Sample Essay

Unlike Freud, who thought sexual energy was the driving force behind human civilization and its social evolution, Karl Marx proposed that history – and, in turn, the competing civilizations that it threw up – reflected various stages in the struggle between rich and power classes.  He thus saw historical materialism, and not sexual energy, as the motivating factor behind all of our efforts and endeavors.  Marxism, hence, tries to explain the tensions and contradictions that will appear in any given society as a result of class struggle between its various actors and forces for control of resources of production and their material gains.  Similarly, Marxist literary criticism views a society’s literature as an extension of the tensions and contradictions existing within that very society, and hence believes that literature too needs to be analyzed and understood in the same light of class struggle in order to better understand the society in question.

Marxist literary critics tend to view literature as a product of a society’s natural political evolution, representing its various stages of transition from feudalism to bourgeois capitalism, to socialism and finally to communism.  To a Marxist critic, literature hence not only reflects the tensions and contradictions that exist in each of the above stages, but it also acts as both an organ of the state and an extension of the society with particular, and often contradictory, ideological leanings.  In the struggle for control of material resources, literature not only defines the various competing actors and forces, but actively takes sides in the conflict – something that greatly depends on the author’s social class, but more so on his/her ideological leanings and sympathies.  Marxists, thus, consider literature “not as works created in accordance with timeless artistic criteria, but as ‘products’ of the economic and ideological determinants specific to that era” (Abrams 149).

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