Critical Literary Theories - Zovio

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ENG125: Introduction to LiteratureCritical Literary TheoriesPurpose: Use this resource to learn about literary criticism.What is literary criticism?Woman Reading Book in a Landscape, Camille CorotLiterary Critical Theory is a tool that helps you find meaning in stories, poems and plays. There are manydifferent ways to interpret a novel or short story.When we read literature, we do so to learn more about: The human condition The experience of loss and death The structure of power in society and how it is implemented (including the issues that surroundrace and gender). The psychology of characters and individuals in general The sociology and history of cultures that produce specific pieces of literatureLiterary Theory helps us discover the things listed above in the books and stories we read.How do I apply Literary Critical Theory to read a book?So how do you use theory to read a book? Before exploring, in brief, different theories, it is important todevelop a reading strategy that will help you form ideas.

ENG125: Introduction to LiteratureYou should keep a reading notebook and write down ideas and information as you read. Here is achecklist of things to notice: Title: How does it pertain to the story? Does it symbolize events or people in the story? Narration: Who is telling the story? How does the narrator approach the topic? Subject: What is the basic situation? What is happening to the characters and how are they reactingto events? Mood: What is the mood of the story, i.e. the emotional background? How is it expressed in thelanguage and setting? Characters: What do the characters learn in the course of the story? What are their failings and howdo they overcome them, or not? What is the main character’s desire? Is that desire everfulfilled? How does the main character change? Character Interaction: How do the characters interact in the story? How do they communicatewith each other? How do they handle conflict? Plot: What are the main events in the plot that lead the character to new insights, or to his or herfailure?When you read a book, you can highlight the passages that strike you as significant. You can also writenotes in the margin of the text to yourself, which is called “annotation.”

ENG125: Introduction to LiteratureWhat are the Critical Literary Theories?There are many different kinds of theories, including gender/feminist criticism; race theory; Marxist;Biographical; Deconstructism; Structrualism; Post-colonial critical theory. However, the four CriticalLiterary Theories that we will learn about in this class include: Formalism or New Criticism Reader Response Theory Psychological Theory New Historicism AnalysisWhat is Formalism Theory or New Criticism?Empire of Light by René MagritteThis approach views each piece of literature as “a unique form of human knowledge that needs to beexamined on its own terms” (Kennedy & Gioia, 1995). Contained within the work itself are all theelements necessary for understanding it. The formalist critic focuses on the form, including style,structure, tone, imagery, etc. These critics analyze how certain elements work together within a text toimpose certain effects on the readers.Example: Tim O’Brien’s story “The Things They Carry” (about his experience in the Vietnam War) isanalyzed not by using his biography or history to interpret the story. Instead, you look at all elementsinside the work: diction (use of language), character, plot, metaphor, and imagery. Key questions aFormalist Critic asks:

ENG125: Introduction to Literature How does the language and other literary elements convey a specific representation of theVietnam War? What are dominant metaphors and imagery and what do they symbolize?What is Reader-Response Theory?The Reading, Frederico ZandomeneghiThis approach views “literature” not as an artifact upon a printed page but as a transaction between thetext and individual reader. It regards reading, like writing, as a creative process. This theory holds thatthere is no objective, outside meaning in any text. According to Kennedy and Gioia (1995), readerresponse criticism focuses on “religious, cultural, and social values affect readings; it also overlaps withgender criticism in exploring how men and women read the same text with different assumptions.”In other words, readers bring their own thoughts, views, experiences and attitudes to the text and interpretthe story through a personal lens. This critical theory is often used to discuss a text in a classroom settingwhere students are supposed to provide their own insights on the literature read.Example: You can easily apply this theory to “The Things They Carried.” For instance, if you haveexperienced war, you can discuss it in relation to how O’Brien represents war. If you were raised in the1970s during the Vietnam War, you can reflect on your memory of that time period and use it to findmeaning in the story. If you have personal and religious ideas of war, you can use that to interpret thetext. Key questions a Reader Response critic asks: How does the interaction between the text and reader create meaning? How do the images and language in the work influence or affect the reader?What shapes our knowledge of reading, what is our purpose of reading and how does that influence howwe read a particular story, poem or novel?

ENG125: Introduction to LiteratureWhat is Psychological Theory?Based on the theories of Freud and Jung, this criticism centers on the psychology of the characters andanalyzes character motivation, behavior and actions. If you can figure out the protagonist’s psychology,then you can use that to interpret the text. There are three main offshoots of this critical theory: It examines “the creative process of the artist: what is the nature of literary genius and how does itrelate to normal mental functions?” (Kennedy & Gioia, 1995) It investigates the psychology of particular writer usually focusing how an author’s biographicalsituations affect or influence their motivations and/or selection of theme and use of literarytechniques. It analyzes fictional characters using the concepts, terms and methods of psychological theories.Example: To apply this theory to O’Brien’s short story you can ask explore the narrator’s psychology inthe face of war; How does the Vietnam War influence, both negatively and positively, hispsychology? What does the soldiers’ behavior reveal about the psychological stresses of war? Keyquestions a psychological critic asks: What does the work suggest about the psychological aspects of the author? Does the work have any hidden meanings, or subconscious elements that help to interpret thework? How can characters’ actions be explained using theories of fear or attraction to death, or using thestruggle between the id, ego and the superego?

ENG125: Introduction to LiteratureWhat is New Historicism Analysis?Ancient text written in LatinHere, you research the historical time period and discuss the work within its historical context. AsKennedy and Gioria (1995) indicate, this theory “seeks to understand a literary work by investigating thesocial, cultural, and intellectual context that produced it—a context that necessarily includes the artist’sbiography and milieu.” The text serves as a “retelling of history” and might provide a radically differentviewpoint that what is commonly known about an event, era and/or person.Example: To analyze O’Brien, you’d research the Vietnam War, or a specific battle of that war, andanalyze the story using historical fact and detail. Key questions a New Historicism critic asks: How does the portrayal criticize the event and the political figures around it? How does the text change meaning when read by a different generation that experiences differentkinds of war? What language/characters/events/setting reflect the current events, political and cultural, of theauthor’s time period?

ENG125: Introduction to LiteratureReferencesX.J. Kennedy, X.J. & Gioia, D. (1995) Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama, SixthEdition. New York: HarperCollins.All images are gathered from Creative Commons.

ENG125: Introduction to Literature Critical Literary Theories Purpose: Use this resource to learn about literary criticism. What is literary criticism? Literary Critical Theory is a tool that helps you find meaning in stories, poems

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