Lawrence Ferlinghetti

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What are the Marxist elements in the poem "Two Scavengers in a Truck, Two Beautiful People in a Mercedes"?

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A Marxist analysis of this poem would focus on the obvious class difference between the two sets of people described. The two trash collectors are aging, ugly figures who probably smell of garbage, hanging on to the back of a garbage truck. They represent, in Marxist terms, the working classes...

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A Marxist analysis of this poem would focus on the obvious class difference between the two sets of people described. The two trash collectors are aging, ugly figures who probably smell of garbage, hanging on to the back of a garbage truck. They represent, in Marxist terms, the working classes or proletariat. They lead insecure lives and probably have to worry if they lose a paycheck. They work from necessity and not from choice.

The couple in the "open" Mercedes next them are described as elegant. They are members of, in Marxist terms, the bourgeoisie, the class that owns the means of production. They have commandeered most of the wealth in the society by underpaying (exploiting) working-class people like the garbage men, according to Marxist theory.

The "elegant" couple are sleek and stylishly dressed in expensive clothes. They are "odorless." They are on the way to visit their architect.

The irony of the poem is that although the two vehicles are stopped side by side at a red light, their worlds are light years apart. The garbagemen are able to look at the couple as if they are looking at a TV commercial, but they can no more step into their world than they can into a TV screen.

The poem ends on the word "democracy." This is important because Ferlinghetti said, "Challenge capitalism masquerading as democracy." The poem finishes with what a Marxist reading would say is the false promise that democracy can bridge the divide between the two classes of people. The poem says the two groups are side by side "as if anything were possible." The "as if" undercuts the notions that "democracy" can level the playing field and make crossing class lines possible. In Marxist readings, this would be impossible: only violent revolution could change the system.

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The simplest explanation would lie in the juxtaposition of the two "couples" - each defined in contrast to the other.  The "grungy" workers symbolize a Marxist proletariat, while the beautiful young people riding in the open Mercedes clearly represent the bourgeoisie.

An interesting "flip" on the theme comes when Ferlinghetti compares the older of the two scavengers with "grey iron hair" to the blondness of the younger one as if the latter were not of the working class long enough to have been "hunched" by his constant working on behalf of the Mercedes people.

Later, when the scavengers look across the gulf while killing time at the red light, it's as if the hope to which Ferlinghetti refers is somehow greater for the younger garbage man as he appears more like his counterparts in the roadster than the older one does.

In the end, however, the hope for either scavenger is an illusion.  Equality in a capitalist democracy is non-existent.  Just as on the farm, some pigs are more equal than others.

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