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Marxist Literary Theory. Marxist Literary Theory. A form of critique for interrogating all societies and their texts in terms of specific issues – especially class exploitation and the attitudes shared within a given culture. Focuses more on social and political elements

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marxist literary theory1
Marxist Literary Theory
  • A form of critique for interrogating all societies and their texts in terms of

specific issues – especially class exploitation and the attitudes shared within a given culture.

  • Focuses more on social and political elements

than artistic and visual elements of

a text

key terms
Key Terms
  • Proletariat
  • Bourgeoisie
  • Capitalism
  • Oppression
  • Exploitation
  • Class conflict
who was karl marx
Who was Karl Marx?
  • German philosopher who criticized the injustice inherent in the European capitalist system of economics operating in the 19th century.
  • Believed that capitalism allowed the rich (bourgeoisie) to benefit at the expense of the workers (proletariat).

The relationship between the two classes is one characterized by exploitation and conflict.

  • The relationship is exploitative because, while the workers produce the products (and the profits) the bourgeoisie possess the rights of ownership to the profits
  • Given the position of dominance of one class over another in the economic realm, the rest of society will be organized to serve the interests of the dominant class.
questions raised by the marxist literary lens
Questions Raised By the Marxist Literary Lens
  • How does the author’s social and economic class show through the work?
  • Does the work support the economic and social status quo, or does it advocate change?
  • What role does the class system play in the work?
  • What role does class play in the work; what is the author’s analysis of class relations?
  • How do characters overcome oppression?
  • What does the work say about oppression; or are social conflicts ignored or blamed elsewhere?
marxist criticism
Marxist Criticism
  • A Marxist critique of a text would:
  • Analyze the representation of class distinctions and class conflict and the impact it has on the poor
  • Examine the history and the culture of the times as reflected in the text and question the factors that influence characters to behave the way that they do
  • Examine the author’s social class and investigate how he/she either correctly or incorrectly pictures this historical period

Show how the working class is trapped

  • Show how the working class is oppressed
  • Show how the working class can end their own oppression
  • Expose class conflict
  • Who or what is the dominant class?
  • What does the dominant class believe?
  • How do they impose their beliefs on others?


Not me alone—

I know now—

But all the whole oppressed

Poor world,

White and black,

Must put their hands with mine

To shake the pillars of those temples

Wherein the false gods dwell

And worn-out altars stand

Too well defended,

And the rule of greed’s upheld—

That must be ended. —Langston Hughes

works cited
Works Cited

Appleman, Deborah. Critical Encounters in High School English: Teaching Literary Theory to Adolescents. New York, Teachers College Press, 2000.

Brewton, Vince. “Marxism.” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2002.

14 Sept. 2004 < >.

Bressler, Charles E. Literary Criticism: An Introduction to Theory and Practice. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1994.

Brizee, Allen. “Karl Marx.” Marxist Literary Criticism. 2000. 18 Sept. 2004 < >.

“Karl Marx.” 15 Sept. 2004 < >.

Mansour, Dr. Wisam. “Marxist Literary Theory.” 2000. 16 Sept. 2004

< >.

Murfin, Ross and Ray, Supryia. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. Boston/New York: Bedford/St. Martins, 2003.

Schakel and Ridl. Approaching Poetry: Perspectives and Responses. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997.

“Marxism.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 14. Sept. 2004 < >.