An Outside Source Worth Your While
The Wise OWL at Purdue
Going back to the basics is often a god starting place. Every student learns differently and at a different pace. Exposure to examples of work without any prior explanation doesn't always mean the student is going to pick up on the basics of what that criticism style is about. Thankfully, Purdue again helps the struggling literature student. Purdue breaks down the styles of criticism, gives brief overviews and histories and provides outside resources, as well as books that are meant for beginning literary study.
For some students a timeline is an excellent place to start. The OWL offers this timeline of literary criticism, as well as an introduction to the schools of literary criticism. And it doesn't hurt they add a disclaimer saying, "Our explanations are meant only as starting places for your own investigation into literary theory" (The Owl). Yes, a starting place is usually what students are looking for and a timeline provides needed perspective.
Now on to formalism, the first theory studied in this class and one of the first theories historically. The Owl gives a great, simple introduction to formalism and provides a list of questions to ask if you are reading as a formalist would. The questions draw attention to aspects of the literature that a formalist would pay attention to, such as if there is "a central or focal passage that can be said to sum up the entirety of the work?" or "How do paradox, irony, ambiguity, and tension work in the text?" A student would be brining some ammunition with them if they had a list of questions like the ones The Owl mentions.
Psychoanalytic Criticism should be a comfortable area for students of this generation. Most students have had a psychology class in high school, and those who are education majors have had more psychology classes in college. The Owl offers the same introduction as it did with formalism and offers another question list to help focus the student on how to apply the critical theory to the work being read. As one delves into authors like Sears, it's easy to forget what to look for when you are psychoanalyzing a piece. Purdue's list includes this question, "How do the characters in the text mirror the archetypal figures? (Great Mother or nurturing Mother, Whore, destroying Crone, Lover, Destroying Angel)" which is a simple question, but when you read the question before you read the text your automatically going to be looking for those archetypes, whereas with no real introduction your fishing around in your brain for what it means to be Freud. At least that is what I did, and it wasn't nearly as effective as it should have been at increasing my comprehension level.
Reader Response theory is actually one of the easier types of criticism to grasp because it is something that most readers do naturally. However, the Owl points out that there are two beliefs associated with Reader Response according to Tyson author of Critical Theory Today, "1) that the role of the reader cannot be omitted from our understanding of literature and 2) that readers do not passively consume the meaning presented to them by an objective literary text; rather they actively make the meaning they find in literature." If you think about it, the reader plays a role in nearly all types of criticism. In historical criticism the audience of the text is important because they would have made a different reader than a reader in today's society. Also, reader response is probably the most abstract form of criticism because it depends entirely on what the reader feels and thinks while they are reading a particular work. For the section on Reader Response the Owl offers a list of texts to read to further your understanding.
The Owl uses several authors to describe what structuralism is. And it uses these authors to explain various aspects of structuralism, like Richter for linguistic roots, Tyson for structuralism patterns, and Frye explores structuralism and Western literature. The Owl also offers this as a caution for literary criticism students, "Note: Structuralism, semiotics, and post-structuralism are some of the most complex literary theories to understand. Please be patient," which made me chuckle with the realization that there should certainly be a warning label on all literary criticism.
Last and perhaps most complicated is post-structuralism with the Owl defining it very concisely as, "Post-structuralism holds that there are many truths, that frameworks must bleed, and that structures must become unstable or decentered." Of course, thanks to Ellen's presentation we know this theory is far more complex than the above brief definition. But the point of going to the Owl as an outside source is to get that brief idea as your foundation and build on that foundation with the readings.
Overall, the Owl at Purdue is a worthwhile source to build a knowledge base. I also believe it will offer students help with the final paper because under each topic there is a list of authors to read who specialize in that area of literary criticism.