What Makes Balzac Capitalism

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Balzac’s Capitalism: The Tragedy of Moral Destruction or Corrupt Success

In his novel “Père Goriot,” Honoré de Balzac depicts capitalism as inherently tragic in that it creates a society of considerable opportunity solely for individuals who become immoral in order to fulfill their desires. Utilizing the protagonist for whom the book is named, Père Goriot, Balzac is able to highlight the success of those who exploit others, both in Goriot’s own success as a merchant, and in his daughters’ success in exploiting his love for them. One of the crucial parallels here is self-absorbed desire, the culprit of both Goriot’s success and downfall. Originally, Goriot was selfish: he accumulated his wealth by capitalizing on inflated grain prices from falsified food shortages, thus exploiting people when they were dying of hunger, killing each other for bread (Balzac 79-80). As immoral as it is, this extreme form of self-centrism is necessary in capitalism, according to Balzac, who makes a point to illustrate this necessity by immediately juxtaposing the successes of Goriot’s self-serving passion for wealth with the downfalls of his altruistic passion for his daughters: “[O]ne of [Goriot’s] competitors, wanting Goriot out of the way…told him that Delphine had just been run over by a cab. […] [Goriot] was ill for several days as a reaction to the conflicting emotions aroused by this false alarm.”(81) The tragedy of this is that it was Goriot’s selflessness, rather than his selfishness,

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