The Place of Literary Criticism in the High School Classroom Jamie L. Wills Kennesaw State University
Do you use literary criticism in your classroom? If so, how do you use it?
“ ‘Mirror, Mirror on the Wall’: Readers’ Reflections on Literature through Literary Theories” – Joanne M. Golden & Donna Canan Main Point! The article provided a unique way to introduce and explain to students literary theory.
Literary Theories and Snow White Structuralist Theory Enables us to see how language itself produces meaning. Binary Oppositions good/evil youth/age innocence/artifice castle/cottage Versus
Literary Theories and Snow White Feminist Criticism Exploring women’s redefinition of their identity in writing. - Snow White’s life with the dwarves as important to her education as a submissive female who learns lessons of service, selflessness, and domesticity.
Literary Theories and Snow White Marxist Theory Seeing society as a class struggle. • The role of the dwarves is similar to that of the peasant classes in that it echoes the value of hard work and solidarity needed for survival. These dwarves support the fairytale’s social order.
The next step: Applying Literary Theories D.H. Lawrence “The Rocking-Horse Winner” • Structuralist: rich/poor, death/life, lucky/unlucky • Feminist: Paul saves his mom, like prince charming always saves the princess. • Marxist: When they pool the money, it is a symbol of wanting to share equally the wealth in the same class.
The next step: Applying Literary Theories • Structuralist: war/peace, reality/illusion, hate/love, truth/lies, sanity/insanity • Feminist: Women’s basic role is to have children. • Marxist: The proles are worthless. They’re just like poor people, and they have no say in what goes on.
Ours and Students’ Responses… • The novel should be finished before the theories are introduced. • Additional theories could be used. • The choice of works is important. • “Snow White” was effective for introducing the theories. • The theories should be woven in over the course of the semester.
“Demystifying the Text: Literary Criticism in the High School Classroom” – Lisa Schade “Criticism adds another level to our literary study and gives the students added insight into the mysteries of literary interpretations.”
Criticism all the year long… • Archetypal Criticism – Gilgamesh • Structuralism – Oedipus Rex • Reader-Response Criticism – Hamlet • Biographical Criticism – Dante’s Paradiso • Marxist – Kaffir Boy • Philosophical Criticism – Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”
The Final Product… • Students research in groups a geographical area of their choice. The research culminates in a 45 min. presentation about their country and its literary history. Students must locate and read poetry, essays, short stories, and one novel or long play looking for a unifying philosophical or critical base.
“Sing a New Song: A Fresh Look at Literary Criticism” – Catherine P. Sagan “Dr. Sagan, this is really tough. It took me half and hour to read a single page; it’s so dense!”
The Response… • “About eighteen years ago, experiencing mild guilt pangs at my audacity, I threw out all research assignments that mandated reference to formal literary criticism; in their place I asked my students to design their own thesis and surprise me-to link an original theory to an article found in a popular magazine they read for pleasure-e.g.,Mademoiselle, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, Omni, Time.”
The Result… • “The conch, rather than being a symbol for democratic order, is an instrument of censorship that contributes to the evolving disorder on the island.” • “Simon is not a Christ figure but is suffering from schizophrenic psychosis, as described in an article in Psychology Today by Dan Hurley, ‘Imminent Danger.’”
The rewards of using this research approach… • My students felt comfortable during later classroom discussions when I introduced the views of literary critics. • The contemporary relevance of texts studied did not have to be defended: my students proved this by the “connections” they forged.
“ ‘Reception Moments,’ Modern Literary Theory, and the Teaching of Literature” - Patrick Sullivan Reception Moment – examining how a text was received by the public when it was first printed
Reception Moment #1 • Was characterized as “rough, coarse and inelegant…the whole book suited to the slums than to intelligent, respectable people.” • Quote raises questions about the nature of language & deomonstrates the operation of different kinds of cultural norms.
Reception Moment #2 • In later years the book was termed as a “grotesque example of racist trash ever written.” • Questions students may explore comparing the first reception with the second may include the exploration of why it wasn’t seen as racist when it first came out.
Classroom Application • This is a great way to introduce literary criticism. • Students can begin to appreciate the interrelationship between language, culture, and history as factors that influence the way we respond to the literature we read.
“Let’s give them something to talk (and think) about: Using literary theory to enliven our classrooms.” – Jeffrey D. Wilhelm A look into the experts on literary criticism in the classroom.
Deborah Appleman • Appleman focuses on how literary theory is not only engaging to students because it helps them to see the world in a new way and to wield power in that world, but because it helps them and us enter into and understand positions other than our own in a diverse and complex world.
Peter J. Rabinowitz • Authorizing Readers • Rabinowitz and co-author Michael W. Smith talk about the authorial audience. This is when students adopt the knowledge and sensibilities of the audience for whom the text seems to have been written.
Their Cooperative Conclusion… • “English is about nothing!” A high school student with whom I worked recently ranted on and on: “English is about reading poems, telling about rhythm. English is about commas, for God’s sake! It’s about nothing!” • Jeffrey D. Wilhelm
Sources Golden, J. M., & Canan, D. (2004, May). Mirror, mirror on the wall: Readers’ reflections on literature through literary theories. English Journal, 93(5), 42-46. Sagan, C. P. (2003, July). Sing a new song: A fresh look at literary criticism. English Journal, 92(6), 40. Schade, L. (1996, March). Demystifying the text: Literary criticism in the high school classroom. English Journal, 85(3), 26-31. Sullivan, P. (2002, April). Reception moments, modern literary theory, and the teaching of literature. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 45(7), 568-578. Wilhelm, J. D. (2002, January). Let’s give them something to talk (and think) about: Using literary theory to enliven our classrooms. English Journal, 91(3), 128-130.