Introducing literary theory


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  • Likes and dislikes about the text Memories of reading it (discuss how age informs our readings of things) – contexts are different Relationships between the words and the images
  • Students take it in turns to feed back their discoveries, beginning by reading out the simplified critical position card and summarising their reading of the picture book. Examples of the sorts of things students might highlight   Where the Wild Things are include the following: Structuralism: the significance of the changing balance between text and image and its relationship to an interpretation of the story as a fantasy – a figment of Max ’s imagination, oppositions. Feminism: the role of the mother (and the absence of the father), the balance of power between mother and son, the role Max adopts with the ‘wild things’, the representation of the ‘wild things’ as gendered or genderless. Postcolonial: the role Max adopts with the ‘wild things’, his colonising – and subsequent desertion – of the creatures, the behaviour of the ‘wild things’, the colour symbolism of Max’s clothing. Psychoanalytic: what the ‘wild things’ might represent, Max’s relationship with his mother, the absence of the father, dream/reality distinctions, sublimation of desires into fantasy.
  • Introducing literary theory

    1. 1. Introducing Literary Theory Different ways of reading and viewing texts You do not need to feel intimidated or worried about using literary theory. All theorists do, is read texts and offer different interpretations of them.By using and applying theory, you are showing that youare aware of some of the different ways a text can beinterpreted or read.Literary theory does not mean that a text is necessarilyfeminist or Marxist, etc, rather the text can be read inthat way.
    2. 2. Can a picture book teach youanything about theory?
    3. 3. Now read the text again andanalyse it through the lens of aparticular theory.• Any new insights gained by approaching the book through this lens?• Consider also whether the book loses anything from being read from a specific critical perspective.
    4. 4. • What are the benefits and the limitations of reading a text from a single critical perspective?• In what ways could these insights be used as part of your own reading of the text?
    5. 5. Choose two of the Tennysonpoems we have looked at.• Apply your theory to your reading of the stories. What similarities or differences do the stories offer, from your perspective?• Feedback.• What does this tell us about narrative and interpretation?
    6. 6. Moral• For me, literature is nothing unless it teaches its reader something and helps them become better people.• All good literature is basically moral and uplifting.• It is important to consider the themes in the text, to understand its moral purpose.
    7. 7. Postcolonial• I began by being interested in texts which explore the black struggle against injustice and oppression. I am aware of the negative portrayals of black people, and their absence generally, in white literature.• I am aware when Eurocentric attitudes are taken for granted, and I look in the text for cultural, regional, social and national differences in outlook and experiences.• I am interested in the way colonial countries and people are represented in texts by Western writers. I also explore the ways in which postcolonial writers write about their own identity and experiences.
    8. 8. Genre Theory• I believe that all literature can be classified into various types or forms, e.g. tragedy, comedy, romance, thriller, epic, lyric etc.• I look for ways in which the text relates to the conventions of its genre. You can only really make sense of a text when you recognise the tradition to which it belongs.
    9. 9. Feminist• I believe that ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ are ideas constructed by our culture, and it is important to be aware of this when reading texts from periods and cultures different from our own.• I prefer to read literature which explores women’s experience of the world.• I am interested in how women are represented in texts written by men, and how these texts display the power relations between the sexes.
    10. 10. Psychoanalytic• Because of my interest in the unconscious, I pay most attention to what is glossed over or ‘repressed’.• I want to look beyond the obvious surface meaning to what the text is ‘really’ about.• I also look for representations of psychological states or phases in literature, and am more interested in the emotional conflicts between the characters or groups in a text than in its wider context.
    11. 11. Historical• I read historical and other relevant texts, alongside literary ones, in order to see more clearly the context in which the literature was produced, and to recover its history.• I look at the ways these texts have been packaged and consumed in the present day. However, I also analyse the text closely, in order to question previous ways in which the text has been read.• I consider all forms of culture, popular as well as high culture, to be relevant.
    12. 12. Marxist• I look for hidden messages in a text and I examine how the characters interact and whether there is harmony or power struggle.• I look at the level of luxury that characters experience: their possessions, what they have and why.• I do not necessarily believe that individuals have free-choice, they are always conforming to the will of those in power and I look for the illusion of freedom and free-thought in texts.
    13. 13. Structuralist/Post-structuralist• I am not interested so much in when a text was written, or who it was written by, or even what it is about.• I believe that we use language, not simply to describe the world, but to construct it. Therefore, in literature, I am most interested in how the text is constructed: its form, its overall structure and the patterns of language in it, especially pairs of opposites.• Texts from popular culture, societies, belief systems are all structures which can be explored and analysed like a literary text. Some critics who, like me, were interested in patterns and structures became more interested in the gaps, silences and absences in texts. They became known as post- structuralists.