The Sneetches and Other Stories Meaning
What is this book really about?
But We're All Adults Here, Right?
Now that it's just us, let's talk Marx, capitalism, and commodities. The three musketeers.
So, what's Marx's beef with capitalism? In the essay "Gertrude McFuzz Should've Read Marx, or Sneetches of the World Unite" (we so wish we'd come up with that), Jacob M. Held argues that the answer lies in alienation. We all suffer alienation and the need to belong to a group. It's just human (and Sneetch) nature.
Marx distrusted capitalism because its answer to alienation was to buy commodities. Want to fit into the hipster crowd? Buy some ironic t-shirts. Want to be considered successful? Buy a five-bedroom house with a two-car garage. Want no one to question your love of Star Wars come ComicCon? Get a cellar and load up on them action figures, buddy. A life-size Darth Vader couldn't hurt either.
For Marx, this was a problem. He argued that people should find self-worth and belonging through their actions and endeavors—not things. If people looked for the answer to alienation through consuming commodities, they wouldn't actually solve the problem. They'd merely postpone the bad feelings until some new commodity came out that they were required to buy. (Did your favorite hipster band sell out? Time to buy a new t-shirt.) It becomes an endless cycle of distraction rather than part of a goal moving toward a solution.
The Sneetches become victims of what Marx would consider the capitalist trap. First, the Plain-Belly Sneetches feel alienated from the Star-Belly Sneetches. The answer seems obvious: buy them some stars upon thar bellies. Enter McBean, who sells the stars to the Plain-Bellies. But the new Star-Bellies don't find acceptance. Instead, they have to pay to lose their stars so as not to be alienated once again. And on and on and on. And on. In the picture for lines 75-84, the Sneetches literally create an infinity sign between McBean's two machines. Sure makes the point.
Marx's solution? Create a society where the Sneetches' activities, not their consumer habits, free them from alienation. At the beginning of the story, only the producers of the machine, the capitalist McBeans of the world, actually benefit. But at the end, once the Sneetches learn their lesson, their society can begin to "forget about stars" and start moving on to something a little more productive for everyone (Sneetches.97). Are these Sneetches little Marxists?