Test Your Marxist Methods
Marxist analysis works best with "literary realist" texts that describe power relationships between persons. Extremely abstract texts, such as Symbolist poems, or like allegories, tend to resist exposure of power relations or states of consciousness. Extremely "flat" narratives, such as folk tales and saints' lives and cartoons, sometimes can yield coded socio-economic rules they are teaching their readers, but the limited data they offer for constructing "material circumstances" and "historical situation" will tend to reduce Marxist interpretation's productivity. Texts which use "realist" narrative techniques to describe characters' response to economic conditions are ideal subjects for Marxist analysis, though it is still wise to make the case for why this is so. How would you defend your decision to use Marxist analysis on the texts below?
Eugene O'Neill, Desire Under the Elms, 1924
Eben Cabot returns to his family farm to find his father, Ephraim, remarried to Abbie, who has been promised the farm on the condition she will bare him another son. Eben's hatred for his father combines with his growing desire for his young stepmother.. Eben and Abbie consummate their relationship and she gives birth to a son Ephraim believes to be his. After a quarrel in which Eben realizes Abbie might have had the affair with him only to steal the farm, he tells her he wishes the child were dead. To prove her love for him, Abbie murders the infant and tells Eben that now they can be together--Eben is appalled. Eventually, he agrees to share the guilt and the sheriff leads them both away.
John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, 1939
Driven from their land by drought and foreclosure proceedings by bankers who loaned them money in good times and took their farms in bad times, the Joad family emigrates to California where they are harassed, discriminated against, and herded into concentration camps for the poor and homeless. While resisting strike breakers who are trying to destroy a farm workers' union, Tom Joad kills one of the men who has just killed his friend. Tom must flee and abandon his family. His sister, Rose of Sharon, is malnourished and gives birth to a stillborn child. The novel ends with her breast-feeding a starving man the family finds as they flee a flood.
Steinbeck's 1962 Nobel Prize acceptance speech contains specific assertions about the writer's social responsibilities that emphasize resistance to tyranny and freeing humanity from false ideas.
Shakespeare's Sonnet LXXXVII, c. 1590 / 1609 (pub.)
Farewell! thou art too dear for my possessing,
And like enough thou know'st thy estimate:
The charter of thy worth gives thee releasing;
My bonds in thee are all determinate.
For how do I hold thee but by thy granting?
And for that riches where is my deserving?
The cause of this fair gift in me is wanting,
And so my patent back again is swerving.
Thyself thou gavest, thy own worth then not knowing,
Or me, to whom thou gavest it, else mistaking;
So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,
Comes home again, on better judgment making.
Thus have I had thee, as a dream doth flatter,
In sleep a king, but waking no such matter.
Francois Villon, "Ballade des pendus" (Ballad of the hanged), 1431-63 and "Ballade des dames du temps perdu" (Ballad of the ladies of long-ago), 1431-63
Villon was a thief and a poet, and he probably killed a priest. His verses reflect life in the fifteenth-century the Parisian underworld even though their forms are aristocratic, like this courtly "ballade," more usually written and sung on the subject of the courtier's Beloved or (by Chaucer) on philosophical subjects like "Truth" or "Gentilesse."
Marianne Moore, "Poetry."