Newsgroups: rec.arts.sf.written
From: (David Silberstein)
Subject: Re: _Brokedown Palace_, Political Allegory
Organization: Kithrup Enterprises, Ltd.
Message-ID: <>
Date: Sun, 12 Aug 2001 10:19:12 GMT

In article <9l22a8$5ps$>, Timothy A. McDaniel <> wrote:

Spoilers for _Brokedown Palace_

>I recall reading once that _Brokedown Palace_ is an complete Marxist >allegory: the downfall of increasingly tottering and violent >capitalism and the revolution that establishes the communist state.

A quick Google shows that there was even a bit of a flamewar about it a while back.

SKZB appears to be on record as saying: (The quote is from: )

"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.

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 the old regime, the tottering, decadent power structure. It cannot sustain nor repair itself. 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 aristocratic class. He is the obvious archetypical reactionary, who identifies with the Palace, with the system itself. He refuses to see its decay, refuses to admit it has failed. He holds the power of the State (== Állam, in Hungarian), and is served by Sándor, who represents the clergy, the religion which supports the current state, and Viktor, who represents the entire military (but who is also a rival aristocrat, seeking to place himself at the head of the system without otherwise changing it).

Andor represents the 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.

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 become the Revolution itself.

Brigitta represents the artist-visionary, who must serve the aristocracy's pleasure ("the King's whore") in the old order, but who sees the Tree, the new order, as a thing of beauty.

I think the norska represent the impoverished lumpenproletariat, living at the bottom of the current social hierarchy, subsisting on the leavings of the classes above them. Incidentally, I found, somewhat amusingly, that their names are just Hungarian terms for family members: Atya == "father", Anya == "mother", Bátya == (some form of "brother" (báty)), Húga == (some form of "sister" (húg)), Csecsemő == baby.

Mariska represents the benevolent, philanthropic aristocracy - 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.

Miklós then must use Wisdom (== Bölcsesség, in Hungarian) to determine his proper course of action, which is essentially to grow and become a genuine revolutionary. Before he reaches this stage, he goes into exile and returns, which I am not sure has any allegorical meaning, but once he does return, he is betrayed by the 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 aristocracy (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 bourgeoisie (Andor), but to the proletariat (Vilmos). The benevolent aristocrat (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. Feel free to continue the game...