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 particular aspect of reality, Marx and Engels posit a materialist account of history that focuses upon the struggles and tensions within society. As society forms more complex modes of production, it becomes increasingly stratified; and the resulting tensions necessitate changes in society. For example, the introduction of heavy machinery into the feudal economic system fragmented existing social structures and necessitated a move towards capitalism.
The base and superstructure model
Within Marx's dialectical account of history is the idea that a given individual's social being is determined by larger political and economic forces. Marx writes that "it is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines consciousness." Simply stated, the social class into which a person is born determines her outlook and viewpoints.
Marx then expands this concept of determination into one of the central concepts of Marxism--that of base and sup...
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...with theories that focus upon how literature functions within social, political, and economic structures, than it does with theories that focus only upon the text. Marxist criticism has had an enormous influence on feminism , new historicism , and most recently, cultural studies .
As a system that looks for causes beneath the surface of society, Marxist criticism has much in common with psychoanalytic criticism . In fact, it is possible to make a rough comparison between the Marxist model of base and superstructure and the Freudian model of unconscious and conscious.
Eagleton, Terry. Marxism and Literary Criticism. London: Metheun Books, 1976.
Selden, Ramden. A Reader's Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1985.
Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.
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