After The Ball, By Leo Tolstoy: The Impact Of Cultural Objects On Individual Social Identity

1612 words - 6 pages

When reading Leo Tolstoy’s After the Ball, the impression of ideology shaping judgment, or perception of the world, is delivered in the first line. The concept that good and bad may just be a matter of perspective is a large part of this short story, especially in how your “environment” or ideology causes you to value things differently. In this paper I will look to explore how ideological sign-exchange value of objects in Ivan Vasilyevich’s experience at the ball, as well as in life, can have multiple meanings, and how those values affect an individual’s stature in class structure.
Assigning cultural value to objects is done in both positive and negative manners, and the value of things can change based on its actual use, how a box can be used to store things as well as what you leave your office with when you get fired, for example. However in that instance, value is assigned by how it reflects status, and losing a job automatically puts you in a class of the jobless, where as storing things could represent accumulation. This is important when looking at After the Ball, as throughout the first half of his recollection how his “whole life was changed by a single night (Tolstoy, 595), the references to how he values certain objects and places the people associated them is using this same concept.
When Ivan first arrives, and is describing the ball, he references the charming nature of the ballroom amongst other pleasantries, but makes sure to recount that the singers and musicians were serfs, belonging to a certain landowner. His representation of the ball already takes on lofty characteristics of a lavish soirée, and with music provided by the “owned” lower class, who are lent to parties for amusement it only furthers the impression of a good time, and who wouldn’t want to be part of that life? The serfs are associated with sign-exchange value, as they convey a social-status upon the owner (Tyson, 62), stating that in this lavish ball, with the various forms of the upper class, this certain landowner can be proud he provided the entertainment with his means. And for Ivan, the fact that he knows this, and is able to experience the musicians, implicates him in the ideology. Using an example from class, that he is swimming in the sea of ideology where experiencing these lower class musicians as objects, much like plentiful food and drink is part of the experience – he does not see this as oppression of any sort, does not contemplate their treatment or lives outside of playing music and belonging to a landowner. This insinuates him into the ideology of the upper class - that he sees the ownership of serfs as something music loving landowner should be entitled to.
One of the other ways Ivan is drawn in, or also draws himself into ideology is the importance of material presentation among the guests. Ivan throughout the beginning of the story, sees small inflections within the people he interacts with that reflect their worth to him and their...

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