Kathy Page’s “Clients” is about the conflicts between dominant and subservient classes in the society, and the society in this story is dominated by materialism. The story set in a couple’s apartment where they have regular meetings with a conversation expert. Through the narrator’s description of the conversation expert’s (Martin) apparel and his statements, the differences between upper and middle classes are shown. Their conflicts are revealed by their conservation and Martin’s leaving after only one hour. The fable “Client” shows the struggle of subservient classes under a Capitalism ideology. However, at last, the couple ended their conservation with Martin on purpose which indicates their approach to attack the bourgeois status quo.
In the story, Martin —the conversation specialist, represents the bourgeoisie and he is in the dominant position where he is able to oppress the couple. The narrator described the appointments with Martin as a formal meeting which needs their preparations, ” it is a ritual: we shower, dress, turn off all devices…we enjoy the preparations” (103); this might imply an unequal relationship between the couple and the specialist. According to the Marxist theory, the capital goes to the upper class, and the benefits from society serve for the dominant class. In this case, Martin’s role as a bourgeoisie is implied by the exorbitant charges he sets to converse with him. For instance, as the narrator described in the story, “Martin’s first hour costs three times the subsequent hours” and his explanation: “the higher rates enable him to be open-ended” (103) suggests that he is the one who makes decisions in an appointment with his clients. The conversationalist oppresses his clients because he only considers his convenience and economic advantages while his clients pay more. Moreover, Martin’s role as an upper-class bourgeoisie can be seen from his answer “Given my ancestors were slaves, I am relatively very happy with this” (105). Martin admitted and enjoyed the social change because he ended up being in the upper class while he can treat others like slaves.
According to the Marxism theory from Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the mode of production has inevitable impacts on all social phenomena includes the relationships between the people in society. In this context, the Capitalism ideology can be identified in this fable in multiple aspects. For instance, the narrator asked Martin, “Do you ever converse for free” (105) which shows that even a conservation is commodified in this story. The answer from Martin also affirmed the materialism in this story, “But talk is not something special for me. Work is work… You sell something to leave the rest of you free” (105). Martin considered all things are for sale, and he is comfortable and proud of his behavior. Another example of the Capitalism ideology is shown when Anna (the wife) said: “But now we are all slaves,” he answered “hardly” (105). In this context, Martin as a bourgeoisie was not in the same social and economic condition as the couple; thus, he was not recognizing himself as a slave. In addition to Martin’s statements, the narrator also recognized the Capitalism ideology in society. When Martin said people give freely to their children, the narrator pointed out that “you pay for tests, doctors, for learning … aren’t they are just new clients” (106). In this context, the narrator pointed out the whole society is commodified that nothing can be acquired without a price. Moreover, this ideology serves to validate the advantages of the dominant class.
While Martin is taking the position of a dominant class bourgeoisie, the couple remains in the subservient class with limited social power and economic strength. Anna described that she had difficulties with her team and she was undermined by a colleague, which means that she was oppressed during her work time. Thus, revealed her identity as low-class labor who did not get enough respect during the teamwork. Their weak economic strength is indicated by the narrator, “we feel obliged to ourselves to take it fully” because the first-hour consultation fees are more expensive than the following hours. Moreover, from the narrator’s description, it seems that the couple only wanted to take one hour due to their financial background. In the story, Anna is surely oppressed by other people in different social and economic classes; “but now we are all slaves,” Anna was agitated by the separate social class. When Martin asked her if she wants to “go back to nature, and uninvent everything,” she answered, “why not” (106). In this case, although Anna is in a lower social-economic class, she longed for equally divided classes or even a society without classes. She advocated change and challenged the bourgeois status quo. At the end of the story, the narrator described that the changes made Anna more comfortable. Anna sited straight with confidence and asked Martin to stop talking and wanted to try speaking to her husband between themselves while the conversationalist was still doubting their abilities.
The story can be considered as an example of social realism since most of the story reflects the current social values. The “Clients” shows the struggle between the different social-economic classed while it also romanticizes the class conflicts. Although the “Clients” is a fable set in a time in which the Capitalism ideology has infiltrated all aspects of society, the people in lower class still want to break the bourgeois status quo. At the end of the story, the couple let the upper-class conversationalist who “doubts that they would enjoy a home-grown conversation” leave which implied they determination to fight the uneven social classes. Finally, they are described as an Edenic couple, making conversation to each other haltingly, making the first timid, unmediated attempt into language, “a new country, vast, intricate, ours” (108).
Page, Kathy. “Clients”. Paradise & elsewhere: stories. Biblioasis, 2014, pp. 103-108.