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Marxist Literary Criticism

Many literary critics have not yet attempted to come up with any ideas which were related to Karl Marx and it is, therefore, very important to be able to make a clear and precise distinction between the specific political agenda and the socio-economic agenda of Karl Marx to the literary theories which emerged in the later years. Most of these Marxist literary critics like Terry Eagleton have proceeded from the assumption of the fundamental philosophy that “consciousness can never be anything else than conscious existence...Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life” (Marx 568-569). These critics have used the challenges of the notion of an individual human who was prefigured so as to reexamine the creativity of nature or the literary authority. The main ideas which were found in Marxist were exploitation of one class of the society by another superior class; in the result ofcapitalism and the presence of free markets workers were paid less than the real value of their labor andin such a way the capitalist class was able to make huge profits.

The preface to a “Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy” (Tucker 4-6) shows how Marx was able to employ the immanent critique method in order to be able to reveal all the contradictions brought up by the political economy. He pointed out that there was a contradiction which existed between the presuppositions. The state where Private property was abolished and the political suppression of private property owners’ outbursts did not only mean to abolish the private property but to presuppose its mere existence. Marx was able to examine the bourgeois economy system in terms of its capital, wage-labor, landed property, and the international trade. The presence of commodities shows that the political economy is beginning when the products are exchanged between communities.

Marx’s work is very important in helping an individual to understand a variety of the many political philosophies which are available today. His political thought is transparent like the Manifesto of the Communist party which provides the reader with a historical emergence of the proletarian and the bourgeoisie classes and the causes of the contradictions which were between the social classes as well as the hostilities in the modes of production (Tucker 469-500). It brings out the goals of the communism and explains how the general exploitation of one class by another can be a source of motivation force since with time a new class evolves and becomes the ruler. The communist manifesto discusses the history and relationship between the proletarians and the bourgeoisie as well as between other parties and the communists.

“The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State” talks about three main epochs: barbarism, savagery and civilization (Tucker 734-759). It shows that when working a man can be able to own and possess private property. Men are not products. This work is set out to be able to give a social explanation as to why the women’s oppression came about with the development of the patriarchal family and the emergence of private property at that particular historic time. Marx and Engels argued that views which were determined by women’s oppression were unchangeable and timeless.

The recurrent terms which were used in the Marxist literary criticism included the base vs. the superstructure, the ideology, the Hegemony, and the Reification. In the base vs. the superstructure, the base referred to the economic base while the superstructure emerged from the base and it consisted of the law, art, philosophy, and politics. The ideology is the beliefs which were shared by many cultures which sticked to them unquestionably. These beliefs governed the whole culture and, according to Marx, ideology was purely determined by economics. The Hegemony was the pervasive assumption system which helped in the shaping of how the things actually appeared to a large number of the people within a specific culture. Reification was used in describing the ways in which people were able to be converted to useful commodities in the exchange market.

The Marxist literary critics often admitted avoidance of the hegemony effects which made the criticism a steadfast commitment to the attempt to understand all the mediating contexts where the hegemony exerted a lot of pressure on its author, the text, and also its audience. In order to be able to make a discovery of such contexts which manifested themselves within specific cultural, political, historical or economic conditions, art work could not be uprooted from the circumstances which in most cases were reported to be temporal ( Williams 23).

The Marxist literary critics explored the text to find out any ideological expression of an economic class over another subordinate class so as to be able to know if there is any group which has been treated with a privilege over another group. They wanted to know if the text reflected any form of ideology or if it resisted any form of ideology. Also they used the text to determine if the main characters who were used in the narratives resisted to or affirmed the bourgeoisie value, and whether the story ignored or devalued the lower economic groups.

The Marxist critics commonly used hegemony term to be able to describe the renegotiated power relations framework. Power was seen to be existing beyond all the humanity bounds. In this case, the hegemony was not supposed to be confused with the effective and dominant culture institutions (Williams 4-6). This is because these institutions had the capability of reaffirming some certain and specific power statements. Raymond Williams stated the fact that “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” (Williams 4).

Reification which was a commodification notion was explained by the capitalist economy which in most cases treated people as commodities rather than individuals which valued people for their economic functions. In this time when there was the rise of the middle class, money instead of the family name was used as a very powerful tool. That is why, the sick and the old were treated as being of no importance to the society and money determined the power that an individual had.

Marx condemned the class society when he argued that the entire fate of an individual was determined by the position of his/her class and all the functions which were assigned to him/her in the production system. Marx further claimed that the destiny of an individual was purely determined by the society which was the Middlemarch case. The constraints which were placed on the women made it very difficult for them to progress and develop in the society which was a community in which one class exploitated another and respectively women were also oppressed by men who dominated in the world. In most cases, the women of that time had dreams and visions but they could not succeed in achieving their goals since they were discriminated.

There are also other approaches which closely resemble the Marxist literary criticism accordint to which the Marxist literary criticism is similar to the feminism criticism. The latter also tries to fight and challenge the power structures of the contemporary society.  According to feminism, there was the gender marginalization and, accordingt to Marxist, there was the issue of economic power which in most cases led to the presence of political power (Williams 6-15). The Marxist literary criticism could also resemble the cultural criticism because it analyses a discourse in terms of power which enables one of the discourses to determine the historical meaning of a text.

In conclusion, the Marxist literary criticism has remained to be a very rational pragmatic endeavor because according to Raymond Williams, “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” (p. 3). These critics have been able to express all of their tactics by providing the knowledge that they have on the forces of hegemony which is one of the most dangerous aspects they believe could be avoided. The main aims of the Marxist literary criticism were assessment of the political tendencies of a literal work which helped in the determination of literary form or even social content; and analyzing of the class constructs which were in most cases demonstrated in the literature.

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