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Marxist Criticism in Les Miserables

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Hannah Nordby

on 31 October 2013

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Transcript of Marxist Criticism in Les Miserables

Marxist Literary Criticism
Marxist Criticism is grounded in the economic and cultural theory of Karl Marx. It mainly focuses on power through money and who has the power.
Believing the evolution of humanity is determined by its "material protection" or economic organization.
Historical changes in society effect elements in both the constitution and power relations as it is related to class.
Human consciousness is constituted by an ideology. This ideology can be based on a set of beliefs, values, or ways of thinking.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engel
According to Marxists, even literature itself is a social institution and has a specific ideological function. The function depends on the author's background.
"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." -Terry Eagleton
Karl Marx was the main advocate for Communism. His early radicalism forced him to flee to Paris in 1843. Marx held that history was a series of class struggles between owners of capital and workers. He believed that as wealth became more concentrated in the hands of a few capitalists, the dissatisfied workers would rebel, leading to bloody revolution and a classless society.
The theory is based on:
Most of the concepts are related to class.
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo is a classic example of a novel with a decidedly Marxist slant. It's a novel about extreme poverty juxtaposed with extreme wealth, extreme power versus extreme helplessness. It was written with the purpose of critiquing an intensely unequal society, and as such can be viewed a a Marxist criticism of our world. Within the novel, class struggles play out on stages small and large - in back alleys and on barricades. This is The Wretched Ones, Les Miserables.
If you were to interpret this scene through a Marxist lens, one could say that Fantine's situation is because of the division between the classes. If a woman of higher birth had child out of wedlock, she perhaps would not have experienced such a massive change in status. Moreover, when Fantine is attacked by a richer, more privileged man, Javert immediately takes his side. Because Fantine is a prostitute, her word has no merit. The class system failed Fantine.
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