Narrative “New Literary” Criticism
A good novel is hard to put down. The story in the novel is perfect with a great plot, convincing characters, and a suspenseful build up to the climax. You have been drawn into the story and it is almost like you are there, living along side the characters. You understand their background, their trials, and their joys. The story brings to life something from long ago that may or may not be fictional. It is hard to tell without doing further research. In reality, that further research does not mean much to you at the present moment. The story, in its entirety, is all the matters to you. This is Narrative Criticism. Narrative Criticism focuses on the stories told by a speaker or writer which help us to make meaning out of everyday life. Not only does Narrative Criticism focus on the speaker or writer, but the criticism also focuses on genre, structure, characterization, and the author’s perspective. The Narrative Criticism approach has roots in history and a type of criticism known as Historical Criticism. From Historical Criticism, Narrative Criticism has grown into a whole new understanding of the text: not in fragmented pieces or overanalyzed passages, but rather as a study of the story as a whole.
Narrative Criticism has evolved over the years starting in the late 1900s. David Gunn cites Edwin Good as being one of the first to write essays of the criticism in as early as 1965. Gunn goes on to write, “In the crucial formative period of the 1970s a number of significant contributors worked in relative isolation from each other” (Gunn 203). These authors include Meir Sternberg at Tel-Aviv University and Robert Alter at the University of California ' Berkeley. Mark Allan Powell attributes the work of William A. Beardslee in 1969 as one of the first to make known the need for a more literary approach to the Gospels. Powell makes it clear why the change to Narrative Criticism was important when he wrote:
The major limitation of all these approaches, as documented by Hans Frei in 1974, is that they fail to take seriously the narrative character of the Gospels. These books are stories about Jesus, not compilations of miscellaneous data concerning him. They are intended to be read from beginning to end, not dissected and examined to determine the relative value of individual passages (Powell 2).
The other approaches Powell is referring to includes source, form, and redaction criticisms which seek to determine the sources used by the authors, the traditions incorporated by the authors, and the intentions of the editors, respectfully. Historical Criticism is another criticism that is limited in its ability to evaluate the entire text. Because of this limitation, historical critics were the first to suggest a method which was not purely historical. They wanted to find the key to the text not in the background information, but in the text itself.
While Narrative Criticism was spawned from Historical Criticism, Narrative Criticism has many key differences. Narrative Criticism studies the final version of the text with no concern about any of the other writing stages. Narrative Criticism also works with the text as a whole and does not dissect the text into individual passages. Narrative critics are “able to appreciate the story of a narrative apart from consideration of the extend to which it reflects reality” (8). In Old Testament writings, Historical critics would argue against such stories as fantastic miracles and God speaking from heaven. Another key difference is in the communication style of the two criticisms. Roman Jakobson describes communication in Narrative Criticism as author to text to reader. This contrasts Historical Criticism’s evolutionary model where historical events lead to oral tradition which leads to early written sources which lead to text (9).
The overall term “Literary Criticism” has been broken up into many...
Cited: Gunn, David M. To Each Its Own Meaning: An Introduction to Biblical Criticisms and Their Applications. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999.
Powell, Mark Allan. What is Narrative Criticism. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990.
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