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Marxist Literary Theory. Marxist Literary Theory. A form of critique or discourse for interrogating all societies and their texts in terms of certain specific issues – including race, class, and the attitudes shared within a given culture. Historical Development. Karl Heinrich Marx (1818-1883)

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Marxist literary theory

Marxist Literary Theory

Marxist Literary Theory

A form of critique or discourse for interrogating all societies and their texts in terms of certain specific issues – including race, class, and the attitudes shared within a given culture.

Historical development
Historical Development

  • Karl Heinrich Marx (1818-1883)

  • Friedrich Engles (1820-1895)

    • German Writers, Philosophers, Social Critics

    • Coauthored The Communist Manifesto

    • Declared that the capitalists, or the bourgeoisie, had successfully enslaved the working class, or the proletariat, through economic policies and control of the production of goods

Who was karl marx
Who was Karl Marx?

  • Born in Trier, Germany in 1818

  • German philosopher who rejected the tenets of Romanticism in favor of philosophy of dialectical materialism.

  • Criticized the injustice inherent in the European class/capitalist system of economics operating in the 19th Century.

  • Believed that capitalism allowed the bourgeoisie to benefit at the expense of the workers.

  • The Communist Manifesto.

  • Das Kapital, analyzes the capitalist form of wealth production and its consequences for culture.


  • In America, for example, the capitalists exploit the working classes, determine their salaries and working conditions, and other elements of their lives. From this base, arises the superstructure—a multitude of social and legal institutions, political and education systems, religious beliefs, values, and a body of art and literature that one social class uses to keep members of the working class in check.

Marxist criticism
Marxist Criticism

A Marxist critic may begin such an analysis by showing how an author’s text reflects his or her ideology through an examination of the fictional world’s characters, settings, society, or any other aspect of the text. The critic may then launch an investigation into …

Marxist criticism1
Marxist Criticism

  • The author’s social class

  • Its effects upon the author’s society

  • Examining the history and the culture of the times as reflected in the text

  • Investigate how the author either correctly or incorrectly pictures this historical period

Marxist literary theory1
Marxist Literary Theory

  • Focuses on the representation of class distinctions and class conflict in literature

  • Focuses more on social and political elements than artistic and visual (aesthetic) elements of a text

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 roles does the class system play in the work?



Questions raised by the marxist literary lens1
Questions Raised By the Marxist Literary Lens

  • 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?

Questions raised by the marxist literary lens2
Questions Raised By the Marxist Literary Lens

  • Does the work propose some form of utopian vision as a solution to the problems encountered in the work?

  • In what ways does the work serve as propaganda for the status quo; or does it try to undermine it?

  • Does the literature reflect the author’s own class or analysis of class relations?

Key terms
Key Terms







Ask questions
Ask Questions

  • Is there an objection to socialism?

  • Does the text raise criticism about the emptiness of life in bourgeois society?

  • What does the author portray about society?

  • What is emphasized, what is ignored?

  • Are characters from all social levels equally sketched?

  • Are the main problems individual or collective?

How to use

Expose class conflict

Who or what is the dominant class?

What does the dominant class believe?

How do they impose their beliefs on others?

Show how the working class is trapped

Show how the working class is oppressed

Show how the working class can end their own oppression

How to Use

Activity re cap
Activity Re-cap

  • What should we expect to see through a Marxist lens?

    • the political context of the text itself (places the study of literature in the context of important social questions)

    • that we as readers are socially constructed subjects

    • the idea that literature is a part of ideology

Marxist literary theory


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