Introduction to Literary Theory

English 3100
Section 01
Ray Ronci
Middlebush 205

If you think that there’s only one way to read a story and that every interpretation must be the same think again. Literary theories are like different lenses through which we may look at a text, or at anything for that matter. And as psychological studies have shown, deep readers of literary fiction develop a greater sense of empathy and compassion. Why? People who learn to look through a variety of lenses find it easier to entertain multiple points of view simultaneously. This enhances their understanding not only of texts but of the people and the world around them.

Great literature doesn’t happen by accident; it involves a great deal of craft. The study of Formalism is the study of the nuts and bolts of great writing. How does a story make meaning? Form, diction, unity – these are the tools that give any successful piece of writing structural integrity. Once you understand how a piece of literature is made, then it’s time to ask, “What do I make of it?” That’s where the other lenses come in.

Among the various types of literary theory to be covered in class are: Psychological Criticism, Marxist Criticism, Feminist Criticism, Reader-Response Criticism, Deconstruction, New Historicism, Postcolonialism, Multiculturalism, and Ecocriticism. Sometimes theories overlap and/or can be used in conjunction as in Marxist-Feminist theory or New Historicism and Multiculturalism. The bottom line is this: once you understand the various theories and how to use them, you will never be at a loss for things to say about a piece of great literature.

The course involves a lot of reading, writing, discussion and informal lectures. There will be weekly reading and writing assignments plus a formal paper at mid-term and a formal paper as a final.