Themes and Meanings

The Karl Marx Play presents a human figure behind the political icon. By placing Marx’s economic and political theory in the context of his life and the demands placed upon him by those in his household, the play presents a Marx who is, in his own words, “doubled and tripled and shattered into a hundred fractures of Karl Marx!” The action of The Karl Marx Play, appropriately, depends to a great extent upon oppositions which are internalized within Marx himself. For much of the play, these oppositions lead to stasis—writer’s block. For Marx to write Das Kapital, he must be forced out of time, out of the oppositions fostered by the demands of his family and friends in Victorian England, to meet, in Leadbelly, the future and his destiny.

To a great extent, the characters and their concerns establish the oppositions in the play. Jenny has little interest in Marx’s theory except insofar as it will provide bourgeois comforts for her family and aristocratic husbands for her daughters. Frederick Engels, Marx’s “collaborator,” is no less mercantile in his responses to Marx, providing money so that Marx will write the book that will in turn give him fame and philosophic prominence. Marx himself struggles with his religion. He proposes to destroy religion and to replace it with his philosophy, but he can never fully escape his own Jewishness; he prays to Yahveh for the strength he needs to mount an assault on religion. It falls upon Leadbelly, a symbol of the future, of racial struggle, of the revolutions to be engendered by Das Kapital, to lead Marx to his greatness. Leadbelly attacks Engels and Jenny for their myopic, bourgeois concerns; he adopts the persona of Rockefeller to expose the...

(The entire section is 716 words.)