Introduction to Literary Criticism

What is Literary Criticism?

A very basic way of thinking about literary theory is that these ideas act as different lenses critics use to view and talk about art, literature, and even culture. These different lenses allow critics to consider works of art based on certain assumptions within that school of theory. The different lenses also allow critics to focus on particular aspects of a work they consider important.

For example, if a critic is working with certain Marxist theories, s/he might focus on how the characters in a story interact based on their economic situation. If a critic is working with post-colonial theories, s/he might consider the same story but look at how characters from colonial powers (Britain, France, and even America) treat characters from, say, Africa or the Caribbean. Hopefully, after reading through and working with the resources in this area of the OWL, literary theory will become a little easier to understand and use.

There are TWO types of criticism:

1. Theoretical: formulates the theories and principles of the nature and

value of literature. By referring to general aesthetic and moral principles of literature, theoretical criticism provides the framework for practical criticism

e.g. Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism

2. Practical: (also known as Applied Criticism)

applies the theories and principles of theoretical criticism to a particular work of literature. In applied criticism, the critic defines the standards of taste and explains, evaluates, or justifies a particular text.

e.g. Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria (which comments on

Wordsworth’ poetry)

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDXJd21bR9A

Formalism or New Criticism

Taken From: Telescopes and Spyglasses: Using Literary Theories in High School Classrooms (Danielle M. Rains, 2015, Bowling Green State University)

New Criticism was a theoretical school that focused on interpreting and critically engaging with a self-sufficient text, independent of all outside factors. New Critics reject the emphasis or author biographies as well as historical context, both of which were widely used in their time. New critics also reject the Intentional Fallacy, the mistaken belief that the author’s intention is the same as the text’s meaning. They also believe that readers should not confuse a text with its effects or the emotions it produces, something they refer to as the Affective Fallacy.

New Criticism aims to appreciate texts on their own; they believe that a critic must investigate how a work creates meaning within itself, because it has governing principles that deserve to be analyzed. Readers who assume a New Critical stance are asked to look at every detail, both for its own sake and in its connection with the work as a whole; however, critics need to differentiate between which elements are important to their interpretation and which are not. In making this decision, critics need to pay attention to how the elements come together to create literature with a meaning. New Critics also pay attention to formal elements in the work, such as narrative voice, setting, plot, and word choice. Literature is written in literary language, which is deliberate and different from everyday language and defamiliarizes objects. Defamiliarization is the way figurative language changes how we view the world around us, making ordinary occurrences unfamiliar again, making the ordinary extraordinary. When discussing language, New Critics also investigate the meaning behind word choices, including a word’s denotation, connotation, history, and any allusion the word is making. All words in a literary work are chosen for a reason; to assume the meaning of a work can be found by translating it into everyday language is to commit the Heresy of Paraphrase.

New Critics believe that everything in a work of literature is carefully calculated to contribute to the unity of the work, and that it is the job of the critic to explain this unity, or how the work functions as a coherent whole. This includes unifying all elements into a single central unified meaning; it is up to the critic to read closely to determine this meaning. In all great works of literature, there is complexity, or multiple and conflicting meanings running through the text.

One way a work gains complexity is through tension, or elements that resist one another, and it is the job of the critic to resolve this tension. New Critics must examine how their unifying theme holds any opposing elements together.


In the 1920s and 1930s one school of Formalism developed called “New Criticism.” It is still a major form of literary criticism applied to analysing texts in secondary schools.

  • A form of literary criticism in which the text is viewed as a complete, isolated unit. Meaning is found by studying one or more key elements.

  • It focuses on the elements of fiction and emphasizes how these elements work together to create, in a work of quality, a coherent whole: unity of plot, theme and character, through use of tone, point of view, imagery, purposeful action, dialogue and description

    Key Elements:

  • language

  • Imagery

  • Point of view

  • Plot structure

  • Character development and motivation

    Strengths

  • Reader does not need any additional knowledge other than what’s provided in the text for interpreting the work

    Weaknesses

  • It ignores author’s intentions

  • It assumes that “good” literature is “coherent” and that a text that is not coherent by its standards is not “good” literature.

How to Do a New Critical Reading:

When reading with a New Critical lens, you will focus on reading closely. Reading closely

means reading as if you are on the pages of the book, picking everything apart with a fine-tooth comb. As a reader, you are looking at each and every detail presented to you within the story that you believe contributes to the overall meaning of the piece. Because you are determining meaning as you read, you will need to take notes on what you believe is significant, not to the plot but to the meaning of the work, as you read. You can come back to these notes later to determine this meaning.


As you are reading, you will be taking notes on what is important to a theme while you are still unsure of what this theme is. I know this sounds confusing; it will come to make sense, I promise. If you are reading closely and actively, your notes will lead you toward the unifying theme and meaning of the piece as a whole. As you read, take notes on uses of imagery, metaphor, allusion, and other literary devices and word play that sticks out to you as being important. You should also look for tensions between the elements, contradictions, and paradoxes within the piece as well as any irony and ambiguity.

Guiding Questions:

• How are the events of the plot recounted---for example, in sequential fashion or as a

flashback?

• What is the effect of telling a story from this point of view?

• What recurrences of words, images, and sounds do you notice? Do the recurrences make a pattern, or do they appear randomly?

• How does the narrator’s point of view shape the meaning?

• What images are extended or elaborated?

• Where do several images work together to create meaning?

Vocabulary:


Self-Sufficiency: Independent of the author’s biography, historical context, or the effect it has on the reader

Intentional Fallacy: Mistaken belief that the author’s intention is the same as the text’s

meaning

Affective Fallacy: Confusing a text with its effects or with the emotions it produces

Defamiliarization: The way figurative language changes how we view the world around us, making ordinary occurrences unfamiliar again

Heresy of Paraphrase: Assuming the meaning of a poem can be found by translating it into everyday language

Unity: The work is a coherent whole

Complexity: Multiple and conflicting meanings running through a literary text

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aa0gxWjCOxQ
https://www.youtube.com/watch?annotation_id=annotation_1800535329&feature=iv&src_vid=aa0gxWjCOxQ&v=lW4cPsWNwBo

Critical Race Theory

Critical Race Theory, or CRT, is a theoretical and interpretive mode that examines the appearance of race and racism across dominant cultural modes of expression. In adopting this approach, CRT scholars attempt to understand how victims of systemic racism are affected by cultural perceptions of race and how they are able to represent themselves to counter prejudice.

Closely connected to such fields as philosophy, history, sociology, and law, CRT scholarship traces racism in America through the nation’s legacy of slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and recent events. In doing so, it draws from work by writers like Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King, Jr., and others studying law, feminism, and post-structuralism. CRT developed into its current form during the mid-1970s with scholars like Derrick Bell, Alan Freeman, and Richard Delgado, who responded to what they identified as dangerously slow progress following Civil Rights in the 1960s.

Prominent CRT scholars like Kimberlé Crenshaw, Mari Matsuda, and Patricia Williams share an interest in recognizing racism as a quotidian component of American life (manifested in textual sources like literature, film, law, etc). In doing so, they attempt to confront the beliefs and practices that enable racism to persist while also challenging these practices in order to seek liberation from systemic racism.

As such, CRT scholarship also emphasizes the importance of finding a way for diverse individuals to share their experiences. However, CRT scholars do not only locate an individual’s identity and experience of the world in his or her racial identifications, but also their membership to a specific class, gender, nation, sexual orientation, etc. They read these diverse cultural texts as proof of the institutionalized inequalities racialized groups and individuals experience every day.

As Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic explain in their introduction to the third edition of Critical Race Theory: The Cutting Edge, “Our social world, with its rules, practices, and assignments of prestige and power, is not fixed; rather, we construct with it words, stories and silence. But we need not acquiesce in arrangements that are unfair and one-sided. By writing and speaking against them, we may hope to contribute to a better, fairer world” (3). In this sense, CRT scholars seek tangible, real-world ends through the intellectual work they perform. This contributes to many CRT scholars’ emphasis on social activism and transforming everyday notions of race, racism, and power.

More recently, CRT has contributed to splinter groups focused on Asian American, Latino, and Indian racial experiences.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCsJ-24MdZc

The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell

Driving up I could see the crowd, but living in New Orleans, I actually thought it was Mardi Gras. There was a large crowd of people outside of the school. They were throwing things and shouting, and that sort of goes on in New Orleans at Mardi Gras. I really didn’t realize until I got into the school that something else was going on. – Ruby Bridges Hall

On November 14, 1960 federal marshals escorted Ruby Hall to her first day of kindergarten. She was the only black child to attend the school, and after entering the building she and her mother went to the principal’s office while the white parents came in and took their children out. Thereafter she was the only student in her class. You can read more about the story at the link above or at her entry in Wikipedia.

Norman Rockwell painted this picture for Look magazine.

Critical Race Theory (1970s-present)

Critical Race Theory, or CRT, is a theoretical and interpretive mode that examines the appearance of race and racism across dominant cultural modes of expression. In adopting this approach, CRT scholars attempt to understand how victims of systemic racism are affected by cultural perceptions of race and how they are able to represent themselves to counter prejudice.

Closely connected to such fields as philosophy, history, sociology, and law, CRT scholarship traces racism in America through the nation’s legacy of slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and recent events. In doing so, it draws from work by writers like Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King, Jr., and others studying law, feminism, and post-structuralism. CRT developed into its current form during the mid-1970s with scholars like Derrick Bell, Alan Freeman, and Richard Delgado, who responded to what they identified as dangerously slow progress following Civil Rights in the 1960s.

Prominent CRT scholars like Kimberlé Crenshaw, Mari Matsuda, and Patricia Williams share an interest in recognizing racism as a quotidian component of American life (manifested in textual sources like literature, film, law, etc). In doing so, they attempt to confront the beliefs and practices that enable racism to persist while also challenging these practices in order to seek liberation from systemic racism.

As such, CRT scholarship also emphasizes the importance of finding a way for diverse individuals to share their experiences. However, CRT scholars do not only locate an individual’s identity and experience of the world in his or her racial identifications, but also their membership to a specific class, gender, nation, sexual orientation, etc. They read these diverse cultural texts as proof of the institutionalized inequalities racialized groups and individuals experience every day.

As Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic explain in their introduction to the third edition of Critical Race Theory: The Cutting Edge, “Our social world, with its rules, practices, and assignments of prestige and power, is not fixed; rather, we construct with it words, stories and silence. But we need not acquiesce in arrangements that are unfair and one-sided. By writing and speaking against them, we may hope to contribute to a better, fairer world” (3). In this sense, CRT scholars seek tangible, real-world ends through the intellectual work they perform. This contributes to many CRT scholars’ emphasis on social activism and transforming everyday notions of race, racism, and power.

More recently, CRT has contributed to splinter groups focused on Asian American, Latino, and Indigenous racial experiences.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdO-rmcIdAw

Typical Questions for Critical Race Theory

  • What is the significance of race in contemporary American society?
  • Where, in what ways, and to what ends does race appear in dominant American culture and shape the ways we interact with one another?
  • What types of texts and other cultural artifacts reflect dominant culture’s perceptions of race?
  • How can scholars convey that racism is a concern that affects all members of society?
  • How does racism continue to function as a persistent force in American society?
  • How can we combat racism to ensure that all members of American society experience equal representation and access to fundamental rights?
  • How can we accurately reflect the experiences of victims of racism?

Feminist Criticism (1960s-present)

S/he

Feminist criticism is concerned with "...the ways in which literature (and other cultural productions) reinforce or undermine the economic, political, social, and psychological oppression of women" (Tyson). This school of theory looks at how aspects of our culture are inherently patriarchal (male dominated) and "...this critique strives to expose the explicit and implicit misogyny in male writing about women" (Richter 1346). This misogyny, Tyson reminds us, can extend into diverse areas of our culture: "Perhaps the most chilling example...is found in the world of modern medicine, where drugs prescribed for both sexes often have been tested on male subjects only" (83).

Feminist criticism is also concerned with less obvious forms of marginalization such as the exclusion of women writers from the traditional literary canon: "...unless the critical or historical point of view is feminist, there is a tendency to under-represent the contribution of women writers" (Tyson 82-83).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JHS9cYuJZA
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFqKqDOP9L4

Typical Questions for Feminist Theory

  • How is the relationship between men and women portrayed?
  • What are the power relationships between men and women (or characters assuming male/female roles)?
  • How are male and female roles defined?
  • What constitutes masculinity and femininity?
  • How do characters embody these traits?
  • Do characters take on traits from opposite genders? How so? How does this change others’ reactions to them?
  • What does the work reveal about the operations (economically, politically, socially, or psychologically) of patriarchy?
  • What does the work imply about the possibilities of sisterhood as a mode of resisting patriarchy?
  • What does the work say about women's creativity?
  • What does the history of the work's reception by the public and by the critics tell us about the operation of patriarchy?
  • What role the work play in terms of women's literary history and literary tradition? (Tyson)
  • New Historicism/Historical/Biographical

    New Historicism assumes that every work is a product of the historic moment that created it. Specifically, New Historicism is "...a practice that has developed out of contemporary theory, particularly the structuralist realization that all human systems are symbolic and subject to the rules of language, and the deconstructive realization that there is no way of positioning oneself as an observer outside the closed circle of textuality" (Richter 1205).

    A helpful way of considering New Historical theory, Tyson explains, is to think about the retelling of history itself: "...questions asked by traditional historians and by new historicists are quite different...traditional historians ask, 'What happened?' and 'What does the event tell us about history?' In contrast, new historicists ask, 'How has the event been interpreted?' and 'What do the interpretations tell us about the interpreters?'" (278). So New Historicism resists the notion that "...history is a series of events that have a linear, causal relationship: event A caused event B; event B caused event C; and so on" (Tyson 278).

    New historicists do not believe that we can look at history objectively, but rather that we interpret events as products of our time and culture and that "...we don't have clear access to any but the most basic facts of history...our understanding of what such facts mean...is...strictly a matter of interpretation, not fact" (279). Moreover, New Historicism holds that we are hopelessly subjective interpreters of what we observe.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMxkN81QhKw

    Typical Questions for Historical Biographical Criticism

  • What language/characters/events present in the work reflect the current events of the author’s day?
  • Are there words in the text that have changed their meaning from the time of the writing?
  • How are such events interpreted and presented?
  • How are events' interpretation and presentation a product of the culture of the author?
  • Does the work's presentation support or condemn the event?
  • Can it be seen to do both?
  • How does this portrayal criticize the leading political figures or movements of the day?
  • How does the literary text function as part of a continuum with other historical/cultural texts from the same period...?
  • How can we use a literary work to "map" the interplay of both traditional and subversive discourses circulating in the culture in which that work emerged and/or the cultures in which the work has been interpreted?
  • How does the work consider traditionally marginalized populations?
  • Freud and Literature

    So what does all of this psychological business have to do with literature and the study of literature? Put simply, some critics believe that we can "...read psychoanalytically...to see which concepts are operating in the text in such a way as to enrich our understanding of the work and, if we plan to write a paper about it, to yield a meaningful, coherent psychoanalytic interpretation" (Tyson 29). Tyson provides some insightful and applicable questions to help guide our understanding of psychoanalytic criticism.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4NXNfBEwZg
    Big picture

    Psychoanalytic Theory (1930s-present)

    Taken From: Telescopes and Spyglasses: Using Literary Theories in High School Classrooms (Danielle M. Rains, 2015, Bowling Green State University)

    What is Psychoanalytical Criticism?

    Psychoanalysis started as a medical practice, not a literary theory. Over time, theorists came to apply the assumptions of Psychoanalysis to literary criticism, to psychoanalyze characters in texts as if they were real people.

    Psychoanalytic critics believe that there are core issues that define our beings in fundamental ways. Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, came up with a theory of a tri-partite psyche. He believed that the human psyche was divided up between the Id, the Superego, and the Ego, which were constantly at war with one another. The Id was believed to be a reserve for our animal instincts, devoted to the gratification of prohibited desires, centering on instant gratification. The Superego, conversely, is our social programming, created by social values, expectations, and taboos, telling us what we should and do not do, centering on internalized morality we learn from our parents. The Ego mediates between the Id and the Superego; it mediates between the psyche and the real world, channeling the desires of the Id into actions acceptable to the superego.

    Jung, a student of Freud, also believed that the self had three parts: the Shadow, the Anima, and the Persona. The Shadow, according to Jung, is everything we don’t like about ourselves; our dark sides, which we refuse to accept as part of ourselves. The Anima is the part of ourselves we keep hidden from others; it mediates between our Ego and our inner reality, it decides how we act and what we do. The Persona, as defined well by Kate Chopin in her novel The Awakening, is “that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world.” It mediates between our Ego and the outside, choosing which parts we show which people.

    Lacan, a post-structuralist psychoanalytic critic, believed our reality was divided into three orders. The first is The Imaginary. This order is marked by a sense of unity with the world around us; infants in this stage believe the world revolves around them, not recognizing that the entire world isn’t an extension of themselves. The second order is The Symbolic. This order is marked by language and lack; we learn to understand the differences that make language and gender differentiation possible, allowing us to make sense of our reality, where we all lack wholeness because we have accepted the rules of our society and our culture. The third order is The Real, which is essentially unachievable and traumatic. Entering into The Real would require us to recognize our lack and our loss, making us even more fragmented than we were to start with. The Real is the space beyond signification;

    beyond ideology, language, and culture, there is nothing. Entering into The Real causes us to recognize this, an experience that is inherently traumatic.


    Lacan believed that every person has to go through a period where they recognize their lack, which he referred to as The Mirror Stage. In the Mirror Stage, unformed subjects, often babies, see their own reflection and realize that they are separate from the outside world; they acknowledge that the reflection is both them and not them. This realization forces infants to lose their sense of unity and security they had when they felt connected to everything. It also creates the illusion of wholeness of self, because babies see their refection as complete, like other objects they see in reality. The Mirror Stage is the process of the formation of the Ego, the shift from primary narcissism and identification with the mother as self to identifying with others outside the mother/child dyad and therefore recognizing both the mother and the self as individuals. It deals with shifts in cathexis, the concept that a certain amount of psychical energy is attracted to something. In primary narcissism, the child cathects all of its libido onto itself;

    after the Mirror Stage, people are able to cathect their libido onto others unless they enter into secondary narcissism, the turning around of the libido onto the ego, which has been withdrawn from the objects it had previously been cathected to. After the Mirror Stage, the subject is aware that the concept of the coherent self is an illusion and enters into the Symbolic, needing language to mediate experience and shape reality; the illusion of unmediated experience is gone forever.

    Psychoanalytic critics assume that psychoanalysis can interpret texts about human behavior. They do this through character analysis, which comes out of the driving force behind psychoanalysis as a medical practice: to understand motives and relationships and to explain our growth and development on the level of humanity as a whole. Lacan viewed the self as fragmented and broken because the unconscious is structured like a language. In the Post-Structuralist tradition, he saw the unconscious as a chain of signifiers, all leading to more signifiers without any signified that would give the whole system stability. As we develop, we develop our personality in a way to create an illusion of a unified self, which we can never achieve. Thus, we create a desire for pleasure and material things in an attempt to return to the state of unity we had as infants.


    Guiding Questions:

    • Freud:

    Where do you find evidence of the Id, Ego, and Superego at work?

    Does the character have any internal monologues or dreams? If so, what do you

    learn from them about the character that is not revealed by outward behavior or

    conversation?


    Are there conflicts between what is observable and what is going on inside the

    character? Are there any revealing symbols in them?


    Who is telling the story, and why does the narrator feel constrained to tell it?

    • Jung:

    What similarities do you find among the characters, situations, and settings of the

    text under consideration and those in other works that you have read?


    Is the narrative like any classic myths you know?

    Where do you find evidence of the protagonist’s persona? Anima? Shadow?

    Does the protagonist at any point reject some parts of his/her personality and

    project it onto someone or something else?

    • Lacan:

    Where do you recognize the appearance of the Imaginary, Symbolic, and/or Real

    orders?


    Is the character aware of the lack or absence of something significant in the self?

    Are there objects that symbolize what is missing or lacking?

    Do you find examples of the Mirror Stage of the developing psyche?


    Sigmund Freud

    Psychoanalytic criticism builds on Freudian theories of psychology. While we don't have the room here to discuss all of Freud's work, a general overview is necessary to explain psychoanalytic literary criticism.

    The Unconscious, the Desires, and the Defenses

    Freud began his psychoanalytic work in the 1880s while attempting to treat behavioral disorders in his Viennese patients. He dubbed the disorders 'hysteria' and began treating them by listening to his patients talk through their problems. Based on this work, Freud asserted that people's behavior is affected by their unconscious: "...the notion that human beings are motivated, even driven, by desires, fears, needs, and conflicts of which they are unaware..." (Tyson 14-15).

    Freud believed that our unconscious was influenced by childhood events. Freud organized these events into developmental stages involving relationships with parents and drives of desire and pleasure where children focus "...on different parts of the body...starting with the mouth...shifting to the oral, anal, and phallic phases..." (Richter 1015). These stages reflect base levels of desire, but they also involve fear of loss (loss of genitals, loss of affection from parents, loss of life) and repression: "...the expunging from consciousness of these unhappy psychological events" (Tyson 15).

    Tyson reminds us, however, that "...repression doesn't eliminate our painful experiences and emotions...we unconsciously behave in ways that will allow us to 'play out'...our conflicted feelings about the painful experiences and emotions we repress" (15). To keep all of this conflict buried in our unconscious, Freud argued that we develop defenses: selective perception, selective memory, denial, displacement, projection, regression, fear of intimacy, and fear of death, among others.

    Id, Ego, and Superego

    Freud maintained that our desires and our unconscious conflicts give rise to three areas of the mind that wrestle for dominance as we grow from infancy, to childhood, to adulthood:

    • id - "...the location of the drives" or libido
    • ego - "...one of the major defenses against the power of the drives..." and home of the defenses listed above
    • superego - the area of the unconscious that houses Judgment (of self and others) and "...which begins to form during childhood as a result of the Oedipus complex" (Richter 1015-1016)
    Big picture

    Typical Questions for Psychoanalytic Theory

    • How do the operations of repression structure or inform the work?
    • Are there any oedipal dynamics - or any other family dynamics - are work here?
    • How can characters' behavior, narrative events, and/or images be explained in terms of psychoanalytic concepts of any kind (for example...fear or fascination with death, sexuality - which includes love and romance as well as sexual behavior - as a primary indicator of psychological identity or the operations of ego-id-superego)?
    • What does the work suggest about the psychological being of its author?
    • What might a given interpretation of a literary work suggest about the psychological motives of the reader?
    • Are there prominent words in the piece that could have different or hidden meanings? Could there be a subconscious reason for the author using these "problem words"?

    Reader-Response Criticism (1960s-present)

    • Louise Rosenblatt's influential 1938 work Literature As Exploration

    • reaction to the formalist theories of the New Critics, who promoted "close readings" of literature

    • A form of criticism that stresses the importance of the reader's role in interpreting texts. Rejecting the idea that there is a single, fixed meaning inherent in every literary work, this theory holds that the individual creates his or her own meaning through a "transaction" with the text based on personal associations.

      Key Terms

    • Horizons of expectations

    • Implied reader

    • Interpretive communities

    • Transactional analysis

      Objections

    • Too subjective

    • Fails to account for a text being able to expand a reader’s understanding

      To Sum Up

    • “The Correct Reading” was traditionally the goal of literary criticism.

    • Reader response criticism is a reaction to this. How one interprets a text is subjective and is based on time, place, culture, etc.

    A form of criticism that stresses the importance of the reader's role in interpreting texts. Rejecting the idea that there is a single, fixed meaning inherent in every literary work, this theory holds that the individual creates his or her own meaning through a "transaction" with the text based on personal associations.

    How one interprets a text is subjective and is based on time, place, culture, etc.

    What Do You Think?

    At its most basic level, reader response criticism considers readers' reactions to literature as vital to interpreting the meaning of the text. However, reader-response criticism can take a number of different approaches. A critic deploying reader-response theory can use a psychoanalytic lens, a feminists lens, or even a structuralist lens. What these different lenses have in common when using a reader response approach is they maintain "...that what a text is cannot be separated from what it does" (Tyson 154).

    Tyson explains that "...reader-response theorists share two beliefs: 1) that the role of the reader cannot be omitted from our understanding of literature and 2) that readers do not passively consume the meaning presented to them by an objective literary text; rather they actively make the meaning they find in literature" (154). In this way, reader-response theory shares common ground with some of the deconstructionists discussed in the Post-structural area when they talk about "the death of the author," or her displacement as the (author)itarian figure in the text.

    Objections

    Objections: Too subjective, fails to account for a text being able to expand a reader’s understanding

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fnq1nD_bmlc

    Typical Questions on Reader-Response

    • How does the interaction of text and reader create meaning?
    • What does a phrase-by-phrase analysis of a short literary text, or a key portion of a longer text, tell us about the reading experience prestructured by (built into) that text?
    • Do the sounds/shapes of the words as they appear on the page or how they are spoken by the reader enhance or change the meaning of the word/work?
    • How might we interpret a literary text to show that the reader's response is, or is analogous to, the topic of the story?
    • What does the body of criticism published about a literary text suggest about the critics who interpreted that text and/or about the reading experience produced by that text? (Tyson 191)

    Marxist Criticism (1930s-present)

    • Began with Karl Marx, 19th century German philosopher best known for Das Kapital (1867), the seminal work of the communist movement.

    • Marx was also the first Marxist literary critic, writing critical essays in the 1830s on such writers as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and William Shakespeare.

    • A sociological approach to literature that viewed works of literature or art as the products of historical forces that can be analyzed by looking at the material conditions in which they were formed.

    • What we think of as world view is actually the product of the dominant class

    • Marxism generally focuses on the clash between the dominant and repressed classes

      Points to Consider

    • Literature expresses the ideas, beliefs and values of a culture

    • Literature of any significance actively engages in controversy or argument

    • Literature reveals power struggles (sexual power, economic power, social power, and so on) and how this operates and with what consequences

    • Literature reveals how the author, reader, and characters demonstrate an awareness or lack of awareness of their economic and social situations and what oppresses them

    • Literature and authors can manipulate readers into sympathizing with rather than critiquing the dominant (and oppressive) social order.

      Strengths

    • Encourages a careful reading of the text

    • Doesn’t limit reader to view text in isolation

      Weaknesses

    • Only examines limited aspect of text

    • Some people feel threatened by the focus on “ideology”

    • Dismisses the beauty of writing and does not allow reader to simply enjoy text

      Applying Theory to Text

    • To what degree does the protagonist or other characters believe in and live by the prevailing social order?

    • At what point(s) do characters recognize the oppressiveness of the prevailing social order?

    • How do they respond? What affects their options for changing things?

    • To what degree does the protagonist or other characters believe in and live by the prevailing social order?

    • At what point(s) do characters recognize the oppressiveness of the prevailing social order?

    • How do they respond? What affects their options for changing things?

    • How is social objectification evident and how does it operate in the text?

    • What are the social forces that affect the author’s writing or the text’s marketing and reception?

    • How is social objectification evident and how does it operate in the text?

    • What are the social forces that affect the author’s writing or the text’s marketing and reception?

      Key Terms

    • Commodification

    • Conspicuous consumption

    • Dialectical materialism

    • Material circumstances

    • Reflectionism

    • Superstructure

    Taken From: Telescopes and Spyglasses: Using Literary Theories in High School Classrooms (Danielle M. Rains, 2015, Bowling Green State University)

    Marxism is a political, social, and economic theory, fathered by Karl Marx, that claims

    economics is the base on which the superstructure of social, political, and ideological realities are built. Marx believed that all societies will “evolve” toward a classless society with a socialist government, after the working class rises up against the dominant class.

    Marxism believes that culture reproduces the class structure of society. Analysts look for ways the text reinforces capitalist, imperialist, or classist values, which can be done through form or content. The bourgeoisie, the ones who control the world’s economic, natural, and human resources, can manipulate the culture to maintain their position of power. These forms of entertainment glamorize the current state of society, whether or not the readers understand it is happening, therefore stabilizing their hold on the power. They also engage in conspicuous consumption, or consuming for the sake of consuming to impress others. In their insecurity as consumers, they are urged to compete with those within their class to maintain their status as members of the dominant group. The proletariat, or the majority of society who perform manual labor that essentially benefits the bourgeoisie, end up engaging in commodification, or relating to objects and even people in terms of anything other than their use value or utility. These other ways of valuing objects are their sign value, or ability to impress, or their exchange value, or

    value upon resale. The commodification of people rises out of alienated labor, in which laborers become dissociated from both their work and the products of their labor, and end up being seen as machines rather than human beings, because they do not directly profit from their work.

    Marxist critics apply theory to literature through the belief that ideology is at work in all cultural productions. Critics look for places where the text is ideologically conflicted. According to Marxism, an ideology is a body of ideas that defend the status quo and actively promote the values and interests of the dominant group or society and pass themselves off as the natural way of seeing things The dominant class manipulates those below it into accepting its ideology

    through a process called interpellation, where it pulls individuals into the ideology. We are all already interpellated into ideology. For example, we are all brought into the ideology of gender norms because, as soon as we are born, we are wrapped in either a pink or a blue blanket, noting our gender as feminine or masculine based on our biological sex. Societies that claim democratic freedoms impose and reinforce a set of

    standards for cultural behavior through hegemony, a set of seemingly stable cultural rules people are supposed to follow that is perpetrated by all parts of society, especially the media. For example, women may be portrayed in the media as weak or staying in the home to serve the hegemonic function of keeping women dependent and out of the workplace. The ruling class is able to create cultural ideology that makes their system, the one that allows them to remain in power, appear logical and natural to the lower classes, making them think what they want them to think. In his theoretical essay

    “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” Louis Althusser, a Poststructural Marxist theorist, claims that

    1) ideologies are fictions we use to relate to reality and

    2) institutions have rituals

    believers perform, which gives the ideology a material existence (for more on Poststructuralism,

    see chapter 7). However, not all ideologies are bad things: they can promote a better world for all, or they can perpetrate the repression of the system.


    A sociological approach to literature that viewed works of literature or art as the products of historical forces that can be analyzed by looking at the material conditions in which they were formed.

    What we think of as world view is actually the product of the dominant class

    Marxism generally focuses on the clash between the dominant and repressed

    classes.


    Key Terms:

    · Commodification:- "the attitude of valuing things not for their utility but for their power to impress others or for their resale possibilities"

    · Conspicuous consumption - "the obvious acquisition of things only for their sign value and/or exchange value"

    · Dialectical materialism - "the theory that history develops neither in a random fashion nor in a linear one but instead as struggle between contradictions that ultimately find resolution in a synthesis of the two sides. For example, class conflicts lead to new social systems"

    · Material circumstances - "the economic conditions underlying the society. To understand social events, one must have a grasp of the material circumstances and the historical situation in which they occur"

    · Reflectionism - associated with Vulgar Marxism - "a theory that the superstructure of a society mirrors its economic base and, by extension, that a text reflects the society that produced it"

    · Superstructure - "The social, political, and ideological systems and institutions--for example, the values, art, and legal processes of a society--that are generated by the base"

    Points to consider

    • Literature expresses the ideas, beliefs and values of a culture
    • Literature of any significance actively engages in controversy or argument
    • Literature reveals power struggles (sexual power, economic power, social power, and so on) and how this operates and with what consequences
    • Literature reveals how the author, reader, and characters demonstrate an awareness or lack of awareness of their economic and social situations and what oppresses them
    • Literature and authors can manipulate readers into sympathizing with rather than critiquing the dominant (and oppressive) social order.

    Whom Does it Benefit?

    Based on the theories of Karl Marx (and so influenced by philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel), this school concerns itself with class differences, economic and otherwise, as well as the implications and complications of the capitalist system: "Marxism attempts to reveal the ways in which our socioeconomic system is the ultimate source of our experience" (Tyson 277).

    Theorists working in the Marxist tradition, therefore, are interested in answering the overarching question, whom does it [the work, the effort, the policy, the road, etc.] benefit? The elite? The middle class? And Marxists critics are also interested in how the lower or working classes are oppressed - in everyday life and in literature.

    The Material Dialectic

    The Marxist school follows a process of thinking called the material dialectic. This belief system maintains that "...what drives historical change are the material realities of the economic base of society, rather than the ideological superstructure of politics, law, philosophy, religion, and art that is built upon that economic base" (Richter 1088).

    Marx asserts that "...stable societies develop sites of resistance: contradictions build into the social system that ultimately lead to social revolution and the development of a new society upon the old" (1088). This cycle of contradiction, tension, and revolution must continue: there will always be conflict between the upper, middle, and lower (working) classes and this conflict will be reflected in literature and other forms of expression - art, music, movies, etc.

    The Revolution

    The continuing conflict between the classes will lead to upheaval and revolution by oppressed peoples and form the groundwork for a new order of society and economics where capitalism is abolished. According to Marx, the revolution will be led by the working class (others think peasants will lead the uprising) under the guidance of intellectuals. Once the elite and middle class are overthrown, the intellectuals will compose an equal society where everyone owns everything (socialism - not to be confused with Soviet or Maoist Communism).

    Strengths

    • Encourages a careful reading of the text
    • Doesn’t limit reader to view text in isolation

    Weaknesses

    • Only examines limited aspect of text
    • Some people feel threatened by the focus on “ideology”
    • Dismisses the beauty of writing and does not allow reader to simply enjoy text

    Typical Marxist Questions

    • Whom does it benefit if the work or effort is accepted/successful/believed, etc.?
    • What is the social class of the author?
    • Which class does the work claim to represent?
    • What values does it reinforce?
    • What values does it subvert?
    • What conflict can be seen between the values the work champions and those it portrays?
    • What social classes do the characters represent?
    • How do characters from different classes interact or conflict?
    • To what degree does the protagonist or other characters believe in and live by the prevailing social order?
    • At what point(s) do characters recognize the oppressiveness of the prevailing social order?
    • How do they respond? What affects their options for changing things?
    • How is social objectification evident and how does it operate in the text?
    • What are the social forces that affect the author’s writing or the text’s marketing and reception?


    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0GFSUu5UzA

    Post Colonial or Colonial Criticism

    History is written by the victors.

    Post-colonial criticism is similar to cultural studies, but it assumes a unique perspective on literature and politics that warrants a separate discussion. Specifically, post-colonial critics are concerned with literature produced by colonial powers and works produced by those who were/are colonized. Post-colonial theory looks at issues of power, economics, politics, religion, and culture and how these elements work in relation to colonial hegemony (western colonizers controlling the colonized).

    Therefore, a post-colonial critic might be interested in works such as Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe where colonial "...ideology [is] manifest in Crusoe's colonialist attitude toward the land upon which he's shipwrecked and toward the black man he 'colonizes' and names Friday" (Tyson 377). In addition, post-colonial theory might point out that "...despite Heart of Darkness's (Joseph Conrad) obvious anti-colonist agenda, the novel points to the colonized population as the standard of savagery to which Europeans are contrasted" (Tyson 375). Post-colonial criticism also takes the form of literature composed by authors that critique Euro-centric hegemony.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBkYIOdqbgo

    Typical Questions for Post-Colonial Theory

    • How does the literary text, explicitly or allegorically, represent various aspects of colonial oppression?
    • What does the text reveal about the problematics of post-colonial identity, including the relationship between personal and cultural identity and such issues as double consciousness and hybridity?
    • What person(s) or groups does the work identify as "other" or stranger? How are such persons/groups described and treated?
    • What does the text reveal about the politics and/or psychology of anti-colonialist resistance?
    • What does the text reveal about the operations of cultural difference - the ways in which race, religion, class, gender, sexual orientation, cultural beliefs, and customs combine to form individual identity - in shaping our perceptions of ourselves, others, and the world in which we live?
    • How does the text respond to or comment upon the characters, themes, or assumptions of a canonized (colonialist) work?
    • Are there meaningful similarities among the literatures of different post-colonial populations?
    • How does a literary text in the Western canon reinforce or undermine colonialist ideology through its representation of colonialization and/or its inappropriate silence about colonized peoples? (Tyson 378-379)
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    Satirical Style of Language

    Satire is a powerful art form which has the ability to point out the deficiencies in certain human behaviors and the social issues which result from them in such a way that they become absurd, even hilarious, which is therefore entertaining and reaches a wide audience. Satire also has the ability to protect its creator from culpability for criticism, because it is implied rather than overtly stated; in this way, it becomes a powerful tool for dissenters in difficult or oppressive political and social periods.

    LeBoeuf, Megan, " e Power of Ridicule: An Analysis of Satire" (2007)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzXQoZ6pE-M
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=daw7cGjrORE
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    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOc8E-4iFuo

    Missionary Schools

    The first example of eurocentric schools that were attended by Aboriginal youth in Canada were those established by European missionaries. These missionary schools date back to the 17th century. It was thought by authorities that the most effective way to impose western standards on Aboriginal peoples would be through the education of their youth as it was thought that this demographic would be the most receptive. (Ledoux, 2006)

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    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9z9QKRsiql8