Essay on The Economic Structure of Matewan

1293 Words 6 Pages
The Economic Structure of Matewan

The film Matewan, written and directed by John Sayles, depicts the small rural townof 1920's Mingo County, West Virginia as a society undergoing complete social unrest, a result of clashing ideals and economic systems. The film is an illustration of how different social systems come to be so intertwined that they cannot be defined independently of one another. Unfortunately for the people of Matewan, the feudalistic economic system imposed on them by the Stone Mountain Coal Company has come to dominate every facet of their existence, including their political system, their cultural identities, and even the environment in which they live. In order to try and take back control of their lives, the
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The citiznes of the Matewan mining community were told that they were living in a democratic and therefore capitalist economic society, but their experience in the town burdened them with a much different realiy.

While we may not thinkof feudalism as an economic system that survived much past Medieval times, the reality of the social situation in Matewan during the 1920's can lead us to no other conclusion than that feudalism was able to hold its grip on a much more contemporary society. In Matewan, the Stone Mountain Coal Company ruled supreme, creating what is known as a monopoly. They owned everything in the county; the only source of employment, the houses, the land, even the currency, known as company scrip, which citizens used to purchase items in the only store in town- the company store. The citizens of Matewan were drawn to work for the Stone Mountain Coal Company because of the promises that were made to them: housing, decent employment with the possibilityof job advancement, and a decent community in which to live. We see these promises in action as they draw new workers to the mountain in the early portion of the film. The African-American (and Italian) workers hired to replace the striking miners were lured to the mountain only to discover that they would be indebted to the company from the very beginning. They had to pay for their trip, their rent, even their showers out of thier first company
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