Literary Criticism Five different lenses for examining literature. What is Literary Criticism? Schools of literary criticism are like sunglasses specially designed for driving. Driving glasses make red and green particularly bright to the wearer. Different theories make particular aspects of a piece of writing more obvious or crucial to the analyst. Why learn this? Looking at a novel, story, or poem through a particular lens helps us to notice things we wouldn’t otherwise. Some schools of thought are more relevant to a given work than others. Discussions about relevant approaches to literature are excellent practice in critical thinking. So, what have we been doing so far, Mrs. Fidler? We have used the New Critical approach thus far. – The New Critical approach suggests breaking down a work in terms of themes, symbols, and characterization internally, seeking to attach meaning to literary elements. Feminist Criticism A feminist critic sees cultural and economic disabilities in a patriarchal society that have hindered or prevented women from realizing their creative possibilities Feminist critics see males as the dominant force, with women relegated to the role of defining object for men. Feminist Criticism Feminist criticism holds three assumptions: – Our civilization is pervasively patriarchal. – Concepts of gender are overwhelmingly cultural constructs affected by patriarchal biases. – The patriarchal ideology also pervades those writings that have been considered great literature. Such works lack autonomous female role models, are implicitly addressed to male readers, and leave the woman reader an alien outsider or else solicit her to identify against herself by assuming male values and ways of perceiving, feeling, and acting. So, if I ask you to apply feminist criticism… Examine the patterns of thought and behavior in male-female relationships. Seek to identify values put forth about men and women’s roles. Look at the role of enfranchisement and power in relations between the sexes. Marxist Criticism • The evolving history of humanity is determined by the changing mode of its material production--its basic economic organization. • Historical changes in the fundamental mode of production effect essential changes both in the power relations of social classes, which carry on a conflict for economic, political, and social advantage. • A Marxist critic typically undertakes to explain the literature in any era by revealing the economic, class, and ideological determinants of the way an author writes, and to examine the relation of the text to the social reality of the time and place. So if I ask you to apply Marxist criticism… Ask yourself: who has the power and money in the piece of literature? Ask yourself: who lacks these assets? Ask yourself: why is that? Ask yourself: what is the effect? Psychological Criticism Psychological criticism deals with a work of literature primarily as an expression of the personality, state of mind, feelings, and desires of its author. The assumption of psychoanalytic critics is that a work of literature is correlated with its author’s life and mental traits. How to apply psychological criticism: Learn a little bit about the author, then look for potential links between the work of fiction and important elements of the author’s life. Some examples: Shakespeare had a son, Hamnet, who died as a child. This tragedy caused Shakespeare immense grief, even rage. These emotions are expressed very clearly in his play Hamlet. Harper Lee calls To Kill a Mockingbird a “simple love story.” She had a father who was a lawyer in the South. Historical Criticism Using this theory requires that you apply to a text specific historical information about the time during which an author wrote. History, in this case, refers to the social, political, economic, cultural, and/or intellectual climate of the time. How to apply historical criticism: Determine the year, or span of years, in which a work was completed. Research major events, issues, and concerns of that time; then, look for links to the themes, symbols, events, and characters of the work at hand. Examples The play The Crucible is set in Puritan New England and revolves around the Salem witch trials. Arthur Miller wrote it in the 1950s and many of the events and themes reflect his disgust with the Communist “witch hunts” he observed. Many authors of the World War I era, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, were deeply affected by the “war to end all wars,” and therefore their characters embody a sense of loss, depression, and disconnection. The Example You Will Love J. K. Rowling used the Harry Potter series to convey her thoughts on important contemporary social issues, including class divisions (Chamber of Secrets), the prison system (Prisoner of Azkaban), and the British education system (Order of the Phoenix). Reader-Response Theory Suggests that literature does not, on its own, have any substantial meaning. Rather, meaning derives from the interaction between the individual reader and the text. If I ask you to use reader- response analysis… Identify key features of the text. Identify essential characteristics or beliefs of yourself. Look for ways they cross, connect, contradict, or relate to each other in interesting ways. Romeo and Juliet and Mrs. Fidler Romeo and Juliet make foolish As a teenager, I was extremely decisions based on their ages quiet and studious. and their notion of true love. My parents were extremely Their parents are largely strict and did not allow many unaware of what is transpiring. typical high school freedoms The play contains a tremendous (driving, dating). amount of melodrama; for example, Juliet is believed to As a high school teacher, I “die of sadness.” spend a lot of time and energy The play foreshadows its tragic on students’ social concerns, ending very heavily. counseling them about At numerous points in the play, decisions. better options were available to I have relatives and friends who, the characters. though adults, create social issues.
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