War of the Worlds and Marxist Criticism


You will write a paper of interpretive literary criticism on War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. Essays of literary criticism should aim to enrich the reading of others by identifying and explaining aspects of the reading that you find significant. This does not necessarily mean you will reduce the story to a simple meaning or message. Instead, you will show how the story creates meaning through its crafting of elements of fiction that may include character, setting, plot, point of view, language, and style.
This essay of literary criticism also requires that you make use of the Tyson chapter on Marxist theory, and this will help you decide which significant aspects of the story to focus on. You need to apply to the story Marxian concepts such as: socioeconomic classes like the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, ideology, false consciousness, class consciousness, hegemony, alienation, commodification, othering, double consciousness, cultural hegemony, and repressive ideologies like imperialism, consumerism, colonialism, individualism, etc. You do not need to include all of these. In fact you will probably focus mostly on just one, such as depictions of imperialism and the colonized or the bourgeoisie and proletariat or false consciousness and repressive ideologies or social Darwinism. Use of good compositional structure means that you will have ONE main idea with sub-points subordinated to it. But since all these terms are interconnected, I will require that in the process of focusing on one concept, you make some use—perhaps limited, perhaps extensive—of at least two more terms.
Below are some questions that Marxist critics explore. You may choose one of these as your prompt; you may pick and choose parts of multiple prompts to construct your own; or you may create an original prompt to direct your analysis.
1.Does the work reinforce (intentionally or not) capitalist, imperialist, or classist values? If so, then the work may be said to have a capitalist, imperialist, or classist agenda, and it is the critic’s job to expose and condemn this aspect of the work.
2.How might the work be seen as a critique of capitalism, imperialism, or classism? That is, in what ways does the text reveal, and invite us to condemn, oppressive socioeconomic forces (including repressive ideologies)? If a work criticizes or invites us to criticize oppressive socioeconomic forces, then it may be said to have a Marxist agenda.
3.Does the work in some ways support a Marxist agenda but in other ways (perhaps unintentionally) support a capitalist, imperialist, or classist agenda? In other words, is the work ideologically conflicted?
4.How does the literary work reflect (intentionally or not) the socioeconomic conditions of the time in which it was written and/or the time in which it is set, and what do those conditions reveal about the history of class struggle?
5.How might the work be seen as a critique of organized religion? That is, how does religion function in the text to keep a character or characters from realizing and resisting socioeconomic oppression?
6.How is the class structure as depicted responsible for much of the story’s action and characterization?
7.What can we learn from the story about conspicuous consumption and commodification? How does the story use its representation of these capitalist realities to criticize class oppression?
Essays that do not directly quote and make specific reference to both the novel and the Tyson text, using correct MLA citations, will not be considered passing.
Below are some suggested essay topics, but I encourage you to follow your own ideas.
1.The Road to Empire: In Critical Theory Today, Lois Tyson tells us that according to Marx our social, political, and ideological realities are a superstructure built upon an economic base. Wells in War of the Worlds calls such ideology into question. He metaphorically shows a British empire that may be destroying itself via false consciousness, accepting imperialist ideology rather than questioning. Explore the ways the novel portrays the importance of the economic base but is critical toward the superstructure above it.
2.To Quest or Question: Tyson discusses several typical forms of repressive ideology found in capitalist societies and includes religion as one since Marx called it “the opiate of the masses.” Wells’ own attitudes toward religion are well known and in War of the Worlds he seems to have taken a dim view of religion as a way of dealing with forces of the future. The character of the curate represents organized religion and the use of faith rather than science-based reasoning to understand the universe. Does Wells condemn religion as a whole or just certain practices? How might a Marxian argue or agree with Wells’ position? And since Marx calls for a praxis that reveals the ideology of power and exploitation behind most social constructions would this novel represent a model of thought of which he would approve?
3.Natural’s Not in It: Tyson defines commodification as “the act of relating to objects or person in terms of their exchange value or sign-exchange value.” Gang of Four, a post-punk dance band that sought to bring a Marxist consciousness to the dance floor, recorded a song called “Natural’s Not in It” with the lines: “The body is good business / Sell out, maintain the interest.” In War of the Worlds, Wells does not deal much with romantic love, but he does show the erosive effects of commodification in both the loss of humanity among the refugees, the Artilleryman, and the Curate and among the Martians, if we take them as representative of our potential future where we have let technological goods make vestigial our human bodies and emotions. Use Marx’s ideas about commodities and the related idea of alienation to show how the story explores the role of love, and the danger of its loss, in human affairs.
4.Alien Nation (yeah I couldn’t resist): Where do Marx and Darwin meet? Wells had a far dark attitude toward evolution: Man is under a universal sentence of death, but he may have it in his power to cheat that cosmic doom. Explore the degree to which the novel damns mankind to its evolutionary fate or gives us a chance to escape via an increase in consciousness and purpose beyond our physical limits. Does the novel posit possibilities for growth? And compare this to Marx’s ideas about the possibilities of coming to consciousness in the midst of a social system that serves the economic interest of those in control.
Audience: As always with literary criticism, this is a critical paper, not a book review. You can assume your audience has read the stories, so there is no need to waste space with summary of the stories.
Purpose: Since this is a critical essay, you will need to find repeated patterns in the novel that support your interpretations and readings. Keep in mind, while there is no one “correct” reading to a novel, there can be many wrong ones. It is not “all up to one’s interpretation.” You need to find multiple citations from the text to support your analysis.
Format: Essays for this course must use MLA style formatting and citations. Failure to use MLA or excessive errors can result in a failing grade. The MLA style guide, any good English manual (like the Diana Hacker series), or the OWL at Purdue website (owl.english.purdue.edu) can give you help on using this style correctly.
Highlights include:
» All essays must be typed and double-spaced
» Margins must be 1-inch on all sides of the page. Align the left margin only.
» Use 12 point Times or Courier font
» On the first page (only) type your name, professor name (“Professor Smith”), course number (English 1B plus section number), and date at the top left corner margin 1? from the top of the page
» On each page put your last name and page number in the upper right hand corner outside the margin, ½” from the top of the page (most insert page # commands will default to this placement)
» The title (not underlined or italicized or in quotes) should be centered above the first paragraph
» Proper M