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Introduction to Literary Studies

The Marxist Approach
Aristotelian Criticism
Psychological Approach
Marxist Approach
Cultural Studies
Myths and Archetypes
Lit Terms

The Marxist Approach to Literature

Origins of Marxist Approach:

            The Marxist Approach is based on the theories of the philosopher Karl Marx.  These theories were developed specifically to analyze how society functions where there is constant change.


Marx’s Beliefs:

  • Philosophy was meant to be used as a tool to bring about change
  • The capitalist system caused the alienation of the workers, therefore causing them not to be able to live to the fullest
  • Capalist system would eventually cause the proletarians to rise up against the upper classes in a bloody revolt and replace the system with a communist one.  Marx mainly focused on economics, particularly the material forces of production, distribution, exchange, and consumption


History of the Marxist Approach:

  • 19th century experiments in communal living
  • Publication of Marx’s works laid the groundwork for literary critics
  • 20th Century saw interest in analyzing class conflict and the capitalist system
  • The Marxist Approach evolve and gained interest when people felt that the formalistic approach was inadequate


The Marxist Approach focuses on:

  • Concentrates most on the relationship between the test and reality
  • Those using the methods tend to look at tensions and contradictions within a literary work.  Marxism originally developed to analyze just such tensions and contradictions within society
  • See literature as intimately linked to social power, and thus their analysis of literature is linked to larger social questions
  • Ultimately past of a much larger effort to uncover the inner workings of society
  • Formalists generally look at a piece of literature as a self-contained entity while those analyzing using the Marxist Method those generally look at the unresolved tensions or conflicts


Base-Superstructure Model: Main interest for Marx analysis

Superstructure: Art, politics, religion, culture, the law, ideology

Base: Real economic relations, labor, capital, factories

Marxist analysts feel that there is a direct connection between the base and the superstructure in literature



Taken from A handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature, fourth ed.  Guerin, et al.

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