The Oxford Dictionary defines class as a 'system of ordering society whereby people are divided into sets based on perceived social or economic status'. Literature according to Marx echoes the social institutions from which it comes and literature is a economic product, that often reflects an author's idea or vision of class. Indeed, when reading Oliver twist by Charles Dickens, the reader will find a description of the different classes that composed the Victorian society and how they interact with each other; each character has been assigned a social and political status and acts accordingly, and the way Dickens portrays them has an impact on our idea of social class, indeed, the reader will find that the upper classes of society can be as corrupt as lower ones. Literature can thus depict and criticize the actions, the values of the bourgeoisie, or denounce the wrongdoings of the poor.
This essay will ask how Literature can reinforce dominant ideas about class and how it can also undermine them. To answer this question this essay will first focus on Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe and will then turn to The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde.
With Robinson Crusoe, Defoe, gives his own definition of class, according to him the world is divided into civilized people and savages. Defoe also emphasizes that the middle station of life is the best station, with The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde, mocks the upper bourgeoisie, he portrays them as arrogant, hypocrites, and shallow, he also derides their values.
' I was born in the year 1632, in the city of York of a good family, tho' not of that country, my father being a foreigner of Bremen, who settled first at Hull: he got a good estate by merchandise, and leaving off his trade, lived afterwards at York, from whence he had married my mother'. We are given, in these first few lines of Robinson Crusoe, a description of his social background, indeed the reader will have gathered that, Crusoe belong to the middle station of life, which is according to his father, the best station 'mine was the middle state, or what might be called the upper station of low life, which he had found by long experience was the best state in the world, the most suited to human happiness, not exposed to the miseries and hardships, the labour and sufferings of the mechanick part of mankind, and not embarass'd with the pride, luxury, ambition and envy of the upper part of mankind'. Here Defoe gives his definition of the best class in society, a class where one can enjoy the freedom, and leisure of life, but he also criticizes the ambitions of the upper class of society, and therefore their way of life. Literature can therefore serve as a mean to emphasize the idea of the author. Soon we find that this state of life does not suits Robinson, indeed Robinson wants to go to sea even though both of his parents strongly advise him not to do so, for it will bring him nothing, but miseries, it is also far too...