How would the Marxist theory of commodity fetishism be relevant to analyzing a literary text?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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If the question is asking how to find commodity fetishism in the analysis of a literary text, I think that one is searching for a setting where objects receive more importance than people.  Marx's idea of a socio- economic setting where individuals are objectified and objects are subjective enough to assume personalized qualities would be important in assessing a text on this level.  We can see this in Marx's understanding of the "fetish:"

'Fetishism' in this context refers to symbolic attribution of power to an object to the point where people believe and act as though the fetish object really has that power, and this power is even regarded as being intrinsic to (a natural, inherent characteristic of) the object, rather than a human attribution. In reality, that power is not an intrinsic characteristic of the object at all.

This idea can become important in analyzing a literary text in that the study would have to focus on how objects receive power, and how these objects possess almost human- like importance.  At the same time, I think that one would also have to focus on how people are viewed in an objectified manner.  For example, assessing the role of commodity fetishism in Flaubert's Madame Bovary reveals that people are seen as stepping stones to external and object- based ends, while objects are seen as ends and not means to said ends.