Children's Literature

Instructor: Chi-Fen Emily Chen, Ph.D. 陳其芬

Department of English, National Kaohsiung First University of Science and Technology, Taiwan


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The Study of Literature

 Please read Chapter 3 from Russell, D. L. (2009). Literature for children: a short introduction.

Literary Criticism

Introduction

  • Literary criticism, starting from Aristotle in the 4th century BCE, studies the art of literature and explores the ways that literature affects us emotionally, intellectually, and esthetically.

  • Purpose:

  • to interpret the meaning of a literary work and evaluate its quality

  • to promote high standards in literature and encourage a general appreciation of literature

  • What can we do as critics?

  • to analyze the reasons for our responses

  • to discover why we feel the way we do

  • to search for relationships between the works we read

  • to draw connections between our reading and our life experiences

  • Five common approaches used in children’s literature: 1) Formal Criticism, 2) Archetypal Criticism, 3) Historical Criticism, 4) Psychoanalytical Criticism, and  5) Feminist Criticism.
     

Formal Criticism

  • The formalist critic looks at the literary work itself – its forms, designs, or patterns – and assesses how the work functions as a harmonious whole.

  • Formal criticism makes use of the literary terminology and prefers to categorize literature into genres.

  • The formalist also examines the language, paying special attention to its figurative meaning as it contributes to the artistic whole.

  • Strength: It helps us to read the literature carefully and thoughtfully and provides a common vocabulary for the discussion of literature.

  • Limitation: It ignores the interconnectedness of literature, the influence of society on literature, the importance of the author’s individualism, the reader’s response to the literature.

 

Archetypal Criticism

  • Archetypal criticism depends heavily on symbols and patterns operating on a universal scale.

  • It is based on Carl Gustav Jung’s (1875-1961) psychological theory. Jung believed in a collective unconscious that lay deep within all of us and contained the “cumulative knowledge, experiences, and images of the entire human race” (Bressler, 1994, p. 92).

  • Jung identified certain archetypes, which are simply repeated patterns and images of human experience found in literature, such as the changing seasons; the cycle of birth, death, rebirth; the hero and the heroic quest; the beautiful temptress.

  • The basis of archetypal criticism is that all literature consists of variations on a great mythic cycle within the following pattern:

1.  The hero begins life in a paradise (such as a garden)

2.  The hero is displaced from paradise (alienation)

3.  The hero endures time of trial and tribulation, usually a wandering (a journey)

4.  The hero achieves self-discovery as a result of the struggles on that journey

5.  The hero returns to paradise (either the original or a new and improved one)

  • The journey motif is very common in children’s stories and usually takes one of the two forms:

1.  The linear journey: The hero moves away from home, encounters adventures, and finds a new home better than the first.

2.  The circular journey: The hero moves away from home, encounters adventures, and returns home a better person.

  • Strength: It allows us to see the larger patterns of literature

  • Limitation: It tends to ignore the individual contributions of the author and the specific cultural and societal influences.

 

Historical Criticism

  • Historical criticism examines the culture and the society from which a literary work came and how these influences affect the literature.

  • Questions to ask from the historical approach:

1.  Who is the author, where did he or she come from, and what was his/her object in writing the work?

2.  How did the political events of the time influence what the writer wrote?

3.  How did the predominant social customs of the time influence the writer’s outlook?

4.  What is the predominant philosophy that influenced the work?

5.  Were there any special circumstances under which the work was written?

  • Strength: It enriches our understanding of the literature from the historical and societal perspective.

  • Limitation: It often overlooks the literary elements and structure as well as the author’s individual contributions.

 

Psychoanalytical Criticism

  • Psychoanalytical criticism attempts to explain the reasons for human actions and to “offer maps to the unconscious stages of psychic development” (McGillis, 1996, p. 77).

  • The psychoanalytical critic sees a work of literature as the outward expression of an author’s unconscious mind. The critic’s task is to probe the unconscious of the characters and to discover the author’s hidden fears, desires, and motivation.

  • According to Sigmund Freud, the motivations for much of our behavior – our fears, our desires, our ambitions – lay hidden in our unconscious, and certain personality types developed as a result of some childhood experience, good or bad.

  • The most evident danger in psychoanalytical criticism is in over-reading, in seeing a symbol in every object, in seeing unconscious desires and fears lurking in every utterance.

 

Feminist Criticism

  • Feminist criticism places its focus on the questions of how gender affects a literary work, writer, or reader through a critical approach.

  • Questions to ask from the feminist approach:

1.  How are women portrayed in the work? As stereotypes? As individuals?

2.  How is the woman’s point of view considered?

3.  Is male superiority implied in the text?

4.  In what way is the work affected because it was written by a woman? Or a man?

  • A major concern of feminist criticism is the masculine bias in literature. Historically, most works were written from a masculine point of view and for male audiences. The feminist critic looks for societal misconceptions that treat the masculine viewpoint as the norm and the feminine viewpoint as a deviation.

  • The feminist approach questions a text’s underlying assumptions about differences between men and women that usually posit women as inferior. It makes the reader more aware of the complexity of human interaction.

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