Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 17: Nos 1-2) >> ''Cash is Conqueror'': The Critique of Capitalism in Simms's ''The Western Emigrants'' and ''Sonnet—The Age of Gold'' >> Page 87

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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription "Cash is Conqueror": The Critique of Capitalism
in Simms's "The Western Emigrants"
and "Sonnet—The Age of Gold"

Corey Don Mingura


To many of his readers, Simms's distaste for the excessive
materialistic pursuit of wealth is no secret. His unflattering portrayal of
the materialist in his poem "Sonnet The Age of Gold" and his outright
condemnation of materialism in his Poetry and the Practical are just two
powerful examples of the author's palpable disdain for the unbridled pur-
suit of wealth. In other works, however, Simms's criticism is less obvi-
ous. On the surface, Simms's poem "The Western Emigrants" appears
to be merely a tale of a naive individual's journey from his homeland of
South Carolina to Mississippi in search of riches. In this work, Simms
details a critique of capitalism, just as he does in "Sonnet The Age of
Gold" and Poetry and the Practical, although here that critique is more
subtle, mostly beneath the surface of the poem. Simms lived in an era
defined by capitalism, in a still expanding country whose youth and cir-
cumstances made industry and the acquisition of liquid capital top priori-
ties. The once-dominant agrarian economic system in the South was soon
to be eclipsed by a North and a West defined by these new priorities. A
true agrarian, Simms sought to defend that culture, both its time-honored
agricultural practices as well as those who practiced them. There is a
bluntness to Simms's criticisms in "Sonnet The Age of Gold" that con-
trasts with the more subtle critique he offers in "The Western Emigrants."
There Simms uses the power of poetry to expose the vicious realities of
capitalism by conveying the dehumanization of both the Choctaw Nation
and poor white farmers in nineteenth-century Mississippi. Together, these
poems provide a compelling critique of unchecked capitalism that merits
modern critical attention.
Simms viewed capitalists as the complete opposite of agrar-
ians, or people who strive to improve the economic status of the farmer.
In Simms's view, the agrarian was content with the rustic wealth that
grew from the earth, whereas capitalists cared only for monetary
wealth a difference that created a clash in the antebellum South, espe-
cially in Mississippi. In addition, Simms viewed capitalists as not merely
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