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INTRODUCTION TO LITERARY CRITICISM

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sal valvo

on 3 February 2015

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Transcript of INTRODUCTION TO LITERARY CRITICISM

INTRODUCTION TO LITERARY CRITICISM
Literary criticism and theory
- any text can be read with a different set of "glasses" or perspective
- we look for different things within the text
- helps readers understand a text in relation to the author, culture, and other texts
Questions to ponder
- what are the benefits of each form of criticism?
-what are potential problems with each form?
- is there a "right" or "wrong" form?
-can the mode of criticism alter the entire meaning of a text?
Reader-Response Approach
- a great deal of meaning in a text lies with how reader responds to it
- focuses on act of reading and how it affects our perception of meaning in a text (how we feel at the beginning vs. the end)
- deals more with the process of creating meaning and experiencing a text as we read
- the text is a living thing that lives in the reader's imagination

READER + READING SITUATION + TEXT = MEANING

- 2 IMPORTANT IDEAS
- an individual reader's interpretation usually changes over time
- readers from different generations and time periods interpret texts differently

- How do YOU feel about what you have read? What do you think it means?
Formalist approach
- emphasizes the form of a literary work to determine meaning, focusing on literary elements (i.e. metaphor, symbol, imagery) and how they work to create meaning
- examines a text as independent from its time period, social setting, and author's background. A text is an independent entity
- focuses on close reading of texts and analysis of effects of literary elements and techniques on the text
- 2 MAJOR PRINCIPLES
- a literary text exists independent of any particular reader and, in a sense, has a fixed meaning
- greatest literary texts are "timeless" and "universal"
Formalist reading of "The Three Little Pigs"
- what does the wolf symbolize?
- how does the story foreshadow the final fate of the pigs?
- what does the wolf's dialogue tell us about his character?
the Psychological/Psychoanalytical Approach
- views a text as a revelation of it's author's mind and personality. Based on work of Sigmund Freud
- focuses on the hidden motivations of literary characters
- looks at literary characters as a reflection of the writer
- drives governing, human behaviour
- Id: animal nature that says, "Do what is good"
- Ego: reality-based part of our personality that satisfies Id and Superego
- Superego: the socialized"conscience" that tells you what is right or fair
- Oedipus complex: every boy has desire the unconscious desire to have sex with their mother; thus sons are afraid of their fathers and fathers are threatened by their sons
- Elektra complex: similar to Oedipus, except it's daughters wanting sex with their fathers and fear their mothers

In "Macbeth", Macbeth kills King Duncan, because he unconsciously recognizes the king as a father-figure
- in the latter acts of the play, Macbeth has indulged his id so often that his ego has lost the ability to restrain it
The Sociological Approach
- argues that social contexts (the social environment) must be considered when analyzing a text
- focuses on the values of a society thow those views are reflected in a text
- emphasizes the economic, political, and cultural issues within literary texts
- CORE BELIEF: literature is a reflection of its society
Marxist Approach
- emphasizes economic and social conditions
- based on the political theory of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
- concerned with understanding the role of power, politics and money in literary texts
Gender Criticism/Feminist Approach
- Gender criticism analyzes literature through the lens of socially-constructed gender roles
- "Queer theory" which looks for influence of homosexuality within texts
- Feminist approach: largest part of gender criticism, which critiques and seeks to correct women's subordination to men in society. About equality and concerned with the role, position and influence of women in texts
- 4 basic principals of Feminist Criticism
- western civilization is patriarchal
- concepts of gender are mainly cultural ideas created by patriarchal societies
- patriarchal ideals pervade literature
- most literature through time has been gender-biased

The Biographical Approach
- argues that we must take an author's life and background into account when we study a text
- three benefits
- facts about author's experience can help a reader decide how to interpret a text
- a reader can better appreciate a text knowing a writer's struggles or difficulties in creating that text
- a reader can understand a writer's preoccupation by studying the way they apply and modify their own life experiences in their works
- For example, "Heart of Darkness" was influenced by Joseph Conrad's life experience as a sea master
the New Historicist Approach
- argues that every literary work is a product of its time and its world
- provides background information necessary to understand how literary texts were perceived in their time
- shows how literary texts reflect ideas and attitudes of the time in which they were written
- new historicist critics often compare the language in contemporary documents and literary texts to reveal cultural assumptions and values in the text

For example: 12 Years a Slave, the Crucible (is the historical account of Salem Witch Trials accurate?)
Mythological Criticism
- based on the universal elements of human life common in all cultures
- like mythology, all literature is a window to creating meaning for human life
- central to mythological theory is the concept of archetypes (universal elements present in the literature of all cultures)
- the hero
- the outcast
- the quest
- sacrificial king
- evil personified
- the goal of Mythological Criticism seeks to understand how the story constructs meaning in the human experience through archetypes
- i.e. Romeo and Juliet
Deconstructionist Approach
- argues that since there is no single meaning of any word, there can be no single meaning of a text
- every text has multiple valid meanings because the reader may interpret the words differently than the writer intended them
- emphasizes the breakdown of any meaning within a text because the variety of different readers
For example: Write the author of "the Tell-Tale Heart"
"I have a dream" can broken down by looking at Dream and what does dream mean?
- because there is no concrete meaning of anything, there is no single truth applicable to all human beings. Therefore, everything is relative to you
i.e. Hair/hare (the Tortoise and the Hare)
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