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Literature from Marxist point of view is a reflection of the human existence in such a society which is divided into different classes on the basis of economic conditions. This paper aims to explore various aspects of exploitation, systems of domination, oppression and socioeconomic conflicts that arise in the novel ‘Moth Smoke’ by Mohsin Hamid.

The novel weaves a complex story of corruption, greed, unjust distribution of money and invites reader’s attention towards miserable characters, their wrong doings and especially focuses on the downfall of a decent, intelligent middle-class banker Daru who depends on the rich class from his very childhood. He becomes a thug, gets involved in drug dealings and loses dignity because of the prevailing economic system, i.e., capitalism. He becomes a social victim in the hands of elite class. His character represents how a person is badly crushed in a society that is corrupted by money and power. Daru is a kind of person who is “capable of everything and afraid of nothing” (Hamid, p.6). Pathetic situation of Daru is that his capabilities and potential are not brought to proper use in spite of being brilliant in academics, unlike his class fellows, he could not manage to go abroad for studies because of lack of money. Moreover, Nadira also left him in order to pursue a rich person having Pajero, which also made him realize the material life’s unusual importance and harbored resentful feelings in him against the resourceful circle. His character portrays the condition of a poor person in a country where he seldom finds an opportunity to compete with the powerful ones. In the novel, Daru searches for a suitable job in order to maintain his social status, but the lack of handsome income deprives him of the company of rich people and fills him with anger and frustration so much so that he does not give any importance to moral values and tries to earn money through corrupt manners. This sense of deprivation enhances and turns into jealousy even for his best friend Aurangzeb, who himself is a double-faced person and hides his ugliness under the garb of wealth and power that he exercises over the lower classes. Daru also feels jealous when he is no longer a priority to Ozi, his friend, for the fact that Ozi begins to see “Lahore’s ultra-rich young jet set” (Hamid, p.89). Being neglected in the dinners at Ozi’s residence also makes him feel left out or alien.

The socioeconomic bearings which keep inherited in their friendship since childhood produce subtle sense of inequality or injustice in Daru’s mind (Rizvi, 2004). In the novel he introduces Aurangzeb as the son of a corrupted man, who by choosing to invest corrupted money on his son’s education sends him to the States, while Daru remains behind to rot. After Ozi’s return, Daru feels more insecure and inferior as his friend owns two Pajeros and a wonderful house, whereas he lives in the same little house and owns Suzuki car, which appears of no value to that of Ozi’s, and which has a nervous cough that refers to the sound of door shut. The way Ozi drives his vehicle is also explained in the novel by Daru, which again serves as a contrast between their social and economic gap. Ozi thinks that “bigger cars have a right of way” (Hamid, p.27), which implies that people should take care of leaving the path for him.

Another conflict that arises between the rich and the poor is due to economic dependency of the latter on economically superior people for whole of their lives. For instance, after his father’s death, Aurangzeb’s father took care of Daru’s studies and he also got his first bank job due to the strong connections of uncle Khurram. It creates bruised sense of dignity in him. The fact that social status depends upon power and power lies with money aptly represents why Daru becomes pitiful person in the novel, because he lacks economic stability and strong influence, which denies him even a job in a bank on the merit base alone. It is the poor who suffer due to injustice and worries of earning, because those having means of production do not have to worry much about their income as they are not employees but owners. The fact that poor people are not at liberty to make choices for themselves in a dominant society of rich people who exploit them by treating them as lower species is echoed in the novel: “Men like us have no control over our destinies. We’re at the mercy of the powerful” (Hamid, p.265). The passive nature of the poor in changing the system of oppression is also seen in the novel when Mujahid invites Daru in a meeting and tells him that he always looks for “like-minded people” (Hamid, p.266) who believe in bringing socio-political change, Daru denies and tosses the address out of his car window, which shows his non conformity with the active role playing in bringing social reforms.

In Marxist terms, class conflicts of socio-economic basis generate due to the unjust distribution of wealth. Upper class does not care for laws, morality, and maltreatment of the lower class by keeping all the authority with it. ‘Moth Smoke’ captures this reality of our society in realistic manner when we are given the description of the privileges enjoyed by the rich through poor class’s perspective. Upper strata cherish power both in literal and metaphorical sense. The power in terms of having gadgets to create atmosphere of the house according to themselves, for example, in the novel air-conditioning facility symbolizes a rich person, whereas those who have no means to earn enough to make both ends meet cannot think to afford such a facility, and even if somehow they manage to get this facility, still the electricity and billing issues remain the same. Murad Badshah, a worker, often amuses himself by thinking about rebellion “against the system of hereditary entitlements responsible for cooling only the laziest minority of Pakistan’s population” (Hamid, p.124). So, by confinement in the houses and artificial world created through their economic resources, the elite class does not remain in contact with the working class. This aspect of the author is reviewed by Orin C. Judd, he writes: “It captures the frustration and anger of the less fortunate in a country whose ruling class is thoroughly corrupt and where the economic divide is so vast that the wealthy can insulate themselves from the rules that bind the rest of the society, and can nearly avoid physical contact with the lower classes” (2006).

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The class conflict also arises due to upper class’s manipulation and violation of the state laws. It is evident in Marxist context that rich people legitimize everything for themselves. In ‘Moth Smoke’ only commoners are supposed to abide by law, whereas rich people are above the limitations and laws posed by society. In the novel, elite class is found drinking alcohol, throwing parties, where all the activities which are illegal, remain unquestionable. Moreover, the police are doing corruption by cooperating with the rich people. An ironic situation is seen when police try to arrest Daru in suspicion of being drunk, while it is the same legal department under whose patronage elite class’s parties are arranged. The biased attitude of the legal institution is again presented in the novel when police does not stop elite class as they “are in a Pajero” (Hamid, p.40).

Marxist views emphasize to understand various power structures controlling and exploiting the poor people. Daru’s character represents the struggle which a man does in order to uplift his socioeconomic stature and at the same time he is a victim to the power of money which eventually deprives him of what he had earlier in his life. For instance, Malik Jiwan, a landlord and politician having half a million U.S dollars gets offended and meets the manager of the bank and Daru gets fired. His deterioration is a direct result of lacking strong material or political support for himself at the time of his need, and ultimately, he gets pushed into criminal world because he finds it an easy way to make money. Murad Badshah’s plan to rob “high-end, high fashion, exclusive boutiques” (Hamid, p.252) is given a justification by him in much a violent Marxist manner when he says that rich people have control over masses by the use of guns which are persuasive, and if guns are persuasive, then poor people can also be the same. His dramatic style of showing his gun to Daru hints at the possibility of going on a point of violence in order to get rid of the injustice and oppression done by the elite class.

Another example of exploitation of the lower class by the feudal lords is found in the case of Dilaram, whom a landlord abducts and later sells her for 50 rupees. She is forced to live in the Heera Mandi as a prostitute. Money becomes a tool for oppression in the hands of elite class. This is the point which is at the core of Marxist philosophy: how the lives of the working class and their destinies are in hands of those who have power and control. Murad Badshah is a typical representation of a low-class person in the novel. He is maltreated by Daru who himself hangs between middle class and lower class but owing to higher status than Murad’s, he says: “I don’t like it when low class people forget their place” (Hami, p.50). The servant of Daru is another example of the lower social status, and he is often beaten by his master for petty reasons, and Daru doesn’t feel ashamed at it rather he exclaims: “I did the right thing. Servants have to be kept in line” (Hamid, p.191), which shows the division of social classes based on the economic condition on a larger scale.

As per Marxist point of view, economy is at the back of all the material realities, so all the relations or identities are even affected by the imbalance of economic power in a society. ‘Moth Smoke’ embeds this perspective in its events, where we notice that how social decline or prosperity can possibly affect the lives of all the persons connected. It is the fundamental part of money that shapes and controls the conduct of all the characters in the novel, which is a new god in capitalistic world. Daru gets humiliated by his friend who is rich and treats him as someone who is not worth to talk with, even in his conversation he clearly alienates him by using the expression of “you people” (Hamid, p.171). He makes satirical remarks on Daru’s joblessness and then, bursting with laughter, he speeds away in his car. Such social stratification is totally biased and stems out of economic issues. It is interesting to note that Daru is not just a victim of society, but he himself does the same thing above which he has certain power. He makes a remark that “You get no respect unless you have cash” (Hamid). Daru doesn’t want to lose his self-honor, but at the face of financial paralysis he is left with no other choice rather to beg for a job reference from Ozi’s father. Again, Daru leaves her self-righteousness aside and at the moment when he is having a note of five hundred rupee in front of him. His moral deterioration and corruption begin when he is about to pick the note by thinking: “Pride tells me to give it back, but common sense tells pride to shut up, have a joint, and relax” (Hamid, p.163). We observe that Daru’s social status is directly proportional to his economic status. From being middle-class hypocrite, he becomes lower class person having little to do with morality. David Valdes Greenwood in his article Hamid’s Debut Burns Brightly comments: “The fall from one class to the next is steep, with his self-esteem and moral balance diminished in the descent” (2006).

The insensitivity of the elite class towards the other social classes is a source of anguish and agony for the poor. They remain indifferent towards the suffering or problems of the working class. In the novel, there is the conversation between Ozi and Mumtaz on saving power by not turning on air-conditioner for such long duration because in her opinion entire country suffers due to wastefulness of the few, but Ozi says that he does not care for the country, whatsoever, exposes that those who have privileges do not care much about those who have not got even basic facilities and this causes tension between haves and haves not. Another event in ‘Moth Smoke’ reveals how stone-hearted the rich become when it comes to show any remorse, shame or regret. Aurangzeb’s Pajero hits a boy on bicycle but Ozi does not stop to check what happened with the boy. When Daru comes at Ozi’s house to tell him about the boy’s death, Ozi doesn’t show any guilt rather he impulsively says: “We’ll take care of the family…I’m sure they’re compensated” (Hamid, p.116). Aurangzeb, a rich person, only thinks in terms of money, that with money anything can be done. Author depicts the reality that how people are not only exploited physically or economically by the rich, but also psychologically crushed.

To conclude, the study of ‘Moth Smoke’ in context of Marxist criticism depicts the world around which our social realities are built and how de-stability of economic resources can cause conflict between social classes. It also presents the conditions in which the poor can go to solve their economic problems such as robbery, murdering someone etc. Mohsin Hamid represents the gross truth about the capitalistic society in which elite class doesn’t remain reluctant to acquire money through bureaucratic corruption, having control over means of production and keeping the law on their beneficial side, whereas the poor in such a society remain oppressed and they have no real source available to help them to get rid of miserable condition in which they live. The novel emphasizes, like Marxist criticism, that systems of exploitation are not good for the rich and the poor, and there is a need to overcome this class conflict or gap between the elite and other classes.

Works Cited

  1. Greenwood, D.V. (2000). Hamid’s Debut Burns Brightly.
  2. Hamid, Moth Smoke.
  3. Judd, O.C. (2006). Moth Smoke. 2000.

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