Monday, August 16, 2010

Final Paper - Marxist Analysis of The Thomas Crown Affair

Christine Gharibian
English 436
Professor Wexler
August 16, 2010

Final Paper – Marxist Analysis of The Thomas Crown Affair

Since its invention, the medium of film has provided its audience with an insight into the deconstruction of society and culture. Within American films, Marxist ideologies have been an ever-present view of determining societal identities, particularly between the bourgeois and proletariat classes. The 1999 film The Thomas Crown Affair perpetuates the ideologies of Marxism, specifically through the principles of alienation, class conflict, and commoditization of labor. Moreover, in addition to depicting Marxist principles and ideologies, The Thomas Crown Affair also heavily draws from post-modern theorists including Jean Baudrillard and Jurgen Habermas, whom reject an objective truth. Throughout the plot of the relentless pursuit of recovering a painting by the impressionist artist Monet, who greatly influenced postmodern theories, the motif of the difficulty of identifying the “original” or “real” becomes evident. The larger implications of the film’s themes of Marxism and postmodernism suggest to a contemporary audience that the class consciousness that Marx coined in his works between identifying oneself within the capitalist and labor class are still very evident today, particularly now with the inauspicious effects of the global economic crisis. Furthermore, the implications of the postmodern theories seen in the film arise to its audience that we as a society have become challenged in identifying what is “real”, and thus subsequently speaks to us in describing how our own identify within our class system is misconstrued.

Marx’s most central theory is that of a division of classes, in which he states in The Communist Manifesto that “society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat” (Leitch 658). Marx states in his Manifesto that the proletariat, or the working class, is since birth at a “struggle with the bourgeoisie” and in a “constant battle” (Tucker 480-481). This struggle is lucidly manifested in The Thomas Crown Affair through the relentless pursuit of the proletariats, that is, the police, capturing Thomas Crown for his theft of a $100 million Monet painting. Thomas Crown, a multimillionaire businessman, exemplifies the stereotypical bourgeoisie – he flaunts his wealth, wrecks “a $100,000 boat because he likes the splash”, has “flesh-eating lawyers and … not to mention political connections”. As the Manifesto states, “the bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honored… has converted … the physician, the lawyer… into its paid wage labourers” (Leitch 659). Crown has ostensibly “stripped the halo” of the prestige of his lawyer into nothing more than a cook with an apron on used for his own plotting in his heist. Additionally, Crown receives help for his troubles with women through a psychiatrist (who he is paying very well) in order to feel better about himself. Furthermore, Crown has hired several Romanians to rob the art gallery to create a diversion so he can steal the $100 million Monet painting. He essentially has hired an army of peoples to work for him so he can cash in on his riches and his own “self-interest”, believing, as he states, that “anything is obtainable” (Leitch 659). As Marx writes, “the bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society” (Leitch 659). Crown has twisted his “instruments of production” (i.e. his physician, lawyer) into his own benefit, his own means of existence. Without them, he knows his own high status and heist will crumble. The laborers who work for Crown have, in turn, become commodified through their own labor; that is, they are unable to offer anything other than their own labor to society. They have merely become pawns in the hands of Crown, doing anything he tells them to do, even robbing an art gallery and facing the possibility of prison. As Marx states in Capital, “the relations connecting the labour of one individual with that of the rest appear [as] material relations between persons and social relations between things” (Leitch 665). In other words, labor is nothing more than “material”, a commodity that can be easily bought. But why does the labor worker, the proletariat, succumb to such exploitations from the capitalist? As Marx explains, he says that the capitalist is the “intellectual” class and has the power to manipulate to his own desires.

Thomas Crown, the wealthy bourgeois businessman in the film is able to plot a clever heist in which he outsmarts the detectives who are out to catch him. As Marx writes in The German Ideology: “The class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force” (Tucker 172). In other words, the ruling class is an intellectual class in which they have the means, the ideas, the aptitude necessary to control the mental as well as material means of production (Tucker 172). This idea of intellectuals forming the ruling class is also discussed by the Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci, in his work “The Formation of the Intellectuals” argues that the intellectual ruling class “must be an organizer of masses of men” and “of society in general” (Leitch 1002). Crown no doubt has been able to master the organization of society in general so that they have to revolve around his every move to out trick them.

The proliterariat class, conversely, must succumb to these ideas “because they are in reality the active members of the [ruling class] and have less time to make up illusions and ideas about themselves” (Tucker 173). This is underscored in the film The Thomas Crown Affair through Crown’s ability to con and deceive the detectives out to get him. While speaking to Katherine, a detective trying to unveil Crown’s plot, Crown states that his passion in stealing art is because “it’s like poker… we don’t let you in the game”. That is to say, the “game” is the elite ruling class in which you can’t get in unless you have the ideas and intellect necessary. To this, Katherine replies: “You’re right. My brothers said I didn’t have the mind for it”. This implies that she is the prolitariat class, not worthy to be the ruling class because she lacks the necessary intellect for it. Additionally, because Katherine is devoting all her time trying to catch up to Crown, she has no time for herself, either to form “ideas for herself” or for leisure. This lack of leisure time is yet another characteristic that identifies Katherine as a proliterarit. As Marx’s Capital reads: “the laborer is nothing else than labor-power [and] therefore all his disposable time is … to be devoted to the self-expansion of capital” wherein “time for intellectual development” ceases to exist (Leitch 671). Because Katherine is putting all her time into ideas plotted by Crown, the bourgeoisie, she is devoid of leisure time. This binary between bourgouisie and proleteriat regarding differences in leisure time is seen heavily throughout the film. Crown is seen with having large amounts of leisure time in the film. He bets $100,000 on a golf swing he plays on a Saturday morning “because there’s nothing else to do”. He constantly is seen canoodling with women because it “entertains him”. Crown’s form of entertainment by women also furthers themes given by feminist critiques, which underscore how women have become “objectified” and “subjugated” as nothing more than sex objects. They have no power within society, and similarly to the proletariat class, have nothing to offer than themselves. From a conversation with Crown, Katherine even lets the question out in the open that she believes implies her only worth: Do you really think I’m going to sleep with a man I’m investigating? As feminist theorist Simone de Beauvoir states, “Few myths have been more advantageous to the ruling caste than the myth of woman: it justifies all privileges and even authorizes their abuse” (Leitch 1267). Women in this film, particularly the role of Katherine, become the means of increasing the power of men to the “ruling caste” – thus creating a binary system much like that of the bourgeois-proletariat system in Marxism. Crown is seen as the ultimate ruling class and capitalist. He has excessive leisure time on his hands, this excessiveness echoing the excessiveness of his money and riches, and thus cementing his status in the ruling class. This notion of excessive spending on “toys” like boats and planes mirrors the current state of American consumerism and spending. As a result of the 2008 economic crisis, Americans (which are composed largely of the working class) have shook their heads against the splurges and excessive salaries given to wealthy CEOs and the like. The elite class has become highly criticized for their vacation habits and consumerism and it seems like America is headed towards a less “conspicuous consumption” way of life, a term coined by pre-modern theorist Thorstein Veblen in his work The Theory of the Leisure Class. Here, Veblen argues that consumption of the leisure class, that is, of the upper-class, is done for the purpose of others to observe. As Veblen explains, “Conspicuous consumption of valuable goods is a means of reputability to the gentleman of the leisure. … He consumes vicariously for his host at the same time that he is witness to the consumption of that excess of good things which his host is unable to dispose” (Veblen, 1210). While in the 1999 film Crown remorselessly flaunts his wealth, in today’s post-economic crisis society, he would likely become ostracized and criticized by much of the society at large. This type of alienation of the ruling class is a characteristic that Marx has given to the bourgeoisie.

As Marx argues, he believes that both the bourgeois and proletariat class are alienated from their work and themselves. As author Alvin W. Gouldner argues: “What the capitalist himself does, his very exploitation of the labor worker, is not (as Marx sees it) simply a matter of free choice but a constraint imposed upon the capitalist by his role in the system as a whole. If he did not behave in this way toward the worker he would soon cease to be a capitalist [and therefore] is alienated by the very system within which he is powerful and privileged” (Gouldner
/DSS/Marx/ch6.htm). Because the capitalist is forced to exploit the labor within the class system he is bound to, he is therefore not a free agent and is alienated from the system. As Marx writes, “In the social production of their lives men enter into definite, necessary, relations that are independent of their will” (Goulder In the case of Thomas Crown, his life as the bourgeois has become mundane and he has become “bored” within his work of “acquisitions and mergers looking a little stodgy”. Crown yearns to find a true identity for himself, one that goes beyond just a bourgeoisie. As author Arthur Berger states in his book Media Analysis Techniques, “bourgeois capitalist societies generate alienation and a host of afflictions that are connected to it – a sense of powerlessness, insecurity, estrangement, and lack of identity” (Berger 164). While its hard to visualize Crown as being “powerless”, when one understands it from a Marxist lens in that he has become part of the system in which he exploits, he soon realizes his alienation and powerlessness. Furthermore, Crown exhibits signs of a “lack of identity” through the film’s motif of copies creating copies. The famous surrealist painting “The Son of Man” by Rene Magritte (as seen to the right) is used by Katherine to describe Crown in the film. She explaims to Crown: “Hey, I didn’t know your portrait was here. The faceless businessman in a bowler hat”. The fact that Crown is being described as “faceless” implies his own lack of identity. Crown acknowledges that he does in fact own a “copy” of the painting in his home, thus suggesting that his copy of the painting that represents him also represents how he himself has become a copy. This notion of copies creating copies is illuminated in post-modern theorist Jean Baudrillard. Baudrillard argues in “The Precession of Simulacra” that “simulation is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal” (Leitch 1557). In the film’s end, Crown hires multiple men to dress like him, in a suit and bowler hat with a briefcase full of copies of the painting “The Son of Man”. Through this process, Crown creates “models” of himself that in effect mask his own identity to society. The idea of Crown not inhabiting his own true or real identity is mirrored in how the painting “The Son of Man” represents himself. “Bourgouis art”, as postmodernist Jurgen Habermas suggests, “has two expectations (meanings) at once from its audience” (Leitch 1585). This dual meaning in bourgouis art reflects back to Crown having multiple meanings, or identities himself. He has employed the scheme of creating models of himself so that he can win in his own game of deception. As is revealed in the film, the detectives were trying to acquire a painting Crown was believed to have stolen but was in fact in the art gallery all along. This is an example of simulation. According to Baudrillard, “to simulate is to feign to have what one hasn’t [and] threatens the difference between “true” and “false”, between “real” and “imaginary” (Leitch 1558). By Crown feigning his own plot of simulation, he has blurred the lines of identity within himself – within whether what he owns is “true” or “imaginary”. This perpepuates the notion of postmodern theory that suggests that there is no ultimate truth, no “original” and that culture and identity is constructed by the political economy of a society. This relates to Marxist ideology that specifies that the identity of people is bound by their class relations. Although postmodernism argues that you can not create such definitive binaries such as bourgeoisie and proletariat, postmodernism does seem to agree with Marxism in that identity is culturally created. The larger implications of both theories of Marxism and postmodernism imply to today’s societies that while there might be suggested bounds of where classes are leveled (i.e. income stratification), a current “postmodern” analysis of today’s society suggests that this definitiveness of classes is just not the case anymore, especially with the disappearance of the once dominant middle class which has grown increasingly small in current times. What might have defined what an “upperclass” member was ten years ago might not be an accurate definition to today’s struggling economic times.

Works Cited
Berger, Arthur Asa. Media Analysis Techniques. 3rd ed. Sage Publications: Thousand
Oaks, 2006.
Gouldner, Alvin W. The Two Marxisms. Oxford University Press: New York, 1980.
p. 177-198. .
Leitch, Vincent B., Ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd. Ed. W.W.
Norton & Company, Inc: New York, 2001.
Tucker, Robert C., Ed. The Marx-Engels Reader. 2nd ed. W.W. Norton and
Company Inc: New York, 1972.
Veblen, Thornstein. From The Heath Anthology of American Literature. 6th ed. Edited
By Paul Lauter. Wadsworth Cengage Learning: Australia, 2006.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Analysis #6 - Ethnicity Studies and Post-Colonial Theory

Analysis #6 – Ethnicity Studies and Post-Colonial Theory

Langston Hughes, the preeminent writer during the Harlem Renaissance, posits in his work “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” that black peoples are constantly criticized by both whites and blacks for their “blackness” and being inferior to their white, “superior” counterparts. Hughes argues that blacks subconsciously want to be white, inferring to how a statement by a young black poet who said “I want to be a poet – not a Negro poet” is an inadvertent way of saying “I want to be white” (Leitch 1192).
The 1970 novel The Bluest Eye, written by Toni Morrison, reflects this notion Hughes presented of the desire for blacks to want to want to be white. The protagonist of the novel, a young black girl, dreams of having “big beautiful eyes” (Morrison 20). As the narrator writes: “if those eyes of hers were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different… [so] each night, without fail, she prayed for pretty blue eyes” (Morrison 46). This quote from the novel, in which it is implied that having “blue eyes” and thus being white is “beautiful” reflects a recurring motif in which whiteness is beauty and thus desired. This underscores Hughes’ notion of the “urge within the race toward whiteness” and towards the desire “to be as little Negro and as much American as possible” (Leitch 1192). This desire to be white and not black is, as Hughes writes, a subconscious desire, in which it is believed by blacks that “white is best” (Leitch 1195). This is not hard to understand, since white culture has been the dominant culture in America and has been connected with holding the virtues, beauty, and morals of society (Leitch 1193). Reflected in The Bluest Eye, the narrator writes: “The master had said, “ ‘ You are ugly people.’ They had looked about themselves and saw nothing to contradict the statement” (Morrison 39). This quotes suggests that both the “white” master and the blacks alike believe “they are ugly”, that is “inferior” to the “beauty of whiteness”.
Hughes concludes in his work that he would like for “younger Negro artists” to be able to express themselves, with their dark-skins, without shame, believing that “no great poet has even been afraid of being himself” (Leitch 1192-1996). Hughes, who wrote his work in 1926 during the Harlem Renaissance, believes that a great poet should be able to work against the criticism they get from both their “own group” and from whites. Toni Morrison, a post-modern writer, embodies this notion of writing derived from the life she knows and staying true to herself. Ultimately, the novel The Bluest Eye exemplifies a black poet (writer) who shows that there is no shame in being black. As illuminated in Morrison’s novel, the protagonist eventually gets blue eyes, but at the cost of her sanity. This reflects on the earlier text in the novel in which with blue eyes, the protagonist could be “different”. But in this case, in which with blue eyes she is deemed insane, being different is a perverse ironic suggestion that being different is not normal and being true to self, as Hughes suggests, is a true representation of a “great poet”.

Works Cited

Leitch, Vincent B, ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New
York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2010.

Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. Plume: Middlesex, England. 1970.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Analysis #5 - Feminist Critique of I Love Lucy

The classic 1950’s sitcom I Love Lucy exemplifies theories of feminism, most dominantly of which are from the feminist theorist Simone de Beauvior who examines how women’s identities and roles in society are created not autonomously, but through their male counterpart. In this video of clips from the episode entitled “Job Switching”, Lucy and her husband, Ricky decide to switch their roles – Lucy starts to become a part of the work force and Ricky stays home to take on domestic chores. Eventually, both agree that each others original “gender” roles should be kept and a reversal of these roles prove to be futile in the discourse of gender identity.
Beauvior believes that this type of identity, wherein the “man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him” inherently reduces the woman to not being an equal to the man. In this clip, Ricky states that “… the only reason why women claim that housework is so hard is because they don’t use their heads”. This reinforces the dichotomy between man and woman, in which the woman is referenced as not an individual, but as part of the collective whole of being a “woman”. As Beauvior states: “men say ‘women’, and women use the same word in referring to themselves. They do not authentically assume a subjective attitude” (Beauvior The Second Sex). By Ricky stating that women as a whole hold an inherently idiosyncratic characteristic, he is subjugating women and reducing them to non-autonomous beings. Furthermore, by Ricky giving this generalization about “women” and separating them himself, he is demonstrating that women is an “other” – that, as Beauvior writes, “he is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other” (Beauvior The Second Sex). By denigrating women and saying that “they don’t use their heads”, this implies that men hold the power of being the “absolute” and the woman is just an “other” that does not fit in his category.
Further examples of how the reversal of gender roles only debilitate men and women is when Lucy, while working in the chocolate factory states “… I think we are fighting a lost cause”. This statement insinuates that the rigid cementation of the distinct roles of men and women in society should be kept in tact. As feminist theorist Judith Butler writes, “… gender is a kind of persistent impersonation that passes as the real” (Leitch 2541). That is, women should acquiesce that their role is best suited as domestic housewives and trying to break away from this is not normal, successful, or “real”. By having this episode be comic in nature, and eventually portraying how when men and women do not take upon their given roles of “making up two castes”, the duality between men and women is broken and proves to be futile. Women should thus be feminine in nature, a notion that they and society knows it’s defined through what Susan Bordo describes as “bodily discourse” by embodying the ideology of women being domestic housewives that act as the “chief emotional and physical nurturer” (Leitch 2245).

Works Cited
Beauvoir, Simone de. The Second Sex. Introduction: Woman as Other. 1949.
9 August 2010. /2nd-sex/introduction.htm>.

Leitch, Vincent B, ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New
York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2010.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Marxist Analysis of "Glengarry Glen Ross"

Marxist Analysis #4

This scene from the 1992 film Glengarry Glen Ross exemplifies the Marxist ideologies of the exploitation of the labor class by the bourgeoisie class. According to Karl Marx, he believes that labour power has essentially been commoditized and that “articles of utility become commodities … because they are products of the labour of private individuals or groups of individuals who carry on their work independently of each other” (Leitch 665). In other words, the value of the labor workers has become nothing more than an interchangeable product, one in which the capitalist can exploit to their own benefits.
In the example of this scene, the character of Alec Baldwin represents the capitalist, or the bourgeoisie. Baldwin asserts himself as an upper class by his way of treatment towards his workers or subordinates. He continually speaks down upon them, even stating that his “watch cost more than the workers”. This furthers the notion of the master-slave relationship, in which Marx states that “the slave-owner buys his labourer as he buys his horse” (Leitch 672). As such, Baldwin’s character in this scene treats his workers as nothing more than animals, only giving them the bare means necessary to survive. For example, Baldwin’s character only allows the workers to have coffee is they produce capital (have a sale). This supports Marx’s idea that “food is given to the labourer as to a mere means of production” (Leitch 672). The salespeople mean nothing more to Baldwin’s character than just a means of production, a means of production in which he owns. The only thing the salespeople have to offer is their labor, and it is by only being able to offer this that makes them vulnerable to the exploitation that was seen in the clip. In fact, their labor has become to rooted in their identities that it has usurped any pleasure they get outside of work, such as enjoying their family time. Additionally, the labor worker has become alienated from his work. As Marx suggests, “the worker is related to the product of his labour as to an alient object” (Leitch 653). This alienation is rooted in the disconnect the worker begins to feel for his work. Marx compares this to religion, making the comparison that “the more man puts into God, the less he retains in himself” (Leitch 653). This is evidenced in the film clip wherein Baldwin’s character is speaking and asks his workers if they have “made their decision for Christ!” This statement makes the workers feel further disconnected from their work, believing that they are not working for themselves, but for an “external existence” (Leitch 671).
The labor worker is according to Marx just that: a worker. The worker offers nothing else and any spare time he has is to be devoted to the growth of capital (Leitch 671). This essentially reduces the workers autonomy and prevents the worker from breaking free from the exploitations in the capitalist system This exploitation is what Marx coined as the surplus-labour, that is, the “unpaid labor” that the worker does not receive and is then given to the capitalist (Leitch 672). This very notion of labor exploitation is at the root of Marxian thought and the foundation of what creates a society with different classes.

Works Cited
Leitch, Vincent B, ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York:
W.W. Norton and Company, 2010.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Group Presentation Reflection

Group Presentation Reflection

For our group presentation on Marxism, my group and I created a presentation that incorporated a text into an analysis on Marxism. For my contribution, I suggested that our group pick Charlie Chaplin’s film Modern Times as a relevant text that showcases the themes and notions behind Marxist ideologies. Upon consensus, our group met up and found video clips of the film on YouTube and began brainstorming several questions we can ask that are pertinent to Marxist thought. All three of us in the group contributed equally in picking questions that we could ask the class.
Before deciding on our final presentation format, which is to show video clips and then pause and ask questions to create a discussion, our group brainstormed several presentation ideas before deciding on the final format. I suggested that we do some type of group exercise, in which the class is split into the “bourgeoisie” and “working class” and have a debate over what their interpretation is of the film. However, after realizing we are on a time limit, we decided this would not be the best format for the presentation and would limit ideas and an open discussion.
Overall, the contributions to this presentation were fairly evenly divided. We did most of the work during a group meeting we had out of class in which everyone in the group suggested ideas for the presentation. Additionally, before our presentation, we will have one last 15 minute meeting to finalize and plan out our presentation.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Psychoanalysis of American Beauty

The Psychoanalytical Theory of American Beauty

The popular 1999 film American Beauty illustrates an example of the theories of the human psyche, the Oedipus Complex, dream condensation, and fetishism from the famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. One scene in particular will be used to analyze these psychoanalytical theories in this analysis. The scene shows a beautiful young woman, Angela Hayes, as the object of Lester’s affection. Lester is a married man who fantasizes about Angela during a cheerleading performance in which he imagines her dancing exotically exclusively for him, portraying the objectification of women for the male audience due to the patriarchal American culture.
Sigmund Freud’s theory of the human psyche is one of the most prevalent theories pertinent in this scene. The camera quickly focuses on Angela Hayes and Lester’s fascination with her unquestionable beauty. Soon, Lester enters into a dream-like fantasy, where she begins to dance erotically for Lester, leaving him with his mouth agape and in a trance-like state. This scene exemplifies Freud’s theory of the human psyche which is composed of two parts, the conscious and the unconscious, in which “the conscious is the part which relates to the external world, while the unconscious is the site of instinctual drives and repressed wishes” (Storey 71). As Freud argues, the human psyche is composed of the id, the inner desires of drives such as sex and aggression, which is categorized as being part of the unconscious. The id typically is such an overpowering desire that it is usually satisfied by a person, regardless of any negative cultural meaning the id might convey. In this scene, Lester’s id, or inner desire, is to sexually engage with Angela, as demonstrated through his fantasy of seeing her exotically dance in front of him. However, the id is countered by what Freud describes as the ego, finding the balance between sexual drives and reality. The ego is meant to mitigate the intense desires of the id, but, as Freud explains, “we never give anything up; we only exchange one thing for another” (Storey 72). This is possible through what Freud calls “fetishism” wherein “the fetish is a substitute for the woman’s penis that the little boy once believed in … and does not want to give up” (Leitch 842).
According to Freud, fetishism is a way for men to displace the shock of the lack of a penis for a woman (Leitch 842). For Lester, this shock was displaced by creating a fetishism for Angela that was so strong, in which her beauty entranced him so much and provided so much visual pleasure, that the fear of castration was virtually eliminated. The fetish and visual pleasure of the woman’s body is how Freud believes a man relieves and protects himself from the threat of castration (Leitch 843). This fear of castration is formulated through what Freud coined as the Oedipus complex, a stage of life in which a boy fears his father since he represents castration anxiety and is a threat towards the boys admiration and desires of his mother. Freud believes that “our dreams convince us that this is so” and therefore, we can conclude that this scene in which Lester dreams of Angela’s exoticness for him is a manifestation of Lester’s Oedipus complex.
The scene in American Beauty can be recognized as a dream or fantasy, through various compositional film techniques. Perhaps the most obvious technique is the way in which the scene starts to run in slow motion once Angela is left to dance alone in Lester’s dream. This slow motion film technique illustrates one of Freud’s dream theories, dream condensation, in which he argues that “dreams are brief, meager, and laconic in comparison with the range and wealth of the dream-thoughts” (Leitch 819). In other words, the slowing down of Lester’s dream imitates the natural time lapse of dreams in which they are “brief” and slow moving, yet can construe many meanings and associations. In the case of this scene, Angela’s sexuality and feminism symbolizes Lester’s reluctance to resolve his own Oedipus Complex. The red rose petals that envelop the visual frame symbolize “female genitals [as they] share the characteristic of enclosing a hollow space” (Storey 75). Female genitals construe an image of femininity and sexuality, and thus one can conclude that the dream Lester has provides the meaning of sexually objectifying Angela as a female sexual desire.

Works Cited
Leitch, Vincent B, ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York:
W.W. Norton and Company, 2010.
Storey, John. Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction. 4th ed. Athens:
University of Georgia Press, 2006.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Structuralism - Analysis #2

Part 1: Short Story

As soon as the new immigrants saw the historic landmark, they could not believe their eyes. The American flag was waving on top of the majestic White House, almost like a hand waving hello. It was even greater and more poignant than they had imagined it to be – the grass was green, the house larger than they imagined, and the whole moment engulfed all their emotions. Coming from Jordan, from a country left in shambles and poverty from war, the White House symbolized more to them than just a governmental institution. To this new family, the White House gave them a meaning of hope, of freedom, and of a life that they could begin living that didn’t resemble the life they fought so eagerly to leave behind.

Part 2: Semiotic Analysis

In conducting a semiotic analysis of the photograph of the White House, it is important to understand Ferdinand De Saussure’s notion of semiotics. The structuralist analyist argues that “ ‘language is a system of signs that express ideas’ and that these signs are in fact arbitrary” (Leitch 854). In looking at the photograph of the White House, we see visual signifiers or images that when combined with the signified, or the meaning of these images, form what Saussure describes as signs (Leitch 852). For example, the visual image of the American flag on top of the White House is the signifier, and what this signifies, or gives meaning to, is the notion of freedom. This meaning of freedom is derived mostly from what Saussure describes as convention, or our collective behavior or attitude towards a sign (Leitch 854). To many Americans, the American flag is a symbol, a sign of freedom and liberty. Additionally, when combined with the signifier or image of the White House, the American flag is further presented as a very American symbol of liberty.

However, as Saussure argues, the relationship between the sign and signifier is arbitrary (Leitch 854). That is, the photograph of the White House with the American flag waving on top of it might have a completely different meaning to an American than it would to a foreigner who has no idea of what the American flag or White House is. The idea of the American flag and the White House is not inherently linked to the meaning of freedom; it is arbitrarily connected, or unmotivated in that the signifier is not naturally connected to the signified (Leitch 834). In other words, the meaning in signs is created within the system that it encompasses. Within the American system, the White House connotes freedom; however, to another system such as the French system, the White House might not have any connotation or have a completely different meaning in and of itself. This is a very important stipulation that Saussure has emphasized; that meaning is arbitrary and not necessarily universal.

Leitch, Vincent B, ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York:
W.W. Norton and Company. 201