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Kylie Bean’s Marxist Criticism of “Alexander, Who Used to be Rich Last Sunday”

Alexander, Who Used to be Rich Last Sunday is a delightful children’s book about the inherent inequalities within a capitalistic, consumer-driven society, with Alexander as the proletariat; Anthony and Nick, his brothers, as the bourgeoisie; and his parents as the government that enforces socioeconomic inequalities between them. This criticism of capitalism and consumerism, of fundamental inequalities in societies and ideologies, is at the heart of Marxist criticism.

 

 

From the very first line, there is an obvious, inherent inequality between Alexander and his brothers.  While Alexander’s grandmother gave them each one dollar, both brothers already had money and Alexander had none.  This inequality has already destroyed the belief in fairness, and therefore the belief in the American Dream.

He is told to save his money so that he can eventually buy a walkie-talkie, but he is continuously foiled by societal and ideological pressures, by his brothers, and even by his parents.  Alexander, unlike his brothers, is not used to having money to spend. He buys as many fleeting things as possible, such as bubble gum, playing cards (missing two cards), and a one-eyed teddy bear.  He values these many small or damaged things more than the walkie-talkie he could get eventually, as he has no idea when he will be able to buy it, and, more importantly, he would not have anything to show off his newfound wealth.  His brothers, the more financially stable bourgeoisie, not only make fun of him for most likely never going to be able to buy the walkie-talkie he wants, but also continuously call him names and use put-downs to discourage him from trying at all.  They also swindled him out of his money multiple times.  This is a clear example of the bourgeoisie discriminating against and exploiting the proletariat.

Where were the parents in all of this?  They were consistently promoting these socioeconomic inequalities.  They did not punish Anthony or Nick when they were verbally abusing their brother, or even when they swindled him out of his money.  Alexander was forced to give his parents money as punishment for reacting to his brothers’ words and actions in kind.  The guilty bourgeoisie were treated much differently, and much better, than the relatively innocent proletariat.  This is a clear example of a governing body enforcing the inequalities between socioeconomic classes.

At the end of the story, Alexander is exactly where he was before: not owning a nickel, only a few bus tokens.  Instead of trying to change his situation, he accepts it with the vague hope that next time, he will do things differently.  He simply hopes that his grandparents will come again soon—he is still hopeful, stuck again in believing in the American Dream.  In this belief, Alexander, Who Used to be Rich Last Sunday reinforces the capitalistic ideology it sought to criticize, by reinforcing the inability to change the ideology, denying that it is an ideology at all, but rather a natural, if unsavory, order.

Alexander, Who Used to be Rich Last Sunday at once criticizes and reinforces the capitalistic, consumer-driven ideology.  With Alexander functioning as the proletariat, Anthony and Nick functioning as the bourgeoisie, and the parents functioning as the government, it explores many aspects of capitalism: the belief in the American Dream, the exploitation and discrimination of the proletariat at the hands of the bourgeoisie, and the reinforcement of socioeconomic inequality by the government.  However, it fails to present a way out of this cycle, but rather accepts it as an inevitable force or order.  In doing so, it reinforces the capitalistic ideology while still presenting the inequalities and oppression it creates.