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Literary Theory in Our Vernon L.A. and English Classrooms? Sure!. Using lenses to teach children how to interpret novels. A Brief history of Literary Criticism.

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literary theory in our vernon l a and english classrooms sure

Literary Theory in Our Vernon L.A. and English Classrooms? Sure!

Using lenses to teach children how to interpret novels

a brief history of literary criticism
A Brief history of Literary Criticism
  • 1800’s Hermeneutics: Originally the study of Biblical interpretation, the term has come to mean “the best way to discover the meaning of the text”
  • So today we are studying Hermeneutics divided into “schools of literary thought”
1900 1970 s psychoanalytical literary theory
1900-1970’s: Psychoanalytical Literary Theory
  • Freudian Criticism: The examination of the Id, Ego and Superego. Use of Freud’s theory of neurosis to examine character’s actions or author’s intent.
  • Jungian Criticism: Examination of the divided unconscious: Personal and Collective (communal). Archetypal heroes, villains, and stages.
  • Jacques Lacan:
  • active voice (to see)
  • the reflexive voice (to see oneself)
  • the passive voice (to be seen)
semiotics the s tudy of signs in literature 1930 s 1970 s
Semiotics: The Study of Signs in Literature 1930’s -1970’s
  • Semiotics is the study of cultural phenomena (signs)that is embedded in literature that indicate deeper meanings through, mores, values etc.
  • Roland Barthes: Wrote Mythologies a seminal work in the field which showed how clothes, advertisements, cultural indicators “signs” in literature can give depth to the reading.
  • Finding meaning through putting fragmented pieces together.
structuralism lit criticism that examines novels as anthropological studies 1930 1970 s
Structuralism: Lit. criticism that examines novels as anthropological studies. 1930-1970’s
  • Interested in folk lore and fairy tales as archetypes of a society as a whole.
  • The structuralism wants to know what Grimm’s writings say about the Germans? What does La Fontaine’s writings say about the French?
  • Structuralism is also big into comparing works of writers: Often couched in the phrase like this: “Is Morrison in conversation with Faulkner about the plight of the slave?”
  • Claude Levi-Strauss was the most important critic in the movement: The Raw and the Cooked is his most famous work.
new criticism 1940 1980 s
New Criticism: 1940-1980’s
  • Dominant American Criticism in the 1950s and 1960’s on college campuses. (Your professors, if old enough, wrote their dissertations in this fashion.)
  • The novel is a work of art – separate from the time period it was written in, the author’s intention or the social conditions of the time.
  • Demands a close reading of the text, ignores its plot and looks at words, images and symbols.
  • Allen Tate and John Crowe Ransom and southern literature., particularly Faulkner and TS Eliot.
marxist criticism 1930 1980 s
Marxist Criticism 1930-1980’s
  • Interprets literature as a reflection and product of the economic conflict between the social classes. (Very popular in the 1930’s, 1970’s and it is coming around again today.)
  • All literature is examined through the lens of how does it affect the poor in their relation to the gilded class.
  • So . . .Hamlet is nice, but the gravediggers are the real philosopher/heroes OR Juliet is a spoiled princess but the nurse; now there’s someone to watch.
  • Walter Benjamin and Berthold Brecht were important Marxist critics.
feminist criticism 1960 s 2000
Feminist Criticism 1960’s-2000
  • Seminal Works: Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex and Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique
  • This criticism examines gender relationships in the text. Roles played by women.
  • Condemns male attitudes towards women
  • Confronts the phallocentric aspects of society
  • Bell Hooks and Adrianne Rich and Susan Sontag are
  • important voices.
  • This criticism has revolutionized literature in the second half of the 20th century.
  • It has morphed into various hybrids in criticism as each theory is now looked at through a feminine lens. (Particularly in African-American literature)
reader response criticism 1960 2000
Reader Response Criticism 1960-2000
  • The reader is more important than the writer.
  • The process that goes on in the mind of the reader is all important.
  • No single way to look at the text. What the reader brings to the table is essential. The actually create meaning.
  • Ex: Do black men and white men read Huck Finn the same way?
  • Do men and women read The Awakening or Pride and Prejudice the same way?
  • What meaning is inherent in the text if we all have different experiences?
  • What literature speaks to what reader?
  • Practitioners: Stanley Fish and Harold Bloom (conservative)
post colonial l iterary theory 1980 s present day
Post Colonial Literary Theory: 1980’s – Present Day
  • The literature of the former enslaved people is finally written and/or a reexamination of the literature written by the colonial power.
  • A reclaiming of the past by those who were marginalized.
  • Huge movement throughout the world, African, Asian, Central American, slave, Native American voices are finally heard.
  • Theory of “otherness” Edward Said and Frantz Fanon.
  • Resistance to the colonial power through subversion, opposition or mimicry.
  • Presently one of the most important

literary theories.

deconstructionism 1980 present day
Deconstructionism – 1980- Present Day
  • Argues that language is unreliable
  • Seek out contradictions in the text to prove the text lacks unity and coherence
  • Find the conflict in the author’s point of view
  • Jacques Derrida is the main practitioner of this literary theory. The Post-Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond (1980) is his most famous work.
  • Really a textual outgrowth of existentialism a theory that says life is absurd, thus in Deconstrutionalism so is the language used to describe it.
  • il n'ya pas de hors-texte:

"there is nothing outside the text”

queer theory 1990 present
QUEER THEORY: 1990-Present
  • Despite its title the theory’s goal is to destabilize identity categories. Gender specific is replaced by identity specific. These theorists were heavily influenced by Foucault's Sexuality and the Formation of the Modern Self
  • Identities are either natural, essential or socially constructed and Queer theorists are interested in how society tries to change or resist these changes.
  • Teresa de Lauretis – (U. Cal) and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's Epistemology of the Closet detailed homoeroticism is such authors as Charles Dickens and Henry James
  • “Queer” is defined loosely as anything that is at odds with the normative, or dominant culture.
so how can 6 th grade 12 th grade english and language arts teachers use this
So how can 6th grade-12th grade English and language arts teachers use this?
  • First, pick a theory appropriate to the age level
  • Second, call the theory a lens, which is the general terminology used by those who don’t want to offend or confuse.
  • Explain to the students that there are various lenses that you can use when looking at literature.
  • Explain the importance of a close, concentrated look at one small section of a novel in order to understand its whole.
  • Explain how it is easier to write about books when you are using a lens.
establish a lens that lends itself to the book
Establish a lens that lends itself to the book:
  • The Giving Tree – Feminist reading?
  • Far From the Bamboo Grove – Post Colonial Reading?
  • The Scarlet Letter – A Freudian reading?
  • Things Not Seen – A Marxist reading?
  • Huck Finn, Catcher in the Rye, Maniac McGee –Jungian Analysis?
give the tenets of the lens in simple language psychoanalytical criticism
Give the tenets of the lens in simple language: Psychoanalytical Criticism
  • Jung or Freud? OK - Jung
  • Terminology to know:
  • Archetypes (Patterns)
  • Unconscious (Collective and Personal)
  • Joseph Campbell: Hero with a Thousand Faces
  • Hero’s journey
  • Monomyth
hero s journey
Hero’s Journey
  • What books have journeys by young people?
  • Maniac Magee
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • Great Expectations
  • Catcher in the Rye
  • A Long Way Gone
  • The Things They Carried
stages of the journey departure
Stages of the Journey: Departure
    • The Call to AdventureThe call to adventure is the point in a person's life when they are first given notice that everything is going to change, whether they know it or not.
    • Refusal of the CallOften when the call is given, the future hero refuses to heed it. This may be from a sense of duty or obligation, fear, insecurity, a sense of inadequacy, or any of a range of reasons that work to hold the person in his or her current circumstances.
    • Supernatural AidOnce the hero has committed to the quest, consciously or unconsciously, his or her guide and magical helper appears, or becomes known.
    • The Crossing of the First ThresholdThis is the point where the person actually crosses into the field of adventure, leaving the known limits of his or her world and venturing into an unknown and dangerous realm where the rules and limits are not known.
    • The Belly of the WhaleThe belly of the whale represents the final separation from the hero's known world and self. It is sometimes described as the person's lowest point, but it is actually the point when the person is between or transitioning between worlds and selves.
  • The Road of TrialsThe road of trials is a series of tests, tasks, or ordeals that the person must undergo to begin the transformation. Often the person fails one or more of these tests, which often occur in threes.
  • The Meeting with the Goddess. This is a very important step in the process and is often represented by the person finding the other person that he or she loves most completely. Although Campbell symbolizes this step as a meeting with a goddess, unconditional love and /or self unification does not have to be represented by a woman.
the hero s journey initiation
The Hero’s Journey: Initiation
  • Woman as the TemptressAt one level, this step is about those temptations that may lead the hero to abandon or stray from his or her quest, which as with the Meeting with the Goddess does not necessarily have to be represented by a woman. For Campbell, however, this step is about the revulsion that the usually male hero may feel about his own fleshy/earthy nature, and the subsequent attachment or projection of that revulsion to women. Woman is a metaphor for the physical or material temptations of life, since the hero-knight was often tempted by lust from his spiritual journey.
  • Atonement with the FatherIn this step the person must confront and be initiated by whatever holds the ultimate power in his or her life. In many myths and stories this is the father, or a father figure who has life and death power. This is the center point of the journey. All the previous steps have been moving in to this place, all that follow will move out from it. Although this step is most frequently symbolized by an encounter with a male entity, it does not have to be a male; just someone or thing with incredible power. For the transformation to take place, the person as he or she has been must be "killed" so that the new self can come into being. Sometime this killing is literal, and the earthly journey for that character is either over or moves into a different realm.
  • ApotheosisTo apotheosize is to deify. When someone dies a physical death, or dies to the self to live in spirit, he or she moves beyond the pairs of opposites to a state of divine knowledge, love, compassion and bliss. This is a god-like state; the person is in heaven and beyond all strife. A more mundane way of looking at this step is that it is a period of rest, peace and fulfillment before the hero begins the return.
the hero s journey the return
The Hero’s Journey: The Return
  • The Ultimate BoonThe ultimate boon is the achievement of the goal of the quest. It is what the person went on the journey to get. All the previous steps serve to prepare and purify the person for this step, since in many myths the boon is something transcendent like the elixir of life itself, or a plant that supplies immortality, or the holy grail.
  • ReturnRefusal of the ReturnSo why, when all has been achieved, the ambrosia has been drunk, and we have conversed with the gods, why come back to normal life with all its cares and woes?
  • The Magic FlightSometimes the hero must escape with the boon, if it is something that the gods have been jealously guarding. It can be just as adventurous and dangerous returning from the journey as it was to go on it.
  • Rescue from WithoutJust as the hero may need guides and assistants to set out on the quest, often times he or she must have powerful guides and rescuers to bring them back to everyday life, especially if the person has been wounded or weakened by the experience. Or perhaps the person doesn't realize that it is time to return, that they can return, or that others need their boon.
  • The Crossing of the Return ThresholdThe trick in returning is to retain the wisdom gained on the quest, to integrate that wisdom into a human life, and then maybe figure out how to share the wisdom with the rest of the world. This is usually extremely difficult.
  • Master of the Two WorldsIn myth, this step is usually represented by a transcendental hero like Jesus or Buddha. For a human hero, it may mean achieving a balance between the material and spiritual. The person has become comfortable and competent in both the inner and outer worlds.
  • Freedom to LiveMastery leads to freedom from the fear of death, which in turn is the freedom to live. This is sometimes referred to as living in the moment, neither anticipating the future nor regretting the past.
postcolonial criticism what one culture did to the other culture lens
Postcolonial Criticism: What One Culture did to the Other Culture Lens
  • What did dominant cultures due to minority cultures?
  • In American lit: African Americans and Native Americans and Asian Americans during WWII.
  • Who wrote history? (A: White guys, Disney et. al.)
  • Who is rewriting history? (A: Women, African Americans, Native Americans et. Al.)
  • In World lit: Colonial powers (England, France)
  • Colonized voices now heard: (Indian, Algerian)
the post colonial lens for columbus day
The Post-Colonial Lens for Columbus Day
  • Traditional history: Columbus discovered America.
  • Post Colonial response: Native Americans had lived here for thousands of years.
  • Traditional Idea: America is a white nation, shining city on the hill, Columbus brought European culture and laws that civilized the native population.
  • Post colonial read: 6 million Native Americans were exterminated between 1492 and 1860 which was accelerated by “Manifest Destiny.” American was formed by a holocaust of epic proportions.
tenets for post colonial lens
Tenets for Post-Colonial lens:
  • Voice of narrator must be authentic minority voice
  • Must explore “otherness” or “double consciousness”
  • Should examine the legacy of colonization – or at least compare cultures.
  • Slavery and its after effects is a prime topic for this lens
  • Should discuss the isolation of being described as “they”
possible novels for the post colonial lens
Possible novels for the Post –Colonial Lens:
  • Things Not Seen
  • Far from the Bamboo Grove
  • The Witch of Blackbird Pond
  • A Bend in the River
  • The Stranger
  • Heart of Darkness
  • Things Fall Apart
  • Song of Solomon
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God
marxist theory the social class lens
Marxist Theory: The Social Class Lens
  • Is there a difference in experience by protagonists if they are rich or poor?
  • Do social classification play out in novels?
  • As readers do we identify with a certain class of people?
  • Are the poor represented in our literature?
  • Are there hidden heroes in traditional literature whose wisdom was dismissed because

of their lowly position?

tenets of marxist lens
Tenets of Marxist Lens:
  • The poor are represented
  • The poor are reexamined
  • Working class is glorified
  • The working class subvert the rich
  • Looking through the prism of social class to examine who does what to whom and when.
  • Working is displayed or dismissed
works to examine through a marxist working class lens
Works to examine through a Marxist (Working Class) lens
  • The Great Gatsby
  • Grapes of Wrath
  • The Outsiders
  • Death of a Salesman
  • 1984
  • Of Mice and Men
  • Oliver Twist
  • Hamlet
  • Jitney
  • I know Why the Caged Bird Sings
feminist literary lens
Feminist Literary Lens
  • Gender roles in literature must be explored.
  • What do male writers see?
  • What do female writers see?
  • What do Male readers read?
  • What do female readers read?
  • Reexamination of phallocentric history.
  • Relationships between characters
important point about feminism or gender studies
Important Point about Feminism or Gender studies
  • This is the most important movement in literature in the past 50 years. It is so infused into our understanding of great literature and our understanding of the protagonists of the literature that there is actually a backlash against Feminism theory.
  • However the feminization of reading is everywhere. More books are written by women, more books are read by women. In our honors and AP class in English, women are performing at higher levels and the colleges are now reflecting this monumental change as young women are out pacing young men.
  • So, what are these stung educated voices saying?
  • More importantly, how are we reading them or teaching


tenets of feminism
Tenets of Feminism:
  • What role has been assigned to women in this novel?
  • What is the woman’s relationship to power?
  • What archetypal role has she been assigned?
  • Who assigned her this role?
  • Feminism is subversive in the truest sense because it is about the subversion of power.
  • It is revisionist in nature, explaining that 50% of the population has been left out of the equation.
examples of feminist theory at work
Examples of Feminist Theory at work:
  • Traditional View: Daisy, in The Great Gatsby, is a “beautiful little fool”
  • Feminist View: “Her husband took control of her and would not let her think for herself. Within the limits of the role she had to play she did the only thing she could to subvert that power, she had an affair with Jay Gatsby”
  • Traditional View: Pilate, in Song of Solomon, is a crazy, low-class black woman”
  • Feminist view: “She is the most awesome woman I have ever read. She’s sly, powerful, mysterious, and not afraid to kill to protect her kid.”
  • Traditional view: The Tree, in The Giving Tree represents all that is good about mothers. They give to their children and love unconditionally and in the end their children are better for it.”
  • Feminist view: The tree gives, without reciprocation, she is never thanked, she is used by a male who is oblivious to her pain and she, in the end is destroyed by the male hegemony of society. The tree is a stump and a chump.
  • Finally is it important that The Giving Tree and The Great Gatsby were written by males? Is it important that Song of Solomon was written by a female?