Since the onset of the industrial revolution, the working class have historically made up about three-quarters of the population. However, the representation of their experiences has been conspicuously absent in literature. But working-class writers have not been silent; they have always produced literature, although its forms, structural elements and purposes have differed from the dominant forms of the past two hundred and fifty years.
We must employ a broader understanding when considering working-class literature, such as: in what forms, on what themes, in what circumstances, and to what ends have working-class people told their stories? Since many storytellers and their audiences were illiterate, working-class literature has often taken oral forms. Moreover, it has been created and related in group situations, such as churches, meeting halls and pickets lines - not in the privacy of a study as with their middle-class counterparts. Therefore, it is rooted in the experience of a particular group of people facing a specific problem at a certain time: within the context of shared experience where ‘artist’ and ‘audience’ share a common reality.
Since it is produced and written in the present context, traditional notions about literature - such as looking for the timeless and transcendent, contemplation as an end, metaphysical complexity of language, and ironies of tone - are not conducive to approaching working-class literature.
In addition, the available forms of the novel and its conventional themes did not offer a point of entry for working-class writers. For example, the nineteenth-century bourgeois concern with the problems of the inheritance of private property and propertied marriages did not apply to working-class experience. It was not something with which working-class writers could relate. There is evidence of many talented working-class writers in the nineteenth century, but most turned their attention to writing autobiographies and memoirs rather than the novel.