Literary Lenses. Ways to look at stories (so that you appear to be smarter). Literary Criticism…. is a way to approach what you read beyond reading it on a surface level
Literary Lenses Ways to look at stories (so that you appear to be smarter)
Literary Criticism… • is a way to approach what you read beyond reading it on a surface level • lets you get at the underlying meaning of a book so that when you are asked by someone, “What did you think of the book you just read?” you can answer with something better than, “It was good.” Think of Literary Criticism as a “lens” through which you can view a story
Different Types of Literary Criticism We are going to study the following theories: • Feminist • Psychoanalytic • New Criticism
Which one is better? It depends on you and what you are reading! • The point isn’t just to “guess” which one is the “right” one • The point is to think critically about what you are reading • Think of Literary Criticism as a “lens” through which you can view a story • You can use each theory to help you understand something new about what you are reading
What is Feminism? Feminism means: the advocacy of human rights on the grounds of equality of the sexes
What is Feminist Literary Theory? It does the following: • Encourages a female tradition of writing • Seeks out previously written (but ignored) texts written by women • Looks at texts in terms of sexual politics (how women are portrayed and who has the power)
Questions to Ask When Using a Feminist Lens… • How are the female characters represented? • How are they different in dramatic purpose (their role in the story) from the male characters? • How are they a reflection of the story’s historical period (either when the author wrote it or when the author choose to set it) or a reflection of the author’s attitude toward women?
1. How is Juliet represented in the play? • Young, attractive, desirable to others, an indulged “only child”, traditional (until she meets Romeo) • Willing to die for love (instead of marrying the very worthy Paris and “moving on”) • Becomes emotionally unstable after she enters into a relationship with Romeo
2. What is her dramatic purpose? • Gets “second billing” in the credits • The female romantic lead (hard to have a romantic tragedy with only Romeo) • Serves to bring out the best in Romeo—gives him direction, conviction, maturity, and focus • Contrasts to the other women in the play (the Nurse, Lady Capulet)
3. How is she a reflection of the historical period and/or author’s attitude? • intended as a moral warning to young people to “Always obey your parents” • people did not marry for love, particularly noble or wealthy girls (Juliet was getting off easily with Paris) • Shakespeare sometimes creates strong female characters but more often, they are there to support the men
How about the other women? The Nurse Lady Capulet • How are the female characters represented? • How are they different in dramatic purpose (their role in the story) from the male characters? • How are they a reflection of the story’s historical period (either when the author wrote it or when the author choose to set it) or a reflection of the author’s attitude toward women?
Psychoanalytic Literary Criticism Freudian Jungian
Freud (1856-1939) Human beings all have the following unconscious aspects to their personalities: • Id (selfish desire for gratification—usually sexual; seeks pleasure and to avoid pain) • Superego (the force that keeps the Id under control and strives to act in a socially appropriate manner= conscience) • Ego (moderates between the two opposing forces; it seeks to please the id’s drive in realistic ways that will benefit in the long term rather than bringing grief)
“Freudian” Questions to Ask: • What is the character’s “id” all about? • What is the opposing “superego” telling the character to do? Why is this happening? • How is the character’s “ego” trying to please the ‘id’ in a socially acceptable way?
What is Babba’s “id” all about? • He physically desired his loyal servant’s wife and satisfied his “id” by having sex with her thus resulting in Hassan • He preferred (selfish desire)his legitimate son, Amir, and so he denied Hassan as his son
What is the opposing “superego” (conscience) telling Babba to do? • Treat Hassan kindly • Give him gifts, pay for his facial surgery • Behave honourably for the remainder of his life • Defend other powerless people (eg. the young woman in the truck)
How is Babba’s “ego” trying to please the id’s drive in realistic ways? • He often “favours” Hassan’s efforts over that of his son, thus causing conflict • He chooses Amir’s version of the theft over Hassan’s • He is a harsh and unforgiving father to Amir when he is growing up (emotionally detached) • Feels subconscious guilt for dishonouring his friend, being unfaithful to his own wife, fathering an illegitimate and disfigured child, feeling an affinity to Hassan over Amir, killing his wife through childbirth
Other Psychoanalytic things to consider: The following elements of a story appeal to the selfish “id”: • “Acts of Communion” via meal scenes • Vampire-type characters • Violence • Sexuality • Politics (Numbers 2,3,4 and 5 can also be viewed through a feminist lens)
Acts of Communion viaMeal Scenes Sometimes, a meal is just a meal. Often though, whenever people eat or drink together, it’s communion = intimacy, connection, fellowship between people. All over the world, breaking bread together is a sign of sharing and peace – it says “I like you, we form a community together.” (unless you’re eating dinner with a mafia don, or a villain in a James Bond film, that is.) Not usually religious An act of sharing and peace A failed meal carries negative connotations
What are the characters consuming?(Pay special attention to “communion-type meals”) • Is the food nourishing? • Is it comfort food? • Is it visually appealing? • Does it smell good or bad? • Does it make the characters feel better or worse? • Is it symbolic in any way? • This applies to alcohol and drugs as well
Who is sharing the meal? • Breaking bread should be a sign of fellowship and peace: • Is the character eating with someone they trust? • Do the characters like each other? • Are the characters getting along? • Is this the Mafia don’s final meal for the man he is about to kill?
What are the characters talking about? • What characters talk about can reveal the nature of the experience: • Is the conversation pleasant or argumentative? • Do all characters participate? • Does the conversation suit the situation? • Does it make the characters feel better or worse? • Is it good for the digestion? • Who is in charge? What does their ‘id’ want?
What does all of this show about the characters and the society in which they live?
Symbolic Vampires Literal Vampirism: Nasty old man, attractive but evil, violates a young woman, leaves his mark, takes her innocence Sexual implications—a trait of 19th century literature to address sex indirectly Symbolic Vampirism: selfishness, exploitation, refusal to respect the autonomy of other people, using people to get what we want, placing our desires, particularly ugly ones, above the needs of another
When you encounter a “vampire”… • Ask yourself how the “vampire” looks (old, but seems to become younger or more attractive) 2.How does he or she act like a “vampire”? -exploiting others to gain gratification 3. What does the vampire’s ‘id’ want?
Violence—two forms • “Seemingly” Random • Death & suffering for which the characters are not responsible • Accidents are not really accidents • but…violence is intentional Character Caused • The classic “person versus person” • eg. bombing, shooting, physical confrontation, poisoning
When you see violence in a story, ask yourself, • What does it mean in relation to the overall theme of the story? • Why would the character possibly have to suffer such misfortune? • What are we supposed to learn or think about the society or character who performs the violent act? What is their ‘id’? • Why that kind of violence and not some other?
Sex Encoded/Disguised Sex • Couldn’t write about it, so the authors “hid” it • Eg. a kissing scene cutting away to the pounding surf = sex! • Male symbols = Phallic symbols - blades, tall buildings • Female symbols = chalice, Holy Grail, bowls, rolling landscape, empty vessels waiting to be filled, tunnels, images of fertility
Sex... • Explicit • Now sex scenes in books are accepted and almost expected • Vary in their degrees of detail • When authors write directly about sex, they’re writing about something else, such as sacrifice, submission, rebellion, domination, enlightenment, etc.
What to look for in sex scenes… Encoded: • Who has the power? What does their ‘id’ want? • How do you know it is sex? • Landscapes, objects, weather that reflect the quality of the sex • Some sort of moral lesson (usually after)
What to look for in sex scenes… • Explicit: • Who has the power? What does their ‘id’ want? • What does each person’s role in the sexual scene reveal about their character? Do they try to suppress their ‘id’? (superego) • What does the actual act represent in terms of sacrifice, submission, domination, rebellion, enlightenment etc.?
Politics • Nothing is written in a vacuum. There’s a historical, political and social world in which fiction takes place. Take some time to think about the reality that infuses the story with meaning. • Literature tends to be written by people interested in the problems of the world, so most works have a political element in them. That’s why it helps to get a sense of the social and political world both of the setting of the novel and of the time in which the work was written. • Doesn’t need to be about government or Communist Party Meetings to be political – it needs to engage with the social and political realities and problems of the time.
Politics Politics is Freudian because the setting or society of the story reveals its own id, superego, and ego. • Look for: • Individual needs versus the needs of society for conformity and stability. • Power structures • Relations among classes • Issues of justice and rights • Interactions between genders, races, ethnicities, faiths, etc. • What are we supposed to learn about the story’s society based on its political structures and how the characters interact within it?
Jung All humans possess: • a “collective unconsciousness” (but we don’t feel it) • A shared experience which none of us remembers but comes out in our behaviours, interactions with others, and dreams (archetypes = the mythic original upon which the pattern is based) • The ability to make sense of things because we have “seen them before”
Now, Where Have I Seen Her Before? • There is no such thing as a wholly original work of literature—stories grow out of other stories, poems out of other poems. • There is only one story—of humanity and human nature, endlessly repeated • “Intertexuality”—recognizing the connections between one story and another deepens our appreciation and experience, brings multiple layers of meaning to the text, which we may not be conscious of. The more consciously aware we are, the more alive the text becomes to us.
Myth Archetypes(look for patterns that exist in earlier stories) Myths explain the world in ways that math and science can’t. Myth is a body of story that matters—the patterns present in mythology run deeply in the human psyche Why writers echo myth—because there’s only one story If you were a writer, you might choose to identify certain elements of your story with closely related myths because of the weight or significance those myths add to your own story. Achilles—a small weakness in a strong man; the need to maintain one’s dignity The Underworld—an ultimate challenge, facing the darkest parts of human nature or dealing with death
It’s Greek to Me Daedalus creates wings as a means to escape the labyrinth that is his prison and the minotaur that is his guard. Before he and his son Icarus take off, Daedalus warns the young boy not to fly too close to the sun, as the wax holding the feathers to the wings will melt. Icarus begins by following his father closely, but as the joy of flying overwhelms him he soars upward. The sun melts his wings, and Icarus plunges into the ocean as his father, helpless and devastated, looks on.
It’s Greek to Me You have some great elements here – wisdom of the father ignored, folly and excitement of youth, the myth resonates in many ways. As a result, we see many versions of the story told and retold. e.g. Stephen Dedalus in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, where to become a writer Stephen must escape the island that is home to him and that expects him to conform to values and ideals he does not hold. He doesn’t fly, of course, but there are many hints that Joyce is pointing to the Icaurs myth (including the author’s name… you’re going to have to pay close attention to names, too!) Although the myths seem radically different, they both critically view man's mortality and limitations. In the Daedalus myth, Daedalus creates a trap for others which becomes his own prison. His only escape from the corruption that surrounds him is through the air. Only through great genius and the contrivance of artificial wings, will he escape the fate of other prisoners that are sent into the labyrinth to be devoured by the Minotaur. His genius becomes his undoing, as the artificial can never replace the real. The wax melts, the feathers fall, and his son falls into the sea. It is a warning to all who wish to achieve the distinction of being superior to their fellow mortals. Each who dreams of flight, of becoming the leader must in time confront the dangers of Daedalus' flight.
Bible Archetypes Garden of Eden: women tempting men and causing their fall, the apple as symbolic of an object of temptation, a serpent who tempts men to do evil, and a fall from innocence David and Goliath—overcoming overwhelming odds Jonah and the Whale—refusing to face a task and being “eaten” or overwhelmed by it anyway
Mary Cain and Abel Noah Judas Bible Archetypes The Apocalypse—Four Horseman of the Apocalypse usher in the end of the world Biblical names often draw a connection between literary character and Biblical character:
Yes, She’s a Christ Figure, Too Characteristics of a Christ Figure: • crucified, wounds in hands, feet, side, and head, often portrayed with arms outstretched • in agony • self-sacrificing • good with children • good with loaves, fishes, water, wine • thirty-three years of age when last seen • employed as a carpenter • known to use humble modes of transportation, feet or donkeys preferred • believed to have walked on water
Yes, She’s a Christ Figure, Too • Characteristics of a Christ Figure: • believed to have had a confrontation with the devil, possibly tempted • last seen in the company of thieves • creator of many aphorisms and parables • buried, but arose on the third day • had disciples, twelve at first, although not all equally devoted • very forgiving • came to redeem an unworthy world
Yes, She’s a Christ Figure, Too • As a reader, put aside belief system. • Why use Christ figures? Deepens our sense of a character’s sacrifice, thematically has to do with redemption, hope, or miracles. • If used ironically, makes the character look smaller rather than greater
Hanseldee and Greteldum:using fairy tales and kiddie lit Nowadays, not everyone knows the Bible…but we all know kids’ stories & fairy tales! • Hansel and Gretel: lost children trying to find their way home • Peter Pan: refusing to grow up, lost boys, a girl-nurturer • Little Red Riding Hood: See Vampires • Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz: entering a world that doesn’t work rationally or operates under different rules, the Red Queen, the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, the Wicked Witch of the West, the Wizard, who is a fraud • Cinderella: orphaned girl abused by adopted family saved through supernatural intervention and by marrying a prince • Snow White: Evil woman who brings death to an innocent—again, saved by heroic/princely character
Quests • A quester– person who goes on a quest, whether or not he knows it’s a quest (in fact, usually he doesn’t know) • A place to go • A stated reason to go there - someone tells the protagonist (who need not look very heroic) to go somewhere and do something – e.g. go to the store to buy some bread…The real reason for the quest doesn’t involve the stated reason. • The real reason to go—always self-knowledge • Challenges and trials