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Marxist literary criticism is a loose term describing literary criticism based on socialist

and dialectic theories. Marxist criticism views literary works as reflections of the social
institutions from which they originate. According to Marxists, even literature itself is a
social institution and has a specific ideological function, based on the background and
ideology of the author.
The English literary critic and cultural theorist, Terry Eagleton, defines Marxist criticism
this way:
Marxist criticism is not merely a 'sociology of literature', concerned with how
novels get published and whether they mention the working class. Its aim is to
explain the literary work more fully; and this means a sensitive attention to its
forms, styles and meanings. But it also means grasping those forms, styles and
meanings as the product of a particular history.[1]
The simplest goals of Marxist literary criticism can include an assessment of the
political 'tendency' of a literary work, determining whether its social content or its
literary form are 'progressive'. It also includes analyzing the class constructs
demonstrated in the literature.

MarxistliterarycriticismforAnUpheavalbyAntonChekhov
RecurrenttermsinMarxistliterarycriticism:
Basevs.Superstructure:BaseinMarxismreferstoeconomicbase.
Superstructure,accordingtoMarxandEngels,emergesfromthis
baseandconsistsoflaw,politics,philosophy,religion,art.
Ideology:thesharedbeliefsandvaluesheldinanunquestioning
mannerbyaculture.Itgovernswhatthatculturedeemstobe
normativeandvaluable.ForMarxists,ideologyisdeterminedby
economics.Aroughapproximation:"tellmehowmuchmoneyyou
haveandI'lltellyouhowyouthink."
Hegemony:coinedbytheItaliantheoristAntonioGramsci,this
"referstothepervasivesystemofassumptions,meanings,andvalues
thewebofideologies,inotherwords,thatshapesthewaythings
look,whattheymean,andthereforewhatrealityisforthemajorityof
peoplewithinagivenculture"(Seeglossaryincasestudiesin
contemporarycriticismbook).

Reification:oftenusedtodescribethewayinwhichpeopleare
turnedintocommoditiesusefulinmarketexchange.Forexample,
somewouldarguethatthemedia'sobsessionwithtragedy(e.g.the
deathsofJonBenetRamsay,Diana,JFKJr.,themurdersat
ColumbineHighSchoolinColorado)makecommoditiesoutof
grievingpeople.Themediaexpressessympathybuteconomically
thrivesontheseeventsthroughratingsboost.
WhatdoMarxistliterarycriticsdowithtexts?
Theyexplorewaysinwhichthetextrevealsideologicaloppressionof
adominanteconomicclassoversubordinateclasses.Inordertodo
thisaMarxistmightaskthefollowingquestions:
o Doesthetextreflectorresistadominantideology?Doesitdo
both?
o Doesthemaincharacterinanarrativeaffirmorresist
bourgeosievalues?
o Whosestorygetstoldinthetext?Arelowereconomicgroups
ignoredordevalued?
o Arevaluesthatsupportthedominanteconomicgroupgiven
privilege?Thiscanhappentacitly,inthewayinwhichvalues
aretakentobeselfevident.
Theylookattheconditionsofproductionfortheworkofart.For
example,theyask
o Whatweretheeconomicconditionsforpublicationofawork?
o Whowastheaudience?Whatdoesthetextsuggestaboutthe
valuesofthisaudience?
WhatotherapproachesresembleMarxistliterarycriticism?
Marxistliterarycriticismoftenshareswithfeministcriticismadesire
tochallengethepowerstructuresincontemporarysociety.For
feminist,theissueisamarginalizedgender;forMarxists,theissueis
notgenderbuteconomicpower,leadingtopoliticalpower.

Marxistliterarycriticismcanalsobeviewedasatypeofcultural
criticism,inthatitseekstoanalyzeadiscourse(ofpower)thatmakes
uponeofthediscoursesthatdetermineatext'shistoricalmeaning.

Marxist theory of criticism is perfectly illustrated through


Fedosya Vassilyevna's behavior: Fedosya behaves as one who has
absolute human worth illustrating a philosophical superstructure that
negates the humanity of others of lower, dependent economic classes
while confirming that these others are exploitable and expendable
commodities in a market exchange rather than individuals in a human
encounter. This tenet is termed "reification" and defines the exploitable
nature of the worker class. Fedosya exhibits this behavior to an
extreme degree as she has subverted her husband's cultural authority
and exploited him as well: he has no authority, no acknowledged voice
and no will to exert even in an untenable situation.
Marxist theory of criticism is subverted by Nikolay Sergeitch's
and Mashenka's behavior: Nikolay subverts Fedosya's exploitation
(reification) by going to Mashenka and (1) apologizing in his and in his
wife's names, (2) earnestly entreating Mashenka to stay and (3)
confessing to having taken the brooch (his mother's heirloom) in order
to attain some of his own money, which Fedosya keeps under her own
exploitative control. Nikolay shows that his ideology, though based on
the economic base of the time, deviates from the accepted ideology of
the superstructure, while Fedosya's ideology accentuates the
superstructure. Mashenka subverts the ideology, superstructure and
economic base when she puts human worth and dignity above the
demands of the economic base, the superstructure and the cultural
ideology.
There is a striking contrast between Mashenka's hegemony and that
of the Kushkin's. Though of the same culture, they are from different
sub-sets. Therefore, while Mashenka's hegemony (web of ideologies)
values humanity above economic exploitation because she is from a
remote province, the Kushkin's hegemony values exploitation over
humanity.