Introduction to Literature
considers the literary work in light of "what really happened"
during the period reflected in that work. It insists that to understand
a piece, we need to understand the author's biography and social
background, ideas circulating at the time, and the cultural milieu.
Historicism also "finds significance in the ways a particular
work resembles or differs from other works of its period and/or
genre," and therefore may involve source studies. It may
also include examination of philology and linguistics. It is typically
a discipline involving impressively extensive research.
New Criticism examines
the relationships between a text's ideas and its form, "the
connection between what a text says and the way it's said."
New Critics/Formalists "may find tension, irony, or paradox
in this relation, but they usually resolve it into unity and coherence
of meaning." New Critics look for patterns of sound, imagery,
narrative structure, point of view, and other techniques discernible
on close reading of "the work itself." They insist that
the meaning of a text should not be confused with the author's
intentions nor the text's affective dimension--its effects on
the reader. The objective determination as to "how a piece
works" can be found through close focus and analysis, rather
than through extraneous and erudite special knowledge.
criticism "traces cultural and psychological 'myths' that
shape the meaning of texts." It argues that "certain
literary archetypes determine the structure and function of individual
literary works," and therefore that literature imitates not
the world but rather the "total dream of humankind."
Archetypes (recurring images or symbols, patterns, universal experiences)
may include motifs such as the quest or the heavenly ascent, symbols
such as the apple or snake, or images such as crucifixion--all
laden with meaning already when employed in a particular work.
criticism adopts the methods of "reading" employed by
Freud and later theorists to interpret what a text really indicates.
It argues that "unresolved and sometimes unconscious ambivalences
in the author's own life may lead to a disunified literary work,"
and that the literary work is a manifestation of the author's
own neuroses. Psychoanalytic critics focus on apparent dilemmas
and conflicts in a work and "attempt to read an author's
own family life and traumas into the actions of their characters,"
realizing that the psychological material will be expressed indirectly,
encoded (similar to dreams) through principles such as
"displacement," and "symbolism."
critiques patriarchal language and literature by exposing how
a work reflects masculine ideology. It examines gender politics
in works and traces the subtle construction of masculinity and
femininity, and their relative status, positionings, and marginalizations
argues that literature reflects social institutions and that it
is one itself, with a particular ideological function: that literature
participates in the series of struggles between oppressed and
oppressing classes which makes up human history. Similar to Marx's
historical theory, Marxist criticism will focus on the distribution
of resources, materialism, class conflict, or the author's analysis
of class relations. It examines how some works attempt to shore
up an oppressive social order or how they idealize social conflict
out of existence, how others offer an alternative collective life
or propose a utopian vision as a solution.
questions traditional value hierarchies and takes a cross-disciplinary
approach to works traditionally marginalized by the aesthetic
ideology of white European males. Instead of more attention to
the canon, cultural studies examines works by minority ethnic
groups and postcolonial writers, and the products of folk, urban,
and mass culture. Popular literature, soap opera, rock and rap
music, cartoons, professional wrestling, food, etc. -- all fall
within the domain of cultural criticism. We are focusing on it
particularly as it concerns questioning the ways Western cultural
tradition expressed in literature defines itself partly by stifling
the voices of oppressed groups or even by demonizing those groups.
We will focus on how literary tradition has constructed models
of identity for oppressed groups, how these groups have constructed
oppositional literary identities, and how different communities
of readers might interpret the same text differently due to varied
"finds meaning by looking at a text within the framework
of the prevailing ideas and assumptions of its historical era,
or by considering its contents within a context of 'what really
happened' during the period that produced the text." New
Historicists concern themselves with the political function of
literature and with the concept of power, "the complex means
by which societies produce and reproduce themselves." These
critics focus on revealing the historically specific model of
truth and authority reflected in a given work.
"insists that all literature is a structure of experience,
not just a form or meaning," and therefore focuses on finding
meaning in the act of reading itself and examines the ways individual
readers or communities of readers experience texts. These critics
examine how the reader joins with the author "to help the
text mean." They determine what kind of reader or what community
of readers the work implies and helps to create. They examine
"the significance of the series of interpretations the reader
goes through in the process of reading."
is a recent school of criticism which ventures beyond the structuralists'
assertion that all aspects of human culture are fundamentally
languages--complex systems of signs: signifieds (concepts) and
signifiers (verbal or non-verbal--and that therefore a quasi-scientific
formalism is available for approaching literature (and advertising,
fashion, food, etc.). Deconstructionists oppose the "metaphysics
of presence," that is, the claim of literature or philosophy
that we can find some full, rich meaning outside of or prior to
language itself. Like formalists, these critics also look "at
the relation of a text's ideas to the way the ideas are expressed.
Unlike formalists, though, deconstructionists find meaning in
the ways the text breaks down: for instance, in the ways the rhetoric
contradicts the ostensible message." Deconstructive criticism
"typically argues that a particular literary, historical,
or philosophical work both claims to possess full and immediate
presence and admits the impossibility of attaining such
texts, rather than revealing the New Critic's "unities,"
actually dismantle themselves due to their intertwined, inevitably
opposite "discourses" (strands of narrative, threads
[Quotations from Arthur W. Biddle and Toby Fulwiler, Reading, Writing, and the Study of Literature (NY: Random House, 1989): 75-84, 100.]