Introduction to Literary Criticism
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Introduction to Literary Analysis
What does this painting mean?
Literary Analysis Form an argument about a piece of literature by examining the smaller pieces that make up the work as a whole. Express your personal perspective, interpretation, or judgment or the work by explaining how evidence from the text to supports your interpretation.
Any piece of text can be read with a number of different sets of “glasses,” meaning you are looking for different things within the text.
Literary criticism helps readers understand a text in relation to the author, culture, and other texts.
Some Common Ways to Analyze Literature Formalistic Biographical Historical/Cultural Mythological Gender Social
A formalist analysis of a text focuses on symbolism, metaphor, imagery, characterization, and so on. Formalism ignores the author’s biography and focuses only on the interaction of literary elements within the text. It’s what you do most often in English literature.
A Checklist of Formalist Critical Questions - What is the work’s plot? How is its plot related to its structure? What is the relationship of each part of the work to the work as a whole? How are the parts related to one another?
- Who is narrating or telling what happens in the work? How is the narrator, speaker, or character revealed to readers? How do we come to know and understand this figure? - Who are the major and minor characters, what do they represent, and how do they relate to one another? (DiYanni, Robert. Literature Approaches to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. 2nd ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2008).
- What is the setting and how does it relate to what we know of the characters and their actions? To what extent is the setting symbolic?
- What kind of language does the author use to describe, narrate the literary work? What images, similes, metaphors, symbols appear in the work? What is their function? What meanings do they convey? (DiYanni 1562).
A Formalist Analysis of “The Three Little Pigs”
What does the wolf symbolize?
How do the pig’s actions foreshadow the their impending conflict with the wolf?
What does the setting (the three houses) reveal about the theme?
Biographical Analysis Looks for the author’s influence By examining the author’s life, we can have a deeper understanding of the writing
A Biographical Analysis of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Suzanne Collins wrote The Hunger Games because she loved the story of Theseus and the Minotaur when she was a kid. In this story, the evil king of Crete placed 7 young men and 7 young women from Athens in the labyrinth where they would have to fight the Minotaur to escape. Theseus eventually volunteers and defeats the Minotaur. Hunger Games is a direct reflection of her love of this story. Youth from different districts are sent to the games as a reminder of the past and for the entertainment of the capital. Katniss volunteers and enters the games along with other youth from the districts. Katniss is the champion of the poor and represents hope
Historical/Cultural Analysis Examines a text in relation to its historical or cultural backdrop. Examines a text’s effect on history or culture or vice versa. Often very similar to a biographical analysis, but you are analyzing how the text relates to history or culture (past or present)
Historical/Cultural Reading of Pixar’s Wall-E
What can Wall-E reveal about our society? How do the people in the movie reflect our beliefs about technology?
Mythological Analysis Not about mythology It is about the universal elements of human life that are common in all cultures. Like ancient mythology, literature is a window to creating meaning for human life. In other words, stories make us feel like our lives are more significant.
Central to mythological theory are archetypes.
universal elements present in the literature of all cultures
Common Archetypes The Hero = Beowulf, Spiderman, Luke Skywalker, Braveheart The Outcast = Freak the Mighty, Lord of the Flies, Cain The Quest = LOTR, Star Wars, Freak the Mighty Sacrificial King = Jesus, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, LOTR Evil Personified = Wicked Witch of the West, the Devil, the Emperor in SW
Gender Analysis Gender analysis views literature through the lens of socially-constructed gender roles. Feminism
seeks to correct women’s inequality to men in society
In its most basic form, feminism is about equality.
A Feminist Reading of Cinderella
As a single, young woman, Cinderella is without means or opportunity because she is unattached to a father or a husband. It is only through the magic of a fairy godmother that she can be made presentable and meet the prince AND he is the only means of her escaping her plight. What skills does she have? She is beautiful, can sing well, and is kind. What does this say about her ugly, untalented step-sisters?
Social Analysis Investigates assumptions and values associated with culture, race, class. For example: Are the rich always good or bad? Are the poor always good or bad?
Social Analysis Explores the power struggles of those who are minorities in dominant culture. Examines who has/does not have power, how they attained it/why they don’t have it, and what they do with it/how they are manipulated by it.
Believes that literature is essentially political; it either supports or refutes economic oppression. In other words, the author either reinforces the status quo or rebels against it.