Nine Lit Crit Ways of
Looking at
The Great Gatsby
. . .and the rest of the world
Facilitated by a great many quotes from Donald E. Hall’s Literary and
Cultural Theory
Presented by Dr. Rita D. Jacobs at the MSU Institute for the Humanities
sessions on The Great Gatsby, 4 February 2011
A New Critical Approach
• The task of the New Critic is to explore
precisely how, through language and form,
meanings are expressed and powerfully
impressed upon readers.
• Discussions of
– Form and genre
– Close textual reading
– Narrative style and frame
A Reader-Response Analysis
• Reader-response analysis is a rigorous probing
of the response process itself, and it has a
wide variety of possible analytical focuses.
• The meaning of a text is not wholly intrinsic to
the text.
• Emphasis is placed on the subjective nature of
reading in that texts never exist in vacuums.
Marxist and Materialist
Analysis
• This kind of analysis is rooted in historical
research and changing social contexts for
understanding literary and other cultural
texts.
• Marxist critics are motivated by a sense of
political and economic urgency and attempt to
reveal how unwitting participation in classbased ideologies has concrete effects on the
quality of human life.
Psychoanalytic Analysis
• An examination of the hidden forces, desires and fears
that exert influence over characters in ways beyond
their knowledge and control.
• Makes use of the frames of reference we use in
discussing selfhood and identity, e.g. id, ego, superego.
• Essential tenets:
--Human activity is not reducible to conscious
intent
--Characters in texts may also have a complex
psychology
--Texts may have a psychological impact on readers
Structuralism and Semiotics
• The signified is the concept to which a word refers
• The signifier is that word, image or representation that is
used to designate the signified
• The sign is the combination of the signifier and the signified
• Example: a box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day represents
the affection one feels for another person. The box of
chocolates is the signifier, the affection is that which is
signified and the box of chocolates as affection is
commonly recognized as a complex cultural sign.
• Meaning can be made through a juxtaposition of opposites
or binaries
Feminist Analysis
• The key to all feminist analysis is a recognition of
the different degrees of social power that are
granted to and exercised by women and men.
• Language, institutions and social power
structures have reflected patriarchal interests
throughout much of history; this has had a
profound impact on women yet, at the same
time, women have resisted and subverted
patriarchal oppression in a variety of ways.
Gay/Lesbian/Queer Analysis
• All gay/lesbian/queer analysis focuses on
sexuality as a particulary important
component of human identity, social
organization and textual representation.
• All notions of normality –sexual, gender
related, and otherwise—are appropriate
subjects for critique and historical
representation.
Race, Ethnicity and PostColonial Analysis
• Categories of race and ethnicity have been
used in ways that have empowered and
oppressed
• The differentiation of peoples is reflected in
and reinforced by language and metaphor
• The differentiation of peoples and its political
consequences are reflected not only in literary
and other forms of representation but also in
our very notion of literature
The New Historicism and
Pluralistic Cultural Analysis
• An examination of the work by analyzing the
interplay between text and context.
• There are numerous possible stories and histories
that offer different insights into the ways
people’s lives reflect their time, place, race,
gender, sexuality and economic situation.
• Literary and other cultural texts are connected in
complex ways to the time periods in which they
were created.
• No reading of a literary or cultural text is
definitive.
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