formalism psychoanalytic criticism archetypal feminist criticism post-colonial criticism marxist...


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  • Literary Criticism, caricature of literary critics removing passages from books that displease them, c.1830
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  • FORMALISM (1930s-present) Points to consider: Text as a complete isolated unit No consideration to social/historical contexts Authors background irrelevant Readers should read neutrally/unemotionally Focus on the elements of fiction and how they work together to create a coherent text
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  • FORMALISM Typical questions: How does the work use imagery to develop its own symbols? (i.e. making a certain road stand for death by constant association) How do character, plot and setting develop the story? How does irony work in the novel? How is the setting significant in this particular story? What does the form of the work say about its content? Is there a central/focal passage that can be said to sum up the entirety of the work? How do the rhythms and/or rhyme schemes of a poem contribute to the meaning or effect of the piece?
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  • FORMALISM- ASSESSMENT Strengths: The reader does not require external/contextual knowledge in order to interpret the text. Weaknesses: It divorces literature from its larger cultural context. It assumes that good literature is coherent while a text that is not coherent does not meet standards of good literature. It ignores the authors intentions.
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  • PSYCHOANALYTIC The psychoanalytic approach was pioneered by Freud. Points to consider: Peoples behaviour is affected by their fears and desires; Repressed fears and desires are communicated through dreams, jokes, and slips of the tongue; Three areas of human mind: Id, Ego, Superego; The Oedipus Complex; Understanding of these psychological concepts can provide insight into the text itself and the authors intentions within;
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  • PSYCHOANALYTIC Typical questions: How do the operations of repression structure or inform the work? Are there any oedipal dynamics - or any other family dynamics - at 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"?
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  • ARCHETYPAL The archetypal approach was pioneered by Jung. Points to consider: Through its archaic pattern (archetype), the text reflects the collective unconscious of the human race; Archetype (Greek): arche first and typos form, type; Categories of archetypes: character, theme, symbol, situation/event; Western texts are primarily derived from Judeo-Christian scripture and Greco-Roman mythology; Archetypal criticism seeks to explore the inter-textual connections;
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  • ARCHETYPAL Typical questions: Do the main characters fit into familiar roles e.g. hero, tragic hero, scapegoat, outcast, shrew, star-crossed lovers? In what ways does the character conform to the basic stereotype, and in what ways does he/she break the stereotype? Would the story or theme be different if the protagonist or antagonist were not written in an archetypal role? How does the text mirror the archetypal narrative patterns (quest, heros journey, loss of innocence?) How does the protagonist reflect the hero of myth? Does the hero embark on a journey in either a physical or spiritual sense? What trials or ordeals does the protagonist face? What is the reward for overcoming them?
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  • PSYCHOANALYTIC AND ARCHETYPAL- ASSESSMENT Strengths: It encourages a close reading and analysis of the text. Provides the reader with a broader context. Weaknesses: Danger of over-reading, seeing a symbol in everything. (Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.) Need for background knowledge of psychology (Psychoanalytic) or mythology/scriptures (Archetypal) in order to adequately interpret and analyze literature.
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  • FEMINIST (1960s-present) Points to consider: Through patriarchal ideology, women are oppressed economically, politically, socially, and psychologically; In every domain where patriarchy reigns, woman is other: she is marginalized, defined only by her difference from male norms and values; All of western civilization is deeply rooted in patriarchal ideology (e.g. portrayal of Eve as the origin of sin and death in the world); While biology determines our sex (male or female), culture determines our gender (masculine or feminine). Feminist theory/literary criticism has as its ultimate goal promotion of gender equality;
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  • FEMINIST Typical questions: How is the relationship between men and women portrayed? What are the power relationships between men and women? 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?
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  • FEMINIST - ASSESSMENT Strengths: A long overdue examination of how women and men are represented; Deals with the importance of women in literature; Weaknesses: If this theory is the only one applied to a text, it can be rather limiting.
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  • POST-COLONIAL (1990s-present) Points to consider: Focus on literature produced by colonial powers and by those who were colonized; Issues of power, economics, politics, religion, and culture and how these elements work in relation to colonial hegemony (History is written by the victors); Unique perspective on imperialism/colonialism from the perspective of those affected by it Rethinking colonial hegemonic ideology (e.g. third world)
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  • POST-COLONIAL Typical questions: How does the literary text, explicitly or allegorically, represent various aspects of colonial oppression? 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 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? How does a literary text in the Western canon reinforce or undermine colonialist ideology through its representation of colonization and/or its inappropriate silence about colonized peoples? (Tyson)
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  • POST-COLONIAL - ASSESSMENT Strengths: Encourages an examination of euro-centrism and imperialism; Weaknesses: The term/field of study is too expansive and not precise enough; Takes away from the internal oppression within the colonies; Deflects attention from continuing exploitation of the Third World;
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  • MARXIST (1930s-present) Points to consider: Based on the theories of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Marxism concerns itself with the economic struggles for power between the working class and those with power. 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. Literature expresses the ideas, beliefs, and values of a culture. Marxists assume that all literature is political and judge a texts ideology (political correctness)
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  • MARXIST Typical questions: What/whose ideological values inform the text? Which class does the work claim to represent? 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? Who has power (and of what sort) in the text? What master social narratives are perpetuated or critiqued? (e.g. the American Dream)
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  • MARXIST - ASSESSMENT Strengths: Encourages a careful reading of a text. Allows the reader to think about the text in its social, historical, and current contexts. Weaknesses: Some people may feel threatened by the focus on ideology. Dismisses the beauty of writing and does not allow the reader to simply enjoy the text.
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  • Bibliography Purdue Online Writing Lab Literary Criticism by M. Watson Google Images