How would Jonathan Swift's "Market Women's Cries" poem be analyzed under the Marxist criticism theory?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In “Market Women’s Cries,” each stanza of the poem depicts a woman selling a different product. The first woman sells apples, the second sells onions, and the third sells herrings. Each of the women must sell their product to live, though only the apple and herring sellers directly reference their...

See
This Answer Now

Start your subscription to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your Subscription

In “Market Women’s Cries,” each stanza of the poem depicts a woman selling a different product. The first woman sells apples, the second sells onions, and the third sells herrings. Each of the women must sell their product to live, though only the apple and herring sellers directly reference their poverty in the poem.

In Marxist Critical Theory (MCT), a reader would use the ideas of marxism to analyze a text. Things that MCT focuses on include differences in social class, the abuses of the capitalist system, how does the work as a whole interact with the current system, and how do characters or others overcome oppression in the text.

In “Market Women’s Cries,” the three central characters of the poem are women selling food in the market place. The women are all lower-class, and they reference their social status by talking about the precarious nature of their financial stability. For example, the herring seller says:

“Come, sixpence a dozen, to get me some bread,
Or, like my own herrings, I soon shall be dead.”

Using MCT, we can see the oppressive state that this woman exists in—having to sell fish to live. She has no safety net, and no one is protecting her from the harsh realities of capitalist society. She must sell the fish, or she will starve for lack of money.

In the same way, the woman selling apples supports her entire family with what she makes from her sales,

“My children are seven,
I wish them in Heaven;
My husband’s a sot,
With his pipe and his pot,
Not a farthen will gain them,
And I must maintain them.”

The apple seller is even more oppressed than the herring woman—explaining that she has seven children whom she wishes were dead. The abuses of the capitalist system are apparent in this section. This woman cannot make enough to provide a quality life for her family, and she must participate in this low level of work to make a subsistence living.

Swift shows that he is critical of the current system because these women are not happy with their lot. The danger they face from the inequality and inhumane nature of the system shows that Swift was ultimately critical of capitalism. The poem is not capitalist propaganda but instead is a revolutionary piece meant to expose the oppression of the system.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Jonathan Swift's "Market Women's Cries" is about female market traders who cry out for customers to buy their produce of apples, onions, and herring. The women need customers; otherwise, their families will go hungry, or they will themselves perish.

Karl Marx proposed that, in the Capitalist economic model, the working classes were exploited by the wealthy upper classes. Marx said, in fact, that the working classes were treated like horses, meaning that they were given just enough food to be able to work but no more.

Therefore, from a Marxist perspective, one might say that this poem is an example of how the working classes are not given their fair share. Indeed, the market women seem to live hand-to-mouth and hope simply to earn enough money in one day to keep themselves and their families alive until the next. The first speaker says that she wishes her children were "in Heaven," implying that they are suffering terribly in this life, probably from hunger, malnutrition, and poor living conditions. The third speaker says that she needs customers to buy her produce so that she can buy "some bread," without which, she says, she "soon shall be dead."

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team