_Brokedown Palace_ as a Marxist Allegory. 2nd draft

David Silberstein davids at kithrup.com
Sun Mar 2 02:21:10 PST 2003

When I wrote my first draft of this analysis, I was going off
of my rather vague memories of college history class, rather
than from a deep, or even shallow, knowledge of Marxist theory
itself, as I hope was clear from my first introduction.  Now
that I have read the _Communist Manifesto_ (but not, as yet,
_Capital_), and had some feedback from the author, and some
additional cogitation, I am trying again.

Steven Karl Zoltan Brust has said of his book, _Brokedown Palace_: [1]

   "The first draft of BROKEDOWN PALACE was a Marxist allegory,
   written to prove to myself that I ought not to write allegories.
   In the re-write, I backed away from the allegory.  Elements of
   it are still there, but I had to let the story go it's own way."

Which I can quite understand, and accords with my perceptions.
That is, I perceive the allegorical structure providing the
framework for the story in the same way that a skeleton provides
the structure for the human body - but the allegory is not the
whole story any more than a skeleton is an entire human body.

What follows is an extended analysis of _Brokedown Palace_ by
Steven K. Z. Brust, as a political allegory.  There will of
course be spoilers for the entire book, especially the ending.

Warning:  I am not an expert in Marxism or Hegelian philosophy.
Note also that I am not a professional literary critic, and
I'm probably going to do something wrong.  What the hell, anyway.

Viewing the story as an allegory, by necessity, means reducing
the characters to caricatures, simplified sketches of themselves.
Which is what I'm going to do here; this means ignoring the
larger complexity of the tale.  This isn't the only way to view
the story, but I think it is worthwhile to examine those elements
which support the allegory.

So let's start with the Palace itself: it represents Capital itself
(Capital==Capitol - Hah!).  It is capital that is failing.  The
infrastructure is tottering and decadent.  Efforts by those within
to repair it are doomed to failure; the rot is too far advanced;
they can only stave off its inevitable collapse.

László represents the bourgeois class, the industrialists and
landowners who control capital.  He is also the obvious 
archetypical reactionary, who identifies with the Palace,
with the system itself.  He cannot admit that it is failing
because he thinks of his power as deriving from the Palace
(that is, from capital itself).

László controls the power of the State (== Állam, in Hungarian).
He served by Sándor (who represents the clergy, the religion which
supports the current regime), and by Viktor (who represents the entire
military (but who is also a rival to the bourgeoisie, seeking to place
himself at the head of the system without otherwise changing it)), and
is advised by Reszõ, who represents the system of bureaucrats and
civil service, or possibly the intelligentsia.

Andor represents the petit-bourgeois, the middle-class.  Weak-willed,
flighty, incompetent and unhappy, but driven by good intentions,
he seeks desperately for something to put his faith in.  His
attempt at flower-growing might be seen as a metaphor for
mercantile investment (Tulip Mania, anyone?), and when this
fails, he turns to the Goddess, which is of course that opium
of the masses, religion.

Vilmos represents the proletariat, largest and mightiest of the
classes, and the one that is most often called upon to defend
the realm against danger and to provides the labor which props
and supports the regime when parts of it fail.

Miklós represents the nascent revolutionary - at first, he is
merely a social critic, calling attention to the failure of the
system, and persecuted because of this.

János VI and Teréz, injured by the collapse of a wing of the
palace, quietly living out their years in one of the towers
represent the remnants of the feudal aristocracy (Terez the
old art that was nourished from it) [2].  Note that that same
collapse represents the failure of the aristocratic capital
that leads to the bourgeois taking control.

The Tree represents the nascent new order, fed by the River
(which might represent Time itself), growing right inside
the old system, with the ultimate destiny of replacing it.
It will bring about the Revolution itself.

Brigitta represents the art [3] that must serve the
bourgeoisie's pleasure ("the King's whore") in the old order,
but who presents the the new order as a thing of beauty.

The norska represent the impoverished lumpenproletariat, living
at the bottom of the current social hierarchy, subsisting on the
leavings of the classes above them.  [4]

Mariska represents the benevolent philanthropic bourgeois -
she is sympathetic towards the proletariat (Vilmos) and the
lumpenproletariat (norska), and is also determined at first
to institute repairs (reforms) to the old system.

So.  Let's now look at the events: Miklós, in the heat of anger at
having his small portion in the regime taken from him (his room),
states that the system (Palace) will collapse anyway.  László sees
all criticism as treason, and lashes out at him with the full power
of the state (Állam), seeking to suppress his words.  From Miklós'
blood, the new order begins to grow.  That is, the violent repression
only guarantees that the revolutionary movement will grow.

Miklós is hurt, but not killed, and the River (of Time) heals his
wounds and brings him to a place where he finds Wisdom (== Bölcsesség,
in Hungarian).

Miklós then must determine his proper course of action, which is
essentially to grow and become a genuine revolutionary.   Before
he reaches this stage, he choose exile, guided by Wisdom, eventually
to return (as Lenin was exiled and returned - perhaps because a
revolutionary needs the perspective of seeing the system from the

On his way home, he encounters a dragon, who hurts both him and
Vilmos.  I think the dragon represents War (that is, in addition
to the "literal" conflict with the Northmen is the allegorical
war that the proletariat (Vilmos) is sent to fight on behalf of
the bourgeoisie - with the prayer (or whatever the spell represents)
provided him by the clergy (Sándor), which fails to have any real
affect on the war (dragon) itself).

Before he arrives, the petit-bourgeois (Andor) gets a splinter
(a small failure of capital?), and goes to the clergy (Sándor)
for aid.  Andor gets the notion that his mercantile investments
(flowers) have failed because he has not been sufficiently pious,
and he resolves to pay more attention to religion (the Demon Goddess).

Once Miklós does return, he is betrayed by the petit-bourgeoisie
(Andor), acting in the name of religion.  The proletariat (Vilmos)
is indecisive, unsure at this point whether to support the existing
state or the critic.

Now the fact of the Revolution's existence comes to the attention
of the reactionary forces.  The clergy (Sándor) and the military
(Viktor) cannot harm it.  The proletariat (Vilmos) is unwilling
to use his strength to uproot it - while it may be in his power to
do so, he has too much sympathy for it.  The bourgeoisie (László)
is unwilling to unleash the power of the State (Állam) against it,
fearing that he might destroy the current regime if he does.
And the visionary artist (Brigitta) sees its inherent beauty, and
goes to join the social critic (Miklós), to convince him of this
beauty as well.

Miklós finally decides that he must destroy the God who upholds
the current system (and as a digression, I note that it is an
interesting effect of political psychology that nearly every
state in existence claims that God supports them), using the
heart and blood of his horse.  It occurs to me that the Heart
and Blood of Wisdom might be Reason, which is what is usually
used against the repressive excesses of religion.

Finally, he must convince the other classes (Andor, Vilmos) to
support him against the repressive reactionaries (László, Sándor,
and Viktor), allowing the completion of the revolutionary process.
Note that after it is all over, all of the reactionary forces are
dead, and power passes not to the petit-bourgeoisie (Andor), but
to the proletariat (Vilmos).  The philanthropist (Mariska) flees,
but it is suggested that she may return and join the proletariat
in the new order.

Some of the above analogies may be a little strained, but I think
I covered most of the important ones.  Let me know if I goofed.

[1] The quote is from:

[2] Per SKZB in:

[3] I originally wrote "artist-visionary", since Brigitta seemed to
    be far too active a character to be a mere abstraction.  But I
    am using SKZB's own terminology, and as he says:

       "remember that binding a character to a symbol was something
       I did in the first draft, and found it didn't work, so well
       before I got to the final draft (There were four full rewrites
       with that book) all the characters had been given permission
       to stop being symbols and just be themselves."  -- personal
       e-mail from the author, 28 Aug 2001

[4] Incidentally, I found, somewhat amusingly, that the norska's
    names are just Hungarian terms for family members:
     Atya == "father",
     Anya == "mother",
     Bátya == (some form of "brother" (báty)),
     Húga == (some form of "sister" (húg)),
     Csecsemõ == baby.