The concept of social class is one that has attended the understanding of human social organization for at least the last three centuries and has been projected further back even than that. Perhaps the key thinker in this context is Karl Marx, and Marxism, or rather Marxisms, have been an important component of literary theory across the twentieth and into the twenty-first centuries. Marx identified capitalist society as divided into two broad classes that are placed in continual struggle due to the exploitative nature of the system: the bourgeoisie are defined as those who own the means of production (factory owners, bosses, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers), while the proletariat are those who provide their labour in order to produce goods (the workers). Marxism argues that this system is inevitably exploitative, as in order for the bourgeoisie to make a profit they have to pay the workers less than the final value of the product they produce, the difference being what Marx calls the surplus value. In a competitive capitalist system, therefore, the bourgeoisie attempt to drive down wages to maximise their profits, while the workers (usually when organized into collective movements) attempt to force the employers to pay them more. For Marx, this system is not sustainable and eventually the proletariat will rise up and overthrow the bourgeoisie and establish a system run on first socialist and then communist principles. Why is all this of importance to literary studies? One reason is that literature has been variously identified by Marxist critics as either being implicated in the promotion of dominant ideological beliefs or as offering a critical position, in the hands of certain writers, from which to interrogate and critique those dominant ideologies.
Swipe to navigate through the chapters of this book
Please log in to get access to this content
To get access to this content you need the following product:
Dr. Nick Bentley
- Macmillan Education UK
- Sequence number