An overview of the purpose of using literary theories to catch a glimpse into the functions of society and how it impacts marginalized communities.
Since the dawn of time humanity has sought a deeper understanding of the world. Ancestors of the past thought they had discovered a deeper truth: the Earth is flat, orbiting around the sun. Explorers traveled the oceans in search of treasure and adventure. Every human being on the face of the planet yearns to understand the unknown. However, one does not need to travel on foot to explore the Earth; literary works suffice. Every generation reads these tales with a deeper understanding than the previous one. These stories are not an escape from reality, but rather a pathway to explore humanity in all its facets. The only means of walking this path is the application of literary theories. Literary criticism provides both an introduction and an extensive background on the subject matter and a set of rules to govern the analysis. Examples of these theories are Marxism, Deconstruction, and New Criticism. Applying these literary theories allows you to explore cultural beliefs, a fresh viewpoint on historical events, and the perspectives of marginalized groups within society. Another brilliant side effect of utilizing literary theories is self-awareness. Remaining open-minded to others' ideas and perspectives is the first step to enhancing your critical thinking skills. The achievement of enhanced personal development occurs by looking deeper into the societal document of literature. Literary theories are the gateway to comprehending social complexities, cultural diversity, and enhancing personal growth. Social issues discussed in literature The social complexities of humanity are difficult to navigate. Nonetheless, every culture has a form of storytelling whether it be written, visual or verbal. Poems, fiction, and biographical information are drafted for the next generation to read. However, new generations can not comprehend the complex emotions and social dynamics of the past. For example, humanity is notorious for unequal treatment of marginalized groups. Privilege refers to special or equal treatment for specific individuals due to wealth, ethnicity, and gender. Marxism is loosely defined as a theory that examines the effect of capitalism on labor, productivity, and economic development (“Marxism: Theory, Effects, and Examples”). The theory favors the idea of communism over capitalism.
Pieces of literature written in the late nineteenth century need to be examined with Marxism in mind. Edgar Allan Poe wrote the short story "The Cask of Amontillado" during this time. The story depicts the process of the protagonist taking revenge on Fortunato, a wealthy, arrogant man that insulted Montresor (Poe, 54). The Marxist theory will deepen your understanding of the complex social dynamics between the two men. The privilege of Fortunato creates mannerisms that are unattractive and harmful to the protagonist. Since Marxism explores the impact of capitalism on society can be used to unearth how the trip of Fortunato to the final resting place in the catacombs was predestined (Hornborg, 192). Utilizing various literary theories will enhance your appreciation so you can understand the short stories in a new light. Another piece of the literary theory puzzle is cultural competence. Cultural competence refers to our ability to understand and accommodate the culture of another person. When it comes to reading, cultural competence is important because a reader cannot fully comprehend a work if you do not understand the context in which it was written. Without this knowledge, there is no way for the reader to connect with the characters or themes of the work. Cultural competence & personal growth Cultural competence includes BIPOC authors, immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community, and neurodivergencies. Cultures and subcultures are present in every piece of literature. According to Moreillon, “global literature expands our worldview so that stories become a window for readers to see and experience cultures outside their own personal contexts" (pg. 4). For example, Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare depicts issues surrounding gender identity. As a reader, if you do not understand the complex nature of Viola dressing as a man to infiltrate Duke Orsino's court literary theories can aid you. Using queer theory and feminism, you can deduce the reason for Viola's actions and understand the significance of Shakespeare openly portraying characters from multiple gendered sides. Last but not least, personal growth is impacted by applying literary theories to everyday life. A deep review of assumptions, strategies, and contrary perceptions is vital to intellectual and emotional growth (Lynn, 33). In A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge is more than just a grumpy old man. The story holds a deeper meaning of trauma, pessimism, and the personal realization that life can end any minute. While the pursuit of wealth may bring momentary happiness, in the end, self-love and love for others is the only pay off in life. As a reader, if you do not dissect the Dickens words you will miss the emotional nature of the tale. Life lessons are encapsulated in character development, the choice of words, and viewing the text through a guided lens. Literary theories are the map to the true meaning of literary greatness. Overall, the benefits of using literary theories when examining a piece of literature are insurmountable. Applying one or more theories to a piece of literature allows the reader to become connected with it on different levels. It opens the mind to the complexities of social dynamics historically and in the present. Also, it provides a glimpse into the inner workings of other cultures' beliefs and values. No matter the text you read there is an opportunity for personal development and self-reflection. Literature is a path to knowledge and understanding. Literary theories are the roadmap to lead you through the words and provide an alternate perspective for your consideration.
Originally written for our LIT 375 course 2021 References Dickens, Charles, et al. The Illustrated Christmas Carol: 200th Anniversary Edition. SeaWolf Press, 2020. Hornborg, Alf. “The World-System and the Earth System: Struggles with the Society/Nature Binary in World-Systems Analysis and Ecological Marxism.” Journal of World-Systems Research, vol. 26, no. 2, June 2020, pp. 184–202. EBSCOhost, doi:10.5195/JWSR.2020.989. Lynn, Steven. Texts & Contexts - Writing About Literature with Critical Theory (7th, 11) by Lynn, Steven J [Paperback (2010)]. Vol. 7, Prentice Hal, Paperback(2010), 2021. “Marxism: Theory, Effects, and Examples.” Investopedia, www.investopedia.com/terms/m/marxism.asp. Accessed 10 Aug. 2021. MOREILLON, JUDI. “Does Cultural Competence Matter? Book Reviewers as Mediators of Children’s Literature.” Children & Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children, vol. 17, no. 2, Summer 2019, pp. 3–8. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=shib&db=tfh&AN=136972849&site=eds-live&scope=site. Poe, Edgar Allan. The Best of Poe: The Tell-Tale Heart, The Raven, The Cask of Amontillado, and 30 Others. Prestwick House, 2006. Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night (Folger Shakespeare Library). Washington Square Press, 2021.