Published on March 7, 2014
Literary Theories The Basics of Criticism
The Basic Idea ∗ The point of criticism is to argue your point of view on a work of literature. ∗ You don’t have to “criticize” a text (but you can) ∗ You do have to analyze a text and support your assertions with specific evidence from experts and the text.
The Basic Idea ∗ A critical analysis is an in-depth examination of some aspect of the literary work ∗ you may examine any element of the text: character development, conflicts, narrative point of view, etc. ∗ Even though it’s an examination of a literary work, it’s still a persuasive essay
The Basic Idea ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ The goal is to prove something about the work There must be a point to the discussion. You must answer the questions Why? or So what? For example, why is a recurring symbol important? Or, why is the development of the female characters significant?
The Basic Idea ∗ There are many different approaches we can take to critical analysis ∗ Literary theories provide a framework for our discussion of a text ∗ We don’t have to identify the theory we’re using, though. ∗ We use it as a starting point for our own ideas and opinions
The Basic Idea Literary criticism has two main functions: 1. To analyze, study, and evaluate works of literature. 2. To form general principles for the examination of works of literature.
New Criticism* ∗ Meaning resides in the text—not in reader, author, or world ∗ Texts may contain numerous messages, but must have a unifying central theme created by the perfect union of all artistic elements. ∗ Texts are artistic creations ∗ Close reading is the basis of new critical analysis ∗ The methodology for finding meaning is clearcut; the tools are unique to literary analysis ∗ Mantra: “The text itself” *one type of formalism
Formalist Approach ∗ Attempts to discover meaning by close reading of a work of literature. Focus is on: ∗ Form, organization, and structure ∗ Word choice and language ∗ Multiple meanings ∗ analyzing irony, paradox, imagery, and metaphor ∗ setting, characters, symbols, and point of view. ∗ Considers the work in isolation, disregarding author’s intent, author’s background, context, and anything else outside of the work itself.
Formalist Approach Two Major Principles of Formalism 1. A literary text exists independent of any particular reader and, in a sense, has a fixed meaning. 2. The greatest literary texts are “timeless” and “universal.”
Formalist Approach ∗ intentional fallacy - the false belief that the meaning or value of a work may be determined by the author's intention ∗ affective fallacy - the false belief that the meaning or value of a work may be determined by its affect on the reader ∗ external form - rhyme scheme, meter, stanza form, etc.
Formalist Approach Advantages: ∗ can be performed without much research ∗ emphasizes the value of literature apart from its context ∗ virtually all critical approaches must begin here Disadvantages: ∗ text is seen in isolation ∗ ignores the context of the work ∗ cannot account for allusions ∗ Very difficult to perform on longer works
Reader Response Approach Two important ideas: 1.An individual reader’s interpretation usually changes over time. 2.Readers from different generations and different time periods interpret texts differently.
Reader-Response Approach asserts that a great deal of meaning in a text lies with how the reader responds to it. Focuses on the 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. A text is an experience, not an object. The text is a living thing that lives in the reader’s imagination. READER + READING SITUATION + TEXT = MEANING
Reader Response Approach Advantages: ∗ recognizes that different people view works differently and that people's interpretations change over time. Disadvantages: ∗ tends to make interpretation too subjective ∗ does not provide adequate criteria for evaluating one reading in comparison to another
New Historicism Approach ∗ New historicist critics view literature as part of history, and furthermore, as an expression of forces on history. ∗ New historicism compares literary analysis to a dynamic circle: ∗ The work tells us something about the surrounding ideology (slavery, rights of women, etc.) ∗ Study of the ideology tells us something about the work.
New Historicism Approach ∗ New historicism takes two forms: ∗ Analysis of the work in the context in which it was created ∗ Analysis of the work in the context in which it was critically evaluated. ∗ New historicists assert that literature “does not exist outside time and place and cannot be interpreted without reference to the era in which it was written” (Kirszner and Mandell 2038).
New Historicism Approach ∗ Readers are influenced by their culture, so no objective reading of a work is possible. ∗ Critics should consider how their own culture affects their interpretation of the historical influence on a work.
Marxist Approach ∗ Karl Marx perceived human history to have consisted of a series of struggles between classes--between the oppressed and the oppressing ∗ Bourgeoisie - “the haves” ∗ Proletariat - “the have-nots” ∗ Marx thought that materialism was the ultimate driving force in history
Marxist Approach Marxist Beliefs ∗Value is based on labor ∗The working class will eventually overthrow the capitalist middle class ∗In the meantime, the middle class exploits the working class ∗Most institutions—religious, legal, educational, and governmental—are corrupted by middle-class capitalists ∗ “Religion is the opiate of the masses”
Marxist Approach ∗ The successful working class will then establish a communist society ∗ In this ideal the labor, the means of production, and the profits are shared by all ∗ This system is an attempt at complete social and economic equality ∗ It’s a great theory but doesn’t work in reality
Marxist Approach Examines literature to see how it reflects 1. The way in which dominant groups (typically, the majority) exploit the subordinate groups (typically, the minority) 2. The way in which people become alienated from one another through power, money, and politics Look for evidence of oppressive ideologies of the dominant social group; look for uses and abuses of power
Marxist Approach ∗ commodities: possessions that give power ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ land and money social position knowledge, or even a person Texts are commodities, not timeless works of art Truths are socially constructed Look for what commodities bring power and why within a work of literature
Psychoanalytic Approach Freudian Lacanian Sigmund Freud Joseph Lacan (French)
Psychoanalytic Approach ∗ views works through the lens of psychology ∗ looks either at the psychological motivations of the characters or of the authors themselves ∗ most frequently applies Freudian psychology to works, but other approaches also exist.
Psychoanalytic Approach Freudian
Psychoanalytic Approach Freudian Model of the Psyche ∗ the id: the instinctual, pleasure seeking part of the mind ∗ the superego: the part of the mind that represses the id's impulses ∗ the ego: the part of the mind that controls but does not repress the id's impulses, releasing them in a healthy way
Psychoanalytic Approach Freudian
Psychoanalytic Approach Freudian Basic Concepts ∗All actions are influenced by the unconscious. ∗Human beings must repress many of their desires to live peacefully with others. ∗Repressed desires often surface in the unconscious, motivating actions.
Psychoanalytic Approach Freudian Recognizes symbols that are linked to sexual pleasure ∗ Female (Yonic): concave images, such as ponds, flowers, cups, and caves, images of sustenance, fertility or fecundity (gardens, food) ∗ Male (Phallic): if it stands up or goes off, objects that are longer than they are wide ∗ dancing, riding, and flying are associated with sexual pleasure ∗ water is usually associated with birth, the female principle, the maternal, the womb, and the death wish.
Psychoanalytic Approach Freudian The Core Issues ∗Fear of intimacy ∗Fear of abandonment ∗Fear of betrayal ∗Low self-esteem ∗Insecure or unstable sense of self ∗Oedipal fixation or Oedipal complex
Psychoanalytic Approach Freudian ∗ Oedipus complex: a boy's unconscious rivalry with his father for the love of his mother ∗ Electra complex: a girl’s unconscious rivalry with her mother for the love of her father (a.k.a. “daddy issues”)
Psychoanalytic Approach Based on Based on Language Language Development Development Lacanian Model of the Psyche ∗Imaginary - a preverbal/verbal stage in which a child (around 6-18 months of age) begins to develop a sense of separateness from her mother as well as other people and objects; however, the child's sense of sense is still incomplete. ∗Symbolic - the stage marking a child's entrance into language (the ability to understand and generate symbols); in contrast to the imaginary stage, largely focused on the mother, the symbolic stage shifts attention to the father who, in Lacanian theory, represents cultural norms, laws, language, and power (the symbol of power is the phallus--an arguably "gender-neutral" term). ∗Real - an unattainable stage representing all that a person is not and does not have. Both Lacan and his critics argue whether the real order represents the period before the imaginary order when a child is completely fulfilled--without need or lack, or if the real order follows the symbolic order and represents our "perennial lack" (because we cannot return to the state of wholeness that existed before language). We know only what we have words for.
Archetypal Approach ∗ based on the theories of psychologist Carl Jung, a disciple of Freud ∗ Collective Unconscious: there are certain basic and central images and experiences that are inherent in the human psyche
Archetypal Approach ∗ assumes that there is a collection of symbols, images, characters, and motifs (i.e. archetypes) that evokes basically the same response in all people regardless of culture ∗ Concerned with enduring patterns and how they are reflected in literature ∗ asserts that these archetypes are the source of much of literature's power.
Some Archetypes ∗ archetypal women - the Good Wife/Mother, the Terrible Mother, the Virgin (often a Damsel in Distress), and the Fallen Woman. ∗ water - creation, birth-death-resurrection, purification, redemption, fertility, growth ∗ garden - paradise (Eden), innocence, fertility ∗ desert - spiritual emptiness, death, hopelessness ∗ red - blood, sacrifice, passion, disorder ∗ green - growth, fertility ∗ black - chaos, death, evil ∗ serpent - evil, sensuality, mystery, wisdom, destruction ∗ seven - perfection ∗ hero archetype - The hero is involved in a quest (in which he overcomes obstacles). He experiences initiation (involving a separation, transformation, and return), and finally he serves as a scapegoat, that is, he dies to atone.
Archetypal Approach Advantages: ∗ provides a universalistic approach to literature and identifies a reason why certain literature may survive the test of time ∗ it works well with works that are highly symbolic Disadvantages: ∗ literature may become a vehicle for archetypes ∗ can easily become a list of symbols without much analysis
Feminist Approach Context and Terminology ∗female (biological) ∗feminine (socio-cultural) ∗Feminist (political) ≠ ≠ ∗feminism ≠ gender studies - political vs academic context and terminology - focus on women vs focus on gendered experience of being human
Feminist Approach Concerned with the role, position, and influence of women in a literary text. Asserts that most “literature” throughout time has been written by men, for men. The male experience is the “norm” against which the woman or “other” experience is measured – the woman is “otherized” thus women assume male values and ways of perceiving, feeling, and acting. Examines the way that the female consciousness is depicted by both male and female writers. may argue that gender determines everything, or just the opposite: that all gender differences are imposed by society, and gender determines nothing
Feminist Approach 4 Basic Principles of Feminist Criticism 1. Western civilization is patriarchal. 2. The concepts of gender are mainly cultural ideas created by patriarchal societies. 3. Patriarchal ideals pervade “literature.” 4. Most “literature” through time has been genderbiased.
Stages of Female Identity ∗ Feminine: the female accepts the definitions and roles male authorities have created for her ∗ Feminist: rebels against male authority and intentionally challenges all male definitions and roles ∗ Female: no longer concerned with male definitions or restrictions; defines her own voice and values
Moral / Philosophical Approach ∗ asserts that the larger purpose of literature is to teach morality and to probe philosophical issues ∗ authors intend to instruct the audience in some way
Moral / Philosophical Approach Existentialism ∗ Existentialism involves the attempt to make meaning in a chaotic world. ∗ Sartre argued, "man makes himself." ∗ As a form of literary criticism, existentialism seeks to analyze literary works, with special emphasis on the struggle to define meaning and identity in the face of alienation and isolation.
Moral / Philosophical Approach Existentialism ∗ Absurd - a term used to describe existence--a world without inherent meaning or truth. ∗ Authenticity - to make choices based on an individual code of ethics (commitment) rather than because of societal pressures. A choice made just because "it's what people do" would be considered inauthentic. ∗ "Leap of faith" - although Kierkegaard acknowledged that religion was inherently unknowable and filled with risks, faith required an act of commitment (the "leap of faith"); the commitment to Christianity would also lessen the despair of an absurd world.
Moral / Philosophical Approach Existentialism ∗ views each person as an isolated being who is cast into an alien universe, and conceives the world as possessing no inherent human truth, value, or meaning. ∗ A person's life, then, as it moves from the nothingness from which it came toward the nothingness where it must end, defines an existence which is both anguished and absurd ∗ In a world without sense, all choices are possible, a situation which Sartre viewed as human beings central dilemma: "Man [woman] is condemned to be free.“ ∗ In contrast to atheist existentialism, Søren Kierkegaard theorized that belief in God (given that we are provided with no proof or assurance) required a conscious choice or "leap of faith."
Moral / Philosophical Approach: Advantages: ∗ useful for works which do present an obvious moral philosophy ∗ useful when considering the themes of works ∗ does not view literature merely as "art" isolated from all moral implications ∗ recognizes that literature can affect readers and that the message of a work is important. Disadvantages: ∗ such an approach can be too "judgmental" ∗ Some believe literature should be judged primarily (if not solely) on its artistic merits, not its moral or philosophical content.
POSTCOLONIALISM Meaning resides in text, history, and ideology Literature is a political tool—those in power decide what is “art” Truth is relative Study the author’s (and reader’s) life & times; locate tensions between conflicting cultures; explore the “double consciousness” of colonized & postcolonized writers; observe how colonizers “refashion” the colonized;
Territorialism ∗ Possessions (objects of desire) are metaphors for who we are or how we wish to be perceived—aspects of the “self.” ∗ Possessions may be tangible or intangible (my car or my idea, e.g.) ∗ They occupy mental space: cognitive, affective, and conative. ∗ These spaces strongly resemble territories—with rights of ownership, markers, boundaries, rules of “in” and “out,” defensive strategies, etc. ∗ Look for territorial behaviors; determine the “object(s) of desire”; what aspect of self is in play? Who owns the object? Who wants it? Why? Identify the territorial act: acquisition, management, or defense? How does this information improve our understanding of the text?
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