DISCUSSION 11

DIRECTIONS:

Knowing some of the context in which a text is written can offer insight to the story and enrich your understanding or connection to it. After reading about the contextual approach(PLEASE SEE ATTACHED) to literature this week, choose a specific approach (i.e. biographical, historical, new historicist, etc.) and conduct some research that informs you about that specific context within the play. Include a resource from an approved website (.edu, .gov, .org, or a scholarly source).

Suggested structure

• State the approach

• Briefly explain it

• Connect the approach to Glaspell’s Trifles(THE LINK TO TRIFLES IS HERE: https://www.one-act-plays.com/dramas/trifles.html )

• Provide specific examples of how that approach provides important insight into the play’s character dynamics, themes, or use of literary elements.

**Note: Use the questions at the bottom of the Contextual Approach page to help guide your response.

Contextual Approaches

What is a literary approach?

A literary approach is a “lens” by which we interpret literature. There are three elements in a literary exchange one might consider when making meaning from the text: the source, the text, and the receiver. Some approaches to literature focus on only the material that is contained in the text, separate from external contexts. Conversely, others believe that the text should be interpreted in the context of, for instance, the speaker’s identity, the text’s time period, the particular reader’s experiences, and so forth. There are various approaches to literature, but below is just one to consider as you read a work.

What are some contextual approaches?

Contextual approaches encompass biographical, historical, and New Historical criticism.  In contrast to New Criticism, these approaches are based on the premise that important information exists outside the text.  Most readers cannot help but wonder about who wrote the text, when it was written, and the circumstances under which it was written.  Contextual criticism insists that knowing this outside information will make a reading of a text more informed.

Biographical Criticism looks for direct connections between an author’s life  and beliefs and his or her writing, although it recognizes that not all works are autobiographical.  Biographical criticism does not assume the writer recognized the connections between his/her life and the text, but the critic will.

Historical Criticism (Historical Approach) looks at the way the historical context of the work itself (the time period during which it was written or which it depicts) can inform our reading of the text.  For instance, the social, cultural, economic, scientific, intellectual, military, and literary history (among others) would be considered in order to determine how what was going on at the time affected what the author wrote, whether he or she recognized it or not.

New Historicism begins with the assumption that history is not an objective reality since it, too, is no more than a “text.”  That is, a New Historicist recognizes that even history is merely a “story” about the past, someone’s versions of the facts, which means history can be read as subjectively as any text.  So, on the one hand, a New Historicist would look for ways to undermine conventional views on history or historical events.  Yet the impulse behind a New Historicist reading is to discover how “knowledge” is produced at any particular time and place.  Thus, a New Historical reading would look at other texts, such as magazines and newspapers from the period, texts from other disciplines (such as architecture, psychology, criminology, etc),  and popular literature from the time.  The goal would be to expand our understanding of a text by developing a greater understanding of the cultural, sociological, political, and ideological context of the text, linking the text to the culture of its time.

Cultural Criticism  looks at the ways that a specific culture affects the text from which it derives.  For example, texts written by African-American, Native American, Asian-American, Latino, Chicano, and authors from other non-European cultures are often greatly influenced by the history, language, cultures, traditions, and beliefs of the authors’ cultural heritage.  Cultural criticism considers the way those cultural influences enrich our understanding of the texts from these cultures.  For example, cultural criticism will study the way music and art influences texts from other cultures as well as special uses of language or emphasis on oral traditions for those cultures with an oral tradition background.  It considers the way the history and folktales of specific cultures as well as issues and conflicts of that culture are utilized in the literature to convey a sense of the culture and what makes it unique.

What questions should I consider when using contextual approaches?

· In what ways do you see the author’s life or aspects of his/her life reflected in the text?

· Are there any significant moments in the author’s life which might help you to understand the author’s written work?  How does a knowledge of the author’s life increase your understanding of the situation depicted in the text?

· What are some of the author’s beliefs (whether in favor of something or opposed to it) and how are they reflected in the literature?

· Identify the historical setting of the text.  How does it affect what happens in the text?

· What other information about the time period is necessary to understand the attitudes and beliefs depicted in the story?   Are there any ways in which the work seems to contradict attitudes or beliefs of the time?  If so, what does that suggest about the author’s view of the situation (historically as well as textually)?

· Consider other texts of the same time period (magazines, medical journals, popular fiction, advertisements, etc–anything goes here) that might be related to the text or expand your understanding of the text.  How does your knowledge of the cultural context affect your understanding of the story?

· What aspects of the text seem to be a function of the culture from which the author comes or which is depicted in the text?   How does a knowledge of cultural beliefs, history, and traditions inform your reading of the text?