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Introductionto LiteraryCriticism

Definition and Use “Literary criticism” is the name given to workswritten by experts who critique—analyze—anauthor’s work. It does NOT mean “to criticize” as in complain ordisapprove. Literary criticism is often referred to as a“secondary source”.

Literary Criticism and Theory Any piece of textcan be read with anumber of differentsets of “glasses,”meaning you arelooking for differentthings within the text. Literary criticismhelps readersunderstand a text inrelation to theauthor, culture, andother texts.

The Most Common CriticalStances for Literature Formalistic Biographical Historical/Cultural Psychological Mythological Gender Deconstructionist

Upon Seeing an Orange Gender Theory – What possibilitiesare available to a woman who eatsthis orange? To a man? Formalism – What shape anddiameter is the orange? Marxist Theory – Who owns thisorange? Who gets to eat it?

Orange cont’d Postcolonial Theory – Who owns theorange? Who took it away? Reader Response Theory – Whatdoes the orange taste like? Whatdoes the orange remind the readerof? Psychological/Psychoanalytical – Iwant this orange now! Will I get introuble if I eat it?

Formalist Criticism A formalist reading of a text focuses on symbol, metaphor,imagery, characterization, and so on. Formalism ignores the author’s biography and focuses onlyon the interaction of literary elements within the text. Consider the elements of plot, narrator, structure, etc. It’s what you do most often in English class.

A Formalist Reading of “TheThree Little Pigs” What does the wolf symbolize? Notice the consonance/rhyme of“I’ll huff and I’ll puff ” How does the story foreshadow thefinal fate of the pigs? What does the wolf’s dialogue tellus about his character?

Biographical Criticism As the namesuggests, this type ofcriticism reads thetext looking for theauthor’s influence. By examining theauthor’s life, we canhave a deeperunderstanding ofhis/her writing.

A Biographical Reading of To Build a Fireby Jack London London grew up in poverty and livedon the streets of San Francisco so helikely had a negative view of city life.We also know that he found peaceand “breathing room” in Alaska.The settings and circumstances in “ToBuild a Fire” reflect the feelings above.(ie.-the Naturalist idea that nature isindifferent effects of his early life onhim and setting his love ofAlaska/the wilderness)

Historical/Cultural CriticismThis critical viewpoint examines a text inrelation to its historical or culturalbackdrop. You may examine a text’s effect onhistory or culture or vice versa. A historical/cultural analysis is often verysimilar to a biographical analysis, and it’spossible to view history, culture, andbiography in a single essay.

Historical/Cultural Reading ofDisney’s Sleeping Beauty (1959)What can SleepingBeauty revealabout 1950ssociety? How do PrincePhillip’s lines andthe “Sword ofTruth” reflect theideals of 1950sAmericans?

Psychological CriticismPsychological critical theoryapplies the theories ofpsychology to a text in orderto better understand itscharacters. Based largely on the theoriesof neurologist Sigmund Freud,this theory hinges on anexamination of people’s(characters’) unconsciousdesires.

Psychological Criticism What governs humanbehavior? Id – the animal naturethat says, “Do what feelsgood.” Ego – the reality-basedpart of your personalitythat makes decisions tosatisfy the Id andSuperego Superego – thesocialized “conscience”that tells you what’sright or fair

Psychological Criticism Psychological criticism isa way to understandcharacters, notdiagnose them.

A Psychological Reading ofMacbeth Macbeth kills King Duncan because heunconsciously recognizes the king as afather-figure. Hence, Duncan is a rival forpower and the affections of the people. In the latter acts of the play, Macbethhas indulged his id so often that his egohas lost the ability to restrain it.

Mythological Criticism This stance is not about mythology. It is about the universal elements of human life thatare common in all cultures. Like ancient mythology, literature is a window tocreating meaning for human life. In other words, stories make us feel like our lives aremore significant.

Mythological Criticism Central to mythological theory arearchetypes.Remember, archetypes are those universalelements present in the literature of allcultures.

Mythological CriticismMythologicalCriticism seeks tounderstand howthe story constructsmeaning in thehuman existencethrougharchetypes. For example, notethe ways texts haveexamined betrayal.

Mythological Criticism Common Archetypes TheHero Beowulf, Spiderman, LukeSkywalker, Braveheart The Outcast Macbeth’s clown, Lord of theFlies, Cain TheQuest LOTR, Star Wars, Beowulf Sacrificial King Jesus, The Lion the Witch andthe Wardrobe, LOTR Evil Personified Wicked Witch of the West, theDevil, the Emperor in SW

Gender Criticism Gender criticism analyzes literaturethrough the lens of socially-constructedgender roles.The largest part of gender criticism isfeminism, which critiques and seeks tocorrect women’s subordination to men insociety.In its most basic form, feminism is aboutequality.

A Feminist Reading ofCinderella As a single, young woman, Cinderella is withoutmeans or opportunity because she is unattachedto a father or a husband. It is only through the magic of a fairy godmotherthat she can be made presentable and meet theprince AND he is the only means of her escapingher plight. What skills does she have? She is beautiful, cansing well, and is kind. These are highlighted as thedesirable qualities in a woman (hence, her UGLY,UNTALENTED, stepsisters who are portrayed asundesirable).

Marxist Criticism Bases approach largely on works of KarlMarx (1818-1883) German politicalphilosopher.

Marxist Criticism Explores the power struggles of those whoare minorities in dominant culture. Examines who has/does not have power,how they attained it/why they don’t haveit, and what they do with it/how they aremanipulated by it.

Marxist Criticism Believes that literature is essentiallypolitical; it either supports or refuteseconomic oppression. In other words, theauthor either reinforces the status quo orrebels against it.

Literary Criticism Once you have decided what youthink the author of your novel issaying—what his/her message is—you can then decide on whichcritical approach you think will workbest to support your opinion.

Deconstructionist Criticism Deconstructionismargues that sincethere is no singlemeaning of any word,there can be no singlemeaning of a text.EVERY text, therefore,has multiple validmeanings becausethe reader mayinterpret the wordsdifferently than thewriter intended them.

Deconstructionism "It depends on what the meaning of theword 'is' is." BillClinton, during his 1998 grand jurytestimony on the Monica Lewinsky affair

Deconstructionism Idea that becausethere is noconcrete meaningof anything, there isno single truthapplicable to allhuman beings. Hence, everythingis relative.

A Deconstructionist Reading of“The Tortoise and the Hare” (verybasic) The homophone hare/hair could make this fableincomprehensible without pictures. In Native American cultures, the tortoise is a symbol ofhonor, so Indians would interpret the “race” as acontest of honor and fair play instead of endurance.

Other Critical Lens Reader Response: considers readers' reactions toliterature as vital to interpreting the meaning ofthe text. Post-colonialism: concerned with literatureproduced by colonial powers and worksproduced by those who were/are colonized. Postcolonial theory looks at issues of power,economics, politics, religion, and culture and howthese elements work in relation to colonialhegemony (Western colonizers controlling thecolonized).

Other Critical Lens Ecocriticism: examines the relationship betweenthe text and a physical environment. Critical Race Theory: examines the appearanceof race and racism across dominant culturalmodes of expression. An attempt to understandhow victims of systemic racism are affected bycultural perceptions of race and how they areable to represent themselves to counterprejudice.

This is the tip of theiceberg Purdue Online Writing Lab section on criticaltheory An exhaustive Wikipedia entry

Introduction to Literary Criticism. Definition and Use “Literary criticism” is the name given to works written by experts who critique—analyze—an author’s work. It does NOT mean “to criticize” as in complain or disapprove. Literary criticism is often referred to as a “secondary source”. Literary Criticism and Theory Any piece of text can be read with a number of different .

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