Literary Criticism: Social Class (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.
Based on the theories of Karl Marx (and so influenced by philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel), this school concerns itself with class differences, economic and otherwise, as well as the implications and complications of the capitalist system: "Marxism attempts to reveal the ways in which our socioeconomic system is the ultimate source of our experience". Theorists working in the Marxist tradition, therefore, are interested in answering the overarching question, whom does it [the work, the effort, the policy, the road, etc.] benefit? The elite? The middle class? Marxist critics are also interested in how the lower or working classes are oppressed - in everyday life and in literature. The Marxist school follows a process of thinking called the material dialectic. This belief system maintains that "...what drives historical change are the material realities of the economic base of society, rather than the ideological superstructure of politics, law, philosophy, religion, and art that is built upon that economic base". Marx asserts that "...stable societies develop sites of resistance: contradictions build into the social system that ultimately lead to social revolution and the development of a new society upon the old" (1088). This cycle of contradiction, tension, and revolution must continue: there will always be conflict between the upper, middle, and lower (working) classes and this conflict will be reflected in literature and other forms of expression - art, music, movies, etc.
Since industries contribute significantly to economic growth and development of a country, monopolization of industries, by multinational companies, provides an opportunity for developed countries to amass wealth, a practice that leads to inequality. According to Walker and Greenberg (2003), monopolization of industries by multinational companies infiltrated the ideology of industrial capitalism that led into increased cost of manufactured goods (p.38). The cost of manufactured goods increased since multinational companies wanted to exploit industrial resources and reap huge profits. Ultimately, industrial capitalism resulted into global inequality as resources flowed from developing countries to industrialized nations. Since capitalism is a dominant economic system, Marxist analysis suggests that capitalism oppresses the poor and empowers the rich; thus, it creates two antagonistic classes in society, which ultimately lead to revolution struggle of classes. Rosenberg (2007) argues that Marxists perceive capitalism as a form of an economic system that creates inequality in the society by favouring accumulation of wealth and class struggles (p. 8).
On the whole, post modernist might just be right in today’s society of no class stratification, as people tend to place wealth on branded items, the poorest of society could perceive to be wealthier that their class standing by wearing a pair of branded trainers. Marx maybe right in saying society needs to be a capitalist one. Functionalists seem bias towards the wealth along with Marx and Weber.Whoever may be right or wrong, to be able to improve on life chances in general it is necessary to have a class structure.
Milios, J., 2000. Social Classes in Classical and Marxist Political Economy. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 59(2), pp. 283–302.
Rosenberg, J., 2007. Marxism and International Relations. University of Sussex, pp. 1-26.
Walker, R., & Greenberg, D., 2003. A Guide for the Ley Reader of Marxism. The Journal of Socialist Theory, 6(5), pp. 38-42.
Wolff, E., & Zacharias, A., 2007. Class Structure and Economic Inequality. Levy Economics Institute, pp. 1-42.