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Part 3: Literary Criticism: An Introduction

Section 3: Part Three: Literary Criticism: An Introduction was written by Angela Edward-Mangione, The University of South Florida

 

Part One: Literary Criticism: An Introduction   Part Two: Literary Criticism: An Introduction    

 

 Feminist (Gender Studies) Criticism

Key Terms

Definitions

Gender Roles

a theoretical construct that refers to a cluster of social and behavioral conventions that are typically considered to be socially appropriate customs for individuals of a specific sex within a particular culture

Stereotypical Representations of Gender

representations of gender that rely on stereotypes and, therefore, represent men or women as underdeveloped individuals

Patriarchy

a social system in which men predominantly hold power in familial, social, and political spheres

Feminist criticism, or gender studies, focuses on the role of women (or gender) in a literary text. According to Bressler, “central to the diverse aims and methods of feminist criticism is its focus on patriarchy, the rule of society and culture by men” (168). Feminist criticism is useful for analyzing how gender itself is socially constructed for both men and women. Gender studies also considers how literature upholds or challenges those constructions, offering a unique way to approach literature.  

Feminist theory can be traced to the theories of Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex (1929). In 1919, however, Virginia Woolf formed the foundation of feminist criticism in her seminal work, A Room of One’s Own. In this text, Woolf hypothesizes that Shakespeare had a sister called Judith, but that Judith’s gender would have prevented her from having a room of her own in which to use her great gift and to write. As a result, Shakespeare’s sister would not have gone to school (81), might have entered a miserable marriage, and would have either committed suicide or died a lonely death (82-4). If women write what they think, however, Shakespeare’s sister will be born (199). Consequently, according to feminist criticism, patriarchy, in its masculine-focused structure, socially dictates the norms for both men and women.

For example, in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Austen represents gender in characters’ attitudes towards marriage. Elizabeth Bennet, the protagonist, initially scorns marriage, rhetorically asking, “What are men to rocks and mountains?” (119). After falling in love with Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth’s perspective of men and marriage changes. She then happily accepts Mr. Darcy’s proposal. In contrast, Mrs. Bennet steadfastly views a good marriage as the highest achievement possible for a woman. Mrs. Bennet cites the marriage of one of her five daughters as “the first object of her wishes since Jane [the eldest Bennet daughter] was sixteen” (237). Pride and Prejudice celebrates and subverts marriage as a societal expectation that if not fulfilled can render a man or woman as a socially inferior individual. The novel can be viewed as a subversive novel that challenges patriarchal power.

Questions to Ask:

  • Are men or women noticeably present in the text? If so, how?
  • Consider stereotypical representations of women as the beloved, mothers, virgins, whores, and goddesses. Does the text refer to, uphold, or resist any of these stereotypes? How?
  • What roles have been assigned to the men and women in the text? Are the roles stereotypical? Do gender roles conflict with personal desires?
  • Does the text paint a picture of gender relations? If so, how would you describe gender relations in the text? On what are they based? What sustains them? What causes conflict between men and women?
  • Are gender relations in the text celebrated? Denigrated? Mocked? Mystified? If so, how?

Online Examples:

Harry Potter through the Focus of Feminist Literary Theory: Examples of (Un) Founded Criticism by Krunoslav Mikulan

Feminism and The Handmaid's Taleby Jennifer E. Dunn

New Historical/Cultural Materialist Criticism

Key Terms

Definitions

Culture

the values, conventions, social practices, social forms, and material features of a racial, religious, or social group

Discourse 

written or spoken language that is often used to study how people use language

Historical Milieu

a materially rooted social environment tied to a specific historical period

New Historicism, or Cultural Materialism, considers a literary work within the context of the author’s historical milieu. A key premise of New Historicism is that art and literature are integrated into the material practices of culture; consequently, literary and non-literary texts circulate together in society. New Historicism may focus on the life of the author; the social, economic, and political circumstances (and non-literary works) of that era; as well as the cultural events of the author’s historical milieu. The cultural events with which a work is correlated may be big (social and cultural) or small.

Scholars view Raymond Williams as a major figure in the development of Cultural Materialism. American critic Stephen Greenblatt coined the term “New Historicism” (5) in the Introduction of one of his collections of essays about English Renaissance Drama, The Power of Forms in the English Renaissance.

Many New Historicist critics have studied Shakespeare’s The Tempest alongside The Bermuda Pamphlets and various travel narratives from the early modern era, speculating about how England’s colonial expeditions in the New World may have influenced Shakespeare’s decision to set The Tempest on an island near Bermuda. Some critics also situate The Tempest during the period of time during in which King James I ruled England and advocated the absolute authority of Kings in both political and spiritual matters. Since Prospero maintains complete authority on the island on which The Tempest is set, some New Historicist critics find a parallel between King James I and Prospero in The Tempest. Additionally, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe can be interpreted in light of the true story of a shipwrecked man named Alexander Selkirk. Analyzing a text alongside its historical milieu and relevant documents can demonstrate how a text addresses the social or political concerns of its time period.

Questions to Ask:

  • Does the text address the political or social concerns of its time period? If so, what issues does the text examine?  
  • What historical events or controversies does the text overtly address or allude to? Does the text comment on those events?
  • What political figures does the text allude to or criticize? Does the text overtly or subversively critique these figures? 
  • What types of historical documents (e.g., wills, laws, religious tracts, narratives, art, etc.) might illuminate the meaning and the purpose of the literary text?
  • How does the text relate to other literary texts from the same time period?

Online Example:

Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”: A New Historicist Reading

Marxist Criticism

Key Terms

Definitions

Class

a classification or grouping typically based on income and education

Alienation 

a condition Karl Heinrich Marx ascribed to individuals in a capitalist economy who lack a sense of identification with their labor and products

Base

the means (e.g., tools, machines, factories, natural resources) and relations (e.g., Proletariat, Bourgeoisie) or production that shape and are shaped by the superstructure (the dominant aspect in society)

Superstructure

the social institutions such as systems of law, morality, education, and their related ideologies, that shape and are shaped by the base

Marxist criticism places a literary work within the context of class and assumptions about class. A premise of Marxist criticism is that literature can be viewed as ideological, and that it can be analyzed in terms of a Base/Superstructure model. Karl Heinrich Marx argues that the economic means of production within society account for the base. A base determines its superstructure. Human institutions and ideologies—including those relevant to patriarchalism—that produce art and literary texts comprise the superstructure. Marxist criticism thus emphasizes class, socioeconomic status, power relations among various segments of society, and the representation of those segments. Marxist literary criticism is valuable because it enables readers to see the role that class plays in the plot of a text.  

Bressler notes that “Marxist theory has its roots in the nineteenth-century writings of Karl Heinrich Marx, though his ideas did not fully develop until the twentieth century” (183). Key figures in Marxist theory include Bertolt Brecht, Georg Lukács, and Louis Althusser. Although these figures shaped the concepts and path of Marxist theory, Marxist literary criticism did not specifically develop from Marxism itself. One who approaches a literary text from a Marxist perspective may not necessarily support Marxist ideology.

For example, a Marxist approach to Langston Hughes’s poem “Advertisement for the Waldorf-Astoria” might examine how the socioeconomic status of the speaker and other citizens of New York City affect the speaker’s perspective. The Waldorf Astoria opened in the midst of the Great Depression. Thus, the poem’s speaker uses sarcasm to declare, “Fine living . . . a la carte? / Come to the Waldorf-Astoria! / LISTEN HUNGRY ONES! / Look! See what Vanity Fair says about the / new Waldorf-Astoria” (lines 1-5). The speaker further expresses how class contributes to the conflict described in the poem by contrasting the targeted audience of the hotel with the citizens of its surrounding area: “So when you’ve no place else to go, homeless and hungry / ones, choose the Waldorf as a background for your rags” (lines 15-16). Hughes’s poem invites readers to consider how class restricts particular segments of society.

Questions to Ask:

  • What classes, or socioeconomic statuses, are represented in the text?
  • Are all the segments of society accounted for, or does the text exclude a particular class?
  • How do the socioeconomic statuses of various characters affect their choices and actions?
  • Does class restrict or empower the characters in the text?
  • How does the text depict a struggle between classes, or how does class contribute to the conflict of the text?
  • How does the text depict the relationship between the individual and the state? Does the state view individuals as means for production, or as ends in themselves? 

Online Examples:

Marxist Criticism and Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” by Jay Massiet

The Working Class Beats: a Marxist analysis of Beat Writing and Culture from the Fifties to the Seventiesby Paul Whiston, Sheffield University, United Kingdom

Ethical Criticism

Key Terms

Definitions

Ethics

the branch of philosophy that deals with morality and moral principles

Metaethics 

a branch of ethics that studies the nature of morality itself

Normative Ethics

a branch of ethics that studies ethical conventions and principles

Applied Ethics

a branch of ethics that examines private or public moral issues that entail matters of moral judgment

Theorists who lived as early as Plato and Aristotle were broadly concerned with ethics and literature. Hence, Plato banned poets from his Republic. Similarly, during the Renaissance in England, an anti-theatrical movement swept the country. Leaders of this movement feared that spectators might imitate the immoral actions they viewed on the stage. Derek Attridge, who has lectured and published on ethical debates in literary studies, has emerged as a contemporary theorist of the ethics of reading. Attridge proposes that literature provides a vehicle in which readers can explore ethical issues in literature.

Ethical criticism focuses on issues related to morality or ethics within a literary text. This school recognizes that literature can reflect or generate ethical principles or questions. Since ethics can be divided into metaethics (the nature of ethics), normative ethics (ethical principles), and applied ethics (ethical principles applied to specific circumstances), ethical literary criticism may be approached in a manner that is similar to the field of ethics itself.

For example, a metaethical reading of a sacred or religious text might concentrate on how the text presents good and evil as polarized, abstract, real entities that empirically exist. In contrast, in Woody Allen’s film Crimes and Misdemeanors, the protagonist Judah has his lover Dolores killed after she threatens to reveal their affair to his wife. After experiencing intense regret, he works through his guilt and begins to enjoy his life again. The film presents morality and ethics as creations of the mind that are not empirical truths. To consider normative ethics, one can approach John Milton’s Paradise Lost and analyze the principles it upholds, such as obedience to a monotheistic deity, submission to a spouse, or even commitment to environmental stewardship. Literature is also rife with opportunities to examine literary characters and their circumstances as “case studies” in applied ethics. For example, Anton Chekhov’s short story “The Lady with the Pet Dog” narrates an affair between a married man (Dmitri Gurov) and woman (Anna Sergeyevna). Since both Dmitri and Anna are affected by their unhappy marriages, Chekhov invites the reader to conduct a case study in sexual ethics by examining the affair between them.

Questions to Ask:

  • Does the text present concepts such as good, bad, evil, moral, or immoral? If so, how are these concepts presented—as empirical truths, as rationalized mental phenomena, or as something else? Does the text explore shades of gray?
  • What ethical principles does the text present, challenge, question, probe, confirm, or deny?
  • What are the sources of ethical principles in the text? Are the sources intrinsic (e.g., from beliefs and values) or extrinsic (e.g., from family, social customs, or religious institutions)?
  • Does the text espouse a set or system of values?
  • What characters provide opportunities to conduct case studies? Does the text offer verdicts for its cases?  

Online Example:

The Conflict Between Aestheticism and Morality in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray by Patrick Duggan

Post-Colonial Criticism

Key Terms

Definitions

Colonialism

the process of acquiring political control of a country, affecting the economics, language, and culture of the colonized country

Post-Colonial Studies 

an area of study that focuses on the history of colonialism and its effects on colonized peoples and their culture, art, and literature

Decolonization 

the dismantling of colonialism and, sometimes, of colonial structures in countries previously colonized by European countries

Post-colonial literary criticism frequently focuses on relationships between colonizers and colonized people in literary texts. Post-colonial criticism also analyzes whether a text upholds or subverts colonial ideals. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word “colonialism” as a colonial system or principle involving the exploitation of weaker peoples by a larger power. Methods of colonialism may include the domination, subjugation, or enslavement of an indigenous population and their land; the exploitation and exportation of resources; or the creation of a settlement project. Post-colonial criticism is particularly important in the twenty-first century. As  John Springhall observes in Decolonization Since 1945, approximately a third of the world’s population lived under colonial or imperial rule at the time that the Second World War broke out in 1939 (1).

Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin, authors of The Empire Writes Back (1989), are three key figures who significantly oriented literary studies towards Post-colonial studies. Post-colonial theorists and literary authors also engaged these same issues in their theoretical and literary works in the 1950s and 1960s, however, especially as countries around the world gained independence from colonial powers. Gender, economics, race, and ideology are all subjects for consideration in post-colonial studies, so post-colonial criticism overlaps with some of the other critical schools of thought.

For example, some post-colonial literary critics argue that the central conflict of Wole Soyinka’s play Death and the King’s Horseman revolves around the interference of the British colonial officers in the ritual suicide of the King’s Horseman (Elesin). According to the Yoruba tradition, Elesin’s duty was to follow the King into the afterlife in order to ensure the King’s safe passage.

Soyinka based this play on a historical incident that took place in Nigeria during British colonial rule. Although the Yoruba custom dictated that Elesin commit suicide after the King’s death, the British deemed the tradition a barbaric one. In the play, Elesin tarries in the marketplace, leading women of his tribe to accuse him of not fulfilling his duties as a man of the tribe. Elesin’s delay also enables the British colonial officers to arrest him in order to prevent him from carrying out the ritual suicide. The gendered colonial conflict affects the play’s meaning because it illustrates the refusal of male British authorities to respect traditional customs in Nigeria. The conflict takes on a tragic dimension when Elesin’s son, Olunde, who had been studying abroad in England, returns to Nigeria to take the place of his father and restore order. The play does not celebrate Olunde’s sacrifice, however, since performing the ritual suicide was not Olunde’s duty. The play also concludes by dramatizing Elesin’s suicide, which presumably resulted from his grief. Soyinka’s play invites readers to analyze how colonialism operates as an antagonistic force in the play.  

Questions to Ask:

  • Where and when is the work set—in a colony, a former colony, or a country that has gained its independence from Great Britain Spain, France, or another political power?
  • How does the text depict relations between the colonizer and the colonized?
  • What principles of colonialism operate in the text? Do colonial powers usurp land, exploit the economy or environment, or enslave the indigenous population?
  • How do the colonial conflicts and politics of the text affect its meaning?

Online Example:

“Salman Rushdie’s ‘Stereoscopic Vision:’ Postcolonial Environments in Midnight’s Children” by Cathy C. Miller

Why Does Literary Criticism Matter?

Although analyzing literature by offering a specific interpretation of it can seem like a daunting task, approaching a text from one of these angles can help anyone write a literary analysis paper. Each lens through which one examines a literary text undoubtedly reveals a “brave new world” theretofore undiscovered by the reader. The happy critic is one who sees and understands new aspects of a text after reading or rereading it. The generous critic shares his or her interpretive insights by writing and sharing literary criticism, helping other readers discover new worlds within literary texts as well.

References

Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 8th ed. Boston: Thomson Higher Education, 2005.

Print.

Bohannan, Laura. “Shakespeare in the Bush.” Natural History. Natural History, Aug.-Sept.

1966. Web. 9 Dec. 2014.

Bressler, Charles. Literary Criticism: An Introduction to Theory and Practice. 4th ed. Upper

Saddle River: Pearson, 2007. Print.

"colonialism, n." OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2014. Web. 10 December

2014.

Coleridge, Samuel. “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Lyrical Ballads.  Eds. R.L Brett and

A.R. Jones. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 1991. Print.

Culler, Jonathan. Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997. Print.

Fish, Stanley. Is There a Text in this Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities.

Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1980. Print.

Greenblatt, Stephen. Introduction. The Power of Forms in the English Renaissance. Ed. Stephen

Greenblatt. Norman: Pilgrim Books, 1982. 3-6. Print.

Hawkes, Terence. Structuralism and Semiotics. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977.

Print.  

Hughes, Langston. “Advertisement for the Waldorf-Astoria.” American Studies at the University

of Virginia. Web. 9 Dec. 2014.

Macey, David. The Penguin Dictionary of Critical Theory. New York: Penguin, 2000. Print.

Pride and Prejudice: With Reader’s Guide. New York: Amsco School Publications, 1989. Print.

Springhall, John. Decolonization Since 1945: The Collapse of European Overseas Empires. New

York: Palgrave, 2001. Print.

Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1929. Print 

 

Part 2: Literary Criticism: An Introduction

Part 2: Literary Criticism: An Introduction was written by Angela Edward-Mangione, The University of South Florida

Part One: Literary Criticism: An Introduction   Part Three: Literary Criticism: An Introduction

 

Biographical Criticism

Key Terms

Definitions

Author

the composer, or writer, of a literary text

Biography 

an account of someone’s life written by someone other than the subject of the biography

Persona

a character or role adopted by an author

In contrast to analyzing the structure, codes, or patterns in a literary text, biographical criticism emphasizes the relationship between the author and his or her literary work. Since the premise of biographical criticism maintains that the author and his or her literary work cannot be separated, critics look for glimpses of the author’s consciousness or life in the author’s work. Early childhood events, psychological illnesses, relational conflicts, desires (fulfilled or unfulfilled), among other things, may all arise in an author’s work. Biographical criticism is not a new approach to literature. The overlap of biographical criticism with cultural studies, psychoanalytic criticism, and other schools of criticism has encouraged students and critics to approach literature from the perspective of the author’s biography.

For example, critics who study the poetry or drama of Amiri Baraka may concentrate on him growing up as an African American or being involved in the black arts movements in the United States. In Baraka’s play Dutchman, a racist female, Lula, confronts the protagonist, Clay. She initially seduces him but then insults and kills him. From a biographical perspective, the play may represent Baraka’s encounter with racism during the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, since some Americans opposed the individual rights and freedoms of black Americans. From this perspective, Clay allegorically represents African Americans, and Lula depicts white, racist Americans who possess a history of manipulating, abusing, and enacting violence against black Americans.

Questions to Ask:

  • What verifiable aspects of the author’s biography show up in his or her work?
  • Do places where the author grew up appear in his or her work?
  • How does the author weave aspects of his or her familial life into the world of the literary text? Does the author address relationships with parents, siblings, or significant others? If so, how do these relationships create meaning in the text?
  • What distinguishes the author from his or her persona in the text? Is there a distinction? How can you tell? 

Online Example:

The Ideal Source for a Tory Message: Thomas Otway's Venice Preserv'd, Motivation in Cisneros's "Never Marry a Mexican" A Historical-Biographical Critical Approachby Skylar Hamilton Burris

Reader-Response Criticism

Key Terms

Definitions

Incomplete Text

a text that remains incomplete because it has not been interpreted by a reader

Opinion 

a view or judgment not necessarily based on facts

Interpretive Community

a term coined by Stanley Fish for describing a group of informed readers who share similar assumptions about language and literary conventions 

Reader-response criticism, or reader-oriented criticism, focuses on the reading process. As Charles Bressler notes in Literary Criticism, the basic assumption of reader-oriented criticism is “Reader + Text = Meaning” (80). The thoughts, ideas, and experiences a reader brings to the text, combined with the text and experience of reading it, work together to create meaning. From this perspective, the text becomes a reflection of the reader. The association of the reader with a text differs from the premise of Formalist criticism, which argues for the autonomy of a text. Reader-response criticism does not suggest that anything goes, however, or that any interpretation is a sound one.

The origins of reader-oriented criticism can be located in the United States with Louise Rosenblatt’s development of theories in the 1930s (Literature as Exploration 1938). Rosenblatt further developed her theories in the late seventies (The Reader, the Text, the Poem 1978). American critic Stanley Fish has also significantly influenced reader-response theory. Fish conceived of “interpretive communities” that employ interpretive strategies to produce properties and meanings of literary texts (14-15).

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, a novel that critiques the dangers of a fictional utopian society, incorporates an intriguing exploration of reader-response criticism into its plot. John and Mustapha Mond both read texts written by Shakespeare, but they report very different responses to Shakespeare’s plays. For John, a noble savage born on a reservation in New Mexico, plays by Shakespeare represent a useful way to learn about the finest aspects of humanity and human values. In contrast, Mustapha Mond views literary works by Shakespeare as useless high art. Mustapha Mond’s position as the Resident Controller for Western Europe influences his perspective as a reader as much as John’s encounter with Shakespeare on a Reservation in New Mexico does. Recognizing how John’s and Mustapha Mond’s experiences differ in the novel helps readers understand why these characters respond to Shakespeare in dissimilar ways.

Questions to Ask:

  • Who is the reader? Who is the implied reader?
  • Does the text overtly or subtly ask the reader to sympathize or empathize in any way?
  • What experiences, thoughts, or knowledge does the text evoke?
  • What aspects or characters of the text do you identify or disidentify with, and how does this process of identification affect your response to the text?
  • What is the difference between your general reaction to (e.g., like or dislike) and reader-oriented interpretation of the text?

Online Example:

Theodore Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz”: A Reader’s Response

Psychological Criticism

Key Terms

Definitions

Conscious Mind

the aspect of the mind of which one is aware and can discuss and analyze rationally (Freud associates this aspect of the mind with the ego, or the captain of the ship)

Unconscious

the domain of the mind that often remains hidden, containing desires, motivations, and emotions; this aspect of the mind may also store repressed memories

Symbols

an object, idea, or action  that stands for something else; symbols are recognized as the language of dreams, suggesting a relationship between the everyday world and the world of dreams

The Collective Unconscious

in Jungian psychology, an aspect of the mind shared by all humanity that contains imprints of our ancestral experiences

Psychological criticism, or psychoanalytic criticism, emphasizes psychological issues in a literary text. Psychological criticism frequently addresses motives—conscious or unconscious—of human behavior as well as the development of characters through their actions. Drawing on theories and concepts of human psychology developed by psychoanalysts, psychoanalytic criticism has also influenced other schools of literary criticism, especially Post-colonial criticism.

Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan are two key figures who oriented literary studies toward questions of psychological processes. The works of Carl Jung and Abraham Maslow have also been used in psychoanalytic criticism. Each of these theorists explored how the conscious mind interacts with the unconscious mind.

Freud

According to Freud, a work of literature is an external expression of the author’s unconscious mind. The literary work can be treated like a dream by viewing its content as a representation of the author’s motivations, desires, or wishes. Yet, when certain repressed feelings cannot be sufficiently expressed in dreams (or literature), they are blocked, resulting in neurosis, or a conflict between the ego and the id. For Freud, the “id” accounts for the irrational, instinctual, and unknown parts of the psyche. The id operates by impulse. It attempts to find pleasure and to satisfy instinctual desires. The ego, however, is the rational and logical part of the mind that, in acting as the captain of the ship, regulates the instincts of the id. Finally, the superego acts as an internal regulator or censor. The superego takes social pressures into account to make moral judgments, protecting both individuals and society from the id.

As such, Freud is very popular for his theory of the Oedipus Complex, a theory he developed after studying Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex and pondering what unconscious desires and motives affected Oedipus. Freud’s concept of the Oedipus Complex attempts to explain a child’s sexual attraction toward the parent of the opposite sex and jealousy of the parent of the same sex. In the play Oedipus Rex, the protagonist Oedipus unknowingly kills his father Laius and marries his mother Jocasta. For Freud, all human behavior is sexually motivated and can usually be traced to early childhood experiences. Thus, from Freud’s perspective, Oedipus unconsciously desired a sexual relationship with his mother. After Oedipus fully discovers what he has done—that he has married his mother and killed his father—he intentionally blinds himself. Freud used a story from literature to develop a universal psychological theory, and students who aim to apply Freud’s theories to understand literature can examine a character’s relationship to his or her parent of the opposite sex, assuming that sexual tension motivates almost all human—and literary—actions. For example, many students and critics also view the tension between Hamlet and his mother as a type of unconscious sexual conflict, especially since Hamlet’s mother marries another man so quickly after she becomes a widow.

Online Example

A Freudian Analysis of Erin McGraw's "A Thief by Skylar Hamilton Burris

Jung

Carl Gustav Jung disagreed with Freud’s emphasis on sexuality. Jung proposed that in addition to sexual imagery, mythological images also appear in dreams. He conceived of the personal conscious, the personal unconscious, and the collective unconscious. For Jung, the unconscious is a common aspect of all human experience. As Bressler notes, Jung asserted that the collective unconscious stores knowledge and experience of the whole human species (150). The collective unconscious accounts for why people respond to stories and myths the same way—because everyone remembers humanity’s past (150). These archetypes are patterns or images related to the human experience (e.g., birth, death, rebirth, and motherhood).

Archetypes act as seeds that determine the development of a human like an acorn fixes the growth of an oak tree. The goal of archetypes is potentiality; they represent possible narrative accounts of a person’s life. Readers recognize archetypes in literature through recurring plot patterns, images, and character types. Since these archetypes often remain at rest in the unconscious, the piecing together of conscious and unconscious aspects of the psyche can, therefore, lead to “individuation.”

Consider Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery.” The story presents a narrative pattern of sacrifice, and the characters all play a role in carrying out the ritual sacrifice. Many students and critics view “The Lottery” as a harsh critique of tradition. Students also note the story’s use of flat, stock characters, but the characters also mirror archetypal figures and patterns. Jackson’s story evokes the narrative pattern of a social group carrying out a sacrifice so that the seasons can continue. Viewed from this perspective, the characters unconsciously act out historic events that are common experiences of humans, rather than consciously engage in sadistic activities. Consequently, the children of the town also participate in stoning Tessie, the unlucky sacrificial victim. Ironically, Old Man Warner, an unpopular character who staunchly upholds the tradition of the ritual sacrifice, can be viewed as the archetypal wise old man who understands that customs and traditions, especially those rituals which people associate with necessary sacrifice, rarely change, and that perhaps they should not be altered. Thus, Jackson integrates recognizable patterns and character types into “The Lottery” to invite readers to analyze historic and current traditions that may otherwise be taken for granted, encouraging readers to recognize their own unconscious motivations or patterns.

Online Example:

A Catalogue of Symbols in Kate Chopin's The Awakening by Skylar Hamilton Burris

Questions to Ask:

  • What motivates the speaker or protagonist? Does the speaker or protagonist appear to be consciously or unconsciously motivated?
  • How do desires and wishes manifest in the text? Do they remain largely fulfilled or unfilled? How does their fulfillment, or lack thereof, affect the character’s development?
  • Does the text chart the emotional development of a character? How?
  • What archetypal narrative patterns do you observe in the text? Are there archetypal characters in the text? What purpose do these narrative patterns or characters serve?
  • Do principle characters resolve their psychological conflicts? Do they successfully recognize their unconscious complexes, desires, sense of lack, or previously unrecognized or unintegrated aspects of their personality?
  • How do the characters in the text evoke archetypal figures such as the Great or Nurturing Mother, the Wounded Child, the Whore, the Crone, Lover, or the Destroying Angel)?

Additional Online Example (Lacanian Criticism):

Student Sample Paper: Sarah David’s “A Lacanian Analysis of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘The Birthmark’”

 

 

References

 

Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 8th ed. Boston: Thomson Higher Education, 2005.

 

Print.

 

Bohannan, Laura. “Shakespeare in the Bush.” Natural History. Natural History, Aug.-Sept.

 

1966. Web. 9 Dec. 2014.

 

Bressler, Charles. Literary Criticism: An Introduction to Theory and Practice. 4th ed. Upper

 

Saddle River: Pearson, 2007. Print.

 

"colonialism, n." OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2014. Web. 10 December

 

2014.

 

Coleridge, Samuel. “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Lyrical Ballads.  Eds. R.L Brett and

 

A.R. Jones. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 1991. Print.

 

Culler, Jonathan. Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997. Print.

 

Fish, Stanley. Is There a Text in this Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities.

 

Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1980. Print.

 

Greenblatt, Stephen. Introduction. The Power of Forms in the English Renaissance. Ed. Stephen

 

Greenblatt. Norman: Pilgrim Books, 1982. 3-6. Print.

 

Hawkes, Terence. Structuralism and Semiotics. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977.

 

Print.  

 

Hughes, Langston. “Advertisement for the Waldorf-Astoria.” American Studies at the University

 

of Virginia. Web. 9 Dec. 2014.

 

Macey, David. The Penguin Dictionary of Critical Theory. New York: Penguin, 2000. Print.

 

Pride and Prejudice: With Reader’s Guide. New York: Amsco School Publications, 1989. Print.

 

Springhall, John. Decolonization Since 1945: The Collapse of European Overseas Empires. New

 

York: Palgrave, 2001. Print.

 

Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1929. Print

 

Literary Criticism: An Introduction

Literary Criticism: An Introduction was written By Angela Eward-Mangione, University of South Florida

 

Part Two: Literary Criticism           Part Three: Literary Criticism

 

What is Literature and Why Does it Matter?

Literature is what makes the world whirl. Whether a student is reading about Miranda’s encounter with a “Brave New World” in William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, a “falling star” in John Milton’s poem “Song,” or “a Spring Saturday” in Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye, what the student reads was written by an author who aimed to give a reader his or her perspective—or spin—on the world in the form of literature. By reading literature with a critical eye, one can begin to go beyond simply expressing a like or dislike of a particular text, delving deeper into the particular view of the world that an author wanted to convey. Literary criticism enables students and critics to develop an informed opinion about the meaning of a literary work.

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Identifying and Addressing Unclear Pronouns & Antecedents

“Identifying and Addressing Unclear Pronouns & Antecedents” was written by Julia L. McMillan

What are pronouns and antecedents?

A pronoun is any word that stands in for a previously stated noun, and an antecedent is whatever noun a certain pronoun represents. Using pronouns helps make writing less wordy and repetitive, improving style and expressing the same ideas in fewer words. For example, a piece about “George Washington,” the first president of the United States, does not need to repeat this full name every time it appears, but can instead refer to the antecedent “George Washington” with the pronoun “he”:

When George Washington was asked to run for office, he initially refused.

This article will discuss two common causes of unclear pronouns and antecedents. The first cause is when there are multiple possible antecedents that a single pronoun could refer to; the second is when a pronoun is used in the absence of any explicit antecedent.

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The Aaron Swartz Best Webtext Award 2014

The Aaron Swartz Best Webtext Award 2014

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Welcker","votes":"1","pct":"0.35","type":"x","order":"21","resources":[{"type":"url","option_id":"33","value":"http:\/\/www.writingcommons.org\/open-text\/genres\/creative-writing\/fiction\/1230-four-basic-principles-in-writing-fiction"}]},{"id":"34","title":"Preparing Job Materials: Reading Job Aids by Megan McIntyre and Cassandra Branham","votes":"1","pct":"0.35","type":"x","order":"22","resources":[{"type":"url","option_id":"34","value":"http:\/\/www.writingcommons.org\/open-text\/genres\/professional-business-and-technical-writing\/business-writing-in-action\/1221-preparing-job-materials-reading-job-ads"}]},{"id":"35","title":"Writing a Cover Letter by Megan McIntyre and Cassandra Branham","votes":"3","pct":"1.04","type":"x","order":"23","resources":[{"type":"url","option_id":"35","value":"http:\/\/www.writingcommons.org\/open-text\/genres\/professional-business-and-technical-writing\/business-writing-in-action\/1222-writing-a-cover-letter"}]}] ["#ff5b00","#4ac0f2","#b80028","#eef66c","#60bb22","#b96a9a","#62c2cc"] sbar 200 200 /comm-polls-home-layout/vote/3-best-webtext-of-2014 No answer selected. Please try again. Thank you for your vote. Answers Votes ...

The Aaron Swartz Story

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Plugs Play Pedagogy Blog

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Kyle Stedman is assistant professor of English at Rockford University, where he teaches first-year composition, digital rhetoric, and creative writing. He studies rhetorics of sound, intellectual property, and fan studies. On QuizUp, his highest scores are in Lost (the TV show)..."

A New Hope for Games in the Classroom
Plugs, Play, Pedagogy Podcast
Welcome to the newest episode of Plugs, Play, Pedagogy--the first of a two-part episode! Look below for more details about what you'll hear, or just listen here. As always, you can also subscribe via iTunes or Stitcher, or you can download in a variety of formats at Podigee. Produced and recorded by Kyle Stedman (plugsplaypedagogy@writingcommons.org; @kstedman), assistant professor of English at Rockford University, in cooperation with KairosCast and Writing Commons. If you have ideas for future episodes, please co...
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