Marxism Criticism Example Essay Topics

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Marxist Criticism


Marxist literary criticism is based upon the political and economic theories of the German philosopher Karl Marx. In works like The German Ideology and The Communist Manifesto, written with Frederick Engels , Marx proposes a model of history in which economic and political conditions determine social conditions. Marx and Engels were responding to social hardships stemming from the rise of capitalism. Appropriately, their theories are formulated specifically to analyze how society functions in a state of upheaval and constant change.

A materialist view of history

Using Hegel's theory of dialectic , which suggests that history progresses through the resolution of contradictions within a…show more content…

To Marxist critics, a society's economic base determines the interests and styles of its literature; it is this relationship between determining base and determined superstructure that is the main point of interest for Marxist critics.


Marx believes that because the superstructure is determined by the base, it inevitably supports the ideologies of the base. Ideologies are the changing ideas, values, and feelings through which individuals experience their societies. They present the dominant ideas and values as the beliefs of society as a whole, thus preventing individuals from seeing how society actually functions. Literature, as a cultural production, is a form of ideology, one that legitimizes the power of the ruling class. In the eighteenth century, for example, literature was used by the English upper classes both to express and transmit the dominant value systems to the lower classes.

Georg Lukacs and the Social Realists

There is a great deal of difference in opinion among Marxist literary critics concerning the relationship between ideology and literature. Since Marx's own writing, theorists such as the Soviet social realists, Georg Lukacs, and Louis Althusser have gradually modified or expanded on Marx's original concepts. The Soviet socialist realists believe that because ideology is part of the superstructure, it must correspond to the economic base of society. In their view,

Marxist Literary Criticism Essay

470 Words2 Pages

While literary critics do attempt to elaborate or develop ideas articulated by Karl Marx, it is important and necessary to make a distinction between Marx's specific socio-economic and political agenda and the body of literary theory which emerged years later. Marxist literary criticism proceeds from the fundamental philosophical assumption that "consciousness can never be anything else than conscious existence...Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life" (Marx 568-9). Marxist critics use this challenge to the notion of an innate, prefigured, individual human nature to reexamine the nature of creative or literary authority.

Power seems to reside outside or beyond the bounds of humanity. Rather…show more content…

Though such institutions are capable of reaffirming certain statements of power, hegemony itself is, as Raymond Williams states, "a whole body of practices and expectations...our ordinary understanding of the nature of man and his world...a sense of reality...a sense of absolute" (4).

While Marxist critics must admit that they themselves are helpless to avoid the effects of hegemony, the critical project of Marxist literary criticism remains steadfastly committed to the attempt to identify and understand the mediating contexts in which the forces of hegemony exert pressure on a text, its author, and its audience. These contexts manifest themselves within specific historical, economic, political, cultural, etc... conditions. In order to discover such contexts, a work of art cannot be uprooted from the specific temporal circumstances in which it is read or created and regarded as an isolated purely original entity. Literature, for better or worse, is mired in history.

Marxist literary criticism remains a very rational, pragmatic endeavor at its core. "If ideology were merely some abstract set of notions...society would be very much easier to move and change than in practice it has ever been or is" (Williams 3). Though aware of their own inability to comment from outside the bounds of hegemony, Marxist critics seem to express a tacit hope that by providing knowledge of hegemonic

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