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Transcript of Marxist Theory
December 2012 Marxist Literary Criticism in "Things Fall Apart" Summary of the Marxist Theory
Despite the original assumption that Marxist literary criticism would disappear with the Soviet style communism of the USSR, this form of criticism has actually thrived in western culture since the 1940’s. Marxist literary criticism is a form of criticism that analyzes a work of literature in relation to the current issue in society, including issues in race, class, and beliefs of a given culture. Karl Marx, a 19th century German Philosopher, was the founder of Marxist literary criticism. He wrote critical essays on the famous authors of that time, such as Goethe and Shakespeare, in relation to politics, economics, and history. He believed that this form of criticism was not to discover a deeper meaning in the text, but to understand the beliefs, values, and social system behind each different class of the population. Marx’s partner Friedrich Engels believed that works of literature were to be used as a mirror image of society. Just Like Karl Marx, Marxist critics do not attempt to discover deeper meanings in works of literature. They expose the complex web of social structure and economics relevant to the people and/or culture of the time period. Marx and Engels provided a concept through which one can observe literature and explore the base of a system - economics, and the superstructure of a system – law, politics, philosophy, religion, and power. Beliefs, Goals, & Methods 1. There is a relationship between power and property ownership
2. Members of a community “critically unsubscribe” to a set of rules; following them without objection, despite how they may feel about them
3. Introduction of new ideas and ways of life may clash with current beliefs and customs
4. There is a constant desire to advance to a higher class/social stature
5. One’s fear of failure may drive them more than their desire for success
6. Works of literature cannot be thought of independently from politics, economics and history Thesis The introduction of capitalism and Christianity changes the acquisition of power and creates a new framework in Umuofia, forcing the old framework to collapse. Under the old system Okonkwo is one of the most powerful men in the village, however, upon the introduction of Christianity and the white man’s culture, his concept of power is refuted and he resorts to taking his own life in shame. Quote 1 Page 27: “There was a wealthy man in Okonwo’s village who had three huge barns, nine wives, and thirty, children. His name was Nwakibie and he had taken he highest but one title which a man could take in the clan.”
This quote exemplifies the idea that more property one owns, the more power they had. This is not only in terms of physical property, but also a man ownership over his women and children. By having more wealth, a Umuofian man can support more family and maintain a bigger property.
This also illustrates "capital gain", the idea that having many possessions makes a main wealthy. Quote 5 Page 27: “And indeed he was possessed by the fear of his father’s contemptible life and shameful death.”
The people of Umuofia believed that if one was not successful and powerful in life, their death reflected a shameful exsistence, even if the cause of death was out of one's control.
This again illustrates capitalism and the desire to gain power through wealth.
At the end of the novel, things do "fall apart", as Okonkwo takes his own life in the most shameful way a man of his tribe can: suicide. Despite his high stature and many titles in the clan, it is all meaningless in the end. Quote 2 Pg 191-192 “that man was one of the greatest men in Umuofia. You drove him to kill himself; and now he will be buried like a dog.”
This begins to show how the introduction of Christianity changed the way people earned power. The concept of power being acquired by knowledge rather than physical labor was introduced, unbalancing the separation between the social classes. The fact Okonkwo no longer held the highest power made him resort to suicide. Page 17: “When Unoka died he had taken no title at all and was heavily in debt.”
Page 22: “But his whole life is dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness.”
Okonkwo was ashamed of his father Unoka’s actions and would do anything to be the opposite. Not having many possessions made Unoka a failure in the Umuofian society, driving Okonkwo to establish a secure future for himself in the fear that we would end up like his father. Having a title is clearly a sign of progression and class in such a society. Quotes 3 and 4 Quote 6
Page 13: “As a young man of eighteen he had brought honor to his village by throwing Amalinze the Cat. Amalinze was the great wrestler who for seven years was unbeaten...”
Immediately, the pursuit of higher class is introduced. By describing how Okonkwo rose to fame, Achebe highlights the dominant characteristics of a person of a high social class in Umuofia: strong, hard working, and respectable. Morgan: I agree with the Marxist theory because it is shown throughout the whole book. Not just between the Natives and the white people, but between the tribes themselves.
Kristen: There is going to be evident separation of power within any group this theory is applied to. In "Things Fall Apart" one can pick out separation of classes in the tribes. Therefore I agree with this theory.
Dahlia: I agree that it is valid to use this theory, but I do not think it unveils ‘great meaning’ because it merely highlights the struggle between each class and how everyone wants to progress forward. Application of this literary school may arise in other things I read in the future, but it will probably not be the first perspective that comes to mind because it is so analytical. I think that it hit points that Achebe is trying to make about "Things Falling Apart" because it shows the deconstruction of a flawed social system.
Julia: I agree with the use of Marxism and the beliefs of Marxism in the book and how they show the good and bad side of the culture.
Megan: I do believe that the Marxist literary criticism theory is appropriate for analyzing Things Fall Apart. The entire novel is shaped around the money and power systems of the native Nigerian tribes. Viewing the novel in a way relative to the actual social systems and customs that those tribes have illuminates the importance and balance of each and just how detrimental the invasion of the white man was. Achebe’s description allows the reader to understand the Ibo tribe’s way of life. As the reader gets to know the tribe member’s thoughts, beliefs, superstitions, and view on the multi-god religion, they can understand why disrupting the clan and invading the markets causes the loss of security and a sense of self felt by the members of the clan. We can infer that other members of the clan felt similar to Okonkwo, even if he reacted the most obviously hurt by the European exploration. Page 169: "Mr. Brown's mission grew from strength to strength, and because of its link with tthe new administration it earned a new social prestige."
The introduction of Christianity throws off the original idea of desiring to advance one's social class by teaching the people of Umuofia to be happy with what they already have, what they are already ‘blessed’ with. Christianity is changing the way people earn power and their definition of it, the framework of the tribe. Quote 7 Strengths: Strengths and Weaknesses of this Theory Our Group's Opinions -While Marxist criticism does help us understand the structure of the societies beliefs and values, it does not always provide depth into the logic and meaning behind some of the beliefs. For example, the book explains superstitions such as murdering twins and calling a snake a "string" at night, but analyzing the strength of those beliefs doesn't help the reader understand where they came from. We learn to understand the way their society works and behaves, but since the purpose of marxist criticism is not to analyze the meaning, we are unable to understand the origins and the affect these beliefs had on the clan. We know that that is the way the clan works, but we do not know how it became that way and why.
-By analyzing the novel through this perspective, it may make the reader too analytical of the economic and historical aspects, rather than focusing on the actual plot and interaction between the characters. Weaknesses: 1. Do you think by the end of the book, Okonkwo truly made a greater life for himself, or did he just end up like his father?
2.Are we any different than the native tribes of Africa in terms of social class?
3.Do you think one’s property ownership and social stature gives them more power over others in society? Discussion Questions -Analyzing the things the men of the clan value not only tells the reader that being strong and successful is important to the social structure of the clan, but it actually helps them understand the drive behind each and every one of Okonkwo’s actions, even if they seem irrational.
-The Marxist theory also highlights conflict and change in society. It illustrates how exactly a civilization may "fall apart" and the elements that lead to its downfall. (Hence, the introduction of capitalism and Christianity)
- In the scene where Enoch ripped the mask off of a egwugwu, the reader understands how serious of an offense this was by analyzing the beliefs of Nigerian tribes. They know how important ancestral spirits and how superstitious their beliefs are at that point, so they are able to empathize this the members of the clan as they fear punishment from their god's for Enoch’s actions. W e understand their beliefs and the power native tribes gave to the "spirits." This scene explains that certain actions were socially unacceptable to all levels of power/titles in the tribe, so it provides insight on the beliefs and social structure of the clan. This analysis type would work well for "Great Expectations" because the novel is based off of Pip's desire to become a "gentleman" and the struggle he encounters in his attempt at moving up social classes. We couldn't think of a novel that this perspective would not work for because in all the books we have read, there is evidence of seperation of social classes, whether it is stated explicitly or not. Strengths and Weaknesses of this Theory