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Critical Approaches to Literature

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Presentation on theme: "Critical Approaches to Literature"— Presentation transcript:

1 Critical Approaches to Literature
A Brief Overview (Adapted from X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia’s Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama)

2 What is literary criticism?
A natural human response to literature A discourse – spoken or written – about literature Discussing the merits of song lyrics or the latest film among friends is informal criticism Since Aristotle, our great thinkers have tried to come up with ways to formalize this process The critical approaches in this presentations do not exhaust ALL possibilities Presents the most widely used contemporary approaches

3 1. Formalist Criticism Sees literature as a unique form of human knowledge that needs to be examined on its own terms A poem or story is not primarily a social, historical, or biographical document… … it is a literary work that can be understood only by reference to its intrinsic literary features – those elements found in the text itself. (how it’s written)

4 Formalist Criticism Critic pays attention to style/literary elements:
Irony Humor Simplicity Imagery Symbolism Figures of speech Tone Genre Allusion And form and structure: Sentence structure: short, long, simple, complicated, loose Repetition Parallelism Climax and anti-climax Oxymoron or contradictions

5 Formalist Criticism Method: Possible titles:
Close reading Step-by-step analysis Explication of text Possible titles: Color Imagery in Tess of the D’Urbervilles The Use of Contrast in “The Solitary Reaper” Verbal Irony and an Irony of Fate in The Cop and the Anthem Ultimate goal: to determine how such elements work together with the text’s content (what happens) to shape its effect upon readers

6 2. Biographical Criticism
Begins with understanding that literature is written by people An understanding of the writer’s life can help readers more thoroughly comprehend the work Think Mary Shelley and Frankenstein – easy to see how much an author’s experiences shape the writing Think about Roethke or Plath poetry Critic does not recreate an account of author’s life but rather interprets the work by using the insight provided by knowledge of the author’s life But be careful … remember what Amy Tan said in her memoir… Sample titles: Isolation of Emily Dickinson as Revealed in her Poetry A Biographical Study of David Copperfield

7 3. Historical Criticism Seeks to understand a literary work through the social, cultural, and intellectual context that produced it Less concerned with explaining a work’s significance for today’s readers … More with helping reader understand the work by recreating the exact meaning and impact it had on its original audience Might answer “How does the text embody a history of its time?” Sample titles: An Historical Perspective of Kate Chopin’s Story of an Hour Ezra Pound’s In a Station of the Metro Through an Historical Lens

8 4. Gender Criticism Examines how sexual identity influences the creation and reception of literary works Began with feminist movement, and influenced by: Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949) Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics (1970) Feminist criticism: How an author’s gender affects his or her writing (e.g. the female psyche, female language, literary career) How sexual identity influences the reader (e.g., woman as reader, stereotypes, omissions or misconceptions, manipulation of female audience) … reader sees text through eyes of his/her sex How the images of men and women reflect or reject the social forces that have historically impacted women and equality

9 Gender Criticism Sample titles:
Female Characters in Lawrence’s Literary Works A Character Analysis of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind Gender Influence in The Yellow Wallpaper

10 5. Psychological Criticism
Modern psychology has had huge effect on literature and lit crit Two key figures: Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung Freud: psychoanalytic theories involving wish-fulfillment, sexuality, the subconscious/unconscious mind (id, ego, superego), repression, interpretation of dreams. Also, “the Oedipus Complex” Jung: theories of unconscious – Mythological Criticism

11 Psychological Criticism
One or more of the following: An investigation of the creative process of the artist: what is the nature of literary genius and how does it relate to normal mental functions? The psychological study of a particular artist, usually noting how an author’s biographical circumstances affect or influence their motivations and/or behavior. The analysis of fictional characters using the language and methods of psychology. Sample titles: A Freudian Approach to Lord of the Flies Hamlet’s Psychological Dilemma in his “To Be or Not to Be” Soliloquoy

12 6. Sociological Criticism
Examines literature in the cultural, economic, and political context in which it is written or received Art is not created in a vacuum Explores relationship between author and society Can look at Sociological status of author Social context of writing (what values does work promote?) Role of audience in shaping lit For example, Shakespeare

13 Sociological Criticism
A major “sub group”: Marxist Criticism Focuses on economic and political elements of the work Usually evaluative and judgmental Sample titles: Heathcliff: A Product of Social Environment The American Dream in The Great Gatsby Collapse of the American Dream in Death of a Salesman

14 7. Mythological Criticism
Emphasizes recurrent universal patterns underlying most literary works Interdisciplinary approach: anthropology, psychology, history, and religion Explores the artist’s common humanity by tracing how the individual imagination uses myths and symbols common to different cultures Key concept: the archetype A symbol, character, situation, or image that evokes a deep universal response (from Jung)

15 Mythological Criticism
Sample titles: Hamlet as a study of Orestes in Greek Mythology Lucifer in Shakespeare’s Othello

16 Mythological Criticism: Archetypes
Archetypal Settings The River – the importance of life The Garden – place of earthly delights The Forest/Wilderness – dangerous world/evil The Sea – mother of all life (good and evil) Boats – brave the sea and return to a rebirth The Island – metaphor for isolation The Mountain – center of universe / can see all The Wasteland – (desert) emotionally/physically barren place The Pasture/Field – simple life, predictable and calm The Tower – places of worship or burial The Castle/Gothic Mansion – two-faced identify like sea The Inn – remote roadside / rarely a place of good news The Small Town – everyone knows and judges everyone else The Underworld – descent or depths of hell (caves, belly of whale)

17 Mythological Criticism: Archetypes
Archetypal Characters: GOOD The Hero – protag who fulfills task (Odysseus, Theseus) The Young Person from the Provinces/Orphan (Harry Potter) The Initiates – young pre-hero (King Arthur) Mentors – teachers (Gandalf, Merlin, Dumbledore, Rafiki) Loyal Companions/Sidekicks – protect the hero at all costs The Earth Mother – female, natural, motherly, fertile The Librarian/Professor – male and female The Fool/Free Spirit – optimistic, blind hope The Swashbuckler/Adventurer – always ready (Jack Sparrow) The Warrior/Protector – the original “knight in shining armor”

18 Mythological Criticism: Archetypes
Archetypal Characters: BAD The Rebel – reckless and fearless (Dallas Winston) The Seductress – female beauty who gets her man The Tyrant – male or female obsessed with power The Devil – truly evil, charming and poised, tempts hero The Traitor – uses words carefully, weaves elaborate plots to trap The Evil Genius – once bullied, now seeks revenge The Sadist – loony! Usually male; derives pleasure from pain The Creature/Predator – nightmare monster or wild beast

19 Mythological Criticism: Archetypes
Archetypal Characters: NEUTRAL The Matriarch/Patriarch – strong leaders of family (the Godfather) The Star-Crossed Lovers – victims of a bad situation (R&J) Evil figure with a good heart – dark figure redeems himself (DV) The Damsel in Distress – true victim (Snow White) or week-minded idiot who can’t save herself The Cause Fighter/Terrorist – Can take two paths The Tragic Artist/Outcast – start creative/sensitive but go in different directions The Uncommitted Lover – a true charmer / male “player” The Best Friend – loyal companion and moral center The Trapped Spouse – marriage based not on love The Hag/Witch/Shaman – usually good or neutral The Prophet/reporter – sometimes blind serves to warn hero

20 Mythological Criticism: Archetypes
Archetypal Plots The Quest – find something The Task – do something The Journey – figure it out as you go The Fall – begin high up, suffer, end low The Battle of Good vs Evil – usually good triumphs The Wound that Never Heals – sometimes leads to insanity The Magic Weapon – equipment Boy-meets-Girl – the basis of all romantic plots Loss of Innocence – good person sees something and grows up The Rite of Passage/Ritual – organized child to adult The Initiation – the moment of maturity

21 8. Deconstructionist Criticism
Rejects that language can accurately represent reality Language is unstable medium; therefore books have no fixed meaning Tend to focus not on what is being said, but how language is used Paradoxically, resembles formalist approach Close reading How a text “deconstructs” or can be broken down Not for the novice 

22 9. Reader-Response Criticism
Attempts to describe what happens in the reader’s mind while interpreting a text Literary texts do not exist independently of readers’ interpretations A text is not finished until it has been read and interpreted Explores contradictions For example: rereading a favorite book Rejects notion that there is a single correct interpretation – HOWEVER it’s not “anything goes”

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