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Literary Analysis: Sociological Criticism

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1 Literary Analysis: Sociological Criticism
How Does Society Influence Literature? How Does Literature Influence Society? Catherine Wishart Adjunct Instructor

2 Sociological Criticism
“Sociological critics argue that literary works should not be isolated from the social contexts in which they are embedded” (DiYanni 1571). “Sociological critics emphasize the ways power relations are played out by varying social forces and institutions” (DiYanni 1571). Sociological critics attempt to analyze literature from one of these two lenses: Conditions of production, such as schools, magazines, publishers, and fashions. The applicability of a given work—fiction especially—in studying the dynamics of a given society.

3 What do Sociological Critics Study?
Sociological critics examine expressions of specific areas in literary works, including: Economic conditions during which a piece was written Political arena and popular political beliefs Cultural issues

4 Types of Sociological Criticism
Feminist Theory: looks closely at fiction from a specific lens. What are the women doing in the story? How do they interact with men? What is the woman’s role in society? Marxist Theory: developed in the 1930s and often advocates Marxism. Marxist Theory looks closely at fiction from a different lens. In what social class does each character belong? How does the assigned social class impact the character? How do characters of different social classes interact?

5 Feminist Criticism During WW II, women were expected to work in factories, maintain the home front, and manage the household. When the war ended, women were then expected to resume previous subservient roles. The women’s movement slowly grew as a result of frustration. Feminist Criticism was one way that women were able to comment on their social status. According to Elaine Showalter, there are two purposes for feminist criticism: Feminist Critique: to analyze works by male authors especially in how they depict women characters Gynocriticism: to study women authors’ writing

6 Feminist Criticism Changing the “Canon”
Feminist critics have brought certain forgotten or undervalued female authors to the forefront of study and inclusion in expected readings. Some of these authors include: Kate Chopin, author of “The Story of an Hour.” Charlotte Perkins Gilman, author of “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Zora Neale Hurston, author of “Spunk.”

7 The Evolution of Feminist Theory
Feminist theory was originally represented by “white, educated, … heterosexual Anglo-American women” (Guerin et al 222). However, practitioners of feminist theory has grown beyond this limiting social strata. Feminist theory now encompasses “biological, linguistic, psychoanalytic, Marxist,… cultural studies, … ethnic and race studies, postcolonial theory, lesbian and gay studies, and gender studies” (Guerin et al 222).

8 The New Goals of Feminist Theory
The original goals of Feminist Theory were to analyze how male authors portray women, and to analyze how female authors write by recovering women’s texts. A new far-reaching goal has emerged: beyond recovering women’s texts, feminist theory endeavors to recover female cultures. Historians typically record male accomplishments Feminist theory insists that female accomplishments are important to note and record as well

9 Phases of Female Author Development
Female authors, prior to the 20th century, were rare. Therefore, women often fell into line and portrayed women characters as male authors did. The feminine phase of imitating male authors influenced women authors from 1840 to 1880. Women authors became frustrated with these flat, static portrayals of women. The feminist phase evolved, during which female authors began to advocate for their rights, such as voting, autonomy, etc. This phase lasted from 1880 – 1920 (both Chopin’s and Gilman’s stories were written in this time frame). Double-speak became popular during this time period. Women authors moved on from writing about rights to analyzing other impacts on literature. Women began to examine male authors’ writings for misogynistic stereotyping of women. Women also began to reclaim lost writings by excellent female authors. This period began in the 1920s and is still prevalent today. Women critics have also begun to expand feminist theory to include all women: Feminist theory now analyzes how all ethnicities of women are depicted in literature and how women authors of various ethnicities impact the literary canon. Feminist theory analyzes the role of sexual preference, i.e., heterosexual, gay and lesbian. Feminist theory has expanded to carefully examine groups that have been the subject of oppression. Feminist theory examines the additional encumbrances placed on female authors of ethnic minorities in becoming published authors.

10 A Checklist of Feminist Theory Questions
To what extent does the representation of women (and men) in the work reflect the place and time in which the work was written? How are the relations between men and women, or those between members of the same sex, presented in the work? What roles do men and women assume and perform and with what consequences? Does the author present the work from within a predominantly male or female sensibility? Why might this have been done, and with what effects? How do the facts of the author’s life relate to the presentation of men and women in the work? To their relative degrees of power? How do other works by the author correspond to this one in their depiction of the power relationships between men and women? (Di Yanni ).

11 Marxist Criticism Marxist Criticism views literature through a narrow lens. It is based on the social/economic theories of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Marxist critics ask specific questions: How do dominant elites exploit subordinate groups? How do people become alienated from each other? How do middle-class values cause society to suppress the working class? (DiYanni 1571).

12 Marxist Critics Look at Literature From Various Tenses:
Marxist critics analyze literature from the past: what has literature been? Marxist critics analyze literature from the future: what might literature become? What should literature become?

13 Marxist Critics Are Interested In Getting at the Truth – From Their Perspective
Reconstruct the past based on historical evidence to determine how truthfully and accurately a text represents the “social reality at any given time” (Cuddon 492-3). Marxist critics interested in content examine texts “from the definite standpoint of Marx’s philosophical ideas, and from his view of history in which the class struggle is fundamental” (Cuddon 492).

14 Marxist Critics View the Value of Literature as Part of the Agenda
Examine literature for its: value “in promoting social and economic revolution” Prompting of “economic and political changes that conform with Marxist principles” Encouragement of the “overthrow of the dominant capitalist ideology and the loss of power by those with money and privilege” Ability to redefine/reform “the way society distributes its resources among the classes” (DiYanni 1571).

15 Checklist of Questions for Marxist Theory
What social forces and institutions are represented in the work? How are these forces portrayed? What is the author’s attitude toward them? What political economic elements appear in the work? How important are they in determining or influencing the lives of the characters? What economic issues appear in the course of the work? How important are economic facts in influencing motivation and behavior of the characters? To what extent are the lives of the characters influenced or determined by social, political, and economic forces? To what extent are the characters aware of these forces?

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