Thursday, July 9, 2009

Marxism in Miss Peck’s Promotion

Miss Peck’s Promotion, by Sarah Orne Jewett distinguishes class structure and also separates intellectualism. According to Gramsci’s theory of Intellectuals and Hegemony, “The Category of ecclesiastics can be considered the category of intellectuals organically bound to the landed aristocracy” (p .1). Miss Peck is aware that she is unequal to the minister as “she was going, not only to a house of mourning, but to a bereft parsonage. She would not have felt so unequal to soothing the sorrows of her every-day acquaintances, but she could hardly face the duty of consoling the new minister” (p. 5).

According to Marx and Engles in The German Ideology, “In the real community the individuals obtain their freedom in and through their association” (p. 21) and “In the estate this is a as yet concealed: for instance a nobleman always a nobleman, a commoner always a commoner, apart from his other relationships, a quality inseparable from his individuality. The division between the personal and the class individual, the accidental nature of the conditions of life for the individual, appears only with the emergency of class” (p. 22). Miss Peck is very aware of class and how people are shaped through production and intercourse. She mentions that “Them big factory towns is all for eatin’ and clothes.” She is glad she was raised in a “good old academy town”. She mentions how her widowed sister in law had the title of “The Colonel’s lady” and “that’s what sp’ilt her. She never could come down to common things, Mis’ Colonel Peck!” (p.3). Then she goes on to speak of how the widow’s new husband’s name was a terrible accident because it is much less respectable.

Miss Peck grew fond of the idea of becoming the Minister’s Wife and all the benefits and change in class and power it would provide. “Yet the capable, clear-headed woman was greatly enticed by the high position and requirements of mistress of the parsonage. She liked the new excitement and authority, and grew more and more happy in the exercise of powers which a solitary life at the far would hardly arouse or engage” (p. 10). Gramsci also states “its necessary to distinguish organic movements (relatively permanent) from movements which may be termed ‘conjunctural’ (and which appear as occasional, immediate, almost accidental). Conjunctural phenomena too depend on organic movements to be sure, but they do not have any far reaching historical significance; they give rise to political criticism of a minor, day to day character, which has as its subject small ruling groups” (p.5). Miss Peck had a conjunctural movement in her status when she went to help out the Reverend in his time of immediate need. She had much influence and even funded activities of his parish. However, there was no Organic movement as he did not marry her, she did not get her “Promotion” (i.e. marry the Reverend).

According to Gramsci, “When one distinguishes between intellectuals and non-intellectuals, one is referring in reality only to the immediate social function of the professional category of the intellectuals, that is one has in mind the direction in which their specific professional activity is weighted, whether towards intellectual elaboration or towards muscular-nervous effort.” Although Miss Peck is educated and passionate about books “if ever a mind waked up with joy to its possession of the world of books, it was hers” (p.8). She is still not considered to be an intellectual because she is a farmer.

Although Miss Peck has the makings of an Intellectual, she is not because of the surrounding economy and social structure. If she did get her “Promotion” she would be an intellectual because of her association with the Parsonage. “She made many sacrifices of personal gain, as every good soldier must. She had meant to be a school-teacher. She had the gift for it, and had studied hard in her girlhood. One thing after another had kept her at home, and now she must stay here – her ambitions were at an end. She must “stand in her lot and place” (p.3). In the end, she goes back to her farm and her old life. This is her spontaneous consent.

1 comment:

  1. Very nicely done--it especially works because of the even balance between quotations between the two works. I like your last line, about spontaneous consent, but it seems to me that if she goes back to her old life not by choice then that's not so much consenting. But we do see an example of spontaneous consent in that she yearns to get all that comes with the parsonage--by wanting to move up, she's reinforcing the belief that the higher class is enviable and 'better'