Critical Approaches to Literature
Formalist, Biographical, Historical, Psychological, Gender, Sociological, ReaderReader-Response, Deconstructionist
Approaching Literature Critically
This is something that you do ALL of the time!! You may not know it, but you do it. Literary critics do it more formally than you, borrowing concepts from philosophy, history, linguistics, psychology, and anthropology. Most literary critics assume that you have read a piece of literature, assume that you know the piece is worth reading. The criticism is analytic in that it helps us better understand a literary work
Some Types of Critical Approaches
Formalist Biographical Historical Psychological Mythological
Sociological Gender Reader-Response Deconstructionist Cultural Studies
The Approaches That Concern You
Formalist Biographical Historical Sociological
Reader-Response Mythological Psychological Deconstructionist Gender
The Biographical Approach
Begins with the simple but central insight that literature is written by actual people and that understanding an author’s life can help readers more thoroughly comprehend a work. Reading a biography will change, deepen, illuminate our response A savvy biographical critic will remember to base an interpretation on what is in the text itself; biographical data should amplify the meaning of the text, not drown it out with irrelevant material.
Cont’ The Biographical Approach Cont’d Two Weaknesses That Should Be Avoided Avoid equating the work’s content with the author’s life (or the character with the author). They are not necessarily the same. You might ask, “How does the text reflect the author’s life? Is this text an extension of the author’s position on issues in the author’s life? Avoid less-than-credible sources of information, particularly works that tend to be highly speculative or controversial. Make sure that you can verify the information in several sources.
Cont’ The Biographical Approach Cont’d Biography vs. Biographical Criticism Biography Branch of history Written account of a person’s life. Establishes & interprets the facts of a writer’s life. Uses all available information, not just personal document (letters, diaries), but other writing as well Biographical Criticism Concerned with recreating the record of an author’s life. Focuses on explicating the literary work by using the insight provided by knowledge of the author’s life. Biographical critics will examine the drafts of a poem/story to see how both the work came into being and how it might have been changed from its autobiographical origins
Art” “One Art” By: Elizabeth Bishop
1. What things has the speaker lost? Put together a complete list in the order she reveals them. What does the list suggest about her experience with loss? 2. Bishop varies the repeated lines that end with the word disaster. Look only at those lines: what do they suggest about the story being unfolded in the poem? 3. What effect does the parenthetical comment in the poem’s last line create? Would the poem be different if it were omitted?
The Mythological Approach
Look for the recurrent universal patterns underlying most literary works Explores the artist’s common humanity by tracing how the individual imagination uses symbols and situations—consciously or not—in ways that transcend its own time and resemble the mythology of other cultures or epochs
Cont’ The Mythological Approach Cont’d.
Archetypal images (i.e. sun, moon, fire, blood), patterns (birth, growth, sexual awakening, family, generational struggle, death) and figures (trickster, cruel stepmother, rebellious young man, beautiful but destructive young woman) trigger the collective unconscious (Carl Jung) Provide the individual a link of the text to a broader context of works that share an underlying pattern (in Hamlet, the prince avenges the death of his father, like in Orestes from Greek myth)
Stay” “Nothing Gold Can Stay”...
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