Presentation on theme: "Literary Lenses Ways to look at stories (so that you appear to be smarter)"— Presentation transcript:
Literary Lenses Ways to look at stories (so that you appear to be smarter)
Literary Criticism… is a way to approach what you read beyond reading it on a surface level lets you get at the underlying meaning of a book so that when you are asked by someone, “What did you think of the book you just read?” you can answer with something better than, “It was good.” Think of Literary Criticism as a “lens” through which you can view a story
Different Types of Literary Criticism We are going to study the following theories: Feminist Psychoanalytic New Criticism
Which one is better? It depends on you and what you are reading! The point isn’t just to “guess” which one is the “right” one The point is to think critically about what you are reading Think of Literary Criticism as a “lens” through which you can view a story You can use each theory to help you understand something new about what you are reading
Theory # 1 Feminism
What is Feminism? Feminism means: the advocacy of human rights on the grounds of equality of the sexes
What is Feminist Literary Theory? It does the following: Encourages a female tradition of writing Seeks out previously written (but ignored) texts written by women Looks at texts in terms of sexual politics (how women are portrayed and who has the power)
Questions to Ask When Using a Feminist Lens… 1. How are the female characters represented? 2. How are they different in dramatic purpose (their role in the story) from the male characters? 3. How are they a reflection of the story’s historical period (either when the author wrote it or when the author choose to set it) or a reflection of the author’s attitude toward women?
Feminist Theory Example: Romeo and Juliet Juliet…
1. How is Juliet represented in the play? Young, attractive, desirable to others, an indulged “only child”, traditional (until she meets Romeo) Willing to die for love (instead of marrying the very worthy Paris and “moving on”) Becomes emotionally unstable after she enters into a relationship with Romeo
2. What is her dramatic purpose? Gets “second billing” in the credits The female romantic lead (hard to have a romantic tragedy with only Romeo) Serves to bring out the best in Romeo— gives him direction, conviction, maturity, and focus Contrasts to the other women in the play (the Nurse, Lady Capulet)
3. How is she a reflection of the historical period and/or author’s attitude? intended as a moral warning to young people to “Always obey your parents” people did not marry for love, particularly noble or wealthy girls (Juliet was getting off easily with Paris) Shakespeare sometimes creates strong female characters but more often, they are there to support the men
How about the other women? Lady Capulet The Nurse 1.How are the female characters represented? 2.How are they different in dramatic purpose (their role in the story) from the male characters? 3.How are they a reflection of the story’s historical period (either when the author wrote it or when the author choose to set it) or a reflection of the author’s attitude toward women?
Freud ( ) Human beings all have the following unconscious aspects to their personalities: Id (selfish desire for gratification—usually sexual; seeks pleasure and to avoid pain) Superego (the force that keeps the Id under control and strives to act in a socially appropriate manner= conscience) Ego (moderates between the two opposing forces; it seeks to please the id’s drive in realistic ways that will benefit in the long term rather than bringing grief)
“Freudian” Questions to Ask: 1. What is the character’s “id” all about? 2. What is the opposing “superego” telling the character to do? Why is this happening? 3. How is the character’s “ego” trying to please the ‘id’ in a socially acceptable way?
Example: Amir’s father from The Kite Runner
What is Babba’s “id” all about? He physically desired his loyal servant’s wife and satisfied his “id” by having sex with her thus resulting in Hassan He preferred (selfish desire)his legitimate son, Amir, and so he denied Hassan as his son
What is the opposing “superego” (conscience) telling Babba to do? Treat Hassan kindly Give him gifts, pay for his facial surgery Behave honourably for the remainder of his life Defend other powerless people (eg. the young woman in the truck)
How is Babba’s “ego” trying to please the id’s drive in realistic ways? He often “favours” Hassan’s efforts over that of his son, thus causing conflict He chooses Amir’s version of the theft over Hassan’s He is a harsh and unforgiving father to Amir when he is growing up (emotionally detached) Feels subconscious guilt for dishonouring his friend, being unfaithful to his own wife, fathering an illegitimate and disfigured child, feeling an affinity to Hassan over Amir, killing his wife through childbirth
Other Psychoanalytic things to consider: The following elements of a story appeal to the selfish “id”: 1. “Acts of Communion” via meal scenes 2. Vampire-type characters 3. Violence 4. Sexuality 5. Politics (Numbers 2,3,4 and 5 can also be viewed through a feminist lens)
Acts of Communion via Meal Scenes Sometimes, a meal is just a meal. Often though, whenever people eat or drink together, it’s communion = intimacy, connection, fellowship between people. All over the world, breaking bread together is a sign of sharing and peace – it says “I like you, we form a community together.” (unless you’re eating dinner with a mafia don, or a villain in a James Bond film, that is.) Not usually religious An act of sharing and peace A failed meal carries negative connotations
What are the characters consuming? (Pay special attention to “communion-type meals”) Is the food nourishing? Is it comfort food? Is it visually appealing? Does it smell good or bad? Does it make the characters feel better or worse? Is it symbolic in any way? This applies to alcohol and drugs as well
Who is sharing the meal? Breaking bread should be a sign of fellowship and peace: Is the character eating with someone they trust? Do the characters like each other? Are the characters getting along? Is this the Mafia don’s final meal for the man he is about to kill?
What are the characters talking about? What characters talk about can reveal the nature of the experience: Is the conversation pleasant or argumentative? Do all characters participate? Does the conversation suit the situation? Does it make the characters feel better or worse? Is it good for the digestion? Who is in charge? What does their ‘id’ want?
What does all of this show about the characters and the society in which they live?
Symbolic Vampires Sexual implications—a trait of 19 th century literature to address sex indirectly Symbolic Vampirism: selfishness, exploitation, refusal to respect the autonomy of other people, using people to get what we want, placing our desires, particularly ugly ones, above the needs of another Literal Vampirism: Nasty old man, attractive but evil, violates a young woman, leaves his mark, takes her innocence
When you encounter a “vampire”… 1. Ask yourself how the “vampire” looks (old, but seems to become younger or more attractive) 2.How does he or she act like a “vampire”? - exploiting others to gain gratification 3. What does the vampire’s ‘id’ want?
Violence—two forms Character Caused The classic “person versus person” eg. bombing, shooting, physical confrontation, poisoning “Seemingly” Random Death & suffering for which the characters are not responsible Accidents are not really accidents but…violence is intentional
When you see violence in a story, ask yourself, 1. What does it mean in relation to the overall theme of the story? 2. Why would the character possibly have to suffer such misfortune? 3. What are we supposed to learn or think about the society or character who performs the violent act? What is their ‘id’? 4. Why that kind of violence and not some other?
Sex Encoded/Disguised Sex Couldn’t write about it, so the authors “hid” it Eg. a kissing scene cutting away to the pounding surf = sex! Male symbols = Phallic symbols - blades, tall buildings Female symbols = chalice, Holy Grail, bowls, rolling landscape, empty vessels waiting to be filled, tunnels, images of fertility
Sex... Explicit Now sex scenes in books are accepted and almost expected Vary in their degrees of detail When authors write directly about sex, they’re writing about something else, such as sacrifice, submission, rebellion, domination, enlightenment, etc.
What to look for in sex scenes… Encoded: 1. Who has the power? What does their ‘id’ want? 2. How do you know it is sex? 3. Landscapes, objects, weather that reflect the quality of the sex 4. Some sort of moral lesson (usually after)
What to look for in sex scenes… Explicit: 1.Who has the power? What does their ‘id’ want? What does each person’s role in the sexual scene reveal about their character? Do they try to suppress their ‘id’? (superego) What does the actual act represent in terms of sacrifice, submission, domination, rebellion, enlightenment etc.?
Politics Nothing is written in a vacuum. There’s a historical, political and social world in which fiction takes place. Take some time to think about the reality that infuses the story with meaning. Literature tends to be written by people interested in the problems of the world, so most works have a political element in them. That’s why it helps to get a sense of the social and political world both of the setting of the novel and of the time in which the work was written. Doesn’t need to be about government or Communist Party Meetings to be political – it needs to engage with the social and political realities and problems of the time.
Politics Politics is Freudian because the setting or society of the story reveals its own id, superego, and ego. Look for: Individual needs versus the needs of society for conformity and stability. Power structures Relations among classes Issues of justice and rights Interactions between genders, races, ethnicities, faiths, etc. What are we supposed to learn about the story’s society based on its political structures and how the characters interact within it?
Jung All humans possess: a “collective unconsciousness” (but we don’t feel it) A shared experience which none of us remembers but comes out in our behaviours, interactions with others, and dreams (archetypes = the mythic original upon which the pattern is based) The ability to make sense of things because we have “seen them before”
Now, Where Have I Seen Her Before? There is no such thing as a wholly original work of literature—stories grow out of other stories, poems out of other poems. There is only one story—of humanity and human nature, endlessly repeated “Intertexuality”—recognizing the connections between one story and another deepens our appreciation and experience, brings multiple layers of meaning to the text, which we may not be conscious of. The more consciously aware we are, the more alive the text becomes to us.
Myth Archetypes (look for patterns that exist in earlier stories) Myths explain the world in ways that math and science can’t. Myth is a body of story that matters—the patterns present in mythology run deeply in the human psyche Why writers echo myth—because there’s only one story If you were a writer, you might choose to identify certain elements of your story with closely related myths because of the weight or significance those myths add to your own story. Achilles—a small weakness in a strong man; the need to maintain one’s dignity The Underworld—an ultimate challenge, facing the darkest parts of human nature or dealing with death
It’s Greek to Me Daedalus creates wings as a means to escape the labyrinth that is his prison and the minotaur that is his guard. Before he and his son Icarus take off, Daedalus warns the young boy not to fly too close to the sun, as the wax holding the feathers to the wings will melt. Icarus begins by following his father closely, but as the joy of flying overwhelms him he soars upward. The sun melts his wings, and Icarus plunges into the ocean as his father, helpless and devastated, looks on.
It’s Greek to Me You have some great elements here – wisdom of the father ignored, folly and excitement of youth, the myth resonates in many ways. As a result, we see many versions of the story told and retold. e.g. Stephen Dedalus in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, where to become a writer Stephen must escape the island that is home to him and that expects him to conform to values and ideals he does not hold. He doesn’t fly, of course, but there are many hints that Joyce is pointing to the Icaurs myth (including the author’s name… you’re going to have to pay close attention to names, too!) Although the myths seem radically different, they both critically view man's mortality and limitations. In the Daedalus myth, Daedalus creates a trap for others which becomes his own prison. His only escape from the corruption that surrounds him is through the air. Only through great genius and the contrivance of artificial wings, will he escape the fate of other prisoners that are sent into the labyrinth to be devoured by the Minotaur. His genius becomes his undoing, as the artificial can never replace the real. The wax melts, the feathers fall, and his son falls into the sea. It is a warning to all who wish to achieve the distinction of being superior to their fellow mortals. Each who dreams of flight, of becoming the leader must in time confront the dangers of Daedalus' flight.
Bible Archetypes Garden of Eden: women tempting men and causing their fall, the apple as symbolic of an object of temptation, a serpent who tempts men to do evil, and a fall from innocence David and Goliath—overcoming overwhelming odds Jonah and the Whale—refusing to face a task and being “eaten” or overwhelmed by it anyway
The Apocalypse—Four Horseman of the Apocalypse usher in the end of the world Biblical names often draw a connection between literary character and Biblical character: MaryCain and AbelNoahJudas Bible Archetypes
Yes, She’s a Christ Figure, Too Characteristics of a Christ Figure: crucified, wounds in hands, feet, side, and head, often portrayed with arms outstretched in agony self-sacrificing good with children good with loaves, fishes, water, wine thirty-three years of age when last seen employed as a carpenter known to use humble modes of transportation, feet or donkeys preferred believed to have walked on water
Yes, She’s a Christ Figure, Too Characteristics of a Christ Figure: believed to have had a confrontation with the devil, possibly tempted last seen in the company of thieves creator of many aphorisms and parables buried, but arose on the third day had disciples, twelve at first, although not all equally devoted very forgiving came to redeem an unworthy world
Yes, She’s a Christ Figure, Too As a reader, put aside belief system. Why use Christ figures? Deepens our sense of a character’s sacrifice, thematically has to do with redemption, hope, or miracles. If used ironically, makes the character look smaller rather than greater
Hanseldee and Greteldum:using fairy tales and kiddie lit Nowadays, not everyone knows the Bible…but we all know kids’ stories & fairy tales! Hansel and Gretel: lost children trying to find their way home Peter Pan: refusing to grow up, lost boys, a girl-nurturer Little Red Riding Hood: See Vampires Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz: entering a world that doesn’t work rationally or operates under different rules, the Red Queen, the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, the Wicked Witch of the West, the Wizard, who is a fraud Cinderella: orphaned girl abused by adopted family saved through supernatural intervention and by marrying a prince Snow White: Evil woman who brings death to an innocent—again, saved by heroic/princely character
Quests A quester– person who goes on a quest, whether or not he knows it’s a quest (in fact, usually he doesn’t know) A place to go A stated reason to go there - someone tells the protagonist (who need not look very heroic) to go somewhere and do something – e.g. go to the store to buy some bread…The real reason for the quest doesn’t involve the stated reason. The real reason to go—always self-knowledge Challenges and trials
Dreams Since your subconscious is busy all day responding to what your consciousness encounters, your dreams are a way for the two sides to contact each other.
When you encounter a dream in a story, ask yourself… 1. What is the content of the dream? 2. What does the dream mean symbolically? 3. How does the dream reveal the character’s inner conflict or desires?
Theory # 3 New Criticism
New Criticism Looks at a story as a piece of art that has nothing to do with the author’s background or you as a reader (and it’s not really ``new`` anymore) Each person who studies the story will be able to discover the same things about it
Weather: It was a Dark and Stormy Night What kind of story do you expect to follow? What do darkness and storms connote? “Why would a writer want the wind howling and the rain bucketing down, want the manor house or the cottage or the weary traveler lashed and battered?” (75).
It’s more than just rain or snow Rain fertility and life Noah and the flood Drowning—one of our deepest fears Why? Rain works as a plot device: it can bring characters together in an intimate setting (shelter) that one would otherwise have avoided. Rain can create atmosphere: “rain can be more mysterious, murkier, more isolating than most other weather conditions” (76). Rain adds the “misery factor:” It can challenge characters and make them seem pathetic. Rain is democratic: it falls on the just and unjust alike – e.g. “condemned man and hangman are thrown into a bond of sorts because rain has forced each of them to seek shelter.
It’s more than just rain or snow(con’t) rain is clean—a form of purification, baptism, removing sin or a stain Symbolically: rain is restorative—can bring a dying earth back to life rain is destructive as well—causes pneumonia, colds, etc.; hurricanes, etc.
It’s more than just rain or snow(con’t) Rainbow—God’s promise never to destroy the world again; hope; a promise of peace between heaven and earth fog—almost always signals some sort of confusion; mental, ethical, physical “fog”; people can’t see clearly Negatively—cold, stark, inhospitable, inhuman, nothingness, death Positively—clean, pure, playful Snow: Positively—clean, pure, playful
Is That a Symbol? Yes. But figuring out what is tricky. Can only discuss possible meanings and interpretations There is no one definite meaning. It’s not a formula, like river = freedom – think of the rivers you remember in your own reading (Twain’s Mississippi in Huckleberry Finn or Eliot’s Thames in The Wasteland – freedom & danger vs. decay and death… Actions, as well as objects and images, can be symbolic. i.e. “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost How to figure it out? Symbols are built on associations readers have, but also on emotional reactions. Pay attention to how you feel about a text.
How can you tell if something is a symbol? It is described extensively. Its appearance or function resembles the abstract concept that it represents. It may be subtle, so the more you read, the more you will recognize universal symbols
Landscape and Geography What represents home, family, love, security? What represents wilderness, danger, confusion? i.e. tunnels, labyrinths, jungles Geography can represent the human psyche (Heart of Darkness) Low places: swamps, crowds, fog, darkness, fields, heat, unpleasantness, people, life, death High places: snow, ice, purity, thin air, clear views, isolation, life, death
The Seasons Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter=youth, adulthood, middle age, old age/death. Spring=fertility, life, happiness, growth, resurrection (Easter) Fall=harvest, reaping what we sow, both rewards and punishments Winter=hibernation, lack of growth, death, punishment Christmas=childhood, birth, hope, family Irony trumps all: “April is the cruelest month” from The Wasteland
Flights of Fancy People can’t fly. So when they do, in literature, it means something. Take the Daedalus and Icarus myth. A lot of the time, flight is freedom. But it can kill you. Interrupted flight is generally a bad thing Usually not literal flying, but might use images of flying, birds, etc. Flying signifies escape: so when you see imagery or symbols of flying, or flight itself, ask yourself: what is the character trying to escape? Of what does the character’s “labyrinth” (prison) consist? What’s tying the character down? How can the character escape without dying? Is escape possible?
If She Comes Up, It’s Baptism Baptism is symbolic death and rebirth as a new individual Drowning is symbolic baptism, IF the character comes back up, symbolically reborn. But drowning on purpose can also represent a form of rebirth, a choosing to enter a new, different life, leaving an old one behind. Traveling on water—rivers, oceans—can symbolically represent baptism. i.e. young man sails away from a known world, dies out of one existence, and comes back a new person, hence reborn.
If She Comes Up, It’s Baptism (con’t) Rain can by symbolic baptism as well—cleanses, washes Sometimes the water is symbolic too—the prairie has been compared to an ocean, walking in a blizzard across snow like walking on water, crossing a river from one existence to another There’s also rebirth/baptism implied when a character is renamed.
Markings and Differences Take notice of characters or landscapes that are: 1. Marked for Greatness 2. Marked with Illness 3. Marked with an Affliction
Marked for Greatness Physical marks or imperfections symbolically mirror moral, emotional, or psychological scars or imperfections in the individual and in the culture that causes the damage Landscapes can be marked as well— think of Taliban era Kabul in The Kite Runner The “difference” can separate the character for “great things”
Marked with an Illness Not all illnesses are created equal. Tuberculosis occurs frequently; cholera does not because of the reasons below: It should be picturesque It should be mysterious in origin sIt should have strong symbolic or metaphorical possibilities
Marked with an Illness Tuberculosis—a wasting disease Plague: divine wrath; the puniness of humanity in the face of an indifferent natural world Malaria: means literally “bad air” with the attendant metaphorical possibilities. Venereal disease: reflects immorality OR innocence, when the innocent suffer because of another’s immorality; passed on to a spouse or baby, men’s exploitation of women AIDS: the modern plague. Tendency to lie dormant for years, victims unknowing carriers of death, disproportionately hits young people, poor, etc. An opportunity to show courage and resilience and compassion (or lack of); political and religious angles Heart disease=bad love, loneliness, cruelty, disloyalty, cowardice, lack of determination - Socially, something on a larger scale or something seriously amiss at the heart of things
Marked with an Affliction: Blindness Physical blindness mirrors psychological, moral, intellectual (etc.) blindness Sometimes ironic; the blind see and sighted are blind Many times blindness is metaphorical, a failure to see— reality, love, truth, etc. darkness=blindness; light=sight
Marked with an Affliction: Paralysis Physical paralysis can mirror moral, social, spiritual, intellectual, political paralysis
Something to keep in mind… OK, so there’s a lot to know. And no one can know all of it. So you need to trust yourself and your intelligence as a reader. You bring a lot to the table – for example, you all know what to expect when a writer writes: