Williams is a cultural materialist, studying the effects of society and material on culture, but also the way culture shapes society as it resists the dominant modes of production.
He argues that our sense of what is literature and what is not literature does not derive from any intrinsic value of literature, but is basically the result of the structure of a capitalist society.
Concept of literature as we understand it now started around the 18th century and fully developed in the 19th century. Before that it was basically a condition of reading. (p. 1569)
In 18th century it began to indicate a certain level of educational achievement. (p. 1569)
Three major changes in the definition of the concept “literature”:
- Shift from learning to taste and sensibility which are bourgeois categories relating to the new class of the “cultivated amateur.” (p. 1570)
- Literature became to be used specifically for creative or imaginative works as a defense against the mechanical pressures of an industrial age where work referred to labor.
- National literature developed as a result of the glorification of the native language (as opposed to the glorification of the Classics in previous ages). (p. 1572)
Marxist literary tradition took three shapes: (p. 1573)
- Assimilation of literature to ideology.
- Inclusion of popular literature or the literature of the people.
- Relating literature to the social and economic history it came from.