Marxist Criticism

1 Oct




                                                                                                                                                                                        Billy Bragg

In order to utilize Marxist theory one must first be able to identify the principles of Marxism and apply them accordingly. Karl Marx, a German philosopher and political activist, in his books, The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital, divided the population into two groups. These groups were the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat. The Proletariat is ostensibly the working class who give their labor in expectation of wages so that the Bourgeoisie, as factory owners or bosses, can profit from their endeavors. The Bourgeoisie is the entitled class that lives large and enjoys the riches provided by the working class who in turn are paid for their efforts. In order for this to succeed their must exist Hegemony. Hegemony is the accepted disparity of social status that must be enforced in order for the Proletariat to accept the superiority of the Bourgeoisie and so carry out their duties without hesitation or complaint.

In order to understand this so-called natural order their must exist cognitive dissonance – the holding of two separate and opposite beliefs and believing them both to be true simultaneously – which is the key to status quo or rather the Capitalist system. Hegemony is achieved through the manipulation of values and expectations via the media, marketing and the misrepresentation of class roles. These are the key points to Marxism and consequently to Marxist literary theory. If one takes television commercials as an example, one is able to experience hegemony and manipulation on a daily basis and depending upon the channel one is watching, at least every ten minutes!

Marxist theory allows one to identify prestige within character relationships and understand their roles. By using the example of the novel Animal Farm by George Orwell, we are very quickly able to discern who are the “haves and have-nots”, who is being hood-winked by whom and what’s holding the imbalance in place. Marxist theory can be applied to any hierarchical relationship and so we may see this anywhere from a book that deals with bondage or perhaps one that involves gender roles or even race. Marxist criticism views literature as a class struggle between factions or situations and allows one to decipher world views based on the perceived positions and attitudes of the characters. By applying this form of critique one is able to see the different angles of character consciousness and understand why it is they hold their positions and beliefs. Through Marxist theory we can interpret their actions, precepts and life struggles.


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