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Copy of Literary Criticism
Transcript of Copy of Literary Criticism
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Moral criticism, Dramatic reconstruction (360 BC- present)
Formalism or New Criticism (1930s-present)
Psychoanalytic and Jungian (1930s to present)
But they do agree that a literary work should be viewed separately from its environment, era, and even author. It should be viewed on it own, removed from all other aspects.
Plato first introduced the idea that art must teach piety and virtue. He believed that art was a “mediocre reproduction of nature,” that artists hold up a mirror to nature.
Which critical lens could you use to
analyze the following texts?
The Great Gatsby
New Historicism/Cultural studies (1980s-present)
Literary theory is the practice of “looking” at a piece of literature through a specific “lens.”
Critics use everything from culture, structure, the way a reader responds, to psychoanalysis and even feminism to critique a literary work.
Think about how we look at archetypes; we read each work, thinking about what archetypes each character represents! This is not that different from using a specific school of criticism to do the same– in fact, that would be psychoanalyzing a work!
Schools of Literary Theory
Moral and Dramatic Construction
In other words, if art does not teach morality and ethics, then it is damaging to its audience.
Plato’s ideas have impacted our literature and criticism today, though we should remember that few critics really judge a work by its morality.
Formalism or New Criticism
The easiest way to remember this is: Form Follows Function
Formalists tend to disagree about what makes a work “good” or “bad.”
This type of criticism is not used often.
How does the work use imagery to develop it’s own symbols?
Does how the work is put together reflect what it is?
How do paradox, irony, and tension work in the text?
How does the author resolve the apparent contradictions in the work?
What does the form of the work say about its content?
Is there a central passage that can be said to sum up the entire work?
This critical style builds on Freud’s theories of psychology. Here are some of his beliefs:
Freud believed that humans are motivated and driven by their unconscious desires, fears, needs, and conflicts of which they may not be aware.
Our unconscious is influenced by childhood events, and we “act out” our conflicted feelings about these events throughout our lives.
He wrote about the Oedipus Complex- which many critics apply to various works (including Hamlet).
Questions to ask:
Are there any characters who “play out” their oedipal complex?
How can the characters’ behavior be explained in psychoanalytic terms? Fear or fascination with death? Sexuality? Acting out childhood desires or dramas?
What does the work say about the psychological being of its author? Or about the motives of the reader?
Carl Jung was a student of Freud, and Jungian criticism usually views literature under the lens of the collective unconscious of the human race.
What is the collective unconscious?
It is how all human beings are connected.
Beneath our conscious, all humans have a subconscious that is connected.
For example, think about how all humans view evil the same way: darkness, ignorant, night. These images appear throughout the world in every mythology Why? Because we are born with the inherent knowledge that is in our collective unconscious.
In Jungian literary analysis, the critic looks for archetypes (these are all a part of our collective unconscious).
It also focuses on symbols within the work and mythic elements.
What archetypes are apparent? How do the characters mirror archetypal figures?
How symbolic is the imagery within the work?
Does the hero embark on a journey?
Is there a journey to the underworld or land of the dead?
What trials or ordeals does the protagonist face? Are they mythic? Symbolic?
Based on the theories of Karl Marx, and influenced by philosopher Hegel.
This type of criticism is based on class differences, social structure, and economic complications and images.
“Marxism attempts to reveal the ways in which our socioeconomic system is the ultimate source of our experience.”
Critics try to answer questions such as who does (the work, the effort, the policy, the road) benefit? Is it the elite? The midde class?
Marxists are interested in how the lower or working class are oppressed.
Who benefits from the work?
What is the social class of the author?
How is that represented in the novel?
What class does the work claim to represent?
What values does it reinforce or subvert?
What social classes doe the characters represent?
This type of criticism is based on the readers’ reaction to the work.
It can have various lenses: a feminist, psychoanalytic, or even a structuralist one.
“Reader response theorists share two beliefs: 1. that the role of the reader cannot be removed from the understanding of the work, and 2. readers do not passively consume the meaning…they actively make the meaning they find in literature.”
How does the interaction between the text and the reader create meaning?
What does the reader experience while reading the work?
How might we interpret a literary text to show that the reader’s response is, or is analogous to the topic of the story?
This is one of the most complex of all types of literary theory.
We are not going to study or delve into this type; however, it is mostly based on the structure of the work.
Here are some typical questions:
How can the text be classified according to its structuralist framework? What patterns exist? What patterns exist in the narrative that connect to the larger “human” experience?
Post-Structuralism and Postmodernism
Holds that the structure does not actually affect the work as a whole
By questioning the process of meaning, post-structural theory hits the very heart of philosophy
Look at the following sentence:
Time flies like an arrow.
Time passes quickly. Get out a stopwatch and time the speed of flies as you would an arrow’s flight.
Time flies are fond of arrows.
So, as you can see, you cannot trust language– it is misleading; therefore, you cannot trust that the work will show Truth
Postmodernism may have:
Play, not purpose
Chance, not design
The narrative of a postmodern work asks that reader to interpret the text in one single, chronological manner that does NOT reflect our experiences. (Imagine the author speaking to the reader directly…)
Grand narratives are resisted.
The idea that humans will continue to
improve is questioned.
Postmodern is self-critical (it questions itself and its role)
The author is not believed to be the absolute authority, and his position and opinion is questioned.
How is language thrown into freeplay or questioned?
How does the work undermine or contradict generally accepted truths?
How does the author omit, change, or reconstruct memory and identity?
How does the work fulfill or move outside the established conventions of its genre?
If we changed the point of view to a different character, how would the story change?
New Historicism or Cultural Studies
This school of thought, unlike the structuralists and post-structuralists, wants to reconnect the time period in which the novel was written and identify it with cultural and political movements of the time.
Historicism assumes that each work is a product of the historical movement that caused it.
When we look at a novel through the lens of New Historicism or Cultural studies, we are looking specifically at the period when the book was written and any historical movements or cultural aspects occurring during the author’s life.
What language/characters/events present in the work reflect the current events of the author’s day?
Are there words in the text that have changed meaning from the time of the writing?
How are such events interpreted and presented?
Does the work’s presentation support or condemn the event?
How does the literary text function as part
of a continuum with other historical/cultural texts from the same period?
How can we use a literary work to view the cultures of the time period?
This critical lens is concerned with the “ways in which literature reinforce or undermine the economic, political, social, and psychological oppression of women.”
Some common areas of interest:
Women are oppressed by patriarchy
Women are marginalized- not important
Gender issues play a part in the production and experience
How is the relationship between men and women portrayed?
How are the male and female roles defined?
Do characters take on traits from opposite genders? How so?
What does the work imply about the possibilities of sisterhood as a mode of resisting patriarchy?
What does the work say about women’s creativity?
Let's Apply This:
The Scarlet Letter?
When analyzing a text, critics ask questions about the philosophical, psychological, functional, and descriptive nature of the text:
Does a text only have one correct meaning?
Is a text always didactic?
Does a text affect each reader in the same way?
How is a text influenced by the culture of its author and the culture in which it is written?
Can a text become a catalyst for change in a given culture?