The growth of society and its men over the years has led to a shift in equality where by some people seem to have more than others. This has resulted in certain sections of the society aspiring for what they don’t have and wishing for what the others do have. A difference has always been accepted by society and it has led to class prejudice and the subsequent damaging effects of class differentiation and barriers. The desires and efforts of an individual attempting to reach out to the so called successful section are a source of constant investigation. The “Have’s” and the “Have-nots” blaming each other, for the ills of their portion of social life, is of serious impact for the other. In this paper an effort has been made to examine to what extent does the book Fighting Ruben Wolfe by the Australian Markus Zusak understands the life and the desires of those people, particularly youngsters, who wish to have a better lifestyle.
Fighting Ruben Wolfe is a first person narrative and written from the standpoint of people whose lives are shaped by suffering since their birth. It gives a view of what one sees and experiences for both “self” and the “other”; enabling one to assess what it’s all worth about. The novel tells the story of Ruben and his younger brother, Cameron, experiencing concerns of the effects of their father's unemployment on their small working class family. Throughout the narration the bedtime talk of these tough brothers and the suffering of their father who refuses to claim the dole in spite of desperate need are highlighted. To accept State welfare payments represents the father’s personal failure and a defeat for the proud working man of the values that had been inculcated in him. This happens because the social values attached to our society have blotted every failure of an individual with an insult or laughter.
The type of problems faced by most of the secondary characters in Fighting Ruben Wolfe, include domestic violence, begging and welfare dependency, which are understood to reiterate the views expressed by underclass theorist, Charles Murray (1999). His thesis encourages the middle class to view 'underclass' culture as dysfunctional and consequently, its values and survival strategies as deviant. Pierre Bourdieu's perception of suffering involving low social standing is one aspect of the culture of blame, which provides a means for discussion of the characters' understanding of their class identity. In Bourdieu's (1999) view, the major controlling classes tend to regard poverty in terms of economic hardship and understand only with the material suffering that it creates. They tend to ignore the objective experience of adversity and the separation of class that it creates. This leads to the ordinary everyday suffering which produces disappointment, disaffection, and low self-esteem. At the same time it is also relative to the class hierarchy and perceptions and misperceptions of those whose standing is higher.
Markus Zusak in his writing shows that one section of society treats Life as like one big race that they are set out to win, with many hurdles on the way that try to stop them and test their determination. At every failure and defeat the determination grows stronger as the character grows on a person. Life has its quota of ups and downs, but no matter how hard it gets and pins you down one does have to get back on ones feet, smile stubbornly and fight back.
The writing by Markus Zusak refers to problems faced by the youth in the form of violence, obstructions in achieving targets and the fearful confrontation to the reduced probability of success by the weaker person. The young individuals Ruben and Cameron are shown as accepting their “inferior status” as the natural way of things. They feel their being treated as inferior, denied access to resources, and restricted in their social mobility and aspirations as not wrong, but as part of a natural order of their society.
This attitude however soon undergoes a change and the youngsters soon become desperate enough to sustain themselves. The twin brothers commit ostensibly to assist their family with any winnings by taking on a boxing proposal. However, the real reason is that the protagonists decided to give it a shot for they had nothing to lose. “If we succeed, good. If we fail, it's nothing new' (pp. 46-7). The boxing becomes the object around which their search for a sense of identity crystallizes, particularly for Ruben. The fight is his bid to be somebody and to transcend the positional suffering of his class location. Ruben wants to be 'a winner because he wants to beat the loser out of himself' (pp. 90-1). He in reality is his own opponent. Zusak's use of the boxing metaphor transforms the playing of sport into life symbols that become the "deeper meaning" of the novels'. The narrative conventionally follows the triumph of the underdog, a point labored as well in Fighting Ruben Wolfe by the boys' family name, associated imagery and the fact that Cameron's ring name is the Underdog. This hint works well with the competencies required for sporting success are 'fairly equally distributed among the classes. Success in sport becomes symbolic of the possibility of success in other social fields.
The symbolic violence depicted in the fights is encoded in language and power relations; it is ideological and institutionalized. Zusak's narrative comprises representations of poverty, of disaffected youngsters, of aimless young men and easy girls, which as a sum total works with and against symbolic violence. At stake here is the issue of their social involvement vis a vis the other class.
In Bourdieu's social theory, there are objective and subjective structures of oppression which do not exclude the possibility of individual activity. It does not stop the person aspiring from "gambling" for the gains in order to improve his position with a social circle (Webb et al 2002, p. 23). Social circles are alternatively referred to as fields of play, that is, as games bound by rules and conventions which determine who is permitted to play and where 'players' are positioned. Class is one criterion for this. Zusak also uses metaphors of gambling and games in his novels-- boxing, dog racing and an impromptu football match played with a pumpkin in Fighting Ruben Wolfe-- are integral to the narrative treatment of class.
In Zusak's narrative the sports reflect the individualization of social life; the fact that an individual is responsible for his or her social success or failure. In boxing one's identity is clearly visible, all alone and as short-lived as the fight. Zusak uses the theme of social winners and losers; he refuses the triumph of the underdog, most explicitly in Fighting Ruben Wolfe. Ruben plays the season undefeated, and in many ways his victories conform to the ideology of the underdog, involving as they do literally and figuratively beating another. Cameron is the classic underdog, but his trajectory to triumph is forestalled when the brothers are scheduled to fight each other. To survive, Cameron realizes that he has to believe he has a chance of beating his brother, but what he ultimately wants is 'Not a win, or a loss, but a fight'. The contest ending in a draw is a metaphor for being in the game, of accepting the fight, for survival and resilience. Winning may not be eventually possible, but it does not mean you are a loser. The message of not giving up is about accepting the possibility of a victory someday, the underlining thread of hope in human nature. The issues of competition and challenging an opponent are part of a broader ideology where the hegemonic assembly controls the rules of the social game, winning is automatically associated with socialization and absorption into the values of the mainstream successful society.
Though the class struggle is central to the theme of the story, yet the minor characters come with individual characteristics to draw attention to smaller issues within a very important larger perspective. For instance the women in the novel display different shades which are in a complete contrast to the men in similar position. The mother Wolfe is seen working overtime around the house and tries her best 24X7 to keep the kitchen fires burning and keep the family going as one unit. The author presents a very strong parent. This is in sharp contrast to the father Wolfe who has a very low esteem of himself after he loses his job and can’t convince himself of accepting dole. The detail that he took a pipe to the face and needed stitches before he went elsewhere seemed to make things worse for himself and the family. Clearly the author wants to stress that one of the parents has to be strong and willful enough to keep the family together.
The young women in the novel are different. Sarah is a risk taker who regularly party’s and drinks. In fact she goes to the extreme point of alcohol poisoning but eventually always apologizes for her actions. A reflection of today’s youth in any social setup whether well off or not. There is also Octavia, the girl friend of Ruben, who seems to possess class, pride, kindness and a sense of humor. She can make a harmonica wail and then grin with straight white confidence. Octavia is also willing to lend an ear to Cameron who lusts for her. The author definitely shows the young women of society are all geared up to take on the men in their own field of enjoying in life.
Yet with all the glamour of the women and their ability to work for their desires the author never lets the reader forget for a moment that the class struggle within the individuals continues incessantly to achieve what they aspire.
Zusak’s examination of the problems involve a silent acceptance of the assumption that in every situation there always has to be a winner and a loser, so that a happy ending requires not just someone's triumph but also someone else's defeat. The most appropriate way to win is to have the individual to take control and win by one's own actions. A truly happy ending occurs only when a person who was oppressed achieves a position in which it's possible to oppress others.
One of the things that impress the Reader are the simple moral statements that Zusak puts into the voices and plots of these very convincing characters and events and so the morals don't come off as commonplace or stale--in fact, they come off as powerful truisms: "A fighter can be a winner, but that doesn't make a winner a fighter,". This shows the realistically clear vision of the common man in simple terms.
However all is not lost, for there is definitely hope for every dreamer, in this desperate story of a young lad trying to survive in a world that has abandoned him. The new socio-economic improvement by an individual can be seen as a new agenda for the self, but is metaphorically the war of the worlds.