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Marxist Literary Theory Another lens through which to look at literature.

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Presentation on theme: "Marxist Literary Theory Another lens through which to look at literature."— Presentation transcript:

1 Marxist Literary Theory Another lens through which to look at literature

2 What is Marxist Literary Theory? This approach to literature is based on the philosophy of Karl Marx—whoever owns the means of production in a society (the factories) controlled the society (culture). Marx felt that the basis for power should be with the large masses who actually operate the factories, not the few elite who owned them Marxists believed literature could start a revolution Marx believed that social hierarchies caused oppression (for the lower groups, the majority)

3 Four Main Areas of Study 1. Economic Power  A society is shaped by its forces of production— those who own the means of production dictate what type of society it is  2 main classes of people: bourgeoisie (the people who control production) and the proletariat (those who operate the production and are controlled by the bourgeoisie)  Bourgeoisie control the money, so they have the power to manipulate politics, government, education, art, and media

4 Economic Power, Contd.  Capitalism makes people want material things, so they purchase items because of COMMODIFICATION ( a desire for possessions, not for their usefulness, but for their social value)  Commodification is one way the bourgeoisie controlled the proletariat—as soon as the proletariat manage to acquire some sort of status symbol, the bourgeoisie buy something newer and better, making the proletariat struggle more

5 2. Materialism Vs Spirituality The true foundation of society is not ideals or abstractions, but things The material world reveals reality; money and material possessions are the same by every measure, whereas spirituality is completely subjective People are not destroyed by spiritual failure, only material failure

6 3. Class Conflict There will be conflict between the two social classes  The owners and workers will have different ideas about the division of the wealth, and owners ultimately get to make the decision  This conflict is what instigates change  Divisions of race, ethnicity, gender, and religion are artificial, created by the bourgeoisie to distract the proletariat from unifying and rising up against bourgeoisie

7 4. Art, Literature, and Ideologies Art and literature are the way the bourgeoisie impose their value system on the proletariat—the arts make the current system look attractive and logical, thus lulling the workers into complacency Works of art are enjoyable to experience, so audience is unaware of manipulation Bourgeoisie can control art because they fund it; they are the ones who buy literature and art, so artists cannot offend them Any criticism of the bourgeoisie must be done in a subtle way (satire, irony, etc.)

8 Essential Questions to Consider 1. Who are powerful in the text and who are powerless? Who gets more attention? 2. Is there class conflict and struggle? 3. Why do the powerful have power? Why are the powerless without power? 4. What does the society of the literature value? 5. Do the powerful suppress the powerless? How— news, media, religion, literature? 6. What does the society value? Are possessions acquired for usefulness or for their social value?

9 As we read The Great Gatsby, focus on the following… How the ideology of courtly love serves as an oppressive social convention? Textual clues of Fitzgerald’s opinion of the bourgeoisie Evidence of class struggle/issues The ways in which materialism/ commodification appears in the text


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