Classism in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

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As Ma Rainey's Black Bottom indicates, an issue such as classism is not merely an ideology, but a way that differentiates the classes on a social and economic scale. Classism is reflected in the play where the people on the top feel they are naturally superior to those on the bottom, especially displayed through the set-up of the recording studio. Irvin and Sturdyvant are at the top of the economic scale and are characterized as the leaders of those below them. They feel that because they are of the higher social class, they automatically fit the position of power. Although the separation of classes is evident in the play, Ma Rainey makes it clear that she will not succumb to the white man. Instead, there is a power struggle between Ma Rainey and Irvin, where she tries to show that she is worthy of respect. Looking at the text through the lens of Marxist criticism, August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom explores classism concerning the effects it has on those within the play through their struggle to gain power.

The set-up of the recording studio in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is clearly a separation of classes. Irvin and Sturdyvant remain at the top of the studio with feelings of superiority to those below them. Those on the top feel that they are better than those on the bottom because they hold the position of leadership and power. Irvin is characterized to "pride himself on his knowledge of blacks and his ability to deal with them" (Wilson 17). On the other hand, Sturdyvant prefers to "deal with them at arms length" (Wilson 17). Sturdyvant has no direct relation with the band members in the studio. He feels that his position of power puts him in a position not to accept any of the "shenanigans" given to him by the band. On the other hand, Irvin remains to be the direct link between those at the top and bottom of the studio. While Cutler is asking him about what version of the song to play, Irvin constantly cuts him off. Not allowing Cutler to finish his...
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