How does one analyze Michel Tremblay's play Albertine in Five Times using Marxist and feminist literary criticism theories?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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As online access to Michel Tremblay's play Albertine in Five Times is limited, below are accounts of both Marxist and feminist literary criticism theories plus some ideas to look into to help get you started.

Marxist literary criticism is based off of the social theories of Karl Marx. Marx taught that, due to capitalism, society is divided into two classes--the proletariat, who are the manual laborers, and the bourgeoisie, who are the land- and business-owning upper-middle class--and that these two classes are at war with each other. Even more specifically, he taught that, so long as capitalism exists, the bourgeoisie is the elite class and the proletariat are subordinate to and being oppressed by the bourgeoisie. Those who use Marxist criticism to analyze literature are doing so to examine if the literature is showing capitalism as benefiting either the elite or the middle classes. Marxist critics also apply Marx's theories to examine "how the lower and working classes are oppressed--in everyday life and in literature" ("Marxist Criticism (1930s-present)"). According to Louis Tyson (1998), as cited in the Online Writing Lab article "Marxist Criticism (1930s-present)", the following are examples of typical questions a Marxist critic asks of any literary text:

  • Whom does [the literary work] benefit if the work or effort is accepted/successful/believed, etc.?
  • What is the social class of the author?
  • Which class does the work claim to represent?
  • What values does it reinforce?
  • What values does it subvert?
  • What conflict can be seen between the values the work champions and those it portrays?
  • What social classes do the characters represent?

One thing we know that fits in with Marxist criticism is that the author Michel Tremblay is a clear example of the subordinated, struggling working class Marx spoke out to defend. Tremblay is a French-Canadian born into a working-class family that was so poor the family had to share a "seven-room house with two other families" (eNotes, "Michel Tremblay: Biography"). We also know that he "won a scholarship to a school for gifted children," but he hated the elite class so much, that he left the school to finish his education in public schools ("Michel Tremblay: Biography"). Since Tremblay himself is from the poor working class and dislikes the elite class, we know we can certainly apply Marxist criticism to analyze his works. We can keep the subordination of the working class and Tremblay's own struggles in mind as we analyze Albertine in Five Times, a story that progresses through five stages of the life of a woman named Albertine. As you analyze the play, think about which class Albertine is a member of and if she demonstrates experiencing the same poverty and subordination that Tremblay experienced growing up.

As Tyson (1998) is also quoted as saying, feminist criticism analyzes "ways in which literature (and other cultural productions reinforce and undermine the economic, political, social, and psychological oppression of women" (as cited in Online Writing Lab, "Feminist Criticism (1960s-present)"). Specifically, feminist criticism aims to show how men have mistreated and excluded women throughout the ages. According to Tyson, the following is a list of areas feminist criticism explores:

  • The oppression of women by men "economically, politically, socially, and psychologically"
  • Ways in which marginalization of women only shows in how she differs from "male norms and values"
  • Ways in which feminist actions strive to "change the world by prompting gender equality"

Another thing we know about Tremblay is that, growing up, he heard the women he grew up around "speak candidly to one another" about what their lives were like; something that significantly influenced him and shows up a great deal in his writing ("Feminist Criticism"). Hence, as you analyze the play, think of ways in which the character Albertine shows she has been oppressed and marginalized and how much the oppression and marginalization has to do with men. Also, think about ways in which she tries to overcome the oppression if there are any ways.

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