Comparing Marxist Criticism With New Historicism

Different Types of Literary Criticism

 By using different forms of criticism to analyze a literary work, one can have a wider vision on the literary work presented.  One can be more informed if they choose to use a New Historic approach to criticism alongside a Marxist approach.  By comparing and contrasting the two forms of criticism in the poems “An Elementary school Classroom in a Slum” and “My Last Duchess”, one can see the different elements of understanding that each form of criticism can illuminate.

Lit Crit

Both New Historicism and Marxist criticism share common traits.  When analyzing “My Last Duchess”, both Marxist and New Historicism approaches keep in mind the status quo of the person presenting the painting, Marxism focuses more on class issue (economic), whereas new New Historicism views it as a social situation.  Marxist critics would state that the speaker is a part of the Bourgeoisie and focus more on the critical economy and power that the speaker is presenting.  The Marxist focuses on how the characters within the poem become representatives of class discourse.  The superstructure in the poem is represented by the duke, and he represents the culture in which he is at.  Reflection on society and culture is always prevalent in Marxist criticism, the wealth of the duke is a reflection of the culture.  Class conflict is always an issue.

A New Historic approach to criticism differentiates from some of the core concepts of Marxist literature.  The literature within the text reflects a multitude of values and beliefs to define the social reality, instead of being clearly one sided.  There is no bias withing New Historicism, one cannot take sides.  The poem “My Last Duchess” reflects the culture, not just a specific class.  When the Duke is showing a statue of Neptune taming a seahorse (Browning, Lines 53-54), he is demonstrating the culture in which he lives, how flaunting your wealth was something popular in society.  Unlike Marxist criticism, you wouldn’t just view the class status; you would view its social impact.  Meaning in Marxist criticism is all about the superstructure and class conflict, New Historicism is more focused on products of culture, finding truth within everything.

Using both forms of criticism can also illuminated their differences in “An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum.”  Marxist criticism blames class for everything.  A Marxist would view the child deformity (The paper-seeming boy, with rat’s eyes.”  (Spender, Lines 3-4)) as a product of his poverty.  The class conflict between the poor children in the school opposed to the wealthy bourgeoisie that have an opposition.  Marxist criticism would mainly focus on the lower class struggle as the base ideology.  The social relationships that are focused on are primarily due to class.  New Historicism differs though, trying to focus less on class and more on the social differences.  Due to its lack of choosing sides, the New Historic critic would try to describe each of the competing voices, the children in the school as well as the opposing forces.  The Marxist would view the children in the school as trapped by their poverty, whereas the Formalist critic would question all angles for answers, keeping clear of bias by analyzing all angles of episteme.  The text in formalist criticism wouldn’t just be viewed as an artifact; it would be viewed as an exchange.  There is intertextual relation within Formalist criticism, aside from the solitary voice a piece presents in Marxist literature.  They each are somewhat flawed.  Whereas Marxist criticism gives a better view of class structure and its impact on society, it doesn’t focus as much on the basic social structure and isn’t as unbiased in hearing and deciphering the competing voices within the text.