the most prominent inhabitants of Maycomb County. In my defense, the name Karl Marx was never eluded to nor included as an actual character in the novel. Nonetheless, he had been there the whole time. And so, with Marx in mind, I thought I would examine Maycomb with a true Marxist fashion and take interest in class conflict.

In analyzing Maycomb County from a conflict perspective, it is important to take note of its aspects. In short, the conflict perspective is the idea that there is a conflict over limited resources, the control of those resources, and the power held by those that have control over the resources. The most obvious example of Marx’s theory pertains to the economic distribution within Maycomb County. In this situation, the people who hold the power are those like Scout’s Aunt Alexandra, Scout’s father Atticus Finch, and Lync Deas. Aunt Alexandra and Lync Deas hold power in this society because they own plantations and in turn, the means of production. Atticus also holds power and means of production, though on a smaller scale, since he employs Calpurnia as a live in maid. These people that have the means to do so, provide jobs for people in the working classes and then the work done is turned into the resources which the employers hold. This may represent the economic distribution in Maycomb in relation to Marx’s conflict theory, but there are other ways power is held.

There are a couple examples of other groups coming to possess and use power over others and how power is maintained in To Kill a Mockingbird. These examples are in reference to race and gender socialization. In the novel, Atticus keeps watch over an African American man, Tom Robinson, who is in jail prior to his trial, when a group from the working class come to harm Mr. Robinson. They tell Atticus to step aside and in the meanwhile Dill, Scout, and their friend Dill come to their father’s aid. At first the power held is from a concept of race. The social structure in the community of Maycomb is in part determined by the social construct of race. Since everyone in the group that show up to harm Tom are white, they hold power over him. In this instance, the conflict perspective would recognize those lacking a higher concentration of melanin in their skin as people in power, as well as the people in control of the resources seeing that the resource is the color of one’s skin. However, when Scout steps up and Atticus assists her, the people in power change. Now the power held is social rank in terms of class and persuasion abilities. Scout is able to empathize with Walter Sr. and strip away his power because the resource is no longer the color of one’s skin. Instead, the resource is economic class rank and an ability to persuade others with good speaking skills and a heightened vocabulary (in terms of Atticus).

An additional example is power in terms of gender socialization. In much of the novel, we see how Scout is more of a tomboy and enjoys participating in activities socially acceptable for boys to do. This power is neither economical nor racial, but rather in terms of gender. The times when Scout is able to wear the overalls she likes to adorn and participate in the same activities as boys, she holds more power. However, we see a change in Scout’s hold of power when Alexandra forces more socially acceptable gender roles onto Scout. For example, Aunt Alexandra encourages Scout to act like a lady which, in their society and many others, means she should wear dresses and not ‘play in the mud’. This act of encouraging Scout to act in a more socially acceptable way takes away the power Scout held at times when she wore her overalls and played with the boys as just ‘one of the boys’. And although she has more power when she dresses how she likes, I do recognize that even by being a girl she will not have the same power as either her brother or friend Dill at many times, she still has a significant amount more power when she breaks social norms and, in turn is not as hindered by gender socialization.

One last connection I want to address with Maycomb County and its most prominent inhabitant is that of dialectical materialism. After making the connection between Maycomb County’s economic system and the conflict perspective, I was then able to make another connection of their economy and how it fits into Marx’s idea that a person’s social existence determines his consciousness. Like previously discussed, people like Aunt Alexandra and Lync Deas hold a great deal of power in this society because they hold the means of production. They own the plantations where resources like cotton and tobacco are produced. The mode of production in Maycomb gives rise to the political arrangements and even then the ideology of the society. The social relationships in Maycomb as well as their ideology, in my opinion, revolve heavily on race and your ranking in social class.

In closings, after reflecting back on my latest reading of To Kill a Mockingbird, I was able to identify not only a new, unmentioned, character in a book written fifty-six years ago, but also see the roles in which the conflict perspective and dialectical materialism play within Maycomb County.


-Madeline Baumeister

Durkheim, Marx

El Chapo: A Social Order of His Own

In the last week of February, Mexican marines captured Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, international drug lord and, apparently, a local hero. Over 1000 people have protested his imprisonment with signs that read ‘We love Chapo’, ‘We want Chapo free’, and other such slogans. Investigators have deduced, from the testimony of many protesters, that Guzman’s friends and family are almost certainly paying people to take part in this uproar. However, I think it is worth pending your belief of that fact, as it would be in the best interest of these investigators to downplay any actual sympathy for Guzman that exists in the community. They’ve claimed that sums of 700 pesos are being offered to potential protesters, amounting to approximately 50-55 U.S. Dollars. Over 200 of these ‘activists’ have been detained, so it is not a bounty that comes without considerable risk. Perhaps Marx would look directly at poverty and desperation in the community as an explanation for why people were willing to accept these risks, but I feel like Durkheim might have looked less at the reward and more at the social function of the movement, the feeling that people are getting by participating in this event that flies in the face of the Mexican government. Why might people feel a compulsion to support Guzman, beyond the guarantee of cash?

El Chapo grew up poor in a rural community in La Tuna, Badiraguato, Sinaloa, Mexico. He reportedly dropped out of school in 3rd grade to work with his father and was known to be abused at home. As he got older, he was an accessory to his father’s petty crimes and watched him spend most of their earnings on liquor and women. At age 15, he cultivated his own marijuana plants with his distant cousins and at 20, he left his home town and aligned with organized criminals through his uncle’s connections. After unprecedented acceleration in his drug dealing syndicate, he was imprisoned in 1993, to escape in 2001 with the aid of prison guards he had paid off. His ability to rise above the law on countless others occasions has been credited to bribery aimed at government officials in Mexico. 69% of Mexicans believe this billionaire has been propped up by corrupt members of the Mexican government.

A Boston-based company called Jana conducted a survey that said that 44% of Mexicans believe El Chapo should be extradited to America for trial, as he would face drug trafficking charges that would almost certainly stick. So, it can be said that many people in Mexico are fully aware of the fact that a man who is responsible for countless drug-related murders needs to face justice. But there is still an enormous mistrust of the government among the Mexican people because of the effectiveness of Guzman’s bribery. For people to have enough faith in the social order to support the prosecution of criminals, they need to believe that the government is not itself guilty of failing to apprehend individuals simply because they are wealthy and powerful. I think we can agree, too, that this is not only an issue in Mexico.

In this country, many subcultures exist in defiance of the law. This is not simply because of disagreement with the laws that are put forward by the government, but it is often a recognition of the contradictions that exist between the rules that the common rabble are forced to follow and the rules that the ruling class follow, which seem to constantly shift to support their whims. I believe these protests to release El Chaps are as much motivated by money as they are by a dissatisfaction with the current administration.

Marx, Time

All the time.

One of the things that has really stuck out to me is the chapter in Sears and Cairns about time.  I think about time a lot, in particular the way our perception of time affects other aspects of society and the world around us.  Sears and Cairns are not wrong; time seems to be speeding up around us and it has profound implications in the way we interact with others.One example of this is fast food.  In theory, you get in, you order, you get out, you gobble down your food and you go on your merry way.  The problem comes when we start to generalize this concept of fast, cheap, and easy to every other aspect of our world.  I work in a retail pharmacy and I have noticed that people have a tendency to apply this concept to their healthcare.  The industry standard wait time to have a prescription filled is 15 to 20 minutes on average.  This covers the time it takes for a person to talk to you and review your file, type your prescription, have a pharmacist check that the typed information is correct, submit the prescription to your insurance, fill the prescription, check that the medication is correct, and counsel you on the medication.  When you spell it all out, it is a lot.  But, when people hear that the wait time is 15 to 20 minutes, they lose their minds.  “Why is it going to take so long? All you have to do is count a couple pills out of a bottle and label them!”  It takes this long to complete a prescription for a simple reason: if we don’t get it right, you could become more seriously ill or even die.So, if one’s personal health is at stake, why are patients so intent on this fast food type service?  I’m sure there are many reasons, but the most obvious one to me is that retail corporations are fostering the image of pharmacy as fast food in consumers.  Starting with the $4 dollar prescription “value meal” and ending with the convenient drive-thru service, corporations have realized that they can make an enormous amount of money just by being the fastest and along the way, quality is misplaced.

This is not only applicable to pharmacies, but also to hospitals.  A few months ago, I read an article talking about changes made in hospital operations based off changes made by the ObamaCare programs.  The main point of the article was that in the past, doctors were pressured to get people in and out fast in order to keep making money.  If there were complications due to rushing, that was fine, bring them back in and make more money off of another visit.  Now, insurance companies are trying to cut back on how many times a person visits a doctor, it is in their financial best interest to do things right the first time because they will not receive more money for subsequent visits.  So, hospitals have started forcing personnel to slow down and use check lists to make sure things are done right the first time.  Slowing down is not always a bad thing.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is that what is the point in all this rush that people engage in?  All they are doing is rushing towards mistakes and time “wasted” fixing mistakes they made in that rush.