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Critical literary theory

Overview of critical literacy and some key theories to apply to studied texts

Sharon Cope

on 12 February 2014

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Transcript of Critical literary theory

Critical Literary Theories
A Beginner's Guide...
Feminist Literary Criticism
Marxist Literary Criticism
This involves evaluating a text by relating it to the teachings of Karl Marx, a 19th century German philosopher.
Reading texts through a Marxist lens means:
Reading "Cinderella" through a Marxist lens:
Reading "Cinderella" through a Feminist lens:
Feminist literary criticism:
Based on the idea that there is an inherent inequality between the sexes in society.
Based on the idea that our subconscious mind controls our conscious actions
Reading "Cinderella" through a Freudian psychoanalytical lens:
Reading texts through a Freudian psychoanalytical lens means:
Our minds are made up of:
The id - our basic animal desires (like babies)
The super ego - understanding of right and wrong, empathy etc
The ego - the half way point between the id and the super ego
Our dreams represent our deepest and darkest desires.
Looking at the main characters to see if they are motivated by their id (selfish, self-centred), their ego (more 'normal' human responses), or their super-ego (follows the rules).
Looking for the 'sub-conscious' story in a text (reading between the lines to find hidden meanings)
Cinderella is a representation of the superego - she follows the rules.
The sisters represent the id - following their own selfish desires.
Feminist theorists believe that literature has been used as a socialising tool – to reinforce the patriarchal (male dominated) structure of our society.
Virginia Woolf argued that language was male-dominated and that it was hard for women to manipulate it successfully.
Feminist criticism looks for the existence of phallic symbols in literature as symbols of male dominance.
Explores the way the patriarchy is upheld and the role of women in literature.
Considers the connection between gender and power relationships.
Looks for examples of “male” and “female” language in literature – how does this further the patriarchy?
Challenges stereotypical notions of women in literature.
Reevaluates the role of the author (think about author gender).
The patriarchy (male domination) of her world fails when her father dies, with terrible consequences until the Prince arrives to restore the patriarchy.
He believed that society was always evolving, from primitive structures to a state of utopia which would be a classless society (communism).
Individuals are governed by the idealogies of the society in which they live, not their own individual desires (hegemony).
There is a constant power struggle between the bourgeoisie - those who control the means of production and the proletariat - those who work for wages

Examining how characters are defined by a quest for wealth (the capitalist model)
Looking for power struggles between classes
How are individuals in the text influenced by the ideologies of the dominant group in the society?
Cinderella is the proletariat, suppressed by the bourgeoisie (the ugly sisters)
She longs for the trappings of wealth to make her happy
Notice how her status in society changes once she presents a persona of wealth

Critical literacy is a way of understanding texts that we read
When we read a text, we read it with our own "eyes" -
our background culture, religion, values and influences.
Over the past two centuries, academics have been trying to categorise and label ways of reading and understanding texts.

They have tried to define 'lenses' through which we can read and understand texts that may be complex or hard to understand on their own.
These 'lenses' or ways of understanding texts are called "
Critical Literary Theories
Let's look at three examples of literary criticism and understand how they could be used to see the traditional story of "Cinderella" through different eyes...
Through the Literary Looking Glass: Critical Theory in Practice, by Sian Evans
So, critical literary theory is a way of examining a text from a different angle, or through different "eyes."
It can be a useful way of seeing something more in a text, beyond our own interpretations or personal responses.
It can add more depth to our essays and responses to texts, by encouraging us to look more deeply within and beyond the texts that we study.
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