Uploaded by Syeda Tanzila Tirmazi

Marxist reading of Moth Smoke

Marxist reading of
“Moth Smoke” by Mohsin Hamid
Tanzila Fatima
M. Phil English Literature
What is Marxism?
Marxism, Originates in the 19th Century, Is an economic and social system based upon the
political and economic theories of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. KARL MARX (1818) Was
a German Philosopher, Political, Economist and Socialist who Spoke about the working class
deprived of their rights, exploitation of the working class, the Capitalistic mode of production.
Marxism is the antithesis of capitalism which is defined by Encarta as “an economic system
based on the private ownership of the means of production and distribution of goods,
characterized by a free competitive market and motivation by profit.” Marxism is the system of
socialism of which the dominant feature is public ownership of the means of production,
distribution, and exchange.
Key concepts
Capitalist society is divided into two classes:
The Bourgeoisie or the Capitalist class are the ones who own and control the wealth of a country.
These control the productive forces in society (what Marx called the economic base), which
basically consisted of land, factories and machines that could be used to produce goods that
could then be sold for a profit.
The majority, or the masses, or what Marx called The Proletariat can only gain a living by selling
their labour power to the bourgeoisie for a price.
The bourgeoisie increase their wealth by exploiting the proletariat
Marx argued that the bourgeoisie maintain and increase their wealth through exploiting the
working class. The relationship between these two classes is exploitative because the amount of
money the Capitalist pays his workers (their wages) is always below the current selling, or
market price of whatever they have produced. The difference between the two is called surplus
value. Marx thus says that the capitalist extracts surplus value from the worker. Because of this
extraction of surplus value, the capitalist class is only able to maintain and increase their wealth
at the expense of the proletariat. To Marx, Profit is basically the accumulated exploitation of
workers in capitalist society.
Those who have economic power control all other
institutions in society
Marx argued that those who control the Economic Base also control the Superstructure – that is,
those who have wealth or economic power also have political power and control over the rest of
society. Economic Base (The Mode of Production) consists of the forces of production (tools,
machinery, raw materials which people use to produce goods and services) and the relations of
production ( social relations between people involved in the production of goods and
services).Together these make up the mode of production. The superstructure of a society
includes its culture, institutions, political power structures, roles, rituals, and state.
An "external object, a thing which through its qualities satisfies human needs of whatever kind"
(Marx, Capital 125) and is then exchanged for something else. For Marxism, a commodity’s
value lies not in what it can do (use value) but in the money or other commodities for which it
can be traded (exchange value) or in the social status it confers on its owner (sign-exchange
value). For example, if I read a book for pleasure or for information, the book has use value. If I
sell that same book, it has exchange value. If I leave that book out on my table to impress my
teacher or friend, it has sign-exchange value.
Commodification is the act of relating to objects or persons in terms of their exchange value or
sign- exchange value. In this logic, such things as friendship, knowledge, women, etc. are
understood only in terms of their monetary value. In this way, they are no longer treated as
things with intrinsic worth but as commodities. (They are valued, that is, only extrinsically in
terms of money.) By this logic, a factory worker can be reconceptualized not as a human being
with specific needs that, as humans, we are obliged to provide but as a mere wage debit in a
businessman's ledger.
For Marxism, an Ideology is a belief system and all belief systems are products of cultural
conditioning. It is a set of values and ways of thinking through which people see the world they
live in of which they are often unaware, and which they accept without questioning as truth.
Marx argued that the ruling classes used their control of social institutions to gain ideological
dominance, or control over the way people think in society. Marx argued that the ideas of the
ruling classes were presented as common sense and natural and thus unequal, exploitative
relationships were accepted by the proletariat as the norm.
False consciousness
The end result of ideological control is false
consciousness – where the masses, or
proletariat are deluded into thinking that everything is fine and that the appalling in which they
live and work are inevitable. This delusion is known as False Consciousness. In Marxist terms,
the masses suffer from false class consciousness and fail to realize their common interest against
their exploiters. As far as Marx was concerned, he had realised the truth – Capitalism was unjust
but people just hadn’t realised it! He believed that political action was necessary to ‘wake up’ the
proletariat and bring them to revolutionary class consciousness. Eventually, following a
revolution, private property would be abolished and with it the profit motive and the desire to
exploit. In the communist society, people would be more equal, have greater freedom and be
Marxism in literature
For Marxism, literature does not exist in some timeless, aesthetic realm as an object to be
passively contemplated. Rather, like all cultural manifestations, it is a product of the
socioeconomic and hence ideological conditions of the time and place in which it was written,
whether or not the author intended it so. Because human beings are themselves products of their
socioeconomic and ideological environment, it is assumed that authors cannot help but create
works that embody ideology in some form.
The fact that literature grows out of and reflects real material/historical conditions creates at least
two possibilities of interest to Marxist critics: (1) the literary work might tend to reinforce in the
reader the ideologies it embodies, or (2) it might invite the reader to criticize the ideologies it
represents. Many texts do both. And it is not merely the content of a literary work—the “action”
or the theme—that carries ideology, but the form as well or, as most Marxists would argue, the
form primarily. Realism, symbolism, romanticism, modernism, postmodernism, tragedy,
comedy, satire, interior monologue, stream of conscious- ness, and other genres and literary
devices are the means by which form is consti- tuted. If content is the “what” of literature, then
form is the “how”.
Realism, for example, gives us characters and plot as if we were looking through a window onto
an actual scene taking place before our eyes. Our attention is drawn not to the nature of the
words on the page but to the action those words convey. Indeed, we frequently forget about the
words we’re reading and the way the narrative is structured as we “get lost” in the story. Part of
the reason we don’t notice the language and structure, the form, is because the action represented is ordered in a coherent sequence that invites us to relate to it much as we relate to the
events in our own lives, and the characters it portrays are believable, much like people we might
meet. So we get “pulled into” the story.
For some Marxists, realism is the best form for Marxist purposes because it clearly and
accurately represents the real world, with all its socioeconomic inequities and ideological
contradictions, and encourages readers to see the unhappy truths about material/historical reality,
for whether or not authors intend it they are bound to represent socioeconomic inequities and
ideological contradictions if they accurately represent the real world.
Although Marxists have long disagreed about what kinds of works are most useful in promoting
social awareness and positive political change, many today believe that even those literary works
that reinforce capitalist, imperialist, or other classist values are useful in that they can show us
how these ideologies work to seduce or coerce us into collusion with their repressive ideological
Some questions Marxist critics ask about literary texts
The following questions are offered to summarize Marxist approaches to literature.
Does the work reinforce (intentionally or not) capitalist, imperialist, or classist values? If so, then
the work may be said to have a capitalist, imperialist, or classist agenda, and it is the critic’s job
to expose and condemn this aspect of the work.
How might the work be seen as a critique of capitalism, imperialism, or classism? That is, in
what ways does the text reveal, and invite us to condemn, oppressive socioeconomic forces
(including repressive ideologies)? If a work criticizes or invites us to criticize oppressive
socioeconomic forces, then it may be said to have a Marxist agenda.
Does the work in some ways support a Marxist agenda but in other ways (perhaps
unintentionally) support a capitalist, imperialist, or classist agenda? In other words, is the work
ideologically conflicted?
How does the literary work reflect (intentionally or not) the socioeconomic conditions of the
time in which it was written and/or the time in which it is set, and what do those conditions
reveal about the history of class struggle?
These are just some starting points to get us thinking about literary works in productive Marxist
ways. Remember, not all Marxist critics will interpret the same work in the same way, even if
they focus on the same Marxist concepts. Our goal is to use Marxist theory to help enrich our
reading of literary works, to help us see some important ideas they illustrate that we might not
have seen so clearly or so deeply without Marxist theory, and, if we use Marxist theory the way
it is intended to be used: to help us see the ways in which ideology blinds us to our own
participation in oppressive sociopolitical agendas.
Moth Smoke
Moth Smoke is a 2000 novel by Pakistani writer Mohsin Hamid, who is most famous for his later
novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist. The book, set in Lahore, tells the story of a man’s fall from
grace within Pakistan’s upper class following the loss of his job. As he spirals downward, he
becomes addicted to drugs, has an affair with his best friend’s wife, and is arrested for murder.
The book opens in a prison cell, where a guard hands a letter to the prisoner. We then see a
courtroom, where Darashikoh Shezad (Daru for short), is accused of killing a boy. After these
introductory chapters, the main narrative begins, told from Darashikoh’s perspective.
Daru is going to visit his old school friend Aurangzeb—known as Ozi—who has just returned
from several years in the United States. Daru is resentful of his old friend’s success, noticing his
large, highly-secured house. He meets Ozi’s wife, Mumtaz, and their child. They spend an
evening catching up and drinking expensive whiskey. As Daru is driving home, he is stopped for
drunk driving but bribes the police officer to let him go free. The next day, Daru is fired from his
job at the bank for being rude to a customer.
The narrative shifts to an interview with the journalist Zulfikar Manto and Professor Julius
Superb. Superb was Daru’s teacher at an expensive private school, which was paid for by Ozi’s
father, Khurram Shah. Daru was the brighter of the two, but only Ozi could afford to go to
America to study. Daru purchases marijuana from a rickshaw driver, Murad Badshah, and is
asked by Mumtaz to accompany her on an errand. She explains to him that she lives a double life
as a journalist under the name Zulfikar Manto and that she wants him to accompany her to a
brothel for an interview.
The next chapter is narrated by Murad Badshah, who explains how he and Daru met; he
confesses to engaging in criminal activity with him.
The day after the visit to the brothel, Daru wakes up in his flat to find his electricity—and his airconditioning—has gone out, as he has not paid his bill. Khurram Shah calls Daru, offering to
help him find a new job, and inviting him to his house that evening. When Daru arrives, he finds
a party hosted by Ozi for their wealthy friends, which Ozi hadn’t invited him to.
During the party, Ozi talks about ongoing nuclear tests on the Indian border and about his marital
problems. Daru continues to sense a widening gap between him and his old friend. A few days
later, Daru sees Ozi in a hit and run with a boy on a bicycle. He drives off in his expensive car,
leaving Daru to take the boy to the hospital. The next narrative break returns to the courtroom
and Daru’s trial. A paper by Julius Superb is discussed, in which he explains the link between
air-conditioning and class. He argues that something snapped in Daru the day he no longer could
afford air-conditioning.
Mumtaz and Daru continue to grow closer; she shows up at his house at strange hours and makes
excuses to spend time with him. She takes him to a palm reader, who vaguely predicts a dark
future for him. Meanwhile, Pakistan is celebrating its first successful nuclear tests, and Daru
continues to be penniless—he has even stopped paying his servant, Manucci. Murad gives him
some heroin so he can get some clients hooked. After his first successful drug deal, Daru comes
home to find Manucci staring at a moth circling a flame. Both men watch as the moth catches
fire and becomes smoke.
Daru and Mumtaz finally give in and sleep together, starting a regular affair. In another
confessional narrative, Mumtaz tells her story. She met Ozi in New York and chose to marry him
and have a child, but started resenting him after they moved to Lahore where she saw how
corrupt he is. She admits to her secret career as a journalist and to her affair with Daru.
Meanwhile, Daru starts to sell drugs at high prices to some of Ozi’s wealthy crowd and to Suja, a
rich teenager. He gets into a fight at a fancy party when a former classmate belittles him for
being a drug dealer and tries the heroin Murad gave him. Though he has started making money,
he still refuses to pay Manucci. One day, Manucci sees him selling hash to Suja and asks him to
stop. Daru slaps him and Manucci quits.
Soon after, Suja asks Daru to come to his house for a deal. When he arrives, Suja’s father has
him brutally beaten by guards. Daru makes up an accident to account for his injuries and uses
heroin again. Mumtaz treats his wounds and cares for him, but eventually realizes that he is
falling in love with her. She has no intention of leaving her husband and child, and so ends the
A chapter narrated by Ozi explains his point of view as he admits to being corrupt but blames it
on a corrupt system. He describes Daru as a perpetually jealous and bitter man who could not
accept his lack of monetary status. He says he is not surprised at Daru having killed the boy.
Now completely alone and helpless, Daru hatches a plan with Murad to rob boutiques. Murad
refuses to sell him more heroin, but he finds it anyway and begins smoking the drug
compulsively as he prepares for the robberies. When the first one comes, the two men
successfully threaten the guard with a gun. However, when a boy tries to escape, Daru shoots
him. Back in the courtroom, the prosecution asks for a guilty verdict. Daru claims he was
framed, but the judge is told that there is insufficient evidence of this. The day after the robbery,
the police come to arrest Daru—not for the murder of the boy in the shop, but for the car
accident caused by Ozi.
Mumtaz leaves Ozi and using her pseudonym, decides to investigate Daru’s case. She collects
the evidence and testimonials of the people involved in the case and attempts to piece together
Daru’s side of the story. In his prison cell, Daru reads her research.
Moth Smoke, Hamid’s first book, was generally well received and was selected as a The New
York Times Notable Book of the Year. In particular, critics praised the book’s sharp critique of
modern-day Pakistan and the conflicts within its society, a subject matter that was mostly
unexplored at the time
Marxist reading of Moth Smoke
According to Marxist theory, socio-economic conflict between various classes is generated due
to the unequal distribution of wealth. Commenting on this aspect of Mohsin Hamid’s Moth
Smoke, Orin C. Judd writes:
It captures the frustration and anger of the less fortunate in a country whose ruling class is
thoroughly corrupt and where the economic divide is so vast that the wealthy can insulate
themselves from the rules that bind the rest of society, and can nearly avoid physical contact with
the lower classes. (para.1, 2006)
When in a country the elites go on enjoying all the privileges and still do not care for the laws,
when the upper classes indulge in exploitation and maltreatment of the lower ones, when they
have all the power and authority to run the state as they want to, they somehow create for
themselves hatred among the lower classes. The contrast of extreme affluence and utter poverty,
alienation, and deprivation cause anger in the deprived and the less fortunate. Consequently,
some of them refuse to live in a state of continuous insult and resort to illegal means of their own
to fight injustice and change the well-entrenched socio-economic order.
Daru's critique of Ozi and his corrupt father is accompanied by an obvious longing to enjoy the
same social status. Daru introduces Aurangzeb to the readers as the son of a corrupt father,
“…Ozi’s dad, the
frequently investigated but as yet unincarcerated Federal Secretary (Retired) Khurram Shah”
By virtue of his father’s corruption money, Ozi goes off to the States for higher education
while the more promising Daru rots in Pakistan. When Ozi comes back from the United States,
Daru comes to see him at his home but he is perturbed to see two big Pajeros that Ozi owns.
Ozi’s new and relatively bigger house also causes a sense of economic inferiority in him. He
feels nervous because he has the same little house that he already had.I pull up to a big gate in a
high wall that surrounds what I think is Ozi’s place.His new place….. I’m a little nervous
because it’s been a few years, or maybe because my hiuse is the same size it was when he left
The novel possesses an acute depiction of men and women trapped between two worlds. It also
lays bare the greed and insecurity of Pakistani rich, and their devastating effect on poorer
neighbors. Lower class always feels insecure as they can’t afford the luxuries as rich had, as
Daru is jealous of his best friend to attain the same position as well as to enjoy the same status.
The novel also portrays the selfishness and lack of concern of upper class. As selfish but
pragmatic ozi put it as: “You have to have money these days. The roads are falling apart, so you
need a pejero or land cruiiser.The phone lines are erratic, so you need a mobile”
Pajero vs Suzuki
Daru narrates a very clear contrast between Ozi’s Pajero and his own Suzuki – even the way the
doors of their cars shut compels Daru to underline the difference in status. His small Suzuki car
has a nervous cough while Ozi’s Land Cruiser shuts with a deep thud. “We park near the farm
house, big and low, with wide verandas, and I notice the difference in the sounds of slamming
car doors: the deep thuds of the Pajero and Land Cruiser, the nervous cough of my Suzuki
Ozi’s vehicles supplement his elite social status and a distinctive position which gives him the
license to drive rashly and kill a pedestrian for which, later on in the novel, Daru is framed by the
police. Daru also narrates the way Ozi drives..Ozi drives by pointing it in one direction and
stepping on the gas, trusting that everyone will get out of our way
... the Pajero’s engine grumbles and Ozi swears. “Stupid bastard.” “It was a red light,” Mumtaz
points out. “So? He could see me coming.” “There are rules, you know.” “And the first is,
bigger cars have the right of the way.” These lines further signify that laws are only made for
lower classes. The people of upper class are exempted from the rules.
Ozi hits a boy with his Pajero and is not accounted for it. This is the most flagrant case of the
rich being above the law in the Pakistani society, “a horrific instance of Ozi’s immunity from
justice” (Judd, 2006). This aspect is also clear from Daru’s words when he says,
“The police don’t stop us on our drive home. We are in a Pajero after all.” (34) On the other
hand, when Daru comes home in his Suzuki, he is stopped by the police. Daru narrates, “A
flashlight shines into my eyes and I can make out a moustache but little else. “Bring your car to
the side of the road,” the moustache says.” (p. 16) These class differences become the basis of
class consciousness in the end.
Daru is quite sarcastic about it as he tells Mumtaz: “It’s easy to be an idealist when you drive a
Air- Conditioned vs Non Air-Conditioned
Air-conditioner in the novel becomes a symbol of material luxuries, enormous power of
purchase, and industrial commodities which is the birth right of those who are born in
rich families Moth Smoke highlight the social evils committed by modern day Pakistan society.
The society is divided into two groups, upper or air conditioned who enjoys their special
privilege while as lower or non air conditioned endeavors and puts their each and every effort to
attain the same privilege as their opposites enjoy. The first group is much smaller, but its
members exercise vastly greater control over their immediate environment and are collectively
termed as elites. The second group large and sweaty, and contains those referred to as masses
doesn’t entertain any special privilege but are consistently fighting for it. Professor Julius, a
character, delivers a lecture on air-conditioning that is superb.
"There are two social classes in Pakistan," he says……. The distinction between members of
these two groups is made on the basis of control of an important resource: air-conditioning. You
see, the elite…… wake up in airconditioned houses, drive air-conditioned cars to air-conditioned
offices, and at the end of the day go home to their air-conditioned lounges and relax in front of
their wide-screen TVs. (p. 102-103)
John Freeman writes about Ozi’s social position, in his article, ‘Onward Ruin!’:
“Ozi has taken up with Lahore's elite, who wantonly guzzle the city's unstable power supply
with their air conditioners as the rest of its denizens bake in the brutal summer heat” (Freeman,
2006) The power distribution in the city is not equal. The lower classes have to face longer spells
of ‘load-shedding’ than the upper class areas. Besides, the lower classes cannot afford
airconditioned houses.
Murad Badshah was always thinking about the uplift of the lower classes and the toppling of the
upper classes. He is of the view that one gets out of shape if one relies on ACs for cooling. “It’s
fine as long as you stay in your little air-conditioned space, but one day you might need to rely
on your body again and your body won’t be there for you. After all fortunes change, power
blackouts happen, compressor die, coolant leaks.” (p. 104) He always dreamed of the overthrow
of the elite, which can be substantiated from the following lines: “It amused him to see the rich
people on the grounds of their mansions as he drove past their open gates, fanning themselves in
the darkness, muttering as they called the power company on their cellular phones.” (p. 104) He
plays with the idea of rebelling “against the system of hereditary entitlements responsible for
cooling only the laziest minority of Pakistan’s population …” (104-105) Daru and Murad
Badshah have a similar feeling for the air-conditioning facility that is available for the rich
only.When Manucci was just “a street urchin”, “he would probably have said that ACs were
hot.” (p. 109) In fact, he experienced one sending out hot air in the street, in the old Lahore, in
the summer season. He wondered on the reason of such behavior of the people. When he
questioned people, they replied: “What do you mean ACs make hot air? They make cold air.
Everybody knows that. That is the way it is: ACs make cold air. That’s what they are for.” (p.
109) The following lines would make it clear how false consciousness works in his life and in
those of the people of lower classes: “Manucci realized what all this had to mean. It meant
people thought what he called hot air was cold air. So whenever he walked down the street past
the back of a protruding AC, he would smile and say, “What cold air it makes. Wonderful.””
When one day Ozi comes to see Daru at his house, there is no electricity there due to the loadshedding. He feels hot and cannot resis saying
“You need a generator….How can you
survive without one?” Daru tells him the truth“Ah, Ozi. You just can’t resist; can you? You know
I can’t afford a generator” (91). For the people like Ozi, living without generators and air
conditioning is impossible in Pakistan but this luxurious life is impossible for the poor here.
The rich send their sons and daughters to the advanced European countries for high quality
education that ultimately helps them control the state apparatuses of power. On the other hand,
the poor have to be content with the poor educational system that gives them meagre chances for
social mobility. The clear divide becomes even more pronounced after the school age. The rich
and the poor students have to part their ways when it comes to joining their colleges. The
disparity sends them on two different tracks. This has been shown in the book through the lives
of Daru and Ozi. Ozi is rich and therefore avails the education in a developed country abroad
whereas Daru is poor, so is left back to attend the government college. It is natural that he would
turn bitter seeing his friend getting a better opportunity than him despite the fact that he always
scored better marks in tests than Ozi. He knew that it was money and only money that took the
rich to a better place for learning. The novel portrays how social connections built through
speed money are necessary for one’s social mobilization. Daru has no such money, so he has
not built any connections. Consequently he can find no job once he lost it. He thinks that he
is unable to do so because he is not equipped with foreign degrees but Murad Badshah tells him
that: “It’s all about connections, old boy” In his article, ‘Lives of the Rich and Spoiled’
Cameron Stracher comments on Daru’s inability to find a new job in the following words:
“Daru can't get another job because jobs are scarce, he tells us, and in a country infested by
cronyism, only the cronies , like Ozi, are connected enough to succeed” (Stracher, 2006).
However, somehow Daru is finally called for an interview but he has to listen to these
disparaging comments from the interviewer: “…the boys we’re hiring have connections
worth more than their salaries. We’re just giving them respectability of a job here in
exchange for their families’ business…Unless you know some really big fish… no one is going
to hire you”(53) The masses couldn’t find a job easily is clear from the character of Murad Badshah.
Highly educated, M.A in English literature was unable to find a well paid job and later on purchased
Rickshaw. Ozi, on the other hand, is well connected in the social hierarchy and reaps many
benefits from his father’s connections. Describing his privileged social position, he says “I’m
wealthy, well connected, and successful. My father’s an important person. In all likelihood, I’ll
be an important person. Lahore is a tough place if you are not an important person” (184)
The conflict between classes is also evident through appropriation and manipulation of the state
law by the powerful segments of society who get away with their breaking of common laws.
Thus, in the novel, the elite are shown to indulge in parties where drugs, extra-marital sex
and similar illegal activities are carried out in abundance and remain unquestioned and
unscathed by the law.
These parties are made possible with the cooperation of the police and Daru witnesses it all:
“… a mobile police unit responsible for protecting tonight’s illegal revelry”.
It is a bitter irony for protects a party where drinking is Daru that he is arrested by the police for
being drunk, and it is the same police that rather quite openly done
Mumtaz is also unable to comprehend the difficulties and problems of those belonging to the
lower social rung. When Daru tells her that he has been fired she casually remarks that to her he
doesn’t, “seem like the sort of person who’d enjoy being slave to a faceless
Obviously, for the rich employment is a recreational activity and is carried out for “fun not
survival. Daru’s cynicism exposes this, This is the very sort of attitude that pisses me off with
most of the party crowd. They’re rich enough not to work unless they feel like it, so they think
the rest of us are idiots for settling for jobs we don’t love”
But the most tragic example of the callousness and inhumanity of the elite is the incident where
Ozi crushes a teen-age boy to death while driving his Pajero. Ozi has a desire to put some fear
into the people who have smaller cars than his. He ignores the red light and thus hits a boy on
bicycle. Daru is a witness of the accident. “The boy’s body rolls to a stop by the traffic signal
that winks green, unnoticed by the receding Pajero”(96). Ozi’s inhumanity is further highlighted
when Daru tells him that he saw what happened. But “Ozi’s lips stretch. Flatten. Not a smile: a
twitch. ‘We’ll take care of his family…I’ll make sure they’re compensated” (97). It makes Daru
feel disgusted. Instead of showing his deep remorse and guilt, Ozi still thinks in terms of money
alone, that money can buy anything. The masses are not only crushed physically
and economically but also psychologically. His present condition has been described by Murad
Badshah in the following words: “…Darashikoh was in rather difficult straits himself: he was in
debt, had no job, and was saddled with the heaviest weight of pride and self-delusion I have ever
seen one person attempt to carry” When Mumtaz suggests Daru to borrow some money from
her husband, Daru replies with clear resentment: “I don’t want any money from Ozi.” Then the
readers find him thinking: “I don’t want any of his corrupt cash”.
However, with no means of earning, Daru could hardly stand tall. So his economic paralysis
forces him to go to Ozi’s father to beg for a job. Daru is conscious of losing his dignity: “I was
getting by without any more of his hand-outs. And I was quite content not to see him. But
tonight I swallow my pride, hold my nose, and arrive at his place promptly at ten” (75).
Murad Badshah is another symbol of the low life in the novel. Hamid gives each character a
human face. It is apparent in the relativity with which he shows them treat each other. In the
beginning of the novel when Daru is little aware of what lies in store for him, and thus, he is
hanging on to the middle class while still looking for some chance of upward mobility, he treats
Murad Badshah disparagingly. He does so owing to his relatively higher social status: “I don’t
like it when low-class types forget their place and try to become too frank with you” (42). Even
though Daru feels bitter at the way the elite class treats him but his own attitude to Manucci is
nothing more than scandalous. So it is a vicious social circle of exploitation and counterexploitation in which the elites drag the middle classes into mud, which in turn treat the lower
middle classes scandalously; and the lower middle class people humiliate the poorest of the
Once when Manucci asks for his salary, Daru prepares to give him some terrible beating but
Manucci runs off in time. And Daru thinks “… I did the right thing. Servants have to be kept in
line.” This tussle between the master and the servant continues throughout the novel and it
mirrors the larger social divide in Pakistani society. One day, seeing Manucci in cotton white
kurta and shalwar, Daru feels upset because he was wearing very ordinary clothes. He says: “I
look from myself, in my dirty jeans and T-shirt, to Manucci, in his crisp white cotton, and feel a
strange sense of unease”
Later, in another episode, Manucci asks Daru not to sell charas, Daru’s choler rises and he slaps
Manucci across his face, contemplating at the same time “This will not happen. I won’t permit
it. My servant will not tell me what to do.” (178)
Another example of the socio-economic exploitation of the lower class by the wealthy classes is
the case of Dilaram who runs a brothel in Heera Mandi, the red district of Lahore. Explaining to
Mumtaz, who is writing an article on the life of prostitutes, how she got started in the business.
Dilaram narrates the story, “I was a pretty girl…The landlord of our area asked me to come to
his house. I refused, so he threatened to kill my family. When I went, he raped me”(50).
Beginning with this incident she tells Mumtaz about a series of similar events that followed.
Ultimately she is sold in the Bazar and becomes a professional herself. The Landlord succeeds in
abusing the poor village girl due to her weak economic and social positions. The poor depend on
the bourgeoisie in the feudal system and don’t dare to challenge their authority and might. Later
his friend makes her work in Heera Mandi by filling her with the assumptions that she has lost
her “honour” and “the villagers would not accept” her (p. 51). He pushes her further into the
swamp land by his argumentations and ideology which sound weighty for an uneducated girl like
her. The fear of rejection by the society and the family shoves her further into the abyss in which
she spends rest of her life. This reference to a landlord is deliberate on the part of the novelist
who perhaps wishes to make his picture of Pakistani society complete by mentioning this very
important part of the society controlled by the feudal lords, and how they control the lives and
destinies of the peasants working for them.
Daru has ended the supplies of the home and he has come down from his middle class into the
lower class. He narrates, “Soon no more toilet paper, no more shampoo, no more deodorant. It’ll
be rock salt, soap, and a lota for me, like it is for Manucci.” (p. 112) i who is a representative of
lower class. Daru’s decline does not stop here. He further falls down. He starts selling drugs. The
following lines tell us about the fact: We shake hands. “I’ve got it,” I tell him, handing it over.
“This is a hell of a lot of hash,” he says. “Is it good?” (p. 136) According to Marxist theory,
Daru now falls into the “dangerous class”, the class called the lumpenproletariat. The people who
belong to this class earn their livelihood through illegal and semi-legal activities.
At the opeing of the novel, we find Daru in a prison cell. We are told that he has been facing
charges of the murder of boy. In fact it is Ozi who has killed the teenager and gets scot free and,
by pulling a few strings in the Police department, he implicates Daru in the crime. Ozi’s bribe
money easily shifted the blame of his crime to Daru. It has not only worked wonders to rescue
Ozi but also entrapped Daru.
Mumtaz is surprised at Ozi’s reaction to the news she broke: “As soon as I heard Daru had been
arrested for killing a boy in a car accident, I told Ozi. And Ozi smiled” (242). Ozi’s triumph over
Daru is, in fact, the triumph of money over humanity and common decency.
Mumtaz later confronts Ozi, ‘“You killed the boy, didn’t you?’ Ozi didn’t answer. Which was the
(242). However, Mumtaz learns the answer by investigating the matter as a journalist. She
writes, “…certain members of the Accountability Commission…pointed out that it would be
extremely inconvenient for Khurram Shah, himself under investigation, if his son were to be
accused of this crime” (244). In these circumstances Daru is the appropriate bait used by the
representatives of the exploitative elitest system (Ozi and his father) to save their own necks and
sacrifice the innocent. Thus Daru’s observation about Ozi as: “an overgrown child. A child who
gets everything. Gets away with everything” (96) is true. At such times, the only thing the lower
classes can do against the upper classes is to nourish a deep hatred and malice for them and
strike them by robbing them as soon as they get the chance. Not all of them sit idle and celebrate
their victimhood. Murad Badshah’s words aptly sum up the prevailing sentiment:
You see, it is my passionately held belief that the right to possess property is at
best a contingent one. When disparities become too great, a superior right to life
outweighs the right to property. Ergo, the very poor have the right to steal from
the very rich. Indeed I would go so far as to say that the poor have a duty to do
so, for history has shown that the inaction of the working classes perpetuates
their subjugation (64) Murad Badshah is the real torchbearer of the communism and the equality
of the men in the society. “Murad Badshah was a firm believer in the need for a large-scale
redistribution of wealth. After Professor Superb’s speech, he vowed to break the barriers that
separated the cooled from the uncooled, like himself.” (p. 104)
Murad Badshah reveals his plan to Daru to rob “high-end, high fashion, exclusive boutiques”
and justifies it through a statement that reveals him more like a violent Marxist. He says that rich
control the poor masses by using guns, and if guns have such a persuasive power then we can
also be persuasive. At this point he shows his revolver very dramatically to Daru.
Thus, the lower classes, not always but sometimes definitely, resort to crime in order to satisfy
their sense of vengeance and to fulfill their needs. Without saying it in so many words, Hamid
seems to explore the reasons of this class conflict, war between social classes and the everyday
crimes. It is an acute commentary on the prevailing social disparity and the gradual collapsing of
the social order in Pakistan.
He is fired from the bank job because of a rich client who was a landlord and politician. His
name is Malik Jiwan. “Malik Jiwan, a rural landlord with half a million U.S. dollars in his
account, a seat in the Provincial Assembly…His pastimes include fighting the spread of primary
education and stalling the census” (20). The MP Mr Jiwan promises to keep big money (most
likely black money) in the bank where Daru is a small-time cashier. The bank manager,
accordingly, gives him ‘due’ protocol. As Daru reports, “BM grabs Mr. Jiwan’s hand, in both of
his…bows slightly, at the waist and at the neck, a double bend…”. Mr. Jiwan behaves badly with
Daru who thinks that: “… there is only so much nonsense a self-respecting fellow can be
expected to take from these megalomaniacs” (22). He also reflects, “These rich slobs love to
treat badly anyone they think depends on them…
Akmal, who is a member of the elite social club, with an “income of a million-plus U.S.”,
humiliates Daru through his mistreatment. Daru regards Akmal’s manner
“slightly condescending, in the way the rich condescend to their hangers-on” (142). Later Akmal
makes fun of Daru and says
, “You didn’t get fired for trying to sell dope to bank clients, did
you?”(143) and he speeds away in his car, bursting with laughter at the same time. Daru’s
response is such, “May be he doesn’t think what he said was insulting, or that someone like me
can even be insulted, really. But humiliation flushes my face” (143).
This theme of social stratification and exploitation of the poor at the hands of the rich in the
Pakistani society is elaborated by Hamid with reference to almost all the characters but
particularly Daru who, in spite of his own involvement in certain unlawful practices, is depicted
as the victim of the system. Hamid does not spare any sympathetic voices or tone for him in the
novel but leaves it to the readers to decide for themselves who is more to be blamed for the
social ills and who is more of a victim than a villain. It is a typical dilemma of a society where,
as Daru contemplates, “you get no respect unless you have cash. The next time I meet someone
who’s heard I’ve been fired and he raises his chin that one extra degree which means he thinks
he’s better than me, I’m going to put my fist through his face”( 112)
Daru tries to affirm the bourgeoisie values and culture initially by desperately adopting their life
style, rich habits and moving in the same circle. Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin call it “mimicry of
the centre” which builds up “from a desire not only to be accepted but to be adopted and
absorbed” (p. 4). But Daru finds himself comparing him with others and concluding that it is he
who deserves the better and the best. This comparison develops a complex in him. Daru tries to
incorporate and internalize the values of upper class in his life, deeming it would enable him to
be the part or one of them but this is the working and a sign of false consciousness on the part of
working class. Murad Badshah does not affirm, at all, the values of the bourgeoisie rather he
feels happier at the distress of the rich. He feels that “redistribution of wealth” (p. 104) can break
the barrier between the rich and the poor. He resists all those who are above him even in a slight
degree. The arrival of the yellow cab devastates his rickshaw business. People start preferring
cabs over noisy rickshaws. Murad Badshah takes his revenge by “robbing yellow cab drivers” (p.
63). He does not feel guilty for this practice of stealing, snatching and stripping others away of
their possessions rather shows his pride at this knack of his. The subjugation of the working class
stems from their inaction. The proletariat instigates the bourgeoisie to take advantage of them by
their silent surrender in the views of Badshah. Badshah justifies “his piracy campaign against
yellow cabs” which are equipped with “air conditioning” (p. 104) that symbolizes connection
with the bourgeoisie culture for Badshah and he can’t tolerate Bourgeoisie culture corrupting his
Daru’s deprivation of economic means results in his separation from the bourgeoisie culture and
values and his exclusion from the centre. Rikowshi (1997) rightly maintains that it is economy
that determines all social relations and forms. Daru hates guns but comes “to accept that he
would have to use one” He starts selling the stuff to his bourgeoisie friends – the stuff “mixed with
charas” (p. 136). So, finally he comes to adopt the strategy of Badshah. When he fails to be one of them,
he starts snatching their good sense and sanity by making them drug addict.
Working of false consciousness is extremely pronounced and visible like the screaming summer
sun in Chapter 12 where Aurangzeb presents the distorted ideology of being corrupt out of
necessity. He forwards his arguments by stating the ideology of making hay while it shines.
When system is unchangeable, it is better to be a part of it instead of challenging it: “there’s no
way to stop, so there’s nothing to be guilty about” (p. 185). He names many more money
launderers to justify the money laundering of his father. In the process of presenting his false
ideology forcefully that his father has done nothing wrong, he brings out the vicious face of
capitalism in chapter 12 where elites are concerned with money making and profit production at
the expense of wretched ones.
When Daru goes to sell hash in a house where rich kids are holding a party, he observes the
surroundings and gives his findings as follows. He narrates, “It’s a big lawn. And I stand in the
middle, watching the house, wondering how many of these kids will grow up into Ozis. Quite a
few, probably. Our poor country.” (p. 161) He is thinking of the overall condition of the classes
and social totality. On another occasion, he feels that he has fallen so much that his servant does
not feels need of any respect for him. He narrates, “It makes me look bad as though I’ve fallen so
far my servant thinks there’s no longer any need for him to behave formally.” (p.164) Daru’s
financial standing and social position keep dwindling. His electricity has been cut. He has such a
social stature that even his servant Manucci does not feel any respect for him in his heart. Daru
narrates: I yell for Manucci and he sticks his head into my room with a smile. “What are you
smiling at, idiot? Our electricity is gone.” “It will come back, saab,” he says, still smiling. The
boy has no fear of me. (p. 72)
Owing to class consciousness, Daru realizes class solidarity and class enemies. He knows his
interests well and his adversaries very well. Daru says, “There were problems even when we
were kids … Maybe I just realized what he was all along: not a good guy. A bastard, really. A
self-centered, two-faced, spoiled little bastard …” (p. 200) He persuades Mumtaz to accept that
she married Ozi because “He’s rich. He’s got everything he wants. He’s perfect.” (p. 201)
intending that Ozi has attracted her not due to personal traits but due to material charms.
MuradBadshah, the organic intellectual; through articulation, the system of class alliances,
mobilizes Daru to join him in the struggle against the upper classes. He disturbs and weakens the
upper-class hegemony and gives birth to counter-hegemony. He says to Daru, “No job. No
electricity. No telephone. Perhaps you ought to reconsider joining me in the entrepreneurial
venture I mentioned before.” (p. 212) He further adds: “Just laying the foundation, old boy,”
MuradBadshah tells me. “This is how I see things. People are fed up with subsisting on the
droppings of the rich. The time is ripe for revolution. The rich use Kalashnikovs to persuade
tenant farmers and factory laborers and the rest of us to stay in line.” He reaches under his
kurta and pulls out the revolver I’ve seen before. “But we, too, can be persuasive.” (p. 213)
MujahidAlam meets Daru in the cinema and shares his view about the class conflict and
He advocates the class alliances to be the solution to the problem. He is a bearded fundo. He
speaks in a voice full of conspiracy and friendliness, “Men like us have no control over our own
destinies. We’re at the mercy of the powerful.” (p. 225) He adds: “We need a system where a
man can rely on the law for justice, where he’s given the basic dignity as a human being and the
opportunity to prosper regardless of his status at birth.” (p. 225)
Significance of the title “ Moth Smoke” from Marxist perspective
The central metaphor in the title of the story, ‘moth smoke’ has been variously interpreted by the
reviewers of the book. However, in my analysis, while concentrating on the self-destructive
action of the moths in the novel (Daru, Ozi, Mumtaz), one must not forget the candle and its
burning to provide light in the absence of electric power. It is to be noted here that the term
‘Laltain’ and ‘Mombatti’ are highly suggestive. They give us light and burn another light. The
Laltain is well fed and well protected. It can bravely face the blowing wind. But on the other
hand, the Mombatti has no glass, no protection, and no support. It can easily be blown out by the
surge of wind. Thus, through these beautiful connotations, the author has aroused our sense of
pity and fear for the Mombatties – the downtrodden and have-nots, the marginalized and the
Economically, the masses of Pakistan are divided into different social classes that make them
spiritually hollow and psychologically dissatisfied. There is a great social disparity found in
Pakistani society. This society is vertically divided into different social strata despite the unifying
and equalizing forces working in it like the religion of Islam. Under such circumstances, it
becomes the foremost social and political responsibility of the writers to develop responses to
what is happening in the Pakistani society, through their fiction. The beauty of good literature is
that it gives answers to unasked questions. But these unasked questions are the basic questions of
life. This very responsibility has been fulfilled by Mohsin Hamid in his novel Moth Smoke.
Marxism in Moth Smoke: A Macro Analysis of Pakistani Society Samina Azad*
ISLAM MALIK Research Scholar Jiwaji University Gwalior