In Marxism criticism, the text is looked at as work. It is concerned about the prevailing social order at the time along with race, values, gender, etc. Marxist critics are very comfortable with being political unlike New Historians. It looks at texts in clearly historical context which is very different as well from that of New Criticism who believes that a text should not be looked at in its historical context. Finke’s Marxist Criticism toward the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale is interesting to look at in terms of historical context. The Wife of Bath falls in the gap of Feudalism and Capitalism. She does not seem to value the need to produce children as an important value like most women would during Feudalism. She is a working woman, yet makes most of her money from the men she marries, taking on the role as a “gold-digger”. Most women did not live the way the Wife of Bath did unless it was in the moment of shifting from Feudalism to Capitalism. The Wife of Bath equates to the producing of more money and more money to what women during Feudalism with the baring of children. Not only does fink show the transition of women from Feudalism to Capitalism but she parallels it to the transitions occurring in the Wife of Bath’s tale. Such as how the knight went from being a rapist to the ideal husband and treating women as equal. The ugly hag is transformed into a beautiful, loyal wife. The act of rape is seen as a game and an opportunity for a scavenger hunt. The tale seems to mystifiy sexual violence and makes excuses, almost justifying seeing it as less bad. It seems as though Finke believes that not only is Capitalism starting to cover up Feudalism but that the Wife of Bath’s Tale is covering and hiding something itself, but those things being hidden can not be seen as progression like the transition from Feudalism to Capitalism.
When it was first brought up in class that we would be looking at a work from the Marxist point of view, I had to try to not roll my eyes. I haven’t really had good experiences with Marxist analysis. A friend of mine wrote a Marxist essay about Pokemon for an English class sophomore year of high school, which was awesome and hilarious to us at first. Then, once my friend started analyzing everything from a Marxist perspective, it made me start to throw up a little every time anyone mentioned Marxism. I’m not sure whether or not it was the mixture of Marxism and feminism, but I actually enjoyed her analysis of The Wife of Bath.
It really tripped me out with a completely new interpretations of events and of Alisoun herself. It’s interesting to think of her as a capitalist entrepreneur instead of someone just seeking power in the relationship. Now that I think of it, it’s helpful to put my mind in a certain type of study when analyzing. I might want to attempt to do a purely Marxist or formalist analysis on a work that I don’t fully understand as an exercise in forcing myself to look at a work differently, though doing a Marxist interpretation seems like a daunting task, seeing as I am not someone who thinks in terms of how the economy or government is reflecting in something.
I did find this interesting, though somewhat hard to understand, just because I could probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard the word “feudal,” today included. Overall, I thought it was a good introduction to Marxist point of view that doesn’t make me want to punch someone.
There have been numerous times that I’ve found my english classes have correlated nicely with one another, but the texts and topics studied this semester between my American Renaissance 1850-1870 class and English Studies have given insight into one another so consistently and so remarkably this semester I had to outline a few of my revelations. We began in English studies to dissect literary criticism using, for main exericises, the text of Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath and an essay of literary criticism written by Jane Tompkins about Hawthorne’s literary reputation and comparing it to the popularity of Melville’s Moby Dick. Not only have we read The Scarlet Letter and Moby Dick, in my English 343 class, but we have also focused a lot on the critical reception of the books and how their influence has changed and evolved with contemporary times. The editions we are using are specifically catered to inform us about how these, now cannonical works, were received upon publication, and then we have been comparing the grounds which we use to evaluate them now.
Then, in my Eng 343 class we continued on to read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and upon its completion have focused on an essay of criticism, also by Jane Tompkins entitled “Sentimental Power: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Politics of Literary History.” The essay ties back to many of the “sentimentalist” ideas that Tompkins originally addresses in her essay “Masterpiece Theatre: The Politics of Hawthorne’s Literary Reputation,” for the English 299 class. Just when I’m beginning to think the courses were designed for one another, we begin to study Marxist Criticism in 299, right on the coat-tails of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and New York by Gaslight in my 343 class. I can’t tell you how insightful these classes have ended up being for one another.
Although I can’t pretend to be an expert on Marxist theory, our conversation today in 299 about the Wife of Bath and the conversion of the society’s system from feudal to monetary wealth—and the implications it had for the role of women, echoed for me the transition in early American history of the shift from a system dependent on slavery to one dependent on cheap labor—and the subsequent implications for African Americans. And, just like in Laurie Finke’s exploration of the idea, wheither intended or not, inherent in Chaucer’s work, of this evolving society which came before the actual shift, so we see a novel like Uncle Tom’s Cabin which instead of resulting after the social changes occurred for American slaves in society, addresses the shift on the higher “conscious” level of intellect that is occurring within the moment.
The title is a song title by this spectacularly awful and awfully spectacular band called Math the Band. As far as I recall, the song is unrelated to Marx but the title had me inwardly giggling all through class.
In a strange way, the thing I kept thinking about during today’s discussion of Marxism was the requisites for canonisation. Using Marxism was such a useful tool to understanding the prologue and tale that I was a bit taken-aback when Dr. Seaman mentioned the forthcoming psychoanalytical approach. We’re going to read another article which will contribute just as much to the understanding? Is that even possible? Of course it is, and Tompkins rightfully asserts that this success of continued scrutiny is what makes a work a classic. Theoretically, I accepted this before but in my British literature class, we’ve read a lot of different works in one or two different ways and then moved on (as it is a survey course) so I haven’t encountered the full breadth of Tompkins’ definition’s implications since reading about it. Now, I’m slightly dumbstruck at the truth of the definition because it encompasses so much. It’s fascinating how we search for a very specific strength in a work of literature to define as “good” when in reality the goodness is incredibly broad and that is what makes it literature. Also, it was cool how using the Marxist approach released discussion on the feminist aspects of the work while our class discussion, which was more structural, didn’t. I like how the different treasures of the work are unveiled through use different tools.
Monday’s class was such a worthwhile way to spend a class period. I am so glad it was included in the schedule! As I said in class, there were a lot of wildly disheartening statistics and truths presented to us but somehow I left feeling uplifted and excited for this world of bitch jobs and poverty. A huge fear I have is of grad school– that it is this awful mammoth of debt, attendance of which I am in denial but undoubtedly must complete in order to have a successful career in publishing. I suspect it is because I have a close friend who went for her doctorate in psychology and ended up entering the real world with a lifetime of debt before she’d even begun facing life’s bigger monetary commitments (house, kids, etc), but I equate grad school with burdensome debt. The professors’ advice of not going to grad school unless you’re paid to do so was a truth I really needed to hear to reconcile my expected and feared future.
Some truths weren’t so easy, such as that you should choose the school by program and money, not location. My current plan of moving to Chicago after graduation and figuring something will work out there miiigghhhttt not go well with this very sensical advice, so that’s something I’m working on coming to terms with. Our discussion even veered into the post-grad life we aspire for, that of having a job. Again, though, there was no room for delusions as they stated that most jobs will be lots of work for little money. Carol Ann Davis mentioned getting comfortable living off of little money and how, when you want to do something you love that doesn’t pay well, you will always be able to find ways to cut costs in order to make that possible.
I suppose, generally, my optimism stems (as I’ve found most of my optimism does) from acceptance of a pessimistic view. I’m prepared to be in school for a long time, to do jobs I hate that pay well when it’s necessary, to do jobs I love that pay poorly most of the time, to maybe deal with some debt, to sacrifice certain luxuries for a fulfilling experience, et al. I can see finding happiness in that, so if it turns out to be better than this, jolly good! If not, swell! If it’s worse, that’s unfortunate but I don’t feel like there’s a giant black hole of doom waiting for me a handful of years down the line.