Marxist Critical Theory
Marxist Critical Theory is a politically-orientated criticism. It is
derived from the theories of social philosopher Karl Marx.
A Marxist critic grounds their theory and practise in the economic and
cultural theory of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and in doing so criticise
literature in line with these claims:
1.As humanity evolves, its institutions and ways of thinking are
determined by the changing mode of its ‘material production’
2. Changes in the mode of production effect change in the constitution
and power relations of social classes; this, in turn, creates conflict for
social, economic and political advantage.
3. In any and every era, human consciousness is constituted by an
ideology, through which they perceive what is their reality.
Marxist critics theorise that all language use is influenced by social
class and economics. It insists that language inherently makes statements about
class, economics, race and power.
Marxist Critical Theory places emphasis on the representation or
underrepresentation of certain social classes, and how the socio-economic
background of the author relates to that. Marxist critics suggest that the
function of literature is to either support or criticise the political and
economic structures in place, and they celebrate authors who are sympathetic to
the working class, and those whose literature challenges capitalist societies.
MCT searches for understanding of the relationship between economic and
cultural production, specifically literature.
The Marxist critical theory essentially focuses on substances and
underlying messages rather than form.
Though different nuances exist within the Marxist critical theory,
Marxist critics will ask these questions about a piece of literature:
Who benefits if the work is accepted or successful?
What social class does the author belong to?
What social class does the work claim to represent?
What social classes do the characters represent?
What confliction is there in the interactions between characters of
different social classes?
What values are reinforced with this work?
What values does it subvert?
What conflict can be seen between the values the work champions and
those it portrays?
Post-Colonial Critical Theory- Heart of
Post-colonial critical theory, made popular by Himi K. Bhabha.
Post-colonialism suggests that a culture can never return to its pre-colonised
ways and that a culture does not become stagnant because it has been colonised.
Instead of all culture becoming westernised, however, cultures merge and adapt
to become part of a new colonised culture. This is a result of the colonised
people adapting to survive in a new culture while preserving important parts of
their own original culture. In order to survive, however, colonised individuals
must mimic things such as clothing, food, education and art, while maintaining
a sense of their own identity. In the process of doing this, the coloniser’s
ideas of their own culture and reality are destabilised destabilising
There are many sub-branches of Post-Colonial theory; Negritude,
Orientalism and Subaltern. Negritude, coined by Aime Cesaire, purposes that all
black people share a collective personality, different to European personality,
despite colonialism. Negritude rejects the identity some colonists have posted
on black people as ‘savages’ and exposes the savagery of colonists. It calls
for pride in one’s culture.
Orientalism is a theory brought forward by Edward Said. Western
colonisers come up with ideas about Asia, in an attempt to distance it from
western ideals and depict Easterners as lazy, cruel people, therefore
dehumanising them to make their colonisation more justifiable. Although the
East has not been entirely colonised by the West, culture and ideals from the
West are imposing on the traditions and culture of Asia.
The subaltern is the idea that although certain people may lack power,
political, or cultural influence, they speak up to protect their culture and
Post Colonial literary criticism looks at issues that are the result of
colonisation, and how these elements depict the colonised as lesser than the
coloniser, and how literature can show this colonialist attitude. Post-colonial
critics are concerned with literature produced by colonial powers, as well as
those produced by cultures who were or still are colonized. Literature produced
by colonial powers can be critiqued for its reinforcement of the dominant
positions of western cultures, as well as the depiction of Asian countries as
cruel or lazy, and of African cultures as savages.
A post-colonial critic might ask the questions:
How does the literary text, explicitly or allegorically, represent
various aspects of colonial oppression?
What does the text reveal about the problematics of post-colonial
identity, including the relationship between personal and cultural identity and
such issues as double consciousness and hybridity?
What person(s) or groups does the work identify as “other” or
stranger? How are such persons/groups described and treated?
What does the text reveal about the politics and/or psychology of
What does the text reveal about the operations of cultural difference –
the ways in which race, religion, class, gender, sexual orientation, cultural
beliefs, and customs combine to form an individual identity – in shaping our
perceptions of ourselves, others, and the world in which we live?
How does the text respond to or comment on the characters, themes, or
assumptions of a canonized (colonialist) work?
Are there meaningful similarities among the works of literature of
different post-colonial populations?
How does a literary text in the Western canon reinforce or undermine
colonialist ideology through its representation of colonialization and/or its
inappropriate silence about colonized peoples?
Feminist Critical Theory-Othello
Feminist critical theorists are concerned with the ways in which
literature reinforces, or undermines, the socio-economic, political and
psychological oppression of woman. The feminist school of theory can
incorporate aspects of Gender and Queer theory, although it mainly looks at how
aspects of culture are inherently patriarchal, and ‘strives to expose the
explicit and implicit misogyny in male writing about women”
In addition to critiquing the content of literary works, feminist
critical theory places concern on the author, as there is an exclusion of women
writers from most genres of literature unless the topic is feminist in nature.
Feminist criticism attempts to introduce a feminist perception to predominantly
male-dominated critical perspective This places literature in a social context
and using history, linguistics, psychology and sociology creates a perspective
that considers feminist issues. Feminist critical theorists attempt to analyze
the writing strategies of women in the context of their social conditions.
Feminist Critical Theory has in many ways followed the three ‘waves’ of
First Wave Feminism, from the late 1700s to early 1900s highlighted the
inequalities between the sexes, building up to the woman’s suffrage movement.
Second Wave Feminism, from the early 1960’s to late 1970’s, placed
importance on equal working conditions for woman, following WWII
Third Wave Feminism, from the early 1990s to present, is about resisting
the over generalized, oversimplified ideologies of Second Wave Feminism, where
the emphasis was placed on white, heterosexual, middle-class women. Third Wave
Feminism takes aspects of post-structural and contemporary gender and race
theories and places an emphasis on intersectionality.
Ideas important to Feminist critical theory are:
1. Women are oppressed by patriarchal ideologies.
2. In every domain where patriarchy reigns, woman is other: she is
marginalized, defined only by her difference from male norms and values
3. All of Anglo-European civilization is deeply rooted in patriarchal
ideology, for example, in the biblical portrayal of Eve as the origin of sin
and death in the world
4. While biology determines our sex (male or female), culture determines
our gender (masculine or feminine)
5. All feminist activity, including feminist theory and literary
criticism, has as its ultimate goal to change the world by promoting gender
6. Gender issues play a part in every aspect of human production and
experience, including the production and experience of literature, whether we
are consciously aware of these issues or not.
Post-Modern Critical Theory- Enduring Love
Post-modernism has many aspects that can be acknowledged in the
criticism of both post-modern literature, and not inherently post-modern literature,
through a lens of post-modernism.
One aspect is the idea that there is no longer original content to be
made, and all literature is a collaboration of previously written texts and
ideas. Some post-modern authors acknowledge this and make no effort to hide
this influence, often making direct references to historical texts.