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The Place of Literary Criticism in the High School Classroom

Jamie L. Wills Kennesaw State University

Do you use literary criticism in your classroom? If so, how do you use it?

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Readers Reflections on Literature through Literary Theories Joanne M. Golden & Donna Canan
Main Point! The article provided a unique way to introduce and explain to students literary theory.

Literary Theories and Snow White

Structuralist Theory
Enables us to see how language itself produces meaning.

Binary Oppositions good/evil youth/age innocence/artifice castle/cottage

Literary Theories and Snow White

Feminist Criticism
Exploring womens redefinition of their identity in writing. - Snow Whites life with the dwarves as important to her education as a submissive female who learns lessons of service, selflessness, and domesticity.

Literary Theories and Snow White Marxist Theory

Seeing society as a class struggle.
The role of the dwarves is similar to that of the peasant classes in that it echoes the value of hard work and solidarity needed for survival. These dwarves support the fairytales social order.

The next step: Applying Literary Theories

D.H. Lawrence The RockingHorse Winner
Structuralist: rich/poor, death/life, lucky/unlucky Feminist: Paul saves his mom, like prince charming always saves the princess. Marxist: When they pool the money, it is a symbol of wanting to share equally the wealth in the same class.

The next step: Applying Literary Theories

Structuralist: war/peace, reality/illusion, hate/love, truth/lies, sanity/insanity Feminist: Womens basic role is to have children. Marxist: The proles are worthless. Theyre just like poor people, and they have no say in what goes on.

Ours and Students Responses

The novel should be finished before the theories are introduced. Additional theories could be used. The choice of works is important. Snow White was effective for introducing the theories.

The theories should be woven in over the course of the semester.

Demystifying the Text: Literary Criticism in the High School Classroom Lisa Schade
Criticism adds another level to our literary study and gives the students added insight into the mysteries of literary interpretations.

Criticism all the year long

Archetypal Criticism Gilgamesh Structuralism Oedipus Rex Reader-Response Criticism Hamlet Biographical Criticism Dantes Paradiso Marxist Kaffir Boy Philosophical Criticism Kafkas The Metamorphosis

The Final Product

Students research in groups a geographical area of their choice. The research culminates in a 45 min. presentation about their country and its literary history. Students must locate and read poetry, essays, short stories, and one novel or long play looking for a unifying philosophical or critical base.

Sing a New Song: A Fresh Look at Literary Criticism Catherine P. Sagan

Dr. Sagan, this is really tough. It took me half and hour to read a single page; its so dense!

The Response
About eighteen years ago, experiencing mild guilt pangs at my audacity, I threw out all research assignments that mandated reference to formal literary criticism; in their place I asked my students to design their own thesis and surprise me-to link an original theory to an article found in a popular magazine they read for pleasuree.g.,Mademoiselle, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, Omni, Time.

The Result

The conch, rather than being a symbol for democratic order, is an instrument of censorship that contributes to the evolving disorder on the island. Simon is not a Christ figure but is suffering from schizophrenic psychosis, as described in an article in Psychology Today by Dan Hurley, Imminent Danger.

The rewards of using this research approach

My students felt comfortable during later classroom discussions when I introduced the views of literary critics.

The contemporary relevance of texts studied did not have to be defended: my students proved this by the connections they forged.

Reception Moments, Modern Literary Theory, and the Teaching of Literature - Patrick Sullivan
Reception Moment examining how a text was received by the public when it was first printed

Reception Moment #1
Was characterized as rough, coarse and inelegantthe whole book suited to the slums than to intelligent, respectable people. Quote raises questions about the nature of language & deomonstrates the operation of different kinds of cultural norms.

Reception Moment #2
In later years the book was termed as a grotesque example of racist trash ever written. Questions students may explore comparing the first reception with the second may include the exploration of why it wasnt seen as racist when it first came out.

Classroom Application
This is a great way to introduce literary criticism. Students can begin to appreciate the interrelationship between language, culture, and history as factors that influence the way we respond to the literature we read.

Lets give them something to talk (and think) about: Using literary theory to enliven our classrooms. Jeffrey D. Wilhelm
A look into the experts on literary criticism in the classroom.

Deborah Appleman
Appleman focuses on how literary theory is not only engaging to students because it helps them to see the world in a new way and to wield power in that world, but because it helps them and us enter into and understand positions other than our own in a diverse and complex world.

Peter J. Rabinowitz
Authorizing Readers Rabinowitz and co-author Michael W. Smith talk about the authorial audience. This is when students adopt the knowledge and sensibilities of the audience for whom the text seems to have been written.

Their Cooperative Conclusion

English is about nothing! A high school student with whom I worked recently ranted on and on: English is about reading poems, telling about rhythm. English is about commas, for Gods sake! Its about nothing!
Jeffrey D. Wilhelm

Golden, J. M., & Canan, D. (2004, May). Mirror, mirror on the wall: Readers reflections on literature through literary theories. English Journal, 93(5), 42-46. Sagan, C. P. (2003, July). Sing a new song: A fresh look at literary criticism. English Journal, 92(6), 40. Schade, L. (1996, March). Demystifying the text: Literary criticism in the high school classroom. English Journal, 85(3), 26-31. Sullivan, P. (2002, April). Reception moments, modern literary theory, and the teaching of literature. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 45(7), 568-578. Wilhelm, J. D. (2002, January). Lets give them something to talk (and think) about: Using literary theory to enliven our classrooms. English Journal, 91(3), 128-130.