Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Siding with Marx... this time

Liberal humanism seeks to interpret literature beyond the works’ historical and social context. In contrast liberal humanism seeks to explain literature through analyzing the work itself. When comparing liberal humanism to Marxist theory it is most interesting to look at one tenant of liberal humanism in particular: tenant five. Tenant five seeks to explain individualism within literature. The individuality that liberal humanists refer to in literature is that a character will transcend all outside forces, remaining unaffected throughout the work, and thus true to their innate self.
Marxism strongly challenges tenant five of liberal humanism. Marxist theory states that there is a base and superstructure which dictates all literature. Thus, literature is a reflection of historical, social and cultural influences. Specifically, Marx points out that culture is largely based and determined by the economy. The notion that a work is implicitly reflective of the economy and societal forces completely rejects liberal humanism in regards to human transcendence. According to Marx, it is impossible for a character to be unaffected by societal factors. Thus, according to Marx, a character’s true self or innate being will not visible within the context of literary work.
I must say that I agree with Marx on this one. Think back to your youth and how you were taught to approach a book in school. From what I remember of those days, we looked at literature from a cultural standpoint and analyzed character development within that format. I can think back to when I learned to read, some of the first chapter books I read where “The American Girl” books. These books were all based off of the American dream and the young female characters were representative of this. You may not be able to relate to that particular example, but think about the books your teacher assigned, often times they held significant historical meaning. Stories of the Civil Rights movement, the Holocaust, and the Revolutionary War were often integrated in our academic work in elementary, middle and high school. Thus, all of us were trained to study a character influenced by the historical and cultural factors of the time. We were not trained to look at their inner being that was supposed to remain constant in literature, instead we came in contact with characters that were molds of the society they lived in and typically remained changing and developing throughout the work due to overriding social factors.

1 comment:

A. Crawford said...

You make a great point here; reminding us to look back on literature discussed from grade school to college. I agree that we relate characters a great deal to their place in history as well as economic factors.