In what way are literature and superstructure related?

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From the standpoint of Marxist analysis, literature, as well as all other forms of artistic and cultural expression, are part of the superstructure. Marx held that societies can be understood as being built upon an economic base. To understand society, one needs to analyze the relationship between people and the...

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From the standpoint of Marxist analysis, literature, as well as all other forms of artistic and cultural expression, are part of the superstructure. Marx held that societies can be understood as being built upon an economic base. To understand society, one needs to analyze the relationship between people and the means of production—the base—in a society. Everything else is framed, as it were, by the base. So religion, personal relations, art, and even government can only be understand in relation to the base. Everything else is superficial. So when analyzing a particular work of literature, the realization that it is superstructural makes it incumbent on the reader to consider the relationship of the work to the economic realities of the society in which it was produced. For example, one might consider whether the author was from the working class or whether he or she was of middle class origins. Marxist critics might look for messages in the book that tend to either reinforce or subvert class relations. Sometimes the content of the book might be seen as allegorical for class relations, or, to think of it another way, might have been chosen in order to meet the demands of a capitalist market for literature. The point is that because literature is part of the superstructure, Marxian critics argue that it must be understood in relation to the economic base. Of course, the same thing would be true of any other aspect of society one can think of.

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The relationship you mention can be established through a Marxist approach to literary criticism. Superstructure and base are the two pillars of the Marxist view of society. The base involves economic relations between labor and capital and includes the actors: employers and workers. The superstructure comprises culture in every form, politics, religion, the legal system, and ideology. 

Thus, a Marxist approach to literary criticism will take the above items into account in order to show how a literary work expresses these concerns at a given time. By looking at the lives of the different social classes and at the economic development of their members in particular and of the country or area in general, the Marxist approach will draw conclusions regarding the success or failure of social mobility. 

Moreover, from the Marxist point of view, literary creation is the combined product of both the writer's personal inspiration and the way in which he/she is affected by the ruling system or regime.

Writers such as Jean-Paul Sartre intentionally described society along the lines of Marxism, but in fact practically any work of literature can be analyzed in the light of the Marxist approach. Bearing in mind the components of the superstructure, you may find striking facts and thoughts in many authors that were in no way supporters of Marx, or that wrote before his time. An outstanding example of this is Henry Fielding's Tom Jones, first published in 1749. 

 

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