Capitalism and Christianity the Great Un-Equalizers
Historically, capitalism and Christianity have been abused by the American elite utilizing them as the chief armament in the conflict against equality and upward mobility. This is clearly illustrated, witnessed, observed and preserved as immortal record in the Frederick Douglass work “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” as well as by Upton Sinclair in “The Jungle”. In these written works, spirit of otherness and togetherness is depicted though in a less substantial regard and illustrates how an oppressed group can rise to fight their oppressors to retain their dignity and freedom. The oppressed are the immigrant group in Sinclair’s work and the Black American slaves in the Douglass’s autobiography. These two groups face a number of challenges and limitations in acquiring proper livelihoods and acceptance, which stems from being under the scrutiny of a more ‘superior’ race and capitalism. Aspects illustrated in these works are centered on the varied vices including corruption, cruelty, bribery, slavery, oppression and intimidations all masquerading as capitalism and Christianity from the American elite.
Douglass illustrates oppression in his work to depict its use as a weapon of intimidation. Oppression is carried out by the slave masters who held the opinion that American slavery was a means of accomplishing God’s will. In his own words, the author reiterates that “a different-looking class of people are springing up at the South, and are now held in slavery, from those originally brought to this country from Africa; and if their increase do not do other good, it will do away with the force of argument, that God cursed Ham. Therefore American slavery is right” (Douglass 14). The affluent slaveholders operated under the notion that God himself placed a curse on Ham and his future off springs. They were cursed to be servants of servants’ thus African American race should be enslaved and dominated over by a more superior race.
Douglass further exemplifies cruelty to the slave ‘others’ in his work by painting a visual depiction describing how slaveholders would castigate their slaves and the pitiable living conditions they were forced to survive in. He states that life at the farming plantations was excruciatingly difficult as the slaves were overworked and exhausted. The living conditions were deplorable. They received diminutive meals, few pieces of clothing and had no beds. The punishment was inhuman leaving behind bloodshed in its wake. The author narrates an event when he was a boy at the farm that exhibited the inhumane acts of punishments the slaves were subjected. After his aunt Nester was found in the company of Lloyds Ned, which was prohibited, the master punished her severely. “He took her into the kitchen, and stripped her from neck to waist …after rolling up his sleeves ,he commenced to lay on the heavy cow skin, and soon the warm, red blood …came dripping to the floor”(Douglass 6). The slaves being the segregated ‘others’ faced cruelty of most profane nature under the slave holders hand therefore attesting the fact that inequality that was profound between the slaves and their masters.
Capitalism is also a factor that is greatly illustrated in the works of Douglass. Capitalism is described as the economic system through which trade, means of production and industries are managed by private proprietors centralized on the goals of maximizing on profit margins in the market economy. The slaveholders were proprietors to enormous farms that were largely cultivated by the slaves they acquired. As illustrated, “the principal products were tobacco, corn, and wheat. These were raised in great abundance: so that, with him, he was able to keep in almost constant employment a large sloop, in carrying them to the market in Baltimore” (Douglas 6). This gives a clear illustration that this particular slave master, known as Captain Anthony, was an elite member in the white community and had reasonable affluence. Like his kind, they acquired great profits from selling the farm produce in Baltimore. Considering the great profits margins made, they ought to have provided better living conditions for the slaves but opted otherwise.
The height of capitalism is illustrated in the provision of the yearly clothing. “It consisted of two coarse linen shirts, one pair of trouser for winter…one pair of stockings and one pair of shoes; the whole of which could not have cost more than seven dollars” (Douglass 9). This clear demonstration substantiate capitalism was at its zenith, the slave masters were affluent people who acquired great wealth from the agricultural business and endeavors in the ship caulking business in the Baltimore trade industry. They maximized on the profits gained by offering meager wages and providing appalling living conditions to the slaves who provided free labor as compared to the profits made from their hard work.
Intimidation is also elaborated as the mechanism of oppression of the other inferior group, which were the black slaves at that time. Douglass explains that he faced “violent tactics of intimidation from his white coworkers when he worked in the ship yard The whites working alongside free black workers…have begun to fear that the increasing numbers of free blacks will take their jobs” (Douglass 25). This reasoning justified the violence and intimidation the free black slaves faced at the shipyards from the white folk that worked there depicting that in that era the white race was founded on pernicious prejudice against the black folk who were seen as the ‘inferior others’, clearly illustrating otherness.
Capitalism in Sinclair’s work is the centralized aspect. The immigrants work for grueling hours a day for paltry wages .The work force described in the narration is inclusive of children who are also subjected to these harsh working conditions. The events occur during a period of industrialization where millions of impoverished immigrants assembled in the United States in search of employment. Being a minority group, they are subjected to dreadful working conditions, living conditions and are barely surviving on the minimal earnings. A visual picture is created in regards to the living conditions, “board houses were meant for the foreigners .its was by no means unusual for two men to own the same mattress… (Sinclair 37). The height of poverty in this town is illustrated; the new comers would rent a space in board houses to guarantee shelter as they search for employment.
Corruption is illustrated as the motivational factor for most individuals in Packing town who are striving to acquire a comfortable life. It is evident that corruption exists from the bottom to the top in the hierarchy of power in the town. An illustration of this vice is seen when Antanas is offered a deal that constitutes him offering a third of his wages in exchange of a job offer. The job detail is the packaging of filthy meat for human consumption. Capitalism is seen as a vehicle encouraging and valuing corruption, demonstrating that anyone who wants to advance in life must condition himself or herself to be corrupt. The capitalistic values overshadow hard work and strong dedication to uphold moral social values.
Another evident exposure on capitalism is seen in the description of the unhygienic and repulsive practices of the meat packaging industry. It is evident that there is “victimization of the immigration laborer by the high in power in the industry” (Sinclair 62). The real estate rip-off is also an instance of capitalism where the agent that was advertising the houses to Onas family lied about their conditions to pressurize the family into buying the house. The advertisement was misleading. The description of the house stating it as rental until it is duly paid for created a loophole in the title deed. Its purpose being to make it easy for the agent to evict the tenants in incase of missed or delayed payments. This fraud prioritized corporate gain over the expense of the consumer.
conclusion, both works by Sinclair and Douglass are centralized on portraying
the negative impacts of capitalism on the minority groups that are categorized
as ‘others’. They also illustrate the prejudice that is intense and directed to
this group. The capitalistic endeavors are focused on taking advantage of the
discriminated ‘others’ to maximize on the profits at their expense. This lot is
undermined and considered an inferior race thus must suffer at the hands of
their oppressors. Their togetherness acts as a solid factor that brings them together
to encourage and assist each other embrace the trials and tribulations they have
to endure. The co-relation
of these works
forms a strong front against capitalism and racial prejudice and encourages socialism to
Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. New York: Dover Publications, 1995. Print.
Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. Cambridge, Mass: R. Bentley, 1971. Print.