Marxism and Critical theory of Literary Studies

Literary theory

In many instances, students only think about sciences when they hear the word “theory.” After all, it is here that the term is mostly used when trying to uncover some underlying approaches to discoveries. But then, literature too has several theories. In this article, we shall be looking at the two most famous ideas of literary studies, “Marxism” and “Critical Theory.”

Literary theory

If you are an English literature student, one of the significant and more important topics you will have to cover is literary theory. It is compared to “eating vegetables” in a diet because it helps you grow your critical skills. English literature is a broad subject of study with different sub-divisions. And for one to become a critical writer, they have to start with critical reading first. In other words, one should be able to read through the text and tell the hidden message behind it.

First, understand the criticism. When many people hear this word, they only think that perhaps they have made a mistake. For instance, constructive criticism can be quite annoying. No one enjoys being told, “You chose a good font, but your writing is bad.” But then, it is important to think of criticism in a more positive way. Consider, for instance, someone like Roger Ebert, whose work is to give movies thumbs up. Criticism is all about reviewing and critically analyzing something, and in this context, literary works.

Literary theory is also known as “critical theory.” And today, it has been undergoing a constructive transformation and slowly becoming “cultural theory.” Within the context of literary studies, it can be defined as a set of concepts and intellectual assumptions that form a foundation of explaining or interpreting written works. If you are a critical analyst of literary works, which a student of literature should be able to do, then you need somewhere to start your analysis. And once done, other scholars may want to see on what grounds you came to a particular conclusion. By following a set of guidelines, you will be able to answer such questions, hence the need for literary criticism.

Literary theory can also mean any principles drawn from internal analysis of literary texts or from an understanding external to text that can be used in different interpretive situations. Two underlying structures of ideas wholly explain the subject of the critical practice of literature: one, that theory provides guidelines for the subject matter in literary works, and two, that there are must be specific aims of critical practice – the process of interpreting text itself.

Based on this, many theories try to offer guidelines for analyzing texts. And the most common one is perhaps “Traditional Criticism.” It gave rise to the other theories, including Marxism and Critical Theory. They are the most used approaches among most contemporary criticism. They all aim at providing others a traditional and contemporary approach to the understanding text.

Introducing Marxism and Critical Theory

Marxism tends to focus on two main areas; the representation of class conflict, and the reinforcement of class distinction using literature as the main medium. Theorists who use the Marxist approach apply traditional methods of analyzing literature but include the subordination of aesthetic concerns to conclude on the final socio-political expansion of literature. Also, theorists often cheer for the author sympathetic to the economic class and writers whose main task challenges equal economic rights as in capitalist communities. Hence, the Marxist theory has paved the way for understanding the link between economic production and literature, and cultural production, as a way of keeping the full spirit of Marxism. In short, Marxism digs deeper into society and history, creating a profound impact on literary theory and practical criticism altogether. It is a way of linking the economic motivation of a society to its literature and vise versa. And most notably, a special focus is the place of “New Historicism” and “Cultural Materialism.”

Is there a relationship between historical materialism and forms of literature? One of the most widely read theorists of this context is the Hungarian theorist Georg Lukacs. His is of realism, and the historical novel has led to a better understanding of the art. Walter Benjamin also became a famous figure after breaking ground with his works in the study of aesthetics and artwork reproduction. And then came the Frankfurt School of philosophers with the likes of Max Horkheimer, Theodor, Adorno, and Herbert Marcuse, who, after emigrating to the U.S, contributed largely in bringing in the Marxist approach of culture the main academic realm of America. And these people became the foundation of what they “Critical theory,” one of the main parts of which create the critique of the critical use of reason in advance capitalist societies.

“Critical theory” brought to light the difference between the high cultural heritage of Europe and the larger capitalist communities as a dominant instrument. It cuts through the structure of mass societal forms, including jazz, Hollywood film, and advertising, as a replication of the form of a production house. Advanced capitalist cultures often already co-compelled by entertainment needs of economic statuses, used creativity and cultural production, which requires sensory stimulation and known cliché. Also, it suppressed by a tendency for deliberate sustainability.

Other key figures who have contributed to the “Marxist theory” are Raymond Williams and Terry Eagleton in Great Britain. There is also Frank Lentricchia, and Fredric Jameson in the U.S.A. Williams is regarded as the man behind the New Left political movement in Great Britain. He also initiated the development of “Cultural Materialism” and the Cultural Studies Movement dating to the 1960s. Eagleton is not only regarded as a Marxist theorist but a popularizer of theory, whereas Lentricchia and Jameson become influential in other areas of Marxism and postmodern cultural theory.

The literary theory aims to explain why we study literature and how we study. It is an approach that seeks to create an explanation on the part of scholars about their approaches to literary studies. Marxism and Critical theory is an important approach in this regardLiterary theory, helping theorist explain their use of different clues in tradition literary approaches to create meaning. 


1022 Words


May 18, 2020


3 Pages

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