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Structuralism in Marxist theories - Essay Example

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In Vladimir Propp's Morphology of the Folk Tale (1928), he scrutinised the diversity of characters and penetrated through to their functions, which he found to be limited and rigid. He named such functions as villain and helper, finding thirty one such, which he further divided into seven "superordinates" (Maley)…
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Structuralism in Marxist theories
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Structuralism in Marxist theories

Download file to see previous pages... Marxism has left a legacy of social theory upon which to critics construct literary theories in order to gain deeper insight into the belief systems of authors and the societies they represent. This kind of criticism is materialist; that is, deeply rooted in the economic structure of societies. Such theorists as Louis Althusser and Terry Eagleton represented structuralist ideas that built upon or added to the Marxist theory, and contributed new ways of deconstructing literature.
The Marxist concept of base and superstructure considers the economic structure of the society as the base upon which all other components of society rested. Out of this base grows the superstructure, which contains all the ideologies and systems that are extant in a given society. Marxist theory states that "ideological positions are a function of class positions, and the dominant ideology in society is the ideology of its dominant class" (Chandler). Therefore the general beliefs that can be detected in any of a society's subjects would have been inculcated from birth, and would reflect ideas necessary to keep the ruling class in power. According to the way Althusser fashioned this idea, beliefs arising from these can all be traced back to the economic base, and all ideological aspects of the superstructure reflect man's interpretation of his own relationship to his environment. This relationship, though complicated, can be applied to all the forms of culture or ideological state apparatuses that derive from the base, and of these literature is one. Because literature is a part of a society's superstructure it must represent the ideology dominant in a given society. Literature may, therefore, represent or even appear to legitimise the economy upon which a society rests, but in its representation it also uncovers the beliefs of the writer and the framework of the society in which the writer lives.
So it is that in this framework, characters in literature are considered in terms of their roles. Structuralism seeks to establish a connection between appearance and meaning. It is involved with the knowledge of and interactions between subject and object, and this with all the use of metaphorical and mimetic language, wherein one thing represents another ("Louis Althusser and the theory of ideology"). According to Althusser, ideology as a structure is rigid, but its contents are variable. In this way Marxist ideas lend their contents to ideological structure in the production of literature. Works of literature lend themselves to this kind of treatment as texts can be considered objects and the relationships contained in them can be fit into a structural or ideological framework.
Althusser's view of history as a "process without a subject" reflects a certain level of belief in the unimportance of the individual. It views "historical materialism [as] a science whose methods should describe the patterns of multiple interactions and reciprocal causations among different levels in a social formation" ("Louis Althusser and the theory of ideology"). Therefore, works of art such as literature, produced as they are by artists locked into ideologies based on the economic and social milieu, illustrate in their structures the interactions and causations of the ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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