The Top of the Pyramid

September 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

The introduction to “Beggars in Spain” could not have been more accurate when it described Nancy Kress as an “heir to the tradition of H.G. Wells.” Indeed, her style echoes that of The Time Machine (not mentioned in the introduction, oddly enough) on multiple levels. Like Wells, Kress conveys her views on class and economic issues of the present through the medium of science fiction. Not coincidentally, the story was published in 1991, when communism was in its final death throes. At this time, spirited pro-capitalist, anti-communist rhetoric was at its height; capitalism had finally achieved a decisive victory over its rival economic philosophy. With her short story “Beggars in Spain,” Kress takes the side of capitalism, but at the same time she offers a warning that goes something like this: “Wait! Capitalism is still not perfect. Let’s not go overboard here.” In much the same way, The Time Machine reflects on the economic situation of the Gilded Age — a time when the rift between the ostentatiously wealthy and the feebly impoverished was expanding at an exponential rate. However, the difference in the two pieces of literature lies in the fact that Wells adamantly rejects his society’s economic structure, while Kress only offers balanced revisions to the doctrine of capitalism.

Although Kress channels some criticism of capitalism through her Sleepless elite in “Beggars in Spain,” on the whole she does not seek to tear down the economic philosophy, only to caution against taking an individualist attitude to its furthest extreme. The Sleepless in the story quickly rise to become the upper class, the top of the pyramid. In any capitalist society, a few will naturally elevate themselves above the rest through hard work, luck, or a combination of both. Then comes the question of whether they should enjoy the spoils of their labor or share their success with others who most likely will not be able to return the favor. Look at the cause of the various Occupy movements of the present day; I would not say she was too off the mark with her identification of the inherent weaknesses in a capitalist system (namely, greed), while still acknowledging that they are still less than those of a communist system. The two sides of the argument are set up through the opposing ideologies of Tony and Leisha, who believe in isolationist superiority and the benevolent distribution of their success, respectively. Tony’s perspective projects an economic attitude that is utterly void of compassion, while Leisha’s understanding of the “ecology of help” offers a balanced mindset in reconciling the contract of trade with the need for charity and altruism in the world. In this way, Kress shows that while the ideology of capitalism is based on individual effort, a certain concern for the community must remain in order for society to function cohesively. Otherwise, the wealthy might find themselves withdrawing to their Sanctuary like the Sleepless in “Beggars in Spain.”


Hadley Wilson, B4


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