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Intro to literary theory

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The basics of literary theory.

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Intro to literary theory

  1. 1. • Literary Theory is simply the term used for: • “A particular way of reading and viewing texts” - or - • “looking at a text from a particular point-of-view” - or – • “reading a text from different perspectives” • You do not need to feel intimidated or worried about using literary theory… it’s pretty easy  • All literary theorists do is…. • analyse the language, forms and features of texts, and… • offer specific interpretations of the: • personal, historical, social and cultural ideas, values, experiences and… • Individuals and relationships… that are shown in texts.
  2. 2. • An examination of literature through a particular perspective, theory - or ‘lens’. • Think of literary theory as simply being a particular ‘lens’… similar to the different snapchat and instagram filters (which are basically different camera lenses) • The filters don’t radically “change” the original image (unless you’re using some of the crazier filters on snapchat :/ ). The filters just highlights particular aspects and perspectives shown in the image. • Literary theory is simply the idea of exploring literature (texts) through different theoretical “lenses” or from specific perspectives.
  3. 3. • There are many different theories or perspectives that can be used as a “lens” to explore and interpret texts • It is important to note, that there is never one right answer (unless the author him/herself says so) • Any thesis that can be proven through the literary theory is fair game. – as long as you clearly state the literary theory that you are using to explore the text!  of course… that means you need textual evidence and technical analysis to support the thesis.
  4. 4. • Different perspectives are like different ‘lenses’. • You should think of a particular perspective (or theory) as being like a particular set of glasses that you put on when you read a text. • For example: the Feminist Theory ‘lens’ allows you to focus specifically on the representations of gender in texts.
  5. 5. By choosing and applying different perspectives to texts, you show that you are aware that there are different ways a text can be interpreted or read. • Different perspectives of texts can also be called different “readings” of texts, eg: • Dominant reading • – Lady Macbeth is a cold-hearted, murderous witch • Resistant reading • – Lady Macbeth is a strong, supportive and powerful woman who was willing to do anything to make her husband king! • Alternative reading • In a patriarchal and violent society, Lady Macbeth is represented as a ‘typical’ woman who is the downfall of honourable men.
  6. 6. Some literary theories include: • Feminist Theory (#girlpower) • Psychoanalytic Theory (#craycray / #mindgames) • Queer Theory (#it’sOKtobeYOU) • Marxist Theory (#capitalismsucks) • New Historicism (#historyrepeatsitself) • Moral Philosophy (#goodvsevil)
  7. 7. This reading “lens” focuses on the idea that: • 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 values and attitudes shown in the text, to understand its moral purpose. The reader should then become “a better person”.
  8. 8. This reading “lens” focuses on the idea that: • Texts deal with the social and cultural struggle of black (or ‘native’) people against injustice and oppression • Literature exposes negative portrayals of black people, and their absence generally, in white literature • Eurocentric* attitudes are taken for granted • The text deals with cultural, regional, social and national differences in values and experiences • Colonial countries and people are represented in texts by Western writers • Postcolonial writers write about their own cultural identity and “culture clash” experiences. *focusing on Europe or its people, institutions, and cultures, often in a way that is arrogantly unconcerned of other cultures.
  9. 9. This reading “lens” focuses on the idea that: • all literature can be classified into various categories, types or forms, e.g. tragedy, comedy, romance, thriller, epic, science fiction, crime-fiction, lyric, allegory… etc. • The text (its characters, setting, events, narrative) is determined by the conventions (rules) of its genre • You gain a deeper understanding of a text when you recognise the genre (traditional “recipe” or category) to which it belongs.
  10. 10. This reading “lens” focuses on the idea that: • What we understand as‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’is that these are labels for attitudes which are constructed by our culture (usually through mass media and texts) • It is important to be aware of this ‘construction’ when reading texts from periods and cultures different from our own • You are not a “feminist” just because you look at texts from a feminist perspective (through a feminist theory ‘lens’)
  11. 11. • Texts show particular attitudes towards woman and girls • Literature explores women’s roles and experience in the world • Women are represented in texts written by men, and texts display the power relations between the sexes.
  12. 12. Patriarchy – in a society the male is the centre of authority • This is what is meant by a patriarchal society • The opposite of patriarchal is ‘matriarchal’ Hegemony – leadership; predominance. • A hegemony is a dominant group or a system that creates the rules we live by Gender – term used when distinguishing male and female in a variety of disciplines
  13. 13. This reading “lens” focuses on the idea that • There are hidden messages (or extended metaphors) in a text about the power struggle between the proletariat (the powerless poor / working class) and the bourgeoisie (the powerful wealthy / professional / politicians) • Texts show different levels of luxury and power that characters experience (their wealth and possessions - what they have and why) • Individuals don’t really have free-choice… they are always conforming to the will of those in power • Texts show that individual freedom and free-thought is just an allusion.
  14. 14. • Not interested so much in when a text was written, or who it was written by, or even what it is about • Belief is that we use language, not simply to describe the world, but to construct it • In literature, the only thing that really matters is 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 • Interested in patterns and structures. More interested in the gaps, silences and absences in texts. Known as post-structuralism

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