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Aug 17, 2019


Source: various posts from


Robert Jordan, a tall, a thin young man, with sun streaked fair hair, and wind and sun burned face, is one of the most complicated heroes, in Hemingway’s fictions. He is a typical Hemingway hero who fights till end and wins a moral victory for him. Two categories of heroes are found in the novels of Ernest Hemingway. One of which is a round character who finds himself unfit for the circumstances in which he is surrounded, but with the passage, of time he evolves certain values, which make his survival possible. According to the critics, this kind of character is “Hemingway Hero”, or “the Tito”. In the other category of hero is a developed character that does not need for further improvement. He is a confident man who knows his area of action and his skills. He serves to teach, the Tito, and thus is called “the Tutor” or “the code hero”.

Jack Barnes, Nick Adam, Fredric Henry etc., are all Hemingway’s typical heroes. They have been presented in the background of First World War. They portray the attributes of “Lost Generation”. They have got disillusioned with war and, therefore, remained under great stress. War has shattered their all the ideas of religion, humanity, love and peace. Hemingway at first shows through them the death of love, lost ness and forlornness’ and finally the moral code of life that “a man can be destroyed but not defeated”. Hemingway hero is a sensitive and intellectual being, but he suppresses his thoughts, he suffers from “Nada” the extreme feelings of nothingness. Inconsequence, he leads a life of sensuousness and seeks pleasure in sexuality, drinking and roaming about.

Hemingway takes life as a battle, in which man has to fight till his end. Therefore, his hero is always revealed in a war or war –like conditions, fighting against natural or human forces. This war can either be physical or spiritual or both. Within the course of his war, he learns the code of his life that: “A man is not made for defeat”. And that: “A man can live only through the manly encounter against death”. This code helps him to achieve a moral victory. Hemingway believes that “a winner gets
nothing in this world”, therefore, we see. “Despite Hemingway’s preoccupation with physical contests his heroes are almost always defeated physically their victories tries are moral one”. Robert Jordan is considered to be the most complex of all heroes, presented by Hemingway. He has seen excessive violence and bloodshed and is thoroughly aware of the cruelties of war, yet he is ready to fight for the cause of “humanity”. He is an idealist as well as a realist. He knows “neither all fascists are black nor all republicans are white”, but he fights for the betterment of Spanish people, as his meditations reveal:

“You believe in liberty equality and
Fraternity. You believe in life, liberty and pursuit of happiness”

Thus, as it is common with Hemingway’s heroes, Jordan is also shown under great stress and tension –at the same time though he criticizes his actions yet he is also ready to blow the bridge. He is very sensitive and intellectual being but he feels that thoughts are not appropriate for the world in which he is living, he takes refuges in drinking and sexually. Though he does not want to keep his mind busy in thinking about the rightness of his action, as he feels “to worry is as bad as to be afraid”. Yet he keeps himself busy in the unrealistic thoughts of a happy future with his beloved Maria. “When there was no understanding only the delight of acceptance”.

Though he likes “good things” of life yet he is so committed and honest to himself and his duty, that he does no let these things, come in his way. Even he attributes his love for Maria to his love for Spain as he says: “I love thee as I love that we have fought for”. He is so honest to the job that is assigned to him that he can understand that to blow the bridge is futile, yet he blows it, for it is the very order given to him.

Being a main character of Hemingway, he also fights his personal psychological battle in Spain. Jordan is extremely ashamed of his father, who attempted suicide instead of fighting. He wants to wash out his guilt. Though the life is dear to him, yet dearer than life is the need for the justification of his courage, which his father lacked. Thus, the war has a “double importance” for him. He says: “My mind is in suspension until we win the war”. He idealizes his grandfather, who was a courageous warrior and had died in a battle. Fighting against the enemy, Jordan seeks his code within the thoughts of his grandfather and is determined to fight till his death. When he falls from the horse and it breaks his leg, Jordan remains there to cover the escape of his companions. At this time it is the memory of his grandfather, which keeps him firm on his decision. Though he is disappointed yet not
desperate. He has learnt the lesson like Santiago that: “A man can be destroyed but not defeated”.

Near the end, he bears the pain courageously, and proves that “pain does not matter to a man”. He appears to be satisfied on achieving the moral victory over his enemy. This is the lesson Hemingway wants to give through his writings that fighting matters more than winning and one who fights till the end, is the winner in true sense. Thus we can conclude that Robert Jordan is a typical Hemingway hero, with all the heroic qualities in him. He also retains some of the autobiographical touches in his characters; this quality of his personality also enriches his personality in the eye of the readers.


The term nihilism implies the negation of any authority and code at the heat of the universe. Hemingway has largely been accused of being nihilism. It is said that his heroes have no code to follow; that they are living on their own, that they are lost in this world thus they are hopeless and chaotic. A critic remarks: “--

-Again and again, Hemingway was writing of the –
the end of life, the end of love, the end of hope, the end of all”.

But to condemn his writing, by pronouncing nihilism, is to do injustice to him. Though Hemingway writes of the chaos and desperate situation, yet he provides a hope and code for life. If he denies the presence of God, heals creates new gods, for his heroes, in the apparent forms i.e., honour, dignity and struggle. He gives the code of constant and untiring struggle for life.

In his writings, Hemingway focuses at the lost generation, which emerged in the consequence of the two highly explosive World Wars. In19th century mankind was enjoying global peace, economic stability and scientific progress. People were thinking that Man has conquered the  beast in him and has learned to live peacefully. But all these idealistic dreams shattered away, when the First World War emerged due to this very industrial progress. The men who entered war with patriotic ideals were stunned at man’s inherent Barbarity when they realized the horrible uncertainty, pithiness and meaninglessness of life, they were desperately disillusion with the hollowness and emptiness of the high sounding slogans of religious and political leaders. Moreover, Darwin’s theory of evolution added fuel to fire and crumbled the roots of Christianity. It was felt that “God does not exist and man has to face all the consequences of this”. Hence:

“Man is forlorn; because neither within him nor without does
her find anything to ding to”.

Hemingway captures all this nothingness and forlornness in his stories. His heroes represent the lost generation. They are usually expatriates, disillusioned with war. They have utterly disappointed with the nothingness of life and seeks refuge in drinking, sex, wandering. Hemingway depicts his heroes at war, sometimes physically but most often metaphorically. Then, within the course of their war, they get the code is of unending struggle regardless of victory or defeat.

His hero in “The Old Man and the Sea”, Santiago says: “Pain does not matter to a man”. Then: “Man is not made for defeat”. And finally, he says: “A man can be destroyed but not defeated”. In “The Sun also rises”, there is a massage of hope: “A man can live only through the manly encounter against death”.

Robert Jordan in the “For Whom the Bell tolls”, is confused about his aims. He is disillusioned with war; he loves humanity and wants peace. But to establish peace, he has to fight against the evil. He is not certain about the usefulness of his action, though takes refuge in Maria’s arms, yet he resolves to continue his task. He says:

 “You can do nothing for yourself but
perhaps you can do something for another”.

It is an understanding assumption of Hemingway’s philosophy that there is no world beyond the grave. Therefore, one’s victories and losses are to be measured in terms of this world and not in the world beyond the grave. Life is tragic, sad and there is no escape from pain, therefore, it is useless to try to escape the inevitable. Hence what one can do is to be a man. When man is afflicted with misery pain or sorrow or even death, the proper way to face it is to remain true to oneself and one’s companions, to endure pain and must fight like Santiago against the heavy odds. To give up a fight would be unmanly. One must achieve moral victory even though he has nothing to win. Robert Jordan has to remain undefeated, to prove his moral victory. He fights not only for the sake of Spanish freedom, but also for the fulfilment of his moral duty and his reward is the consciousness and his satisfaction in the duty done. This constant struggle and absoluteness of duty is something, which one can cling to in the present times. Hence, Hemingway should not be pronounced as nihilism, prevailed in his time, and presents the solution of it rather he gives the faith of constant struggle and a moral victory to his readers. Thus the outlook or the background of his novels is nihilism but the message of his novels is the message of hope and confidence.

Hemingway’s Message : 
Man Can Be Destroyed but Not Defeated
Hemingway was considered to be a man more than life. He thrived to reduce the life than its gigantic stature. He wanted to explore more and more about the gravities of life. He had seen both pre-war and post war situations. He had deeply observed the change in the attitude of people, towards life and their scattered dreams and desires. Thus, he sought to give message to the post war generation –the message of struggle for life. He taught them that man can live only through the manly encounter against death and miseries.

Nineteenth century was the period of the boon of humanity. There was industrial rise and scientific progress. Mankind was enjoying global peace and stability. Man was thinking that he had conquered the beast in him and had learnt to live peacefully. But them, this wide spread scientific progress brought two most destructive and fierce worldwide wars. With the advent of these wars, all the thoughts and dreams of a peaceful and progressive future shattered. People look refuge in sensual pleasure i.e. drinking, free sex and wandering and avoided thinking. These people, after the wide spread devastation of wars, were pronounced as the Lost Generation.

Hemingway writes his stories, to guide his lost generation. They are expatriates, confused and frustrated beings, indulged in drinking, gambling and sexual pleasures. Hemingway wants to give them a code of life, higher than any ethical code. This is a code of “constant struggle”.

Hemingway creates a microcosm of the post war scenario in this story and delineates his characters, very close to real men, with their tensions and conflicts. Almost all of his protagonists are representatives of lost generation. They are all disillusioned with war, but each experiences this situation differently. Yet one thing is common in all of them that they have to struggle for life. Henry hates war; at he has to fight for life. Jordan knows that war is destructive; he wants peace and is aware of the feet that to attain peace, it is necessary to suppress force, by force.

Hemingway perceives life as a struggle, in which man has no choice except to fight. Santiago has to go far away, on the sea, to fight with evil, regardless of any loss. Robert Jordan has to blow up the bridge without considering its usefulness. It also gives a view that duty, must be done at any cost, and a duty assigned to an individual should be considered special in its way. Jordan says: “If I have to do what I think, I will have to do; it will be very select indeed”. Besides fighting with the outer circumstances, Hemingway’s protagonist also fights a battle of inner self. He knows the worthlessness of his act, yet he fights to prove his courage and strength by accomplishing that act. Jordan realizes the futility of his act; he also loves life and feels: “This world is a fine place”. Though life is dear to him, yet dearer than life is the need to justify his courage, which his father lacked.

Hemingway feels that winner gets nothing in this world. The victory of his protagonist is never physical but always moral. Santiago, after successfully achieving victory over Marline loses it during his journey back to home. Jordan successfully blows the bridge, yet, in the end, his is a loser –loser of his life. All that is achieved in all this exercise is the insight that one must go on struggling come what may and whatever is the cause. Thought he winner gets nothing yet he attains moral dignity. Jordan says:

“You can do nothing for yourself but
perhaps you can do something for another”.

Hemingway holds the view that whatever has to be done, has to be done with good grace. He says in “Old man and The Sea”:
 “Pain does not matter to a man”

Robert Jordan repeatedly wishes for the arrival of Fascists, to the end of the novel, because of his increasing pain. Yet he does not choose to kill himself. He feels that to die a courageous death is better than to live, as a coward in owes own eyes. He says: “I wish, they would come now”. He fights bravely and does not lack courage. He proves:  “A man is not made for defeat”. Jordan fights till end and sacrifices his life, for duty. He dies not only for Spain, not only to save the girl, Maria, whom he loves, but also for his own sake and in fulfilment of a moral duty. So, his only reward is the consciousness of duty done. Thus he proves that “A man can be destroyed but not defeated”.

“For Whom The Bell Tolls” as a Modern Tragedy
“For Whom The Bell Tolls” is a modern tragedy, as it depicts the conflict, struggle, tension and frustration of a modern man. A modern tragedy is quite different from classical standards.  According to Aristotle, tragedy is a story of conspicuous man who fall from prosperity to adversity because of his error judgment, i.e., hamartia, his death is not essential, but his fall arises a sense of pity and fear
for him, in us. 

But in a modern world, there are no kings and princes, who could be regarded as “conspicuous”, therefore, modern tragedy is the story of a common man who falls from prosperity to adversity, because of his error of judgment, i.e., his hamartia, but his death is not essential, but his fall arises a sense of pity and fear, in us. Secondly, now a modern man is not confronted with the supernatural forces of his surroundings and society. Thus a modern tragedy is different from a classical tragedy. Hemingway writes in an effort to reduce the harms done by the two world wars. He presents a picture of the post war scenario, when the atomic weapons shattered all the dream of global peace. There was a big generation gap in the society and a sense of lost ness. Hemingway portrays in his novels, a microcosm of that larger universe, and gives a lesson of constant and untiring struggle.

Robert Jordan is a typical Hemingway protagonist. He is an American volunteer. He is very sensitive and intellectual man who wishes for the global peace. He believes that liberty diminished at one place means some liberty lost everywhere. Because of his this belief, he is fighting Spain for republican he is not only fighting the war of the freedom of Spain, he is also fighting a mental and psychological war of self-realization and self-assessment. He has been assigned the duty of blowing a supply line bridge up, of Fascists and through this duty; he wants to judge his mental and physical usefulness for the world.

Hemingway’s hero is usually a disillusioned but a reluctant man. He is aware of the futility ofaction but tries to avoid this awareness by indulging into sensual pleasure. Robert Jordan alsotries to avoid his thoughts and seeks refuge in Maria’s arms and intoxication. But being an intellectual he cannot escape from his thoughts. He knows that his action of blasting the bridge would not help the Republicans and the Fascists would not be stopped; yet he continuous his work. The reason is the accomplishment of duty, which has been assigned to him, and an inner satisfaction that at least he has done what he could do. He feels that he is fighting for his love of Spain, for his love of Maria and for his love of freedom as he says:

“You believe in life, liberty 
and the pursuit of Happiness”

But this is a kind of self-deception and false justification of his useless act and this proves his flaw, which leads to his tragedy. However, it is a preoccupation of a Hemingway Hero, which he goes too far in the accomplishment of his duty, regardless of any danger. Hemingway adopts this trait to achieve his moral end, and this gives a new dimension to tragedy. He has moralized the tragedy, “despite Hemingway’s preoccupation with physical contests, his heroes are almost always defeated physically, nervously, practically; their victories are moral ones”.  As we see that Jordan remains stick to his duty. He says:  “You can do nothing for yourself but perhaps you can do something for another”. This belief keeps him firm, even when Pablo betrays him and leaves with the blasting material. This is the moment of his moral uplift.There is a sure fear of his death, but he goes on. Though life is dear to him, but dearer than life is the justification of his courage, which his father lacked. He also hints this in his saying:

“May be I have lived all my 
life in these seventy hours”.

Jordan successfully blows up the bridge but, while moving away from the scene, he falls from his horse and breaks his leg. This is the most pathetic and tragic situation, when a man achieves success at one moment and loses everything at the other. The reader feels extreme pity for Jordan at this stage.

The ending moments of the novel are the most convincing and magnificent ones, when Jordan is lying on the ground waiting for fascists to come. So that he may be able to prove his courage and strength by fighting till the end. He repeated utterance:  “I wish is not made for defeat”. I create a moving effect. The dramatic ending of the novel gives a message, a lesson and alsohope to the reader that:  “Man is not made for defeat”.  Jordan proves that: 

“A man can be
destroyed but not defeated”.

Jordan fights till end and sacrifices his life for duty. He dies not only for Spain, not only to save the girl, Maria, whom he loves, but also for his own sake and in fulfilment of a moral duty. So his only reward is the consciousness of duty done. And again:  “Winner take nothing”. But it seems that Hemingway had found something to die for, and he seems to imply that if you die as Anselmo or Jordan died, then physical death means nothing, death has no sting for the dying man rather he dies victoriously and his death is a moral victory. Thus we can conclude that “For Whom the Bell Toll” is a modern tragedy in which an ordinary hero –an American volunteer falls from prosperity of adversity because of his hamartia, i.e., his extreme sense of duty. He dies a physical death but wins a moral victory. His sufferings arise a sense of pity and fear in us.

Aug 13, 2019

Literary Movements and Periods

Literature constantly evolves as new movements emerge to speak to the concerns of different groups of people and historical periods.

*Absurd, literature of the (c. 1930–1970):* A movement, primarily in the theater, that responded to the seeming illogicality and purposelessness of human life in works marked by a lack of clear narrative, understandable psychological motives, or emotional catharsis. Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is one of the most celebrated works in the theater of the absurd.

*Aestheticism (c. 1835–1910):* A late-19th- century movement that believed in art as an end in itself. Aesthetes such as Oscar Wilde and Walter Pater rejected the view that art had to posses a higher moral or political value and believed instead in “art for art’s sake.”

*Angry Young Men (1950s–1980s):* A group of male British writers who created visceral plays and fiction at odds with the political establishment and a self-satisfied middle class. John Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger (1957) is one of the seminal works of this movement.

*Beat Generation (1950s–1960s):* A group of American writers in the 1950s and 1960s who sought release and illumination though a bohemian counterculture of sex, drugs, and Zen Buddhism. Beat writers such as Jack Kerouac (On The Road) and Allen Ginsberg (Howl) gained fame by giving readings in coffeehouses, often accompanied by jazz music.

*Bloomsbury Group (c. 1906–1930s):* An informal group of friends and lovers, including Clive Bell, E. M. Forster, Roger Fry, Lytton Strachey, Virginia Woolf, and John Maynard Keynes, who lived in the Bloomsbury section of London in the early 20th century and who had a considerable liberalizing influence on British culture.

*Commedia dell’arte (1500s–1700s):* Improvisational comedy first developed in Renaissance Italy that involved stock characters and centered around a set scenario. The elements of farce and buffoonery in commedia dell’arte, as well as its standard characters and plot intrigues, have had a tremendous influence on Western comedy, and can still be seen in contemporary drama and television sitcoms.

*Dadaism (1916–1922):* An avant-garde movement that began in response to the devastation of World War I. Based in Paris and led by the poet Tristan Tzara, the Dadaists produced nihilistic and antilogical prose, poetry, and art, and rejected the traditions, rules, and ideals of prewar Europe.

*Enlightenment (c. 1660–1790):* An intellectual movement in France and other parts of Europe that emphasized the importance of reason, progress, and liberty. The Enlightenment, sometimes called the Age of Reason, is primarily associated with nonfiction writing, such as essays and philosophical treatises. Major Enlightenment writers include Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean- Jacques Rousseau, René Descartes.

*Elizabethan era (c. 1558–1603):* A flourishing period in English literature, particularly drama, that coincided with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and included writers such as Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, Sir Philip Sidney, and Edmund Spenser.

*Gothic fiction (c. 1764–1820):* A genre of late-18th-century literature that featured brooding, mysterious settings and plots and set the stage for what we now call “horror stories.” Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto, set inside a medieval castle, was the first major Gothic novel. Later, the term “Gothic” grew to include any work that attempted to create an atmosphere of terror or the unknown, such as Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories.

*Harlem Renaissance (c. 1918–1930):* A flowering of African-American literature, art, and music during the 1920s in New York City. W. E. B. DuBois’s The Souls of Black Folk anticipated the movement, which included Alain Locke’s anthology The New Negro, Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, and the poetry of Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen.

*Lost Generation (c. 1918–1930s):* A term used to describe the generation of writers, many of them soldiers that came to maturity during World War I. Notable members of this group include F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, and Ernest Hemingway, whose novel The Sun Also Rises embodies the Lost Generation’s sense of disillusionment.

*Magic realism (c. 1935–present):* A style of writing, popularized by Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez, Günter Grass, and others, that combines realism with moments of dream-like fantasy within a single prose narrative.

*Metaphysical poets (c. 1633–1680):* A group of 17th-century poets who combined direct language with ingenious images, paradoxes, and conceits. John Donne and Andrew Marvell are the best known poets of this school.

*Middle English (c. 1066–1500):* The transitional period between Anglo-Saxon and modern English. The cultural upheaval that followed the Norman Conquest of England, in 1066, saw a flowering of secular literature, including ballads, chivalric romances, allegorical poems, and a variety of religious plays. Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales is the most celebrated work of this period.

*Modernism (1890s–1940s):* A literary and artistic movement that provided a radical breaks with traditional modes of Western art, thought, religion, social conventions, and morality. Major themes of this period include the attack on notions of hierarchy; experimentation in new forms of narrative, such as stream of consciousness; doubt about the existence of knowable, objective reality; attention to alternative viewpoints and modes of thinking; and self-referentiality as a means of drawing attention to the relationships between artist and audience, and form and content. •

*High modernism (1920s):* Generally considered the golden age of modernist literature, this period saw the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses, T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.

*Naturalism (c. 1865–1900):* A literary movement that used detailed realism to suggest that social conditions, heredity, and environment had inescapable force in shaping human character. Leading writers in the movement include Émile Zola, Theodore Dreiser, and Stephen Crane.

*Neoclassicism (c. 1660–1798):* A literary movement, inspired by the rediscovery of classical works of ancient Greece and Rome that emphasized balance, restraint, and order. Neoclassicism roughly coincided with the Enlightenment, which espoused reason over passion. Notable neoclassical writers include Edmund Burke, John Dryden, Samuel Johnson, Alexander Pope, and Jonathan Swift.

*Nouveau Roman (“New Novel”) (c. 1955–1970):* A French movement, led by Alain Robbe-Grillet, that dispensed with traditional elements of the novel, such as plot and character, in favor of neutrally recording the experience of sensations and things.

*Postcolonial literature (c. 1950s–present):* Literature by and about people from former European colonies, primarily in Africa, Asia, South America, and the Caribbean. This literature aims both to expand the traditional canon of Western literature and to challenge Eurocentric assumptions about literature, especially through examination of questions of otherness, identity, and race. Prominent postcolonial works include Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, V. S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas, and Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978) provided an important theoretical basis for understanding postcolonial literature.

*Postmodernism (c. 1945–present):* A notoriously ambiguous term, especially as it refers to literature, postmodernism can be seen as a response to the elitism of high modernism as well as to the horrors of World War II. Postmodern literature is characterized by a disjointed, fragmented pastiche of high and low culture that reflects the absence of tradition and structure in a world driven by technology and consumerism. Julian Barnes, Don DeLillo, Toni Morrison, Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Pynchon, Salman Rushdie, and Kurt Vonnegut are among many who are considered postmodern authors.

*Pre-Raphaelites (c. 1848–1870):* The literary arm of an artistic movement that drew inspiration from Italian artists working before Raphael (1483–1520). The Pre-Raphaelites combined sensuousness and religiosity through archaic poetic forms and medieval settings. William Morris, Christina Rossetti, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Charles Swinburne were leading poets in the movement.

*Realism (c. 1830–1900):* A loose term that can refer to any work that aims at honest portrayal over sensationalism, exaggeration, or melodrama. Technically, realism refers to a late-19th-centu ry literary movement—primarily French, English, and American—that aimed at accurate detailed portrayal of ordinary, contemporary life. Many of the 19th century’s greatest novelists, such as Honoré de Balzac, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Gustave Flaubert, and Leo Tolstoy, are classified as realists. Naturalism ( see above ) can be seen as an intensification of realism.

*Romanticism (c. 1798–1832):* A literary and artistic movement that reacted against the restraint and universalism of the Enlightenment. The Romantics celebrated spontaneity, imagination, subjectivity, and the purity of nature. Notable English Romantic writers include Jane Austen, William Blake, Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and William Wordsworth. Prominent figures in the American Romantic movement include Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, William Cullen Bryant, and John Greenleaf Whittier.

*Sturm und Drang (1770s):* German for “storm and stress,” this brief German literary movement advocated passionate individuality in the face of Neoclassical rationalism and restraint. Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther is the most enduring work of this movement, which greatly influenced the Romantic movement (see above).

*Surrealism (1920s–1930s):* An avant-garde movement, based primarily in France, that sought to break down the boundaries between rational and irrational, conscious and unconscious, through a variety of literary and artistic experiments. The surrealist poets, such as André Breton and Paul Eluard, were not as successful as their artist counterparts, who included Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, and René Magritte.

*Symbolists (1870s–1890s):* A group of French poets who reacted against realism with a poetry of suggestion based on private symbols, and experimented with new poetic forms such as free verse and the prose poem. The symbolists—Stép hane Mallarmé, Arthur Rimbaud, and Paul Verlaine are the most well known—were influenced by Charles Baudelaire. In turn, they had a seminal influence on the modernist poetry of the early 20th century.

*Transcendentalism (c. 1835–1860):* An American philosophical and spiritual movement, based in New England, that focused on the primacy of the individual conscience and rejected materialism in favor of closer communion with nature. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” and Henry David Thoreau’s Walden are famous transcendentalist works.

*Victorian era (c. 1832–1901):* The period of English history between the passage of the first Reform Bill (1832) and the death of Queen Victoria (reigned 1837–1901). Though remembered for strict social, political, and sexual conservatism and frequent clashes between religion and science, the period also saw prolific literary activity and significant social reform and criticism. Notable Victorian novelists include the Brontë sisters, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, William Makepeace Thackeray, Anthony Trollope, and Thomas Hardy, while prominent poets include Matthew Arnold; Robert Browning; Elizabeth Barrett Browning; Gerard Manley Hopkins; Alfred, Lord Tennyson; and Christina Rossetti. Notable Victorian nonfiction writers include Walter Pater, John Ruskin, and Charles Darwin, who penned the famous On the Origin of Species (1859). Literary theory and literary criticism are interpretive tools that help us think more deeply and insightfully about the literature that we read. Over time, different schools of literary criticism have developed, each with its own approaches to the act of reading.

Literary theory and literary criticism are interpretive tools that help us think more deeply and insightfully about the literature that we read. Over time, different schools of literary criticism have developed, each with its own approaches to the act of reading.

Schools of Interpretation
Cambridge School (1920s–1930s): A group of scholars at Cambridge University who rejected historical and biographical analysis of texts in favor of close readings of the texts themselves.

Chicago School (1950s): A group, formed at the University of Chicago in the 1950s, that drew on Aristotle’s distinctions between the various elements within a narrative to analyze the relation between form and structure. Critics and Criticisms: Ancient and Modern (1952) is the major work of the Chicago School.

Deconstruction (1967–present): A philosophical approach to reading, first advanced by Jacques Derrida that attacks the assumption that a text has a single, stable meaning. Derrida suggests that all interpretation of a text simply constitutes further texts, which means there is no “outside the text” at all. Therefore, it is impossible for a text to have stable meaning. The practice of deconstruction involves identifying the contradictions within a text’s claim to have a single, stable meaning, and showing that a text can be taken to mean a variety of things that differ significantly from what it purports to mean.

Feminist criticism (1960s–present): An umbrella term for a number of different critical approaches that seek to distinguish the human experience from the male experience. Feminist critics draw attention to the ways in which patriarchal social structures have marginalized women and male authors have exploited women in their portrayal of them. Although feminist criticism dates as far back as Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) and had some significant advocates in the early 20th century, such as Virginia Woolf and Simone de Beauvoir, it did not gain widespread recognition as a theoretical and political movement until the 1960s and 1970s.

Psychoanalytic criticism: Any form of criticism that draws on psychoanalysis, the practice of analyzing the role of unconscious psychological drives and impulses in shaping human behavior or artistic production. The three main schools of psychoanalysis are named for the three leading figures in developing psychoanalytic theory: Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Jacques Lacan.

• Freudian criticism (c. 1900–present): The view of art as the imagined fulfillment of wishes that reality denies. According to Freud, artists sublimate their desires and translate their imagined wishes into art. We, as an audience, respond to the sublimated wishes that we share with the artist. Working from this view, an artist’s biography becomes a useful tool in interpreting his or her work. “Freudian criticism” is also used as a term to describe the analysis of Freudian images within a work of art.

• Jungian criticism (1920s–present): A school of criticism that draws on Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious, a reservoir of common thoughts and experiences that all cultures share. Jung holds that literature is an expression of the main themes of the collective unconscious, and critics often invoke his work in discussions of literary archetypes.

• Lacanian criticism (c. 1977–present): Criticism based on Jacques Lacan’s view that the unconscious, and our perception of ourselves, is shaped in the “symbolic” order of language rather than in the “imaginary” order of prelinguistic thought. Lacan is famous in literary circles for his influential reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Purloined Letter.”

Marxist criticism: An umbrella term for a number of critical approaches to literature that draw inspiration from the social and economic theories of Karl Marx. Marx maintained that material production, or economics, ultimately determines the course of history, and in turn influences social structures.These social structures, Marx argued, are held in place by the dominant ideology, which serves to reinforce the interests of the ruling class. Marxist criticism approaches literature as a struggle with social realities and ideologies.

• Frankfurt School (c. 1923–1970): A group of German Marxist thinkers associated with the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt. These thinkers applied the principles of Marxism to a wide range of social phenomena, including literature. Major members of the Frankfurt School include Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin, Herbert Marcuse, and Jürgen Habermas.

New Criticism (1930s–1960s): Coined in John Crowe Ransom’s The New Criticism (1941), this approach discourages the use of history and biography in interpreting a literary work. Instead, it encourages readers to discover the meaning of a work through a detailed analysis of the text itself. This approach was popular in the middle of the 20th century, especially in the United States, but has since fallen out of favor.

New Historicism (1980s–present): An approach that breaks down distinctions between “literature” and “historical context” by examining the contemporary production and reception of literary texts, including the dominant social, political, and moral movements of the time. Stephen Greenblatt is a leader in this field, which joins the careful textual analysis of New Criticism with a dynamic model of historical research.

New Humanism (c. 1910–1933): An American movement, led by Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer More, that embraced conservative literary and moral values and advocated a return to humanistic education.

Post-structuralism (1960s–1970s): A movement that comprised, among other things, Deconstruction, Lacanian criticism, and the later works of Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault. It criticized structuralism for its claims to scientific objectivity, including its assumption that the system of signs in which language operates was stable.

Queer theory (1980s–present): A “constructivist” (as opposed to “essentialist”) approach to gender and sexuality that asserts that gender roles and sexual identity are social constructions rather than an essential, inescapable part of our nature. Queer theory consequently studies literary texts with an eye to the ways in which different authors in different eras construct sexual and gender identity. Queer theory draws on certain branches of feminist criticism and traces its roots to the first volume of Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality (1976).

Russian Formalism (1915–1929): A school that attempted a scientific analysis of the formal literary devices used in a text. The Stalinist authorities criticized and silenced the Formalists, but Western critics rediscovered their work in the 1960s. Ultimately, the Russian Formalists had significant influence on structuralism and Marxist criticism.

Structuralism (1950s–1960s): An intellectual movement that made significant contributions not only to literary criticism but also to philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and history. Structuralist literary critics, such as Roland Barthes, read texts as an interrelated system of signs that refer to one another rather than to an external “meaning” that is fixed either by author or reader. Structuralist literary theory draws on the work of the Russian Formalists, as well as the linguistic theories of Ferdinand de Saussure and C. S. Peirce.

Literary Terms and Theories
Literary theory is notorious for its complex and somewhat inaccessible jargon. The following list defines some of the more commonly encountered terms in the field.

Anxiety of influence: A theory that the critic Harold Bloom put forth in The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (1973). Bloom uses Freud’s idea of the Oedipus complex (see below) to suggest that poets, plagued by anxiety that they have nothing new to say, struggle against the influence of earlier generations of poets. Bloom suggests that poets find their distinctive voices in an act of misprision, or misreading, of earlier influences, thus refiguring the poetic tradition. Although Bloom presents his thesis as a theory of poetry, it can be applied to other arts as well.

Canon: A group of literary works commonly regarded as central or authoritative to the literary tradition. For example, many critics concur that the Western canon—the central literary works of Western civilization—includes the writings of Homer, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, and the like. A canon is an evolving entity, as works are added or subtracted as their perceived value shifts over time. For example, the fiction of W. Somerset Maugham was central to the canon during the middle of the 20th century but is read less frequently today. In recent decades, the idea of an authoritative canon has come under attack, especially from feminist and postcolonial critics, who see the canon as a tyranny of dead white males that marginalizes less mainstream voices.

Death of the author: A post-structuralist theory, first advanced by Roland Barthes, that suggests that the reader, not the author, creates the meaning of a text. Ultimately, the very idea of an author is a fiction invented by the reader.

Diachronic/synchronic: Terms that Ferdinand de Saussure used to describe two different approaches to language. The diachronic approach looks at language as a historical process and examines the ways in which it has changed over time. The synchronic approach looks at language at a particular moment in time, without reference to history. Saussure’s structuralist approach is synchronic, for it studies language as a system of interrelated signs that have no reference to anything (such as history) outside of the system.

Dialogic/monologic: Terms that the Russian critic Mikhail Bakhtin used to distinguish works that are controlled by a single, authorial voice (monologic) from works in which no single voice predominates (dialogic or polyphonic). Bakhtin takes Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky as examples of monologic and dialogic writing, respectively.

Diegesis/Mimesis: Terms that Aristotle first used to distinguish “telling” (diegesis) from “showing” (mimesis). In a play, for instance, most of the action is mimetic, but moments in which a character recounts what has happened offstage are diegetic.

Discourse: A post-structuralist term for the wider social and intellectual context in which communication takes place. The implication is that the meaning of works is as dependent on their surrounding context as it is on the content of the works themselves.

Exegesis: An explanation of a text that clarifies difficult passages and analyzes its contemporary relevance or application.

Explication: A close reading of a text that identifies and explains the figurative language and forms within the work.

Hermeneutics: The study of textual interpretation and of the way in which a text communicates meaning.

Intertextuality: The various relationships a text may have with other texts, through allusions, borrowing of formal or thematic elements, or simply by reference to traditional literary forms. The term is important to structuralist and poststructuralist critics, who argue that texts relate primarily to one another and not to an external reality.

Linguistics: The scientific study of language, encompassing, among other things, the study of syntax, semantics, and the evolution of language.

Logocentrism: The desire for an ultimate guarantee of meaning, whether God, Truth, Reason, or something else. Jacques Derrida criticizes the bulk of Western philosophy as being based on a logocentric “metaphysics of presence,” which insists on the presence of some such ultimate guarantee. The main goal of deconstruction is to undermine this belief.

Metalanguage: A technical language that explains and interprets the properties of ordinary language. For example, the vocabulary of literary criticism is a metalanguage that explains the ordinary language of literature. Post-structuralist critics argue that there is no such thing as a metalanguage; rather, they assert, all language is on an even plane and therefore there is no essential difference between literature and criticism.

Metanarrative: A larger framework within which we understand historical processes. For instance, a Marxist metanarrative sees history primarily as a history of changing material circumstances and class struggle. Post-structuralist critics draw our attention to the ways in which assumed met narratives can be used as tools of political domination.

Narratology: The study of narrative, encompassing the different kinds of narrative voices, forms of narrative, and possibilities of narrative analysis.

Oedipus complex: Sigmund Freud’s theory that a male child feels unconscious jealousy toward his father and lust for his mother. The name comes from Sophocles’ play Oedipus Rex, in which the main character unknowingly kills his father and marries his mother. Freud applies this theory in an influential reading of Hamlet, in which he sees Hamlet as struggling with his admiration of Claudius, who fulfilled Hamlet’s own desire of murdering Hamlet’s father and marrying his mother.

Semantics: The branch of linguistics that studies the meanings of words.

Semiotics or semiology: Terms for the study of sign systems and the ways in which communication functions through conventions in sign systems. Semiotics is central to structuralist linguistics.

Sign/signifier/signified: Terms fundamental to Ferdinand de Saussure’s structuralism linguistics. A sign is a basic unit of meaning—a word, picture, or hand gesture, for instance, that conveys some meaning. A signifier is the perceptible aspect of a sign (e.g., the word “car”) while the signified is the conceptual aspect of a sign (e.g., the concept of a car). A referent is a physical object to which a sign system refers (e.g., the physical car itself).

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