Marxist Literary Theory
Based on the ideas about social organization of two mid-19 century German thinkers
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (Communist Manifesto, 1848)
Structuralists/post structuralists: understand the world determined by the nature of language.
Our consciousness too is structured by the nature of linguistic systems.
Freud/psychoanalysis: inner psychic conflicts, unconscious, infantile experience shapes our
Marxism, on the other hand, is a “materialist philosophy” – i.e., our consciousness is determined
by the material conditions of our existence. Where we live, work, what we eat, what our
economic situation is fundamentally determines consciousness. There is, then, a tendency to
“economic determinism” in Marxist theory.
Marxism also – like Feminism – has an agenda of social change. It seeks not just to understand
the world around but to change it. If Feminism often focuses on “images of women” and
considers how gender determines literary creation, Marxism focuses on how different classes
are represented and how socio-economic conditions influence literary creation.
After Industrial Revolution – does not feel as if workers are doing “own” work – not as personal
Reify – make more abstract rather than concrete
Class not just about having money, about having time
The most basic formulation of social organization in Marxist thought
Society is divided into two realms: the base and the superstructure Base: the realm of labor, the “material realm of production, distribution, and
Superstructure: realm of culture, the “world of ideas, art, religion, law, and so on”
Eg. A book: for instance participates in the ‘superstructure’ – sphere of ideas, art, etc.
But, it also participates in the ‘base’ – it is a material object that is a result of the
relations of production, distribution, consumption
The relationship between base and superstructure
Superstructure or culture/ideas are shaped by the processes of the base or the means of
production, distribution, consumption etc.