Historical Context• began with Karl Marx, 19th century German philosopher best known for Das Kapital (1867), the seminal work of the communist movement.• Marx was also the first Marxist literary critic, writing critical essays in the 1830s on such writers as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and William Shakespeare.
Definition• A sociological approach to literature that viewed works of literature or art as the products of historical forces that can be analyzed by looking at the material conditions in which they were formed.
Key Ideas• What we think of as world view is actually the product of the dominant class• Marxism generally focuses on the clash between the dominant and repressed classes
Points to consider• Literature expresses the ideas, beliefs and values of a culture• Literature of any significance actively engages in controversy or argument• Literature reveals power struggles (sexual power, economic power, social power, and so on) and how this operates and with what consequences
Points to consider• Literature reveals how the author, reader, and characters demonstrate an awareness or lack of awareness of their economic and social situations and what oppresses them• Literature and authors can manipulate readers into sympathizing with rather than critiquing the dominant (and oppressive) social order.
Strengths• Encourages a careful reading of the text• Doesn’t limit reader to view text in isolation
Weaknesses• Only examines limited aspect of text• Some people feel threatened by the focus on “ideology”• Dismisses the beauty of writing and does not allow reader to simply enjoy tex
Testers• Huckleberry Finn and Jim need to escape from their homes in order to recognize the oppressiveness of their lives• Three symbols represent youth and immaturity in the story “Groom Service” are the drawing, the beaver tail, and the eagle feather
Testers• In David French’s play Leaving Home, Jacob, Mary , and Kathy are unable to find true happiness because of the limitations of their economic situation
Testers• The snowball incident at the start of Fifth Business controls the lives of Dunstable Ramsay, Percy Boyd Stanton, and Paul Dempster
Testers• Romeo and Juliet might have lived if they had not been controlled by various societal pressures.
Applying this to a text• To what degree does the protagonist or other characters believe in and live by the prevailing social order?• At what point(s) do characters recognize the oppressiveness of the prevailing social order?• How do they respond? What affects their options for changing things?• How is social objectification evident and how does it operate in the text?• What are the social forces that affect the author’s writing or the text’s marketing and reception?
the attitude of valuing things not fortheir utility but for their power toimpress others or for their resalepossibilities
the obvious acquisition of things only for theirsign value and/or exchange value
the theory that history develops neither in arandom fashion nor in a linear one but instead asstruggle between contradictions that ultimately findresolution in a synthesis of the two sides. Forexample, class conflicts lead to new social systems
the economic conditions underlying the society. To understandsocial events, one must have a grasp of the materialcircumstances and the historical situation in which they occur
a theory that the superstructure of a society mirrors itseconomic base and, by extension, that a text reflectsthe society that produced it
The social, political, and ideological systems andinstitutions--for example, the values, art, and legalprocesses of a society--that are generated by the base