Marxist Criticism: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:02 What Is Marxist Criticism?
  • 0:58 Society in the Piece…
  • 2:18 Society of the Author
  • 3:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby

Kaitlin has a BA in political science and extensive experience working in the business world as Director of Marketing and Business Development at a financial advice firm.

This lesson discusses Marxist Criticism, from its origins with 'The Communist Manifesto' to its influence in modern literature, such as the popular 'Hunger Games' series.

What Is Marxist Criticism?

When you read a typical piece of literature, you're not just reading a story, but you're getting a glimpse into a different culture and society. So what is that society like? Is it like yours? Do the rich and powerful have all the control? Or is it more egalitarian? And what even inspired the author to create this society in the first place? There are all sorts of questions asked in Marxist criticism, which reviews a work of literature in terms of the society it presents.

Remember that Marxist thought gets its name from Karl Marx, the German philosopher who wrote The Communist Manifesto. In it, Marx and co-author Friedrich Engels argue that all of history is about the struggle between the haves and the have-nots. They predicted that one day, the proletariat, or the have-nots, will throw off the oppression of the bourgeoisie, or those with means and power.

Society in the Piece of Literature

Marxist criticism is interested in the society created by the author in the piece of literature concerned. Let's look at this in terms of a relatively new piece of literature, The Hunger Games, which is a trilogy by Suzanne Collins. In it, various districts are struggling economically and socially and eventually rise up against their government. The Marxist critique would go as far as to say that it was those conditions that caused the series to unfold the way it did. It was simply people rebelling against an unfair way of life.

Okay, now let's try looking at the society created in a classic piece of literature, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. This book takes place in the American South in the 19th century and follows a white boy, Huck, as he helps a black slave, Jim, escape his situation. Here we've got quite a bit more detail. Instead of just two large classes, society is really divided into several smaller ones.

As a result, a Marxist critique would focus not only on those classes, but also what happens when they break down. After all, Huck and Jim form a bond that society would have forbidden. Because of this, it would be argued that Twain wanted society to get rid of race-based castes altogether, since they only kept humanity in bondage.

Society of the Author

Marxists might argue that literature doesn't just demonstrate class struggle, but are products of them. In a work, the society of the author often leaks through, and could be interpreted as a commentary of that society.

Let's go back to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It could be argued that Twain was commenting on his own society. After all, there was still a distinct stratification between rich and poor, and white and black on the Mississippi in the late 19th century. Marxist literary critique would argue that this is Twain's way of highlighting differences in his own society.

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