Literary Analysis:Biographical Perspective Life Experiences Influence Writing Catherine Wishart Adjunct Instructor
How Common is Biographical Context in Writing? • All authors write in a biographical context • The goal of a biographical criticism is understanding why the author wrote what he or she wrote • This includes pointing out how biographical circumstances contributed to the creation of parts of the text—biographical readings often resemble non-theoretical psychological readings
Influences on Biographical Context • Ideology: a system of beliefs that governs a group’s actions, its view of reality, and its assumptions about what is “normal” and “natural.” Ideology can be communicated by discourse. • Some authors ideologically agree with the power elites of society (agree with the societal norm) • Other authors ideologically disagree with the power elite (what to initiate change) • Life experiences often influence their ideologies.
History of Biographical Criticism • Samuel Johnson (1779) researched poets and utilized truthful accounts of their lives to understand nuances in their writings. • Since Johnson, biographical criticism has become more and more popular.
Important Questions for Biographical Criticism • Understanding the Author: • What facts about the author’s life suggest ideas in the work? Did anything that happened to the author effect his or her themes or choice of subject matter? • What was/is the author’s world view? Which of the author’s beliefs seem reflected in their story? • What commentary on the story did the author make? Does it point to ideas in the story?
Important Questions • Understanding the Author’s World: • What world view was typical of the author’s time? What aspects of this world view seem prevalent in this story or character? Does the author seem to accept or rebel against this world view? • How did people respond to the author’s works and life? • What ideas did people find in the author’s works and life?
Adding Perspective • The social structure or way of life of the author’s time period gives greater depth from which to draw conclusions and better understand the story. • Discovering details about the author’s life and times also provides a way to further develop ideas about interpreting the story.
Example of an Author’s Life Experiences Shaping His Writing • Tim O’Brien is the author of The Things They Carried • Facts about O’Brien: • Born October 1, 1946 • Grew up in Minnesota • Political views were against the Vietnam War • Drafted into Army in 1968 • Served from 1968 to 1970 as an infantry foot soldier
Sketch of the Book • The story takes place in Vietnam. • It details the burdens that infantry soldiers carried, both physically and mentally. • In an extended novel released in 1990, O’Brien gives the narrator his own name. • The story is fictional even though it sounds true (verisimilitude). • The story paints a devastating picture of the Vietnam War.
One Critic’s Biographical Analysis • “One of the most fascinating things about O’Brien’s story was his own reflection on the art of telling a story, and specifically, the art of telling a war story. We are continuously reminded that the story is fiction, but it is difficult to separate Tim the narrator and Tim O’Brien the author.”
Biographical CriticismChecklist of Questions • What influences – persons, ideas, movements, events – evident in the writer’s life does the work reflect? • To what extent are the events described in the work a direct transfer of what happened in the author’s actual life? • What modifications of the actual events has the writer made in the literary work? For what possible purposes? • Why might the writer have altered his or her actual experience in the literary work? • What are the effects of the differences between actual events and their literary transformation in the work? • What has the author revealed in the work about his or her characteristic modes of thought, perceptions, or emotion? What place does the work have in the author’s literary development and career?
Sources • http://www.slideboom.com/presentations/106643/Critical-Perspectives-Biographical-Criticism-Final-Submission • www.cedarville.edu/departments/writingcenter/.../litanalysis.ppt • DiYanni, Robert. Literature Approaches to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. 2nd ed. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2008. Print.