Billy Joel and our Literary Toolkit

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Time to start thinking about new ways to examine a text.  Ready?

Uptown girl
She’s been living in her uptown world
I bet she never had an back street guy
I bet her mama never told her why

I’m gonna try for an uptown girl
She’s been living in her white bread world
As long as anyone with hot blood can
And now she’s looking for a downtown man
That’s what I am

And when she knows what
She wants from her time
And when she wakes up
And makes up her mind

She’ll see I’m not so tough
Just because
I’m in love with an uptown girl
You know I’ve seen her in her uptown world
She’s getting tired of her high class toys
And all her presents from her uptown boys
She’s got a choice

Oooh…

Uptown girl
You know I can’t afford to buy her pearls
But maybe someday when my ship comes in
She’ll understand what kind of guy I’ve been
And then I’ll win

And when she’s walking
She’s looking so fine
And when she’s talking
She’ll say that she’s mine

She’ll say I’m not so tough
Just because
I’m in love
With an uptown girl
She’s been living in her white bread world
As long as anyone with hot blood can
And now she’s looking for a downtown man
That’s what I am

Oooh…

Uptown girl
She’s my uptown girl
Don’t You know I’m in love
With an uptown girl

My uptown girl
Don’t You know I’m in love
With an uptown girl
My uptown girl
Don’t You know I’m in love
With an uptown girl
My uptown girl
she’s an uptown girl

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What would Karl Marx have to say about “Uptown Girl”?

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Marxist criticism is concerned with viewing Literature as a social institution which promotes certain values.  Specifically the Marxist perspective is interested to see how certain classes are portrayed.  How too, do classes interact?  Which class benefits if the text is successful?

Let’s take a look at how  Marxist criticism can be applied to something very familiar:

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The Marxist approach means you need to explore the following:

  • Which class does the work claim to represent?
  • What values does it reinforce?
  • What values does it subvert?
  • What conflict can be seen between the values the work champions and those it portrays?
  • What social classes do the characters represent?
  • (Courtesy of Purdue OWL)

The English literary critic and cultural theorist Terry Eagleton defines Marxist criticism this way:

“Marxist criticism is not merely a ‘sociology of literature’, concerned with how novels get published and whether they mention the working class. Its aim is to explain the literary work more fully; and this means a sensitive attention to its forms, styles and meanings. But it also means grasping those forms, styles and meanings as the product of a particular history.”[1]

(Courtesy of Princeton.edu)

 

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Let’s take a look at “Uptown Girl” through the glass of one more lens…

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So what is Feminist Criticism and how is it applied to Literature?

Feminist criticism is concerned with “…the ways in which literature (and other cultural productions) reinforce or undermine the economic, political, social, and psychological oppression of women” (Tyson). This school of theory looks at how aspects of our culture are inherently patriarchal (male dominated) and “…this critique strives to expose the explicit and implicit misogyny in male writing about women” (Richter 1346). This misogyny, Tyson reminds us, can extend into diverse areas of our culture: “Perhaps the most chilling example…is found in the world of modern medicine, where drugs prescribed for both sexes often have been tested on male subjects only” (83).

Feminist criticism is also concerned with less obvious forms of marginalization such as the exclusion of women writers from the traditional literary canon: “…unless the critical or historical point of view is feminist, there is a tendency to under-represent the contribution of women writers” (Tyson 82-83).

(Courtesy of our pals at Purdue)

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  • How is the relationship between men and women portrayed?
  • What are the power relationships between men and women (or characters assuming male/female roles)?
  • How are male and female roles defined?
  • What constitutes masculinity and femininity?
  • How do characters embody these traits?
  • Do characters take on traits from opposite genders? How so? How does this change others’ reactions to them?
  • What does the work reveal about the operations (economically, politically, socially, or psychologically) of patriarchy?
  • What does the work imply about the possibilities of sisterhood as a mode of resisting patriarchy?
  • What does the work say about women’s creativity?
  • (Courtesy of Purdue)

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Our Table Talk Teams ARE…

Team one:  Neel, Raihan, Steph, Danny

Team two:  Jesslyn, Angghi, WJ, Jason, Vanca

Team three:  Andersen, Christabel, Natasha, Jessuita

Team four:  Peter, C. Brian, Shellanita, Elita

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What do we need to bring to the table?

1.  Through which lens (Marxist/Feminist) is “Uptown Girl” best understood?  Why?

2.  Which of the questions commonly used by the criticism led to the most provocative discussion in your team, and why?

3.  Why would the understanding of both perspectives be useful to you, personally?

4.  Do we naturally use these lenses when we meet certain texts?  Why or why not?

5.  Do you like “Uptown Girl,” why or why not, and what does your opinion of the song say about you?

Come prepared, you may only use notes on the sheet provided during Wednesday’s table talk.

 

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