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Marxist Literary Theory

Marxist literary theories tend to focus on the representation of class conflict as well as the
reinforcement of class distinctions through the medium of literature. Marxist theorists use
traditional techniques of literary analysis but subordinate aesthetic concerns to the final
social and political meanings of literature. Marxist

theorist often champion authors
sympathetic to the working classes and authors whose work challenges economic
equalities found in capitalist societies. In keeping with the totalizing spirit of Marxism,
literary theories arising from the Marxist paradigm have not only sought new ways of
understanding the relationship between economic production and literature, but all
cultural production as well. Marxist analyses of society and history have had a profound
effect on literary theory and practical criticism, most notably in the development of "New
Historic-ism" and "Cultural Materialism."

Marxist criticism: An approach to literature that focuses on the ideological content of a
work—its explicit and implicit assumptions and values about matters such as culture,
race, class, and power. Marxist criticism, based largely on the writings of Karl Marx,
typically aims at not only revealing and clarifying ideological issues but also correcting
social injustices. Some Marxist critics use literature to describe the competing
socioeconomic interests that too often advance capitalist interests such as money and
power rather than socialist interests such as morality and justice. They argue that
literature and literary criticism are essentially political because they either challenge or
support economic oppression. Because of this strong emphasis on the political aspects of
texts, Marxist criticism focuses more on the content and themes of literature than on its
form.
Use the following steps to help you analyze the text through a Marxist lens.
Take notes on your discussion as you proceed through the steps.
Step One
Approach the text with an eye for how the characters interact. Marxist thought
relies on relationships between individuals, and even those aspects of
relationships that are 'social' can be part of a Marxist critique.

Step Two
Evaluate the vocational roles of all characters. The Marxist critique includes a
focus on a "class system" where the vocations of characters provide the most
direct reference to their place within this system. Look at the level of luxury that
each individual has and how much they have to work.

Step Three
Look at how characters use their free time. Part of the Marxist critique is based
on the argument that individuals can use free time productively. Examining the
free choices of individuals is actually a large part of Marxist literary criticism.

Step Four
Assess the role of government in the piece of literature. Is it draconian? Laissezfaire?
Marxist thought relies on government as a model for liberty and also for
communal-ism: look at the tools that government uses. Does the government, in
soliciting citizenship, appeal to the capitalist tendencies of individuals or to their
innate love of community?

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