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Literary Critical Theory

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Beth Dies

on 4 October 2013

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Transcript of Literary Critical Theory

Under the surface...
Different Theories, Unique Perspectives

Tip of the Iceberg...
Critical Theory and Literature
Reader-Response Critical Theory
- How do you PERSONALLY respond to a text?
- presupposes that literature has NO objective meaning
- encourages reader to search for meaning in the context of their own experiences
- every reader brings their own thoughts, feelings, experiences to the text, and these guide their understanding, interpretation, and general enjoyment (or lack) of the text
- Ex.: What do you believe the Wizard of Oz is REALLY about...?
- gives agency and selectivity to the reader: people choose and recommend texts based on individual (or group) likes
- also guides writing (as a profession, a discipline, and a hobby): writers must think about audience responses
- encourages literature to move beyond the text to new applications and new interpretations (the TEXT itself is no longer the most important part of a literature study)
- one can expect a wide range of diverse responses to a text, although patterns sometimes emerge along demographic lines
- CAUTION: Your personal responses should be reasonable in scope and depth---you cannot allow your reader-response to stray TOO far the text
Marxist Criticism
- theoretical framework based upon the economic and cultural theories of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (mid-19th century German philosophers, political activists, social theorists)
- key ideas used as critical framework:
- economic structure (and material production) drives the evolution of
humanity (physically, socially, intellectually)
- historical changes in economic structure manifest in the power relationships
between the social classes
- human consciousness (and the human understanding of reality) are based
on ideology (a set/lens of beliefs and values through which they perceive the world)
- Marxist criticism focuses on analyzing the motifs of power and money in literature.
- Essential questions in Marxist criticism:
- What is the economic/power structure in the story? Who has money; who does not have money?
- How does power drive/change the characters?
- How do the social classes interact with one another in the story?
- What are the prevalent social ideologies embedded within the story?
Deconstruction
- the most challenging of all critical theories
- requires the denial of basic assumptions of literary study. Deconstructionists believe...
1- the literary text has inherent (and structural) contradictions within
2- the literary text does not necessarily have an external relevance
3- language may not be stable or have generally accepted meaning
- deconstructionists "interrogate," "unpack" or "peel away" the structure of a literary work to find its
inherent inconsistencies, contradictions, lack of completion/wholeness (these often rest on unstable
language); it attempts to show how the text dismantles itself
- critical lens focuses on the ways in which a text may reveal more than what its author was aware of
- it is NOT destruction of a text, but rather a dismantling (the text may be put back together again in a
newer, more meaningful way for readers)

Example: Let's "unpack" metaphors:
- "Love is a rose."
- "You are the sunshine of my life."

What is the intended meaning?
What is the unintended meaning?


"The Gift of the Magi"
1. What details can we infer about the society and economy in the story?

2. What social class do the main characters belong to? How do you know? Is that a
position they accept?

3. Who has power in the story? Who doesn't have power?

4. What is the ideology of the main characters?

5. Is O. Henry using these characters to make larger points about society/class?
Essential Questions
1. What was the social role of women in the historical context of the story?

2. What are the key identifying attributes of the female characters?

3. What is the root of the juxtaposition between the female and male characters?

4. Write 1 sentence describing your main female character from a MALE perspective.
Write 1 sentence describing your main female character from a FEMALE perspective.

5. What do the answers to #1-4 REVEAL about gender differences and the role of women?
Full transcript