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”Theory of Literature: Marxism Theory”

Zelia Vitalina P. Sarmento (1601542029)

Andi Yashinta (1601542032)

Gita Maharani Kattu (1601542036)





2018 – 2019
Thanks to the Almighty God for His bless and grace to us as the writers of this paper
for accomplishing the English paper assignment with the title “Theory of Literature: Marxism
Theory” so we could finish the paper on time.

We also would like to deliver our sincere thanks to all the people who has given their
hands to help us completing this paper. It is written to complete the task of method of literary
research class. It contains the detailed information about the Marxism theory, including the
founder, the theory itself which is related with literature and the example for it. This is clearly
not a perfect model so we, as the writers expect any critic and suggestions in order to make it

We, as the writer of this paper realize that it is still imperfect but we have a high
expectation that our work may help the readers to learn about the subject itself and understand
more about this material. Hopefully this paper can be useful for a lot of people, especially for
the readers.

Denpasar, 9 of November 2018

PREFACE .................................................................................................................................. 2

BAB I ......................................................................................................................................... 4

INTRODUCTION ..................................................................................................................... 4

BAB II........................................................................................................................................ 6

CONTENT ................................................................................................................................. 6

2.1 The founder of Marxism Theory ...................................................................................... 6

2.1.1 Karl Marx (1818-1883) ............................................................................................. 6

2.1.2 Friedrich Engels ......................................................................................................... 9

2.2. Theory of Marxism in Literature ................................................................................... 11

2.2.1 History of Marxism ................................................................................................. 12

2.2.2 Marxism Literature Theory ..................................................................................... 15

2.2.3. Reading from a Marxist Perspective ...................................................................... 16

2.3 Example of Marxism Theory in Literature .................................................................... 26

BAB III CONCLUSION.......................................................................................................... 32

BIBLIOGRAPHY .................................................................................................................... 33

The term 'Marxism' doesn’t have one exact meaning. It is a multifaceted term. It has
been, interpreted differently by different theorists of different times. The most famous theory
of Marxism is the one that German philosophers, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels invented in
19th century. As for the general definition we can commonly find, Marxism is “a method of
socioeconomic analysis that views class relations and social conflict using a materialist
interpretation of historical development and takes a dialectical view of social transformation.”

Before Marx and Engels, the socialist thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, Babeuf, Robert
Owen, Fourier, Saint Simon have given their own views on political economy, history,
revolution and class struggle. After Marx, the thinkers like Lenin, Stalin, Kosygin, Li-Tao-
Chao, Mao Tse-Tung developed their own ideology of Marxism. Even the Western writers and
philosophers in the 20th century - Althusser, Walter Benjamin, George Lukacs and others have
brought a new development in the theory of Marxism. Thus, the different social, political and
economic situations of different times have shaped the term Marxism' differently suiting to the
needs of social, political and economic situations of those times. For comprehending these
different interpretations of the term 'Marxism' it is essential to glance at some of the definitions
of 'Marxism'. In this regard the following definitions will help us to develop a certain attitude
for understanding the ideology of 'Marxism':

a.) Marxism is the highest development of humanism, it is the form in which the
age-long contradiction between human advance and human subjection is resolved, it is the last
rebellion of the oppressed, and the only one in which success is possible. It takes its origin from
the rebellion of man against inhuman conditions and its single aim is the recovery of man's lost
humanity. This is the very essence of humanism and Marxism is humanism in its contemporary
form. (John Lewis: 1976, 152).

b.) Marxism is a dialectical theory of human progress. It regards history as the

development of man's effort to master the forces of nature and, hence, of production
("economic interpretation of history"). Since all production is carried out within social
organization, history is the succession of changes in social systems, the development of human
relations geared to productive activity ("modes of production"), in which the economic system
forms the "base" and all other relationships, institutions, activities and idea systems are "super-
structural”. (The 'International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences: 1968, 40-41).
Somehow, although Marxism is not designed as a method of literary analysis, its principles
were applied to literature early on. In literary theory, a Marxist interpretation reads the text as
an expression of contemporary class struggle. Literature is not simply a matter of personal
expression or taste. It somehow relates to the social and political conditions of the time. Even
in Russia, where literature was sometimes accepted as a means of productive critical dialogue
and at other times viewed as a threat if it did not promote party ideology, literature was linked
to the philosophical principles set down by Marx and Engels. It was apparent that Marxism
provided a new way of reading and understanding literature. We can see such a strong relation
between Marxism and Literature, as the literary work is considered a “product” in relation to
the actual economic and social conditions that exist at either the time of the work’s composition
or the time and place of the action it describes.

To sum up everything that has been stated it can be said that Marxism is a theory based
on the idea of Karl Marx which focused on the particular type of social and economic system
in which the means of production are not owned by the wealthy but by the producers
themselves. It is the idea that people own their labor and input labor and get out the equal
amount of product, value and resources. That way, people are not paid less than they produce
so that others can profit off of their labor instead of off of their own. It eliminates the notion
of profit for profits sake and postulates that if everyone puts in labor and the products, value,
resources that result are then redistributed back to the laborers in equal value to their input then
everyone owns their own labor, effort and time rather than others being able to "exploit"
laborers by essentially skimming the excess off the top which continues to propagate the status
quo. Laborers can only work at one place at a time because time is one dimensional but owners
can own multiple businesses at once and, therefore earn more than laborers for less physical
effort. In other word it is an idealistic economic philosophy in that it assumes that all rich
people and poor want to work and will work to get what they need. It does not allow for
corruption, organized crime, moochers, scam artists and the like of it. It has at its basis a very
pro-human notion that assumes human nature is to be honest and earnest at all times. And, that
by equalizing every person, no individual will possess the power that is said to corrupt.


2.1 The Founder of Marxism Theory

2.1.1 Karl Marx (1818-1883)
 General Information

Karl Heinrich Marx was a revolutionary German philosopher, who created a strong
impact in the world through economics and politics. He played a major role in shaping
much of the modern economic school of thought through laying the basis of concept of
labor and relating it with capital. Among his numerous published works, the Communist
Manifesto and Das Kapital are the most noteworthy.

The collective theories of Karl Marx, known as ‘Marxism’ holds the idea that the
struggle between the classes is the cause of progress in a society. He stood against the
exploitation of the working class by the capitalist factory and land owners. His strong views
and ideas were manifested in communism and socialism, the two revolutionary theories which
affected the world both socioeconomically and politically.

Marx was of the views that the change in human history was caused by altering human
nature, involving both the human beings and material things. He assumed that a human has two
forms, the actual self and a potential self. Self-development is a process which initiates through
the realization that actual self deems the potential self as an object to be improved. Marx
debated that the subjective self-actualizes the human being by taking the object as its own.
Thus, for Marx, human nature was a function of human labor, which he called the ‘species-
being’. For the subject to affect the object, it must first have some form of influence on the
material world around the subject.

‘Historical Materialism’ is Marx’s philosophy of history, according to which a person

should view history dialectically, viewing the changes in material conditions as the means of
influence on the society. His views were based on those of Hegel, but differed from his as Marx
based dialectics not on ideas like Hegel, but on material.

In his publication, ‘Economic and Political manuscript of 1844’, Marx has laid the
foundation of his economic analysis. In ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England’,
‘Communist Manifesto’, and ‘Das Kapital’ his views against capitalism found clear expression.
Published in collaboration with his colleague Friedrich Engels, Marx differentiated
communism from numerous other socialist movements in these books. He presented the
struggle of the working class under the rule of the bourgeoisie and gave ideas for social
reorganization and unification of the proletariat against capitalists.

Observing the worsening conditions of the working class, their long and tedious hours
and unsafe environment in the factories, Marx reacted to the capitalist system. He presented an
alternative solution, called ‘Communism’, according to which the bourgeoisie will not be able
to hold any lands or factories; all means of production will be owned by the government. All
the people will work together for the government and the resulting wealth will be distributed
among them according to their needs, and not their efforts, thus leading to a classless society.

Even though his ideas were largely inspired by the French school of thought of
Socialism, he openly criticized all idealistic socialists. He was a revolutionary man, expressing
the thoughts that minute socialist groups will succumb to nothingness, without causing
significant change in society. He aspired for a grand change in the economic system of his era
through an all-encompassing socialist community.

 Personal life and Education

Marx was born in Trier, Prussia (present-day Germany) on May 5, 1818, to Heinrich
Marx and Henrietta Pressberg. Marx's parents were Jewish, and he came from a long line of
rabbis on both sides of his family. However, his father converted to Lutheranism to evade
antisemitism prior to Marx's birth.

Marx was educated at home by his father until high school, and in 1835 at the age of
17, enrolled at Bonn University in Germany, where he studied law at his father's request. Marx,
however, was much more interested in philosophy and literature. Following that first year at
the university, Marx became engaged to Jenny von Westphalen, an educated baroness. They
would later marry in 1843. In 1836, Marx enrolled at the University of Berlin, where he soon
felt at home when he joined a circle of brilliant and extreme thinkers who were challenging
existing institutions and ideas, including religion, philosophy, ethics, and politics. Marx
graduated with his doctoral degree in 1841

 Career and Exile

After school, Marx turned to writing and journalism to support himself. In 1842 he
became the editor of the liberal Cologne newspaper "Rheinische Zeitung," but the Berlin
government banned it from publication the following year. Marx left Germany—never to
return—and spent two years in Paris, where he first met his collaborator, Friedrich Engels.
However, chased out of France by those in power who opposed his ideas, Marx moved to
Brussels, in 1845, where he founded the German Workers’ Party and was active in the
Communist League. There, Marx networked with other leftist intellectuals and activists and—
together with Engels—wrote his most famous work, "The Communist Manifesto." Published
in 1848, it contained the famous line: "Workers of the world unite. You have nothing to lose
but your chains." After being exiled from Belgium, Marx finally settled in London where he
lived as a stateless exile for the rest of his life.

Marx worked in journalism and wrote for both German and English language
publications. From 1852 to 1862, he was a correspondent for the "New York Daily Tribune,"
writing a total of 355 articles. He also continued writing and formulating his theories about the
nature of society and how he believed it could be improved, as well as actively campaigning
for socialism. He spent the rest of his life working on a three-volume tome, "Das Kapital,"
which saw its first volume published in 1867. In this work, Marx aimed to explain the economic
impact of capitalist society, where a small group, which he called the bourgeoisie, owned the
means of production and used their power to exploit the proletariat, the working class that
actually produced the goods that enriched the capitalist tsars. Engels edited and published the
second and third volumes of "Das Kapital" shortly after Marx's death.

 Death and Legacy

While Marx remained a relatively unknown figure in his own lifetime, his ideas and the
ideology of Marxism began to exert a major influence on socialist movements shortly after his
death. He succumbed to cancer on March 14, 1883, and was buried in Highgate Cemetery in
London. Marx's theories about society, economics, and politics, which are collectively known
as Marxism, argue that all society progresses through the dialectic of class struggle. He was
critical of the current socio-economic form of society, capitalism, which he called the
dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, believing it to be run by the wealthy middle and upper classes
purely for their own benefit, and predicted that it would inevitably produce internal tensions
which would lead to its self-destruction and replacement by a new system, socialism.
Under socialism, he argued that society would be governed by the working class in
what he called the "dictatorship of the proletariat." He believed that socialism would eventually
be replaced by a stateless, classless society called communism.

 Continuing Influence

Whether Marx intended for the proletariat to rise up and foment revolution or whether
he felt that the ideals of communism, ruled by an egalitarian proletariat, would simply outlast
capitalism, is debated to this day. But, several successful revolutions did occur, propelled by
groups that adopted communism—including those in Russia, 1917-1919, and China, 1945-
1948. Flags and banners depicting Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Russian Revolution,
together with Marx, were long displayed in the Soviet Union. The same was true in China,
where similar flags showing the leader of that country's revolution, Mao Zedong, together with
Marx were also prominently displayed.

Marx has been described as one of the most influential figures in human history, and in
a 1999 BBC poll was voted the "thinker of the millennium" by people from around the world.
The memorial at his grave is always covered by tokens of appreciation from his fans. His
tombstone is inscribed with words that echo those from "The Communist Manifesto," which
seemingly predicted the influence Marx would have on world politics and economics:
"Workers of all lands unite.”

2.1.2 Friedrich Engels (1820-1895)

Friedrich Engels, an illustrious German philosopher, was born on November 28, 1820
in Barmen, Rhine province, Prussia. His father was an affluent businessman, who owned a
textile factory and was also a partner in a cotton plant in Manchester, England. Engels and his
father had very different plans for his career, Engels began to exhibit radical philosophies from
a very young age while his father was adamant to carve out a career in commerce for him. The
two often sparred on this issue, and Engels was just as unyielding as his father. He did not
complete his secondary education, and began publishing articles on philosophy and economics
under the pseudonym of Friedrich Oswald.

Meanwhile, in 1838, he also appeased his father by working at an export firm, due to
which Engels could not benefit from a university education. Engels voluntarily served in an
artillery regiment for a year, and was applauded for his military prowess. Upon settling in
Berlin, Engels discovered the works banned authors such as Ludwig Borne, Karl Gutzkow,
Heinrich Heine and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, of which Hegel influenced him the most
and he openly embraced the Hegelian society. Along with Bruno Bauer and Max Stirner, he
joined the ‘Young Hegelians’ society and accepted the Hegelian dialect. The society converted
an agnostic Engels into an atheist militant, this conversion was made easy by his radical
inclinations against the foundations of Christianity and repressive social notions.

In 1843, Engels encountered Moses Hess, who convinced him to believe that
communism is the only logical solution to progress, and advised him to go to England, where
class differences were becoming more and more prominent. Engels cajoled his father into
sending him to work at his textile plant in Manchester, to which his father happily agreed. In
England, Engels made remarkable progress at work and used his free time to read and compose
articles on economic and political scenarios. He began researching on issues such as child labor
and the lives and conditions of the workers. His articles began to get acclaim upon being
published in magazines such as ‘The Northern Star’, ‘New Moral World’ and the ‘Democratic
Review’, and he became an enthusiastic supporter of English labor and Chartist movements. In
1844, he decided to return to Germany, and during his journey, he met Karl Marx in Paris, an
encounter that would lead to a lifelong friendship. Engels assisted Marx in writing a critic on
the ‘Young Hegelians’ which would be published as ‘The Holy Family’. In 1845, Engels
published ‘The Conditions of the Working Class’.

In 1845, Engels went to Brussels to join Marx in organizing the German workers like
the French and English workers were uniting. They became members of the German
Communist League, and were asked to draft a manifesto for the organization, which is now
widely known as the Communist Manifesto. In 1848, Marx and Engels began openly
participating in the revolution that had spread to Prussia from France. They settled in Cologne,
and began editing a paper, Neue Rheinische Zeitung, that spread their revolutionary notions
advocating that a democracy would be the first step towards communism. However, in 1849,
the Prussian government shut down the paper and revoked Marx’s Prussian citizenship. Engels
did not leave Prussia for some time, and organized an uprising in South Germany, but upon its
failure he fled to England and reunited with Marx.

Back in England, Marx and Engels began reconstructing the Communist League. Funds
began to get scarce, and while Marx was busy working on Das Kapital, Engels decided to go
back to work at his father’s textile plant in Manchester. In 1864, he was made a partner at the
plant due to his impressive and productive work record. Engels kept in touch with Marx
throughout his life, and also supported him financially until Marx’s death. He assisted Marx in
editing a few articles as Marx regarded him as highly informed on economics, political and
military issues. In 1896, these articles were published under Engels’ name as the ‘Revolution
and Counter-Revolution in Germany in 1848’. The same year, Engels sold off his share in the
plant and moved to London to work with Marx. They worked together till Marx’s death in

After Marx’s death, Engels struggled to keep the spirit of communism alive, and gained
the status of the first Marxist. He held regular correspondence with the German Social
Democrats and other followers all over Europe. He also undertook the task of compiling the
second and third volumes of Das Kapital, using Marx’s extensive research to assist him. Engels
made several notable contributions to the field of political and economic philosophy, including
highly acclaimed works such as ‘The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State’ and
‘Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy’. Friedrich Engels died
on August 5, 1895, after a prolonged battle with throat cancer.

2.2. Theory of Marxism in Literature

The idea of Marxism is used widely in different part of life, namely law, politic,
economic, and literature. Particularly, in this paper the writer is focused on the relation between
Marxism and literature, as Marxism is one of the theories used when analyzing a literary work.
According to what have been stated in the previous chapter Marxism concerned with the social
life especially the economic aspect, therefore it is related directly with literature as literature is
the reflection of people life.
The relation between literature and society explained by Wellek is usually discussed by
starting with the phrase, derived from De Bonald, that "literature is an expression of society."
But what does this axiom mean? If it assumes that literature, at any given time, mirrors the
current social situation "correctly," it is false; it is commonplace, trite, and vague if it means
only that literature depicts some aspects of social reality. To say that literature mirrors or
expresses life is even more ambiguous.
A writer inevitably expresses his experience and total conception of life; but it would
be manifestly untrue to say that he expresses the whole of life or even the whole life of a given
time completely and exhaustively. It is a specific evaluative criterion to say that an author
should express the life of his own time fully, that he should be "representative" of his age and
2.2.1 History of Marxism
Marxism has a long and complicated history. Although it is often thought of as a
twentieth-century phenomenon, partly because it was the basis of the social governmental
system of the Soviet Union, it actually reaches back to the thinking of Karl Heinrich Marx, a
nineteenth-century (1818-1883) German philosopher and economist. The first announcement
of his nontraditional way of seeing things appeared in The German Ideology in 1845. In it he
introduced the concept of dialectical materialism, argued that the means of production controls
a society's institutions and beliefs, and contended that history is progressing toward the
eventual triumph of communism. When Marx met the political economist Friedrich Engels
(1820 -1895) III Pans III 1844, and they discovered that they had arrived at similar views
independent of each other, they decided to collaborate to explain the principles of communism
(later called Marxism) and to organize an international movement. These ideas were expounded
in the Communist Manifesto (1848), in which they identified class struggle as the driving force
behind history and anticipated that it would lead to a revolution in which the workers would
overturn the capitalists, take control of economic production, and abolish private property by
turning it over to the government to distribute fairly. With these events, class distinctions would

In the three-volume work Das Kapital (1867), Marx argued that history is determined
by economic conditions and urged an end to private ownership of public utilities,
transportation, and the means of production. Despite the variations and additions that have
occurred in the century that followed, on the whole, Marx's writings still provide the theory of
economics, sociology, history, politics, and religious belief called Marxism. Although
Marxism was not designed as a method of literary analysis, its principles were applied to
literature early on. Even in Russia, where literature was sometimes accepted as a means of
productive critical dialogue and at other times viewed as a threat if it did not promote party
ideology, literature was linked to the philosophical principles set down by Marx and Engels.
Although its place was uncertain and shifting-culminating finally in the Soviet Writer's Union,
founded (and headed) by Joseph Stalin, to make certain that literature promoted socialism,
Soviet actions, and its heroes- It was apparent that Marxism provided a new way of reading
and understanding literature.

The first major Marxist critic, however, appeared outside of Russia. He was Georg
Lukacs (1885-1971), a Hungarian critic who was responsible for what has become known as
reflectionism. Named for the assumption that a text will reflect the society that has produced
it, the theory is based on the kind of close reading advocated by formalists but now practiced
for the purpose of discovering how characters and their relationships typify and reveal class
conflict, the socioeconomic system, or the politics of the time and place. Such examination,
goes the assumption, will in the end lead to an understanding of that system and the worldview,
the weltanschauung, of the author. Also known as “Vulgar Marxism”, reflection theory should
not be equated with the traditional historical approach to literary analysis, for the former seeks
not Just to find surface appearances provided by factual details but to determine the nature of
a given society, to find "a truer, more concrete insight into reality" and look for "the full process
of life." In the end, the reflectionists attribute the fragmentation and allenationn that they
discover to the ills of capitalism.

Another important figure in the evolution of Marxism is the Algerian-born French

philosopher Louis Althusser (1918-1990), whose views were not entirely consonant with those
of Lukacs. Whereas Lukacs saw literature as a reflection of a society's consciousness, Althusser
asserted that the process can go the other way. In short, literature and art can affect society,
even lead it to revolution. Building on Antonia Gramsci’s idea that the dominant class controls
the views of the people by many means, one of which is the arts, Althusser agreed that the
working class is manipulated to accept the ideology of the dominant one, a process he called
interpelation. One way that capitalism maintains its control over the working classes is by
reinforcing its ideology through its arts. Althusser went on to point out, however, that the arts
of the privileged are not all the arts that exist. There remains the possibility that the working
class will develop its own culture, which can lead to revolution and the establishment of a new
hegemony, or power base. Althusser's ideas are referred to as production theory.

Marxism established itself as part of the American literary scene with the economic
depression of the 1930s. Writers and critics alike began. to use Marxist interpretations and
evaluations of society in their work: As new Journa1s dedicated to pursuing this new kind of
social and literary analysis sprang up, it become increasingly important to ask how a given text
contributed to the solution of social problems based on Marxist principles. Eventually the
movement grew strong enough to bring pressures to bear on writers to conform to the vision,
resulting in a backlash of objection to such absolutism from such critics as Edmund Wilson in
"Marxism and Literature" in 1938.

Currently two of the best-known Marxist critics are Fredric Jameson and Terry
Eagleton. Jameson is known for the use of Freudian ideas in his practice of Marxist criticism.
Whereas Freud discussed the notion of the repressed unconscious of the individual, Jameson
talks about the political unconscious, the exploitation and oppression buried in a work. The
critic, according to Jameson, seeks to uncover those buried forces and bring them to light.
Eagleton, a British critic, is difficult to pin down, as he continues to develop his thinking. Of
special interest to critics is his examination of the interrelations between ideology and literary
form. The constant in his criticism is that he sets himself against the dominance of the
privileged class; Both Jameson and Eagleton have responded to the influence of
poststructuralism, and in the case of the latter, it resulted in a radical shift of direction in the
late 1970s. In some ways Jameson and Eagleton are typical of the mixture of schools in literary
criticism today. For instance, it is not uncommon to find psychoanalytic ideas in the writing of
a feminist critic, or postcolonial notions influencing a Marxist. As groups that share an active
concern for finding new ways of understanding what we read and the lives we live, their
interaction is not surprising. The borrowing back and forth may make it difficult to define
discrete schools of literary analysis, but in practice it makes the possibilities for literary analysis
all the richer.

 Marxist Theory

Marxist theory which is drawn from the economic, social, and political theories of the
late 19th century economist Karl Marx is among the most popular, influential, and controversial
theories of literature currently practiced throughout the Western academic world. In general
terms, Marxist theory can be described as an “economic” approach to interpreting literary texts.
Marxist theorists often examine literary texts with a critical eye toward their various economic,
ideological and social contexts, suggestions, and assertions. Marxist theorists tend to focus
their interpretations on considering how literary texts depict class oppression and strife and
social inequality and, in turn, serve to critique elements of capitalistic Western life.

Marxist theorists also consider how literary texts subvert and even overturn ordinary
forms of social and political order and thus present or enable new forms of social and political
perception and interaction. Marxist theorists tend to give critical thought to how literary texts
participate in or resist mass media and other forms of popular, capitalistic culture. They
consider how such literary resistances might suggest possibilities for social revolution and,
mutually, how the ruling classes might manipulate such for the purpose of social control over
the other classes. Marxist theorists often take an interest in how an author’s own class, political
positions, and other ideological positions serve to influence his or her writings, considering the
ideologies presented within the text as well as the economic and social conditions under which
particular texts are composed, published, publicized, sold, and consumed by the public.

Today, what is known as “New Marxist Criticism” is quite popular among a number of
critical theorists. Contemporary Marxist theoretical approaches, to some measure, part ways
with formal and traditional modes of strict Marxist theory and consider how Marxism (and
Marxist theory itself) functions in terms of other modes of literary theory. A number of literary
theorists, despite aligning themselves with forms of literary theory other than Marxism, often
make active use of the principles of Marxism in their theoretical work, particularly practitioners
of such decidedly socially and politically minded forms of theory as new historicism, queer
theory, feminist theory, and psychoanalytic theory.

2.2.2 Marxism Literature Theory

Many of the grand theories developed in the second half of the nineteenth century are
deterministic in nature. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution suggests that much of our
behavior is determined by our genes. Sigmund Freud argued that our lives are affected by our
unconscious, and that our psychological and sexual wishes and desires are much affected by
the formative influences of our childhood. Similarly, Karl Marx theorized that human beings
are the product of their social and economic environment.

Marx called the economic conditions of life the base or infrastructure. The base includes
everything from technology and raw materials to the social organization of the workplace. This
economic base has a powerful effect on the superstructure, Marx’s term for society, culture,
and the world of ideas. He sometimes referred to the superstructure as consciousness, the way
we think and look at reality. Marx famously said, “It is not the consciousness of men that
determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their
consciousness.” Our ability to think for ourselves is limited: our ideas are shaped by the
material conditions of life.

Marx himself often treated literature as simple propaganda for the ruling classes. There
is some truth to this. For instance, in a Feudal society, people loved chivalric romances, stories
about knights who fight for honor and win their lady’s love. In today’s capitalistic society,
many people enjoy watching James Bond movies, which celebrate the glamorous lifestyle of
the modern gentleman, the lady’s man who dresses in expensive clothes and drives fast cars.
In these cultural fantasies it is the aristocrat who comes to our rescue and saves us from
imaginary villains that seek to destroy the status quo.

Yet many later Marxists were unhappy with Marx’s somewhat naive characterization
of literature as propaganda. For instance, the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci used the
concept of hegemony to describe the way in which ideology (a system of beliefs) is not simply
oppressive and coercive, but also involves an element of consent. There has to be some reason
for me to go see a James Bond movie even when the lifestyle depicted might be unattainable.

More recently, the cultural critic Raymond Williams suggested in Marxism and
Literature (1977) that every historical time period has competing hegemonies. The dominant
hegemony promotes the interests of the ruling classes, the residual hegemony defends the
culture and belief system of the previous era, and the emergent hegemony shares revolutionary
ideas that may later become the dominant hegemony. Literature thus reveals to us the spirit of
the times, the issues that mattered to people. Literature (and entertainment) is about much more
than enjoyment or escapism: it is a manifestation of class struggle. Literature, for Marx, belongs
to the superstructure (along with law, theology, politics, etc.). The challenge, then, is to see
how it is influenced by the economic base.

2.2.3. Reading from a Marxist Perspective

1. Economic Power

According to Marx, the moving force behind human history is its economic systems,
for people's lives are determined by their economic circumstances. A society, he says, is shaped
by its "forces of production," the methods it uses to produce the material elements of life. The
economic conditions underlying the society are called material circumstances, and the
ideological atmosphere they generate is known as the historical situation. This means that to
explain any social or political context, any event or product, it is first necessary to understand
the material and historical circumstances in which they occur.

In Guy de Maupassant's short story "The Diamond Necklace," we are given a clear
picture of a society that has unequally distributed its goods or even the means to achieve them.
Madame Loisel has no commodity or skills to sell, only her youth and beauty to be used to
attract a husband. Without access to those circles where she can find a man with wealth and
charm, she is doomed to stay in a powerless situation with no way to approach the elegant
lifestyle that she desires. The material circumstances of her society have relegated her to a
dreary existence from which she can find no exit. Her husband is so conditioned to accept the
situation that he does not understand her hunger to be a part of a more glamorous and elegant
world. He is content with potpie for his supper because he has been socially constructed to
want nothing else.

The way in which society provides food, clothing, shelter, and other such necessities
creates among groups of people social relations that become the foundation of the culture. In
other words, the means of production structures the society. Capitalism, for example, divides
people into those who own property, and thereby control the means of production, the
bourgeoisie, and those who are controlled by them, the proletariat, the workers whose labor
produces their wealth. (Although in American society today we have come to use the term
bourgeoisie to mean "middle class," it originally designated the owners and the self-employed
as opposed to wage earners.) Because those who control production have a power base, they
have many ways to ensure that they will maintain their position. They can manipulate politics,
government, education, the arts and entertainment, news media-all aspects of the culture-to that

Marx saw history as progressive and inevitable. Private ownership, he said, began with
slavery, then evolved into feudalism, which was largely replaced by capitalism by the late
eighteenth century. Evident in small ways as early as the sixteenth century, capitalism became
a fully developed system with the growing power of the bourgeoisie in the mid-nineteenth
century. At every stage it had negative consequences because it was a flawed system that
involved maintaining the power of a few by the repression of many. The result was ongoing
class struggle, such as the one depicted the "The Diamond Necklace" between the bourgeoisie
and the proletariat. The Marxist, then, works to reveal the internal contradictions of capitalism
so that the proletariat will recognize their subjugation and rise up to seize what is rightfully
theirs. Some of the damage caused by the economics of capitalism, according to Marxists, is
psychological. In its need to sell more goods, capitalism preys on the insecurities of consumers,
who are urged to compete with others in the number and quality of their possessions: a newer
car, a bigger diamond engagement ring, a second house. The result is commodification, an
attitude of valuing things not for their utility (use value) but for their power to impress others
(sign value) or for their resale possibilities (exchange value). When the acquisition of things
that possess sign value and/or exchange value becomes extreme, an individual can be said to
practicing conspicuous consumption.
Because the economic system shapes the society, the methods of production are known
as the base. The social, political, and ideological systems and institutions it generates the
values, art, legal processes-are known as the superstructure. Because the dominant class
controls the superstructure, they are by extension able to control the members of the working
classes. There is not complete agreement among Marxists as to whether the superstructure
simply reflects the base or whether it can also affect the base. The group known as
reflectionists, who subscribe to what is called by “Vulgar Marxism,” see the superstructure as
formed by the base, making literature (and other such products) a mirror of the society's
consciousness. In a capitalist society, it would exhibit the alienation and fragmentation that,
according to the Marxists, the economic system produces. Controlled by the bourgeoisie, texts
may, at least superficially, glamorize the status quo in order to maintain a stable division of
power and means. Readers may not be aware of manipulation, especially when it appears in
the form of entertainment but it is no less effective for its subtle presentation.

Other Marxists, who assume that the superstructure is capable of shaping the base,
recognize that literature (and art, entertainment, and such) can be a means for the working class
to change the system. By promoting their own culture, they can create a new superstructure
and eventually a different base. Even Marx and Engels admitted that some aspects of the
superstructure, such as philosophy and art are "relatively autonomous," making it possible to
use them to alter ideologies.

2. Materialism versus Spirituality

According to Marx, reality is material, not spiritual. Our culture, he says, is not based
on some divine essence or the Platonic forms or on contemplation of timeless abstractions. It
is not our philosophical or religious beliefs that make us who we are for we are not spiritual
beings but socially constructed ones. We are not products of divine design but creations of our
own cultural and social circumstances.

To understand ourselves, we must look to the concrete, observable world we live in day
by day. The material world will show us reality. It will show us, for example, that people live
in social groups, making all of our actions interrelated. By examining the relationships among
socioeconomic classes and by analyzing the superstructure, we can achieve insight into
ourselves and our society. For example, the critic who looks at instances of class conflict or at
the institutions, entertainment, news media, legal, and other systems of a society discover how
the distribution of economic power undergirds the society. Such analyses uncover the base, the
economic system, and the social classes it has produced. Since the base and the superstructure
are under the control of the dominant class, the worldview of the people is likely to be a false
one, and the obligation of the critic is to expose the oppression and consequent alienation that
has been covered over. The Marxist is rarely content simply to expose the failings of capitalism
but also desires to argue for the fair redistribution of goods by the government. It is the material
world that has created Mme. Loisel, for example, and it is the material world that destroys her.
Her desire for expensive objects and the circles where they are found, generated by the
capitalistic system she lives in rather than by any character flaw, lead her to make a foolish
request of a friend. When she loses the "diamond" necklace, she too is lost. Her relationship
with her friend, as well as any hope for a return to the glittering world of the reception, is
shattered. She is destroyed not by spiritual failure but by an economic system that has created
a superstructure that will not allow her a better life. She is trapped by material circumstances,
and the final revelation about the false jewels deepens her sense of alienation and

3. Class Conflict

One of the basic assumptions of Marxism is that the "forces of production," the way
goods and services are produced, will, in a capitalist society, inevitably generate conflict
between social classes, which are created by the way economic resources are used and who
profits from them. More specifically, the struggle will take place between the bourgeoisie, who
control the means of production by owning the natural and human resources, and the
proletariat, who supply the labor that allows the owners to make a profit. The conflict is
sometimes realized as a clash of management and labor, sometimes simply as friction between
socioeconomic classes. They are two parts of a whole that struggle against each other, not just
physically but also ideologically. Marx referred to this confrontation as dialectical materialism.
Actually, the term includes more than class conflict, for it refers to the view that all change is
the product of the struggle between opposites generated by contradictions inherent in all events,
ideas, and movements. A thesis collides with its antitheses, finally reaching synthesis, which
generates its own antithesis, and so on, thereby producing change.

The Marxist is aware that the working class does not always recognize the system in
which it has been caught. The dominant class, using its power to make the prevailing system
seem to be the logical, natural one, entraps the proletariat into holding the sense of identity and
worth that the bourgeoisie wants them to hold, one that will allow the powerful to refrain in
control. Monsieur Loisel, for instance, is content with his lot. He aspires to no more than he
has and has difficulty understanding his wife's dreams. As for Mme. Loisel, she longs for things
that "most other women in her situation would not have noticed." She believes herself born for
luxuries-that is, a misplaced member of the middle class. They both experience the consequent
debilitation and alienation described by Marx. Before the loss of the necklace, M. Loisel is
given little credit for what he does. As a "minor clerk" he has little personal connection to his
labor and is given no credit for what he produces. After the loss the situation is intensified, for
the couple are finally shut out of all social contact with bourgeois society. In the end Mme.
Loisel moves to carry out what Marx calls upon the proletariat to do. She realizes that her life
has been controlled by others. Freed of the debt she has owed her wealthy friend, she
determines to free herself of the social enslavement to her by speaking openly and honestly at
last. In doing so, she becomes painfully aware of the unsuspected depth of the control the latter
has had over her. The necklace is false. She has been stripped of her dreams and forced to suffer
for nothing. Finally, by speaking clearly, she engages in revolution by refusing to want any
longer what the bourgeoisie values.

4. Art, Literature, and Ideologies

Ideology is a term that turns up frequently in Marxist discussions. It refers to a belief

system produced, according to Marxists, by the relations between the different classes in a
society, classes that have come about because of the modes of production in the society. An
ideology can be positive, leading to a better world for the people, or It can be negative, serving
the interests of a repressive system. The latter rarely presents itself as an Ideology, however.
Instead, it appears to be a reasonable, natural worldview, because it is in the self-interest of
those in power to convince people that it is so. Even a flawed system must appear to be a
success. An ideology, dictated by the dominant class, functions to secure its power. When such
cultural conditioning leads the people to accept a system that is unfavorable for them without
protest or questioning, that is, to accept it as the logical way for things to be, they have
developed a false consciousness. Marxism works to rid society of such deceptions by exposing
the ideological failings that have been concealed. It takes responsibility for making people
aware of how they have unconsciously accepted the subservient, powerless roles in their
society that have been prescribed for them by others.

Marx himself was a well-educated, widely read German intellectual who could
discourse on the poetry, fiction, and drama of more than a single culture. He enjoyed the theater
and frequently made references to literature of all kinds. He was aware, however that art and
literature are an attractive and effective means of convincing the proteliat that their oppression
is just and right. Literature is a particularly powerful tool for maintaining the social status quo
because it operates under the guise of being entertainment, making it possible to influence an
audience even when its members are unaware of being swayed. Because it does not seem to be
didactic, it can lead people to accept an unfavorable socioeconomic system and to affirm their
place in it as the proper one. By doing so, it serves the economic interests of those who are in
power. Marx points out that controlling what is produced is not difficult, because those who
create art must flatter (or not offend) their clients who pay for it – the bourgeoisie.

Although Marxist views about literature coexist comfortably with the principles of
some other schools of criticism, they stand in direct opposition to the concerns of the
Formalists, for Marxist critics see a literary work not as an aesthetic object to be experienced
for its own intrinsic worth but as a product of the socioeconomic aspects of a particular culture.
Marxists generally accept, then, that critics must do more than explain how a work conforms
to certain literary conventions or examine its aesthetic qualities. Marxist critics must be
concerned with identifying the ideology of a work and pointing out its worth or its deficiencies.
The good Marxist critic is careful to avoid the kind of approach that concerns itself with form
and craft at the expense of examining social realities.

Instead, she will search out the depiction of inequities in social classes, an imbalance
of goods and power among people, or manipulation of the worker by the bourgeoisie, and she
will point out the injustice of that society. If a text presents a society in which class conflict has
been resolved, all people share equally in power and wealth, and the proletariat has risen to its
rightful place, then the critic can point to a text in which social justice has taken place, citing it
as a model of social acting. In the former instance, the Marxist critic operates a warning system
that alerts readers to social wrongs; in the latter, he is a mentor to the proletariat, pointing out
how they can free themselves from the powerless position in which they have been placed. The
intent of both approaches is highly political, aimed as they are at replacing existing systems
with socialist ones. The function of literature is to make the populace aware of social ills and
sympathetic to action that will wipe those ills away.

The ideology that a text inevitably carries can be found in either its content or its form.
That is, a text has both subject matter and a manner of presentation that can either promote or
criticize the historical circumstance in which it is set. To many Marxists, it is content that is
the more significant of the two. The "what" is more revealing than the "how." The "what" is
important because it overtly expresses an ideology, a particular view of the social relations of
its time and place. It may support the prevailing ideology of the culture, or it can actively seek
to show the ideology's shortcomings and failings. It can strengthen a reader's values or reveal
then' flaws through characters and events and editorial comment. If the subject matter is
presented sympathetically, it depicts the social relationships- laws, customs, and values-that
are approved by that society, a way that legitimizes them and, by extension, the underlying
economic system that has produced them. If, on the other hand, it criticizes the prevailing
ideology, it can be equally powerful and persuasive. By depicting the negative aspects of a
socioeconomic system-injustice, oppression, and alienation on-literature can awaken those
who are unfavorably treated by it. It can make them aware that they are not free, that they (the
working class) are controlled by the oppressive bourgeoisie, a self-appointed elite. It can be a
means of changing the superstructure and the base because it can arouse people to resist their
treatment and overthrow unfair systems. At the very least, it can make social inequities and
imbalances of power public knowledge.

What is the ideology expressed by the content of "The Diamond Necklace"? It is

doubtful that de Maupassant wrote the story to foment revolution among his countrymen, but
in it the destructive power of the cool lack of concern of the bourgeoisie for the proletariat is
unmistakably depicted. The minor clerk and his Wife are almost beneath notice to those who
employ them, and the lower the couple falls in their ability to live well, or comfortably, or to
survive at all, the less visible or recognizable they become. The denial of beautiful clothes and
jewels to Mme. Loisel (while they are available to others no more deserving than she), and the
suffering that such inequities cause her, carry with them a clear social commentary. Such a
society is uncaring and unjust. It exists on assumptions that allow the powerful to keep their
comfortable positions only if the powerless remain oppressed and convinced that it is right that
they are oppressed. The manner of presentation (the "how") can also be instrumental in
revealing the ideology of a text, especially when it brings the reader close to the people and
events being depicted. For that reason, realistic presentations that clearly depict the time and
place in which they are set are preferable to many Marxist readers because they make it easier
to identify with an ideology or to object to it. However, others find in modern and postmodern
forms evidence of the fragmentation of contemporary society and the alienation of the
individual in it. The narrative that is presented in an unrealistic manner-that is, through stream
of consciousness or surrealism, may make a less overt identification with the socioeconomic
ills of capitalism or with socialist principles, but it can nevertheless criticize contradictions and
inequities found in the world that capitalism has created. The effect of forms on the
development of social commentary in a text can be understood by imagining how "The
Diamond Necklace" would be changed if instead of being a realistic depiction given by an
omniscient narrator, the story was presented as an internal monologue taking place in the mind
of Mme. Loisel or that of her husband or even that of her convent friend. In the latter form, the
ideology would shift with each one's perception of what the social system is and should be, as
well as what each has to lose or gain by changing it. Believing that all products of a culture,
including literature, are the results of socioeconomic and ideological conditions, the Marxist
critic must have not only an understanding of the subject matter and the form of a work but
also some grasp of the historical context in which it was written. He must also be aware of the
worldview of its author, who wrote not as an individual but as one who reflects the views of a
group of people. Such grounding helps the reader identify the ideology that inevitably exists in
a text, so that she can then analyze how that ideology supports or subverts the power structure
it addresses.

5. The base and the superstructure model

Marx held a view that the social relations between men are bound up with the way they
produce their material life. In the middle age certain productive forces had the social relations
of villein to lord. It is known as feudalism. Afterwards, we see the development of new modes
of productive organization. It is based on a changed set of social relations. It gave rise to the
capitalist class and the proletarian class. The capitalistic class owns means of production and
the proletarian class whose labour-power the capitalist buys for his own profit. In the opinion
of Marx, these 'forces' and 'relations of production' form 'the economic structure of society.'
The Marxist philosophy recognizes it as the economic- 'base' or 'infrastructure'. The base is the
economic system on which the superstructure rests. In every period, we come across the
emergence of this superstructure from the economic base. Thus, in the words of an Indian critic
Mr. Seturaman, "Early Marxists used the term 'base’ to refer the economic system prevailing
in a given society at a given time and the term 'superstructure' refers to its politics, religion,
art and philosophy." (Seturaman: 1989, 28). In the category of ’superstructure Mr. Terry
Eagleton includes some more concepts such as ’certain forms of law and politics, a certain kind
of state, whose essential function is to legitimate the power of the social class which owns the
means of economic production. Ahead to this, he argues:
“But the superstructure contains more than this; it also consists of certain 'definite
forms of social consciousness' (political, religious, ethical, aesthetic and so on) which
is what Marxism designates as 'ideology'. The function of ideology, also, is to legitimate
the power of the ruling class in society; in the last analysis, the dominant ideas of a
society are the ideas of its ruling class.” (Eagleton: 1983, 5).
For Marxist critics, the economic base of society determines the interests and styles of its
literature. This means that the relationship between determining base and the superstructure is
the main interest for Marxist critics.

6. Socialist Realism
In accordance with these views expressed about ideology, some critics look upon
literature in any historical era- as 'production of the economic and ideological determinants
specific to that era. They don’t take literature any more as works created in accordance with
timeless artistic criteria. Some Marxist critics use the term 'vulgar Marxism’ for analysing 'a
bourgeois literary work' as in direct correlation with the present stage of the class structure.
They expect that such work should be replaced by a 'social realism' that will represent the true
reality and progressive forces of our time. In this regard, Terry Eagleton says, "Ideology is not
in the first place a set of doctrines; it signifies the way men live out their roles in class-society,
the values, ideas and images which tie them to their social functions and so prevent them from
a true knowledge of society as a whole." (Eagleton: 1983, 16-17). Here, Eagleton points out
that works of literature are just expressions of the ideologies of their time. He agrees with
the view of Plekhanov that all art springs from an ideological conception of the world
and there is no work of art which is entirely far away (devoid of) from the content of
ideology. In this sense, the works of literature are, in the words of Eagleton 'prisoners'
of 'false consciousness' unable to reach beyond it to arrive at the truth. The concept of
'vulgar Marxist criticism' sees literary works as reflections of dominant ideologies.
However, it can't explain why literature actually challenges the ideological
assumptions of its time. It is a fact that so much literature challenges the ideology it
confronts and makes this a part of the definition of literary art itself. In his book 'Art
Against Ideology' (1969) Ernst Fischer gives his view about authentic art. He says that
true art or authentic art always transcends the ideological limits of time. It takes us into
the realities which ideology hides from us. Thus, some Marxist critics look upon
ideology as cut off from socialist realism or truth. What is socialist realism? In order to
understand clearly the Marxist view of literature, like the concept of ideology, it is
essential to comprehend the term 'socialist realism' because most of the Marxist's critics
have taken for granted social realism as the basis of literature or the very foundation of
literature. In the book 'Marxists on Literature', David Craig expresses his view about
social realism. In the opinion of Craig, for western readers, 'socialist realism' means
little more than the novels and plays which Soviet writers produce to the orders of the
government. It is a type of art which highlights the good features of Soviet life and
neglects the malignant ones. David Craig is of the view that Marxists have always tried
to show that the workers of the world are instrumental in overthrowing existing social
systems. So, for writers, it is necessary to describe the working-class people, their
language and idiom, their views, emotions and typical experiences, their life style etc.
which have been hitherto neglected in literature due to the preference of the writers or
the concentration of the writers on the reflection of ideology in literature. Socialist
realism must draw upon the culture of the workers and peasants in order to rise to its
historical task and make a new sort of art which will create a new way of life.

7. The Checklist of Marxist Critical Questions

To make a Marxist analysis, then, you can begin by asking questions such as the following:

 What social forces and institutions are represented in the work? How are these forces
portrayed? What is the author’s attitude towards them?
 What political economic elements appear in the work? How important are they
determining or influencing the lives of the characters?
 What economic issues appear in the course of the work? How important are economic
facts in influencing the motivation and behavior of the characters?
 To what extent are the lives of the characters influenced or determined by social,
political, and economic forces? To what extent are the characters aware of these forces?
 Who are the powerful people in the society depicted in the text? Who are the powerless
people? Are they depicted with equal attention?
 Why do the powerful have that power? Why is it denied to others?
 Do you find evidence of class conflict and struggle?
 Do you find repression and manipulation of workers by owners?
 Is there evidence of alienation and fragmentation?
 Does the bourgeoisie in the text, either consciously or unconsciously, routinely repress
and manipulate less powerful groups? If so, what are the tools they use? News? Media?
Religion? Literature?
 What does the setting tell you about the distribution of power and wealth?
 Is there evidence of conspicuous consumption?
 Does the society that is depicted value things for their usefulness, for their potential for
resale or trade, or for their power to convey social status?
 Do you find in the text itself evidence that it is a product of the culture in which it
 What ideology is revealed by the answers to the preceding questions Does it support
the values of capitalism or any other "ism" that institutionalizes the domination of one
group of people over another-for example, racism, sexism, or imperialism? Or does it
condemn such systems?
 Is the work consistent in its ideology? Or does it have inner conflicts?
 Do you find concepts from other schools of literary criticism for example, cultural
studies, feminism, postmodernism-overlapping with this one?
 Does this text make you aware of your own acceptance of any social, economic, or
political practices that involve control or oppression of others?

2.3 Example of Marxism Theory in Literature

1. Marxist in Hunger Games Movie

2. Marxist in I Wondered Lonely as a Cloud Poetry

3. Marxist in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

While Hamlet might not seem to be a likely text for a strong Marxist reading given that
its protagonist is a man of privilege and that the play takes place in a fictional version of 16th
century Denmark, Hamlet can be interpreted through a number of different Marxist theoretical
approaches. A Marxist critic might take a particular interest in the manner in which Hamlet
subverts Claudius’s rule by engaging in acts of subterfuge, manipulation, and revolution in
order to overcome his oppressive rule over him. A critic may also argue that Hamlet’s actions
serve to demonstrate a way by which an oppressive ideological regime can be countered and

A Marxist theorist might argue that Claudius killed his brother King Hamlet in order to
gain political, social, and economic power, and hence might be viewed as a figure who is
corrupted by his desire for social and political power. Hamlet himself steps outside of the
standards, rules, and norms established and encouraged by the ruling class that he was once a
part of in order to resist its oppressive ideology. Such a critical viewpoint might serve to argue
that Hamlet is at least partly about Hamlet’s own sudden separation from and realization of the
ideological faults of the political structure he is or was a part of. Also, a Marxist theorist might
take interest in the plays focus on characters who belong to the ruling class and the lack of
“voice” given to common people in the play.

One may argue that Shakespeare—who, himself, was born to a commoner and was
himself very much a member of what we would today call the “working class” or “middle
class”—is issuing an attack or critique of the oppressive and morally corrupt ideology of the
ruling classes throughout Hamlet. Furthermore, a Marxist critique of Hamlet might take special
interest in the famous grave digging scene of the play, and point out how Shakespeare positions
the gravedigger—who is the only common or non-privileged character given a prominent voice
within the narrative—as a source of wisdom capable of recognizing intrinsic truths about
existence and the nature of the events that have come to pass within the story that the high-
ranking and privileged characters in the play, including Hamlet himself, are unable to realize
partly because of their own class positions. While a Marxist theorist would probably not argue
that Shakespeare was himself quite a proto-Marxist, he or she might argue that in Hamlet,
Shakespeare was anticipating and recognizing ideas concerning class distinctions and attitudes
that were further developed by Karl Marx over 300 years later.

4. Marxist in The Great Gatsby Movie

‘The Great Gatsby’ is quite centered on the theme of money and how it will inevitably
affect one’s life. Money, wealth and class are central themes which fuel the plot, and the way
in which characters act, think, interact with the other characters, and are portrayed. Power and
money are intricately co-related, as having one typically – but not always means the other is
present, whilst lacking one means the other is absent. In the Jazz age of the 20’s, when this
book is set, the amount of money you had defined what class you were in. Even within the
category of ‘rich’ there were sub-categories, such as safer or ‘old’ money, which is when
families have been wealthy for many generations. ‘New’ money is somewhat frowned upon,
and looked on with suspicion and contempt by the aristocracy, who pride themselves on having
been affluent for generations. The characters portray Marxist ideas, through Fitzgerald’s
representation of the different classes, and his interpretation of how their class defines their

The author of ‘The Great Gatsby’, Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born in America,
1896. He attended Princeton University, but dropped out before graduating, and then joined
the army. Edward Fitzgerald, his father, came from ‘tired, old stock’ who worked in an office
job [2]. Although Catholic, Irish, and the son of an unsuccessful businessman, Scott went to
dancing school with children of Saint Paul’s elite. In one of his many romances, with a girl
named Ginevra from a wealthy family, her Father allegedly told him that ‘poor boys shouldn’t
think of marrying rich girls.’ Fitzgerald seemed to take this message to heart, and consciously
or not, this theme was worked into many of his stories, and indeed Gatsby, the main character
of this book seems to embody this theme in his pursuit of ‘rich girl’ Daisy.

Fitzgerald and his wife lived overseas in France, where ‘The Great Gatsby’ was written,
as well as in New York. They were well known for their alternative style of life and ceaseless
partying, and Fitzgerald earned a reputation as a symbol of the Jazz Age. Fitzgerald saw things
from a double perspective, as he was raised amongst the upper class, yet came from more
humble stock, and so is inclined to have a broader perspective than either class, which may be
overly critical of the other. Fitzgerald’s reading included the work of Karl Marx, which may
be why so many of his stories’ wealthy protagonists face unhappy endings, as Marxism believes
the excessive wealth of one class at the expense of all others is wrong. F. Scott Fitzgerald set
this story during post-World War I, (which both he, Carraway and Gatsby all fought in)
economic boom of the 1920’s. However, it doesn’t celebrate the vibrant capitalist culture it
portrays, but reveals the darker side of society at the time. It highlights how the pursuit of
money decays personal values, as happened with Gatsby, when he lost everything because of
his life’s goal to reach the top of the ‘heap’. The richest characters, like Tom and Daisy, as well
as the people who attend Gatsby’s parties are really the most unpleasant and shallow ones,
making a mockery of the ‘American Dream’ which was the height of American ambition in
the ‘Roaring 20’s’.

Fitzgerald’s stance would appear to be critical of the upper class, as ultimately the rich
characters come to unhappy demises, yet, unintentionally or not, he reinforces stereotypes of
the different classes, and portrays poor people in a fairly negative light. The class that ‘The
Great Gatsby’ represents in the most positive light is the narrator himself, Nick Carraway, who
comes from a middle-class family and seems to be the only one content with his lot in life. The
Great Gatsby starts out displaying the theme of Marxism almost immediately with the
introduction of the narrator, Nick when he describes his socioeconomic status as a ‘bonds man’.
He describes his class pretty quick off the bat, saying; “My family have been prominent, well-
to-do people in this middle-western city for 3 generations.” The bourgeois status of Nick is
contrasted by the extremely wealthy Gatsby and his grand mansion. The extent of the splendor
Gatsby lives in is described in great detail by Nick, as is the Buchanans house; ‘The one on my
right (Gatsby’s house) was a colossal affair by any standard – it was a factual imitation of
some Hôtel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard
of raw ivy, and a marble swimming pool, and more than forty acres of lawn and garden.’ Nick
represents Fitzgerald’s view, as he comes from a well-off family, but he also works long, hard
hours as a bonds man, commuting daily to New York.

Nick’s experience of society is very similar to Fitzgerald’s, as although Nick comes

from a richer family than Fitzgerald, the author was basically raised as if he were rich, so would
be used to being around people like Nick, and would know how they view things. His social
status allows him to see things objectively, as he isn’t quite in the same class as any of the other
characters. There is Tom and Daisy who both come from wealthy families who have been ‘in
the money’ for generations. Then you have Myrtle and her husband Wilson, who both represent
the lower working class, and finally Gatsby – who started life as low class, and moved up in
the world with his questionably acquired wealth. It is undeniable that these character’s
experiences stem directly from their class, and the downsides of each class lead the reader to
the conclusion that society would indeed be better off without all these classes that cause more
trouble than good. When describing the lavish parties that Gatsby holds, Nick is quite an
objective viewer. He acknowledges the superficial ‘introductions forgotten on the spot and
enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other’s names.’ Early on, the upper
class is being outright criticized for its falseness, which reinforces the Marxist view that classes
should not even exist. They have little interests outside themselves, and are quite selfish and
rude in their treatment of less fortunate persons.

Jay Gatsby represents all the ambitious poor boys who believed in the land of
opportunity, as he followed his dream until the very end. He is unquestionably rich, and the
descriptions of his ostentatious house and parties uphold this. He is the archetypal rags to riches
story – but with no happy ending. His family were ‘unsuccessful farm people’, and he changed
his name from James Gatz to Jay Gatsby in order to disassociate himself from them. If he had
admitted to being from a poor background, it is likely he would not have been as popular as he
was. The goal of the main character, Jay Gatsby is to win back Daisy, who he lost the chance
to marry back when he was an officer, as a direct result of his inadequate monetary status in
Daisy’s eyes. At the beginning of Gatsby’s courting of Daisy, when he was just a soldier, the
ambitious young man realizes that his current status is not going to be enough to maintain her
interest. “However glorious might be his future as Jay Gatsby, he was at present a penniless
young man without a past, and at any moment the invisible cloak of his uniform might slip from
his shoulders. “Her current husband – Tom Buchanan is very wealthy, and would be considered
old money, which Gatsby cannot compete with as he came across his wealth through his own
means. When talking to Nick about his mansion, Gatsby says; “It took me just 3 years to earn
the money that bought it.” Gatsby lives in this vast house all by himself, with the single goal
of ‘winning’ Daisy. For 5 years he has held the belief that when she sees his house, and the
wealth he has accumulated, she will be his again. This reinforces the Marxist view that the
upper class holds all the power, as Gatsby believes that money is the key to gaining Daisy’s
affections. It seems like he will be successful, as they start seeing each other, and Daisy even
tells Tom she will leave him. However, the class above Gatsby, who is represented by Tom
Buchanan, wins out, as he puts doubt into Daisy’s mind by telling her that Gatsby is just a
‘bootlegger’. Even though Daisy claims that she loves Gatsby, she never sees him again after
she goes home, not even turning up to his funeral. In Daisy’s world, security and money are
everything, and she will not let love get in the way of these things. Classes are in essence the
driving force behind Gatsby’s goal, and definitely a realistic portrayal of the time frame the
book was set in, the 20’s. Marxism says that society involves a struggle between the upper and
lower class, which is in essence what Gatsby is struggling against, as he fights to be accepted
as upper class for once and all, ridding himself of his humbler origins.
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