LITERARY CRITICISM The discipline of interpreting, analyzing, and evaluating literature…. Long-standing texts with timeless values, values, universal themes, & exceptional artistry and power Interpret: What does this work of literature MEAN? Analyze: HOW does this piece of literature WORK? (pull things apart, examine relationships, figure out effects, etc.) Evaluate: What is this work’s VALUE? Literary Criticism improves reading skills, gives tools to solve problems and understand literature, expands awareness, gives more ways to respond, gives more things to FIND in lit., and develops CRITICAL THINKING skills “criticism” here does NOT mean finding fault or expressing dislike or saying what is “wrong” with literature Must be backed up with logical reasons and textual evidence
WHAT IS LITERARY THEORY? The body of ideas and methods used in the reading and studying of literature Various theories, focal points, “lenses”, and approaches to explain and interpret texts Application of diverse knowledge and perspectives to yield multiple interpretations of literature
Reader-Response Theory vs. Critical Theory Whatever you think; like or dislike; personal opinions, connections, reactions PURPOSEFUL reading and DECODING according to a specific lens, viewpoint, approach; identifying particular elements and meanings that emerge BASED ON that lens, view, perspective
THE ARCHETYPAL LENS / APPROACH Identifies and analyzes the variance of ARCHETYPES in literature Common patterns, symbols, motifs shared / repeated across cultures & eras Stock characters; common, basic plot patterns; traditions, rituals, and images from ancient works that recur in many works and many cultures Carl Jung: archetypes exist is collective unconscious; shared, universal images and patterns in every human’s subconscious (product of inherited experiences of primordal ancestors; imprints in minds at birth) AKA: Mythic Approach or Symbolic Approach Mythological and/or Biblical elements The stuff of dreams and fairytales WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (great for Archetypal Lens)
EXAMPLES: ARCHETYPAL CHARACTERS the hero, helper, sidekick, villain, usurper, wise old sage, outcast, caring mother, stern father, underdog, femme fatale, the innocent, the avenger ARCHETYPAL SITUALTIONS the task / trial, journey / quest, loss of innocence, initiation, coming of age, Pursuit of revenge, ascent into heaven or some “greater plane”, descent Into the underworld or afterlife, searching for father, damsel in distress, loss, Confusion, banishment, discovery of identity or worth ARCHETYPAL IMAGES the flood, water, fire, seasons, circles, colors, heavenly bodies, plants, animals, forest, numbers, the magical weapon
QUESTIONS AN ARCHETYPAL THEORIST WOULD ASK: What images, symbols, character TYPES, or stereotypical life events are present that also exist in many other works? What motifs / events from this work resemble motifs / events from myths, fairy tales, or other ancient stories? What traditions or ritualistic human behaviors are present that are common across vast cultures and vast eras?
Archetypal Characters to Explore In Hamlet: Gertrude = the femme fatale Ophelia = the innocent, obedient, oppressed little girl Hamlet = the avenger Claudius = the villain or usurper
THE GENDER LENS / APPROACH Grew out of “Feminist Theory” (focusing on women’s roles / analysis of society’s beliefs about the function of women Investigates gender & sexual categories and identities Societal gender roles (traditionally and culturally) Sexual dynamics and interactions between men and women Gender roles as a human construct, products of culture Examines how feminine and masculine roles are represented Importance of language use with each gender Society’s biases and beliefs and sexual stereotypes in literature
Questions a Gender Theorist Would Ask: How are women portrayed? Men? What stereotypes are reinforced? Does the text subvert the role of women? Of men? To what extend do men show dominant roles in order to control or suppress women? Does the text deal with seeking intimacy in relationships? Do women in this text seek independence from male domination? To what extent does the text show a female as “caregiver”? a male as “doer”?
‘Gender Criticism’ Issues to Explore in Hamlet: A “Gender Theorist” would assert that Ophelia’s madness stands for the oppression of women in society Act III, scene I – from Ophelia’s entrance after Hamlet’s soliloquy to Ophelia’s exit Act III, scene ii – from Hamlet’s initial exchanges with Ophelia before the ‘play’ begins to Hamlet’s line “As woman’s love…” Act III, scene v – Ophelia’s 1 st and 2 nd set of lines Gertude’s role in the play? Especially Act III, scene iv (“The Closet Scene”)
THE HISTORICAL LENS / APPROACH Examines the events, culture, and lifestyle surrounding the SETTING of the novel (historical context of the story) Examines the events, culture, and lifestyle surrounding the AUTHOR’S life and times (historical context of HIS world) Identifies historical and cultural aspects that influence AND that are revealed in the work Identifies links between fictional characters in a work and actual historical figures
EXAMPLE: In examining THE CRUCIBLE, Historical Criticism would delve into two areas: the lives of Puritans during the Salem Witch Trials (the play’s setting), AND the politics of the 1950s in America (the McCarthy ‘red scare’, when the play was written) Why, in 1953 America, did Arthur Miller write a play about the Salem Witch Trials that occurred in 1692 Massachusetts?
Questions a Historicism Theorist Would Ask: What historical events relate to / are significant to the context of the story? When and where was this written, and what was going on in the world at that time and place? What was the culture and lifestyle of the author? What was the culture and lifestyle of the people who lived during this era? How do the text, author, and cultural context work together to produce meaning?
Historical Theory Issues to Explore in Hamlet: Link between Hamlet and historical figure Robert Dereveaux, the 2nd Earl of Essex (spoke treasonous words while appearing mad) Act II, scenes i and ii – Polonius attempts to explain cause of Hamlet’s madness Act V, scene I – Gravediggers discuss Hamlet’s madness Any scenes involving Claudius, Gertrude, or the political background (Norway and Denmark) could be explored for historical parallels Long discussion Hamlet has with players, Act II, scene ii, about why they are now a traveling company, is based on events during the Elizabethan period
MARXIST CRITICISM / THE MARXIST LENS Explores class conflict, class distinctions, and economic status in the work Examines social, political, and economic meanings of literature Focuses on struggle for power and its effect on social class Belief that social and economic conditions directly influence beliefs and values Economic determinism Class warfare is a product of culture Effects of those in power and how they seek to maintain that power (especially through art, literature, education, propaganda) Struggle between working class and ruling elite Examines portrayal of behaviors and traits ‘typical’ of different social classes Material forces that shape the physiological experience
Marxism in Movies: The Titanic Toy Story 3 Fight Club “For Marxism, getting and keeping economic power is the motive behind all social and political activities, including education, philosophy, religion, government, the arts, science, technology, the media, and so on.” (Tyson 53)
Questions a Marxist Theorist Would Ask: What is the economic situation of the characters, and what happens as a result of this status? To what extent are the characters’ lives influenced or determined by social, political, and economic forces? What social forces and institutions are represented in the work? Does the work OVERLOOK or neglect economic, social, and political implications? How is the lower-class shown? How is the upper-class portrayed? Is there are subversion of the ‘typical’ behavior / traits of each class? Is there a certain class that the work seems to favor, advocate, or champion? Is there a class the work seems to satirize? Is the author bringing attention to the flaws of ‘class distinction’?
Marxist Theory Applied to Hamlet Claudius’ rise to power and subsequent struggle to maintain power Subversion of the traits / behaviors typically associated with wealthy, upper class (gravedigger outsmarts and confuses Hamlet; gravediggers argue the importance of their job) Hamlet’s assertion that death is the final and permanent equalizer (social classes, social distinctions disappear) Elements of the “Lower Class Carnival” (masks, chaos, scandals, drinking, sex, etc.) are actually quite rampant in the play’s upper classes (Claudius’ drinking, Hamlet’s many sexual references, Claudius’ “mask”, Hamlet’s “mask”, Claudius and the Queen’s scandalous marriage)
PSYCHOANALYTICAL CRITICISM / THE PSYCHOANALYTICAL LENS Analyzes lit. in terms of psychoanalysis of the author AND of the character Dynamics of the human mind; how the human mind works; mental processes Character motivations AND author motivations How human development occurs; root causes of the formation of the psyche Author’s psychological history / problems AND character’s psych. history / problems FREUD – id, ego, superego, Oedipus, Electra Freud argued that the id desired the destruction of the same-sex parent Iceberg metaphor How id, ego, superego are represented in literature Parental relationships – in Freudian psychology, one’s relationship with one’s parents is a significant determiner of how person relates with other humans Dream analysis Green Eggs and Ham (great for Psychoanalytical Criticism)
ID Rage, evil, sexual desire, addiction, impulse, pleasure, hedonism Without restraint; drive to survive, procreate, and have unbridled fun; needs to be held in check EGO Intermediary between id’s desires / impulses and external world; Guidelines for behavior; Ego balances demands of id with restrictions of Superego; Ego represses id and allows for acceptable levels of satisfying needs SUPEREGO Mental province that responds to parental, social, moral, religious influences re: behavior and propriety; Parental and ideal force that permeates regarding the best, right way to be
Questions a Psychoanalytical Theorist Would Ask: What motivates (deep within his mind) the protagonist or antagonist? In what way does text show psychosexual development of character? Does the character demonstrate any neuroses or psychoses? How might the character’s behavior be influenced by forces of id, ego, or superego? What conflicts occur between the character’s id, ego, superego? Are there any implications of an Oedipus or Electra complex in the text? What are the deeper effects of the character’s parental relationships? What happened in the author’s childhood that may have influenced his thinking? Is the author trying to work out a psychological problem or situation? Does the text reveal the author’s repressed desires? What was the relationship like between the author and his parents? Does that have any impact on the crafting of this text?
Psychoanalytical Issues to Explore in Hamlet: Critic Janet Aldeman asserts that at the center of Hamlet lies the problem Of Hamlet having to struggle with the father figure in his life. Act I, scene ii – Hamlet discusses his sullied flesh and Claudius’ actions Act III, scene ii – The play-within-a-play, as Hamlet acts as a Chorus Act III, scene iii – Hamlet explains why he must wait to kill Claudius Act III, scene iv – Hamlet confronts Gertrude Act IV, scene iii – Hamlet insults Claudius