Sample Essay

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This week’s readings all deal with the theme of subversion and resistance. The subversions described or attempted in the texts are all very mild forms of rebellion against the established structures of authority that do not result in an end to the system of oppression.

Mikhail Bakhtin, in the introduction to Rabelais and his world explains how Rabelais’ distinguishing quality was that he brought the culture of the carnivals into his books. Bakhtin explains that in the rigid social and religious order of the medieval Europe, carnivals were a place where the rigid hierarchy and moral strictures were temporarily abandoned. The atmosphere of the carnival was egalitarian and the rituals of the carnival made a mild ridicule of the rituals of the Church. The carnival thus functioned as an escape valve for the release of the ever mounting frustration and dissatisfaction of the lower classes against the existing order which allowed the wealthy land owners and the priestly class to exercise their power over them in an autocratic and exploitive manner. In a way, the mildly rebellious atmosphere of the carnival served, not as the basis for the overthrowing of the tyrannical social order but a means of perpetuating it.

The extract from James C. Scott’s Weapons of the Weak has a message that is ultimately pessimistic in its outlook but in many cases certainly rings true; It is not possible for the weak and the oppressed of the Earth to rise up and replace the system of oppression, all they can do is try to improve their lot through acts of mild rebellion and non-compliance. Scott says that peasant rebellions are put down in a brutal manner or if they are successful, often end with one autocratic regime replaced by a worse autocratic regime. This is certainly true of quite a few of the countries that replaced their monarchies with communist or socialist governments in the last century. Acts of petty resistance, on the other hand, allow the oppressed to improve their lot; by reducing the labor they perform while at the same time not provoking the authorities to the extent that they feel justified in deploying their tools of violence against the resistors.

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