Historical and Biographical Approaches
Historical criticism seeks to interpret the work of literature through understanding the times and culture in which the work was written. The historical critic is more interested in the meaning that the literary work had for its own time than in the meaning the work might have today. For example, while some critics might interpret existential themes in Shakespeare's Hamlet, a historical critic would be more interested in analyzing the play within the context of Elizabethan revenge tragedy and Renaissance humor psychology. Biographical criticism investigates the life of an author using primary texts, such as letters, diaries, and other documents, that might reveal the experiences, thoughts, and feelings that led to the creation of a literary work. For example, an investigation of Aldous Huxley's personal life reveals that Point Counterpoint is a roman a clef: the character Marc Rampion is a thinly disguised imaginative version of Huxley's friend, D.H. Lawrence. Historical criticism and biographical criticism are used in tandem to explicate literary texts. Sometimes the very premise of a novel may seem more probable if the circumstances of composition are understood. For example, students often wonder why the boys in Lord of the Flies are oil the island. Their plane has crashed, but where was it going, and why? The book may be read as a survival adventure, but such a reading would not account for the most important themes. Knowing that William Golding was a British naval commander in World War II and knowing some of the facts of the British involvement in the war help in an understanding of the novel. The most important fact relating to the premise of the novel is that during the London Blitz (1940-1941) children were evacuated from the metropolitan area: some were sent to Scotland, some to Canada and Australia. Golding imagines a similar evacuation happening during his scenario of World War III. The itinerary of the transport plane is detailed at the beginning of the novel: Gibraltar and Addis Ababa were stops on an eastward journey, probably to Australia or New Zealand. The aircraft was shot down, and the boys are stranded on a Pacific atoll. In the age of the intercontinental ballistic missile, the evacuation seems impossible, but the novel was published in 1954 when atomic weapons were still delivered principally by bombers. The history of the rise of Hitler and World War n also helps readers to understand why Ralph's democratic appeasements crumble under the ruthless aggression of Jack's regime. In short, the historical approach is vital to an understanding of literary texts. Sometimes, knowledge of history is necessary before the theme of the work can be fully grasped.
The Psychological Approach
The psychological approach has been one of the most productive forms of literary inquiry in the twentieth century. Developed in the late 1800s and early 1900s by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and his followers, psychological criticism has led to new ideas about the nature of the creative process, the mind of the artist, and the motivations of characters. Freud's principal ideas are essential to an understanding of modern literature and criticism. Although the works of Freud consist of many complex volumes, there are four main ideas that have been so influential that it is hard to believe they were not always with us. The Unconscious
According to Freud, human beings are not conscious of all their feelings, urges, and desires because most of mental life is unconscious. Freud compared the mind to an iceberg: only a small portion is visible; the rest is below the waves of the sea. Thus, the mind consists of a small conscious portion and a vast unconscious portion. Repression
Observing the conservative, prudish upper middle classes of the late nineteenth century, Freud came to the conclusion that society demands restraint, order, and respectability and that individuals are...
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