Subject The Romance of a Busy Broker
Posted by Rita
Posted on Mon Jun 19 01:25:36 2000
From IP  

Rita Sung
Literary Criticism¡XMarxism
Kate Liu
Journal #2

The World of Finance and the Unromantic proposal in O. Henry¡¦s ¡§The Romance of a Busy Broker¡¨

   Capitalism has always been the target for Marxists. It is criticized for its exploitation of the employees and the huge economic gap between employers and employees. Most of all, it is censured for its alienation of the employees¡¦ skills, which makes them become simply ¡§the labor power.¡¨ Their humanities are neglected for capitalists¡¦ greater pursuit of interests. O. Henry¡¦s short story, ¡§The Romance of a Busy Broker,¡¨ is definitely not a Marxist text because in a very high degree, it praises the vitality of the economic life in the big city. Even though the writer sometimes compares the laboring human beings as machines or wheels, he adopts the tone of satisfaction that a person could work so spontaneous and accurate like the machine. In this journal, I am going to say that even though the writer favors the active economic atmosphere of a city, he is still aware of the lurking problems behind it, such as the alienation of human beings¡¦ relationship and the reification of their ability.
   First, I think the title not only points out the idea of the story that it is about the romance of a busy broker, but also satirizes that in the world of finance, people¡¦s fundamental relationship¡Xlove or friendship, are not so important as the stock market. Though the title is about ¡§romance,¡¨ we could not see any element of romance since for a large proportion of the story is dedicated to the description of the busy morning of the broker. In those descriptions, the broker is fully occupied with his job that he neglects the girl as soon as he steps into the office. In the noon time, when he is suddenly struck with the familiar smell of lilac in the air, which finally makes him think of the girl, he decides that he should propose to the girl at once, he went straightly to her office with his hands full of documents and a pen on his right ear. Not only that, he demands that the girl should reply fast because his client is on the line. Most dramatic and ironic turning is at the end when the girl says in full surprise that they are already married last night at the Little Church around the corner. The only romantic quality about the broker is that he is very devoted to the girl that he would marry her as many times as he could. However, the girl is actually the romance creator that from her facial expression and hesitated movement since the beginning of the story, we know that something cheerful has happened to her.
   At the end of the story, the girl says that it is the ¡§old business¡¨ that makes the broker forgets about their marriage. The business of course refers to his dealing in the world of finance. In the capitalist society, human beings are reified as wheels, machines or little moving part of larger mechanical equipment. And people involved in it, including the broker, are manipulated by the operation of finance. A broker buys and sells the stocks for capitalists, and the capitalists own the interests. Therefore, the broker makes his living by giving out his labor and economical judgement. But because it is the capitalists that own the capital for the broker to exert, the broker could only earn the transaction fee. Nonetheless, to the employees in the broker¡¦s company, he is superior to them because he owns the means of production, for instance, the ticker and the telephones and careful judgement and evaluation of buying and selling of stocks. The condition is also related to the major problem of Marxism in today¡¦s society. Sometimes the means of production could not be divided and shared with all of the employees. In this case, the evaluation of the broker in business. In today¡¦s society, where we utilize the cyber space frequently, sometimes the means of production is also abstract and limited to certain ¡§intellectuals.¡¨
   O. Henry wrote ¡§The Romance of a Busy Broker¡¨ for a Sunday newspaper in New York, 1904. His readers were without doubt the white- collar middle class. Those white- collar class, for most of them, work in the burgeoning financial fields. When they read this short story, they surely would identify with the life of the broker. Moreover, the characterization of the broker corresponds to what the Americans identify with. He has the standard ¡§up and go¡¨ characteristic valued by the Americans. In American culture, people are inclined to favor and respect ¡§workaholic¡¨ who are busy and strive hard for their goals, even at the cost of skipping the lunches. However, in the story or perhaps in the society then, workaholic females are not seen highly as men. Even though women could work, they were subordinated to men. For Leslie in the story, she is depicted as a very demure and a woman who values family and husband more than herself. Also, her work as a stenographer marks her as comparably passive role than the broker. Furthermore, the work as a stenographer is a job, which does not involve too much humanity within a person. It echoes with the assertion of the Marxists that human beings are utilized as merely ¡§hands¡¨ or ¡§labor power.¡¨
   As a whole, the story on the surface praises the efficiency of a broker within the society of finance, underneath it portrays the concern for the alienation of human beings (the employer with the employees and with his beloved) and reification of people¡¦s ability (human beings are compared as machines).

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