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Analyzing Literature: The Formalist Perspective. Do these ads have a deeper meaning? content/uploads/2011/11/Juicy-Couture-3-

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1 Analyzing Literature: The Formalist Perspective

2 Do these ads have a deeper meaning? content/uploads/2011/11/Juicy-Couture-3- 1024X768-Fashion-Wallpaper.jpg content/uploads/2011/11/Juicy-Couture-3- 1024X768-Fashion-Wallpaper.jpg 0/Justin-Bieber-Someday-perfume-justin-bieber- someday-24821644-470-627.jpg 0/Justin-Bieber-Someday-perfume-justin-bieber- someday-24821644-470-627.jpg content/uploads/2012/04/Bagatelle.jpg content/uploads/2012/04/Bagatelle.jpg

3 What is the Formalist Perspective? Literature can be read through a variety of lenses. The formalist perspective concentrates on the form of the literature itself. “Formalist criticism regards literature as a unique form of human knowledge that needs to be examined on its own terms” (Kennedy 1468). Questions that may be answered from a formalist perspective include: o What is the structure of the piece? o What imagery is used? o What symbols help convey a message? o What is the theme?

4 Why Use the Formalist Perspective? The formalist perspective began in Russia in the early 1920s. In 1917, the Russian Revolution occurred. Prior to 1917, Russia romanticized literature and viewed literature from a religious perspective. After 1917, literature began to be observed and analyzed. The formalist perspective allowed literature to be viewed through a scientific lens. Formalism allows the reader to analyze a literary piece with complete objectivity.

5 A Formalist View of Literature Discounts or Ignores Certain Aspects of Literature The name of the author is not important. The time in which the author lived is not important. Any cultural impact on the author’s life is not important. The political beliefs of the author are not important. The actual reader is not important.

6 A Checklist of Formalist Critical Questions How is the work structured or organized? How does it begin? Where does it go next? How does it end? What is the work’s plot? How is its plot related to its structure? What is the relationship of each part of the work to the work as a whole? How are the parts related to one another? Who is narrating or telling what happens in the work? How is the narrator, speaker, or character revealed to readers? How do we come to know and understand this figure? Who are the major and minor characters, what do they represent, and how do they relate to one another? What are the time and place of the work – its setting? How is the setting related to what we know of the characters and their actions? To what extent is the setting symbolic? What kind of language does the author use to describe, narrate, explain, or otherwise create the world of the literary work? More specifically, what images, similes, metaphors, symbols appear in the work? What is their function? What meanings do they convey? (DiYanni 1562). (DiYanni, Robert. Literature Approaches to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. 2 nd ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2008).

7 How do we apply it? Using the formalist lens is just an analytical reading of the text. o Ex) The author says, “the curtains are blue.” o The critic says, “the blue curtains represent the sadness of the woman sitting in the room.” You try: “Then all of a sudden, something very spooky started happening. Every time I came to the end of a block and stepped off the goddam curb, I had this feeling that I'd never get to the other side of the street. I thought I'd just go down, down, down, and nobody'd ever see me again. Boy, did it scare me. You can't imagine. I started sweating like a bastard--my whole shirt and underwear and everything. Then I started doing something else. Every time I'd get to the end of a block I'd make believe I was talking to my brother Allie. I'd say to him, "Allie, don't let me disappear. Allie, don't let me disappear. Allie, don't let me disappear. Please, Allie." o Is there more to Holden’s experience that the idea that he is hallucinating? What is the meaning behind what is happening to him?

8 New Historicism In the 1980s, the world of literary criticism, dominated by New Criticism and other such theories, had ignored a text’s relation to history for nearly half a century. For years, many American and British critics were calling for a new form of literary criticism, one that took history into account. Thusly, out of universities and literary circles, New Historicism emerged It quickly grew and became widely practiced in many American/English classrooms.

9 How New Historicists Look at a Text Analyzes texts while acknowledging its historical context and the role history played in shaping the piece of literature Examines psychology and social sphere of author Acknowledges that bias and beliefs are present in literary work Focus on power relationships depicted within a work

10 Questions to Ask Yourself… What time period did the author grow up in? Were there any events in the authors life that may have an impact on what he/she is writing? Can we see any similarities between the author’s life and what is being said in the text?

11 Applying New Historicism How can we apply new historicism to the texts we’ve read this year? o Choose one text we’ve read and ask yourself the questions you have written down for new historicism. Try to apply this lens to the text you are thinking about. o What do you think?

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