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Glossary of all most many things literary

Author refers to the individual or group credited with writing a text. The
term is often used to mean originator of a text, but modern theory argues that texts never have such clear and singular origins.

FOR EXAMPLE: Fairy tales are authorised by traditional wisdom. This creates the impression that

culture is fundamentally unchanging, and that fairy tale morals are always relevant and true (when in fact they may be racist or sexist). Literary texts are often authorised by a belief in the talent and originality of the writer (human ingenuity). However, this ignores the fact that most texts use techniques and ideas drawn from the shared traditions and conventions of the culture, and those assessments of their values change over time. Increasingly, therefore, there is a preference for the term writer.


Who or what is being promoted as the source of meaning for this text? Who or what is creating this sense of authorship? Why? What other sources of meaning are being denied? What values or beliefs are being supported? Who is being empowered by this action? Who is being disempowered?

Binary Opposition refers to structural features encoded in texts, constructed by

patterns of opposing or ideas that work to reproduce a set of beliefs or values, that serve particular interests.

FOR EXAMPLE: Here is the opening chapter of Charles Dickens novel, A Tale of Two Cities
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going the other way in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. Binary oppositions encoded in the text: best wisdom light spring hope worst foolishness darkness winter despair

belief heaven

incredulity the way other

Organisation of the words enables us to see that the terms are all drawn from a common Christian

discourse, implying a specific way of thinking about the world. The relationship between

wisdom, belief and Heaven in line with best, implies a rather narrow definition of wisdom. Perhaps most strikingly, the listed above are used to mask another common opposition: past / present. The text uses a string of contrasts to develop the argument that the past and the present are essentially the same. The extract implies that humans remain the same across time. Common uses of binary opposites: mind masculine rational individual body feminine emotional collective


What elements are being privileged? What values or beliefs are implied by this privileging?

Characters are imaginary identities constructed through descriptions of appearance,

action, speech, thought, reference by other characters etc. Traditional reading sees these as producing an individual. Modern practices explore characters as representing a set of beliefs and values, in this sense they are seen as representative. Often when writers construct characters that have no name, they are creating a representative character.


What are the moral / ethical / social values that this character represents? Does a character conform to or subvert conventional representations? Why? How does the writer position us to feel towards particular characters and the values they might represent?

Context is the multitude of factors which shape the meanings of a text within the social
frameworks of its reading. This framework may include particular ideas about the texts history, but it is also powerfully shaped by competing beliefs and practices in the present.

SCENARIO: Imagine that you are taking an exam in which you have been asked
to analyse a Shakespearean sonnet. Consider the influence of the following factors:

Your cultures perceptions of Shakespeare What you have learned about literary analysis Your personal experiences and values Shakespeares personal reasons for writing the sonnet The dominant values and beliefs of your society (around ideas such as love and time) The politics and literary values of Elizabethan England

The original (17th century) meaning of the words Changes in word meaning since the poem was written The structure and workings of the education system in which you are sitting the exam The exact wording of the exam question

Context is about considering the interplay of present day factors of reading and interpreting the text as well as the historic factors of when the text was written. Understanding context is about recognising the power of reader subjectivity and that what we individually bring to a text will shape the reading and meaning of the text.


What are the socio-historical factors which shaped the text? How are those socio-historic factors regarded by contemporary society? How might author intention be interpreted differently according to understanding of context? What experiences and values does my teacher have that will shape the way they are engaging with and teaching the text? What experiences and values do I have that will shape the way I engage with the text? How might others engage differently with the text?

What is the relationship between this text and others, (intertexuality)?

Conventions are common and recognised uses of textual codes or forms which
stabilise the range of meanings that can be applied to a text

FOR EXAMPLE: The genre conventions of procedural writing include: use of bullet points and sub-
headings to list steps in sequential order, use of imperatives and active precise verbs, use of adverbs to show how an action should be done, use of the second person pronoun to create direct address.

FOR EXAMPLE Action movies contain conventional or stock characters such as: an
attractive and likeable male protagonist who has been framed or wrong accused and must prove their innocence, saving others in the process; a beautiful woman who is caught up unintentionally in the protagonists adventures but her fate becomes dependant upon his, there will be sexual chemistry between she and the protagonist; a villain who is not immediately apparent to all, perhaps occupying a high status or respect position, he operates on deceit and is often violent, vengeful and sociopathic. Brilliant texts that seek to provide social critique or challenge conventional thought will often purposely subvert conventions for a specific effect.

FOR EXAMPLE: Stories that use stock fairy tale characters to tell unconventional tales or satirical
texts that exaggerate conventions for comic or absurd effect.


How do the texts genre conventions help to convey a sense of the intended audience and purpose? How do the texts genre conventions affect the organisation and development of ideas? Does the text subvert genre conventions and, if so, to what effect?

Denotation and Connotation distinguish between the literal

contextually based. Figurative

and associative meanings of a word or phrase. However, these distinctions may be very

language often rests upon connotation.

For example: here are two possible readings of the word police 1. Denotation: government workers who uphold justice and the law. Connotation: protection, security, order 2. Denotation: government workers who maintain social inequality Connotation: harassment, repression, danger Approaches to studying literature emphasise connotation as the key to a texts meaning. This applies particularly to the study of poetry. Often the differences between denotative and connotative meanings can be used to create irony or humour or innuendo or express a particular tone. Stemming from the multiple ways in which a word can be read is the concept of Polysemy. This refers to the signalling of multiple meanings by a single set of words or other symbols. Some reading practices emphasise the multiplicity of meanings; others work to limit or close off the possibilities of a text.


Are there differences between denotative and connotative meanings in the text? How does context or reader subjectivity impact shape connotation? What is the intended effect of the authors choice of language (denotation and connotation) upon tone or meaning of the text?

Discourse is a category of language that relates to particular social practices.

Discourses shape the attitudes behaviour and power relations of the people involved. Discourses often compete with one another for control of certain aspects of life. Wherever we find one discourse, we know that it is taking the place of another which could be there.

FOR EXAMPLE: what Western cultures now call mental illness was once regarded as possession

by evil spirits. This change in thinking has been due, in part, to the rise of the discourse of psychology and an understanding that madness is a subject of medical discourse rather than religious discourse. In simple terms, this shows the movement of power from priests to discourse, reflecting a shift in power from the ideology of religion to that of science. Examples of types of discourse: Western discourses discourses of authority discourses of power educational discourses

Examples of specific discourses: the discourse of progress environmental or conservation discourse sexist discourse legal discourse feminist or anti-sexist discourse

By identifying the discourses of a text, and observing which ones have been privileged, we can find out which views a text supports or

perhaps challenges.


Which dominant discourse(s) has shaped meaning in the text? Which discourse(s) has been privileged in the text? Which discourse(s) has been obscured? How does the privileging or obscuring of particular discourses shape meaning of the text and our engagement with it?

Foregrounding refers to an emphasis placed on certain features of the text (words, phrases, etc.). Privilege refers to the promotion of particular values and meanings.
Foregrounding and privileging are the combined effects of textual organisation and reading practices. Foregrounding: Certain features in a text may be emphasised through a variety of techniques. For example: Here is an extract from Joseph Conrads Heart of Darkness, a text which is now seen as offensively racist in many respects. Now and then a boat from the shore gave one a momentary contact with reality. It was paddled by black fellows. You could see from afar the white of their eyeballs glistening. They shouted, sang: their bodies steamed with perspiration, they had faces like grotesque masks these chaps; but they had none, muscle, a wild vitality, an intense energy that was natural and true as the surf along their coast. They wanted no excuse for being there. They were a great comfort to look at. 1. This description of the people in the boat can be read as foregrounding physical appearance. It describes the people as mere bodies, as something to be looked at. 2. European culture has traditionally privileged the mind over body. Mind and spirit have been regarded as having higher value than the body. In this passage, the foregrounding of the Africans bodies has a number of effects: it obscures the mental and spiritual qualities of the Africans; by associating the Africans with nature (the surf) it sets them up as a reverse image of the European narrator (who therefore represents culture) it constructs the narrator as mind rather than body. Through this process the Africans are made visible, while the European captain remains hidden and escapes description and judgment. In this way the European perspective is privileged, and readers are invited to take up this privileged position.


Do the organisation and narrative devices used by the author serve to foreground particular elements of the text? What is the effect of foregrounding within the text? What does foregrounding in the text serve to privilege? How does identifying privileged concepts and values lead to a more critical reading of the text? What is the relationship between context, and foregrounding and privileging?

Gaps are places in the text where readers are invited to make connections by drawing on their common sense understanding of the world. Silences result from the fact that
textual gaps enable readers to avoid questioning certain cultural values. Texts are made up on elements selected from a cultural system, such as language, and arranged according to certain conventions. For a text to mean anything at all, readers must apply a set of procedures to decode the signs and fill in background information. Readers make meaning with texts by supplying readings that are already available in the culture. For example: Here is an extract from a news report: Miss Smith is the second girl to be reported missing this week. She was last seen hitchhiking along a city street late on Friday afternoon. Police have issued a warning to young girls not to go out alone at night. These sentences do not explicitly say that there was a connection between Miss Smiths hitchhiking and her disappearance; it is assumed that readers will make the connection. But the link is not obvious. It relied on specific cultural knowledge about the way the world works. In order to construct the dominant reading of this passage, readers must assume: that the girl was kidnapped while walking; that she was kidnapped by a male; that this would be less like likely to happen if she was accompanied; that she was taking a risk by hitchhiking.

In this example, the text remains silent about the behaviour and motivations of men. This has the double effect of making safety on the streets a womans problem, and of vaguely implicating all men in the disappearance. The text could have said: Police have issued a warning for men not to go out at night, although this too would make the streets safer.

Ideologies are systems of though and action which work to the advantage of particular
groups of people and which might be shared even by people who are disadvantaged by them. Groups of people who share similar interest develop similar ways of looking at the world. Manufacturers might see the world in terms of profit and loss; humanitarians might see the world in terms of justice and exploitation; religious zealots might see it in terms of good and evil. Ideologies are spread from one group to another through cultural practices such as education, employment, advertising, and child-raising, and through texts such as novels and films. This can occur because of the control of these practices is generally in the hands of particular groups of people. Their values are reproduced and passed on to people as knowledge. In the case of literature, the values of white, Anglo- Saxon, middle-class males have tended to dominate, because of these are the people who exercised control over schooling, publishing, etc. Thus, much of what was claimed to be objective literary knowledge was ideological. It is important to realise that there are no neutral approaches to literature either in terms of its writing, or in terms of its reading. The idea that ideology shapes the way a text is written, produced and read underpins the many

literary theories that can be applied in the critical analysis of texts.


Which ideological positions are evident in the text? Which ideological positions do we occupy as readers and how they do they influence our reading of texts?


refers to the ability of members of one group to exert influence (often unconsciously) over members of another group due to socially constructed differences between them. Literary texts can be examines and judged in terms of they reproduce or disrupt conventional power relations.


What assumptions about gender are made in the text and their relative power? What assumptions are made about class or other socio-economic factors? How might power relations be naturalised in the text so that without critical engagement a reader might not question them? How does the representation of power relations reproduce or disrupt particular power relations and to what effect?

Semiotics is the name given to a method of analysing texts. It is the study of sign

systems and the way they operate within a culture. It examines texts not as personal messages communicated by an author to a reader, but as a collection of signs drawn from a public system of meaning, and representing cultural ideas. It stems from the idea that all forms of language (gestures, forms of dress, speech, writing, traffic signs etc.) are systems of signs that are culturally determined. Therefore, texts are products of the social context in which they are created and no writer operates autonomously outside of this context. Semiotics is closely related to understanding the construction of particular genre conventions and the use of representative characters.


What are the codes / conventions / representations that are employed by the writer to make meaning? What are the ways in which these codes / conventions / representations can be understood by the reader? What cultural values or power relations are reinforced or challenged through the use of particular codes / conventions / representations?

Theme refers to the central meaning or message which readers attribute to a text. Because
themes are produced through the process of reading, different groups of readers may attribute very different themes to the same text, depending upon the beliefs and practices which shape their reading.


How does understanding the central meaning of a text vary according to the beliefs and values of the reader? How might the central meaning of a text change over time?

Theories of Literary Criticism

English Criticism is a general term for the kind of criticism which dominated
English universities from the mid 1920s and is still influential today. It emphasised the judgement of literary works on the basis of timeless values, and established a canon of Great Works. Here is a list of criteria the English Critics frequently applied in their evaluation of literary works. However, English Criticism has been challenged by many who question the idea that there is a singular set of values that can be applied when reading a text. Great works must provide insight into life; deal with serious themes; offer a moral message; have an emotional impact; be skilfully written; have a balance of traditional and original features. Challenges to the theory of Great Works Whose life? What is insight? What makes a theme serious? What does deal with mean? By which standard is morality judged? Do texts evoke the same emotions? Which emotions are valid? Which skills must be shown? Must texts be written to be great? Which traditions are being drawn upon? What is the definition of originality? What does balance mean?


Austen Jane, Pride and Prejudice Bront Emily, Wuthering Heights Conrad Joseph, Heart of Darkness Dickens Charles, Hard Times Joyce James, Ulysses Kafka Franz, The Trial Shakespeare William, Hamlet Tolstoy Leo, Ana Karenina Twain Mark, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Feminist Criticism is concerned with the way gender assumptions, especially

Within feminism there is a strong emphasis on the constructedness of femininity, that is, on such matters as conditioning and socialisation, and the influence of images and representations of femininity in literature and culture. Feminist critics ague that gender inequalities are reproduced at three levels:

about women, operate in the reading and writing of literary texts. Analysis using this approach is used to ascertain whether a text is sustaining or challenging male power structures.

the production of texts (publishing houses, printing presses, bookshops have traditionally been owned by men making the publishing industry more receptive to stories which support masculine or patriarchal values). the structure and language of texts (language that marginalises femininity such as use of the male pronoun he as the general term for human being or literary conventions that cast males as heroes and protagonists while women are objectified). through reading practices (dominant reading practices encourage readers to identify with characters in stories. This often means that women must identify with feminine characters who play subordinate roles).

Many texts make use of stereotypes representations which place women in one of four categories 1. 2. 3. 4. nurturing mothers / carers / loyal wives; damsels in distress; sexual / provocative; mad / bad women.

It can be argued that these stock characters act to accentuate positive attributes of the male heroes. For example, damsels in distress are often used to highlight the strength of the male hero while evil, sexually aggressive women can serve to emphasise the virtue and respectability of a male counterpart.


Rethink the canon, aiming at the rediscovery of texts written by women Revalue womens experience Examine representations of women in literature by men and women Challenge representations of women as other, as lack, as part of nature examine power relations within texts (and beyond) with a view to breaking them down, seeing reading as a political act, and showing the extent of patriarchy Recognise the rule of language in making what it social and constructed seem natural Raise the question of whether men and women are essentially different because of biology, or are socially constructed as different.

Marxist criticism examines the role played by literature in maintaining values

FOR EXAMPLE: Here is an extract from Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
Mr Darling used to boast to Wendy that her mother not only loved him but respected him. He was one of those deep ones who know about stocks and shares. Of course, no one really knows, but he seemed quite to know, and he often said stocks were up and shares were down in a way that would have made any woman respect him. Mrs Darling was married in white, and at first she kept the books perfectly, almost gleefully, as if it were a game but by and by there were pictures of babies without faces. She drew them when she should have been toting up Mrs Darling loved to have everything just so, and Mr Darling had a passion for being exactly like his neighbours, so, of course, they had to have a nurse. Assumptions that a young reader might form from reading this text: That normal people have servants (a nurse) That women respect men who know about money That wealth is unequally distributed in society

and beliefs that support the ruling classes in society. It explores both the features of the text, and the historical background in which the text is created, circulated and read.

To be different from others is shameful Women are unreliable employees as they are soon distracted by thoughts of motherhood

Which of the two readings of Peter Pan would you support? It is an innocent story, told in terms of how the world looks to a child. It entertains its readers with a middle-class, British, male-orientated view of the world, but presents this way of thinking as amusingly typical.

If you were a parent, what action might you take with regard to Peter Pan? Read it to children because it is entertaining? Read it to children for fun, but discuss other possible readings? Read other books which present alternative views of life? Ban it from the house?

New Historicism emerging in the 1970s and 1980s, acknowledges the importance
of the literary text, but is also about analysing the text with an eye to history. It views history skeptically (historical narrative is inherently subjective), but also more broadly; history includes all of the cultural, social, political, anthropological discourses at work in any given age, and these various "texts" are unranked - any text may yield information valuable in understanding a particular

milieu. (Siegel, 2012) Rather than forming a backdrop, the many discourses at work at any given
time affect both the writer and the text; both are inescapably part of a context and, therefore, a social construct.

New Historicism has been informed by Marxist and Feminist literary criticism and offers a particular perspective for post colonialism. New historicists remind us that it is treacherous to reconstruct the past as it really wasrather than as we have been conditioned by our own place and time to believe that it was. And they know that the job is impossible for those who are unaware of that difficulty, insensitive to the bent or bias of their own historical vantage point. Thus, when new historicist critics describe a historical change, they are highly conscious of (and even likely to discuss) the theory of historical change that informs their account. The concept of reader subjectivity is at the center of New Historicist discussion that our readings of literary texts and analysis of history inevitably tell us more about our own values, cultures and beliefs that it can about an authors or anothers societys.

Postcolonial Criticism refers to a collection of theoretical and critical

strategies that are used to examine the culture of former colonies of the European empires, and their relation to the rest of the world. The term post colonialism refers to the period following the decline of colonialism, that is the end or lessening of domination by European empires over territory in Asia, Africa, America and Oceania.

Postcolonial literary criticism examines the way that colonialism was reinforced and legitimated in discourse and literature, challenging the position in the canon of texts like Heart of Darkness. Among the many challenges facing postcolonial writers are the attempts both to resurrect their culture and to combat preconceptions about their culture created by the colonial period. Some postcolonial critics see the increasing growth of English as a global language and the attendant prestige and economic value attached to the language as another form of

imperialism promoted by the western world. They point to the devaluation and decline of
local languages and cultures as evidence of globalization as another form of cultural colonialism.

Post structural Criticism (which is often used synonymously

with Postmodernism) is a reaction to a structural approach and works against seeing language as a stable, closed system. "It is a shift from seeing the poem or novel as a closed entity, equipped with definite meanings which it is the critic's task to decipher, to seeing literature as irreducibly plural, an endless play of signifiers which can never be finally nailed down to a single center, essence, or meaning" (Eagleton, 2009) It is a theoretical position that investigates the connections between systems of meaning/action and relations of power. It investigates how knowledge and truths are constructed, and these serve or privilege particular interests. Texts are critically examined for the discourses to which they refer and the ideologies that lie behind these discourses. Critics aim to show that knowledges that seem impartial and obvious can actually work in favour of some groups and against others without people being conscious of them at all. When this approach is applied to literary texts, it is often called Deconstruction.

FOR EXAMPLE: In the left hand column below are some truth claims produced by particular

social institutions and forms of knowledge (way of knowing, using TOK speak). Consider which institutions or knowledges might construct these statements as truth. Statement Economic growth is the basis of a healthy society. The desire for economic growth is crippling the environment. Economic growth is predicated on the fundamental idea that only some will benefit. The only effective way of dealing with young offenders is to punish them. The only way to deal with young offenders is to improve their living conditions and provide them with jobs. Institution / knowledge

Psychoanalytic Criticism sees literary

texts as representing the unconscious desires shared by members of a culture. It provides a way of exploring the social construction of personal identities, especially through the readers interaction with the text. Psychoanalysis is a theory of mental operations developed by Sigmund Freud but more recently extended by theorists such as Jacques Lacan. Where Freud concentrated on the unconscious life of individuals, later theorists have explored the way language and culture provides an unconscious dimension to social life. The symbols in literary texts are thought to represent the cultures obsessions.

FOR EXAMPLE: The idea that the building in the image above is a phallic representation does not

express the authors personal preoccupation with the male genitals; but they may reflect a cultural preoccupation with images of male power, as encoded in language and other social practices.

Eagleton, T. (2003). After Theory. Basic Books. London. Moon, B (1999). Literary Terms A Practical Glossary. NCTE. Illinois., visited September 2012, visited September 2012