English 3900 Critical Approaches to Literature, Spring 2016

TR 2:00-3:15PM, Arts & Sciences 340B

Interpretation Survey

Spend a few moments writing all the questions you ask of every work of literature you read. We'll post your questions here, and throughout the semester we'll compare them to the questions the theorists we're reading would ask.

Here are the questions the theorists we're reading would ask any work of literature:

In Class Activities

1. The New Critical and Russian Formalist Approaches to Robert Lowell's "For the Union Dead"

Break into four groups and discuss the Interpretation Survey questions above for your group's assigned theorist.

  1. John Crowe Ransom
  2. Cleanth Brooks
  3. William K. Wimsatt, Jr. and Monroe C. Beardsley
  4. Boris Eichenbaum

2. Reviewing the Theories with Kare Chopin's The Awakening

Today, we'll review for the exam by asking and answering the questions literary theorists would ask of The Awakening. Each of you will be assigned one theorist's set of queries.

  1. Formalisms Overview (Liberal Humanism, New Criticism, Russian Formalism)
  2. T. S. Eliot
  3. John Crowe Ransom
  4. Cleanth Brooks
  5. William K. Wimsatt, Jr. and Monroe C. Beardsley
  6. Boris Eichenbaum
  7. Structuralism Overview: Narrative Operations
  8. Structuralism Overview: Codes of Interpretion
  9. Structuralism Overview: Cultural Semiotics
  10. Ferdinand de Saussure
  11. Roman Jakobson
  12. Northrop Frye
  13. Tzvetan Todorov
  14. Roland Barthes

Article Summary and Critical Reading

GeorgiaVIEW Post

During the semester you will write two informal papers, an article summary and a critical reading, and post them to our course discussion board at GeorgiaVIEW > Discussions > Article Summaries and Critical Readings.


The article summary, which will summarize a particular theorist's essay, should

The critical reading, which will interpret a work of literature, should

Informal Presentation

You will also be responsible for a brief, informal presentation. The article summary presentation should introduce the essay by defining key points and terms (without simply reading your written summary) and broaching issues for class discussion. The critical reading presentation should poses the theorist's questions and interpret the work in response to those questions (without simply reading your written response).

Due Dates

  1. Your written assignment will be due in both 1) GeorgiaVIEW > Discussions > Article Summaries and Critical Readings and 2) GeorgiaVIEW > Dropbox > Article Summary and Critical Reading on the Sunday before we are scheduled to discuss an article. If you do not submit your written summary to GeorgiaVIEW at least one day before the article is discussed in class, you will fail the assignment. It is your responsibility to check the sign up schedule and complete the assignment on time.
  2. Your brief, informal presentation will be due on the day we discuss the essay in class. This date is approximate for we will sometimes fall a day behind.
  3. I will return your graded assignment to you in GeorgiaVIEW > Dropbox > Article Summary and Critical Reading approximately one week after we discuss the article in class. Due to GeorgiaVIEW limitations, I am unable to return graded assignments to you unless and until you submit them to the Dropbox.
  4. For example, we are scheduled to discuss Frye on Thursday, 1-24. Therefore, someone's summary will be due in GeorgiaVIEW by Sunday, 1-24. In class on Thursday, 1-24, that student will informally present the main ideas of Frye's essay. I will return the graded article summary to her the following week in GeorgiaVIEW > Dropbox > Article Summary and Critical Reading. Due to GeorgiaVIEW limitations, I cannot return your graded paper unless and until you upload it to the Dropbox. Here's how to calculate your course grade.

Note: As I wrote on the syllabus course schedule, we may have to slow down for certain theorists and theories. We will not be able to discuss each and every article in class. Thus, some articles may only be summarized on GeorgiaVIEW's Article Summaries discussion board and presented to the class by the person assigned to the article. Therefore, it is extremely important for each person to turn in the summaries on time and attend class for the presentation component. Summaries will be penalized one letter grade for each day, not class period, that they are turned in late. Failing to present the article to the class without providing a valid absence excuse will result in a one letter grade penalty.

Sign Up

Sign up for two slots: one article summary (AS) and one critical reading (CR) at least three weeks apart.


Written Due Date


Due Date

Reading Student
S, 1-24
R, 1-28






CR Samantha Strickland

S, 1-31
T, 2-2





AS Micah Parr


S, 2-14
T, 2-16


AS Samantha Strickland

CR Micah Parr

R, 2-18


AS Michael Faulknor

CR Hannah Sims

S, 2-21
T, 2-23

de Man

AS Matt Dombrowski

CR Abbie Killebrew

R, 2-25


AS Matthew Cornelison

CR Sarah Rogers

S, 2-28
T, 3-1


AS Walter Rabon

CR Michael Faulknor

S, 3-6
T, 3-8


AS Courtney Osborne

CR Matt Dombroswki

R, 3-10


AS Sarah Rogers

CR Tiffany Bennett

Deleuze and Guattari

AS Abbie Killebrew

CR Christine Hammond

S, 3-13
T, 3-15


AS Hannah Sims

CR Walter Rabon

S, 3-27
T, 3-29


AS Kristen Johnson

CR Courtney Osborne


AS Tiffany Bennett

CR Matthew Cornelison

R, 3-31

Horkheimer and Adorno

AS Christine Hammond

CR Kristen Johnson

Reading Journal or Blog

You will keep a private reading journal or public blog that interprets an outside work of literature from the range of positions held by the various theorists studied in class.


By Tuesday, January 19, select a work of literature (a long poem, a dense short story, a novel, a play, a film, or a television show) and submit the title to GeorgiaVIEW > Dropbox > Reading Journal or Blog.


Each week (except for weeks when exams are due), you will use your journal or blog to reflect upon the ideas of the week's theorists (focusing on one is preferred, but no more than two theorists) and explore how those critical methodologies would interpret your selected text.


Each entry should be approximately a couple of pages or 500 words. If you wish to keep a public blog, you can use a site like WordPress or Blogger. If you wish to keep a private reading journal, you should submit to GeorgiaVIEW > Dropbox > Reading Journal or Blog. Blogs will be read and journals will be collected a few times during the semester as noted below. There will be a late penalty for entries submitted 1-6 days after the due date (checks will become check-minuses, check-minuses will become zeros); entries that are one week late will receive no credit.


Here are the entry weeks and potential theorists' works to respond to:


Entry/Week Works

1 January 21

Ransom, Brooks, Wimsatt, and/or Eichenbaum

2 January 28

Barry, Saussure, Jakobson, and/or Frye

Entries 1-2 Due on January 28

3 February 4

Todorov and/or Barthes

4 February 18

Foucault and/or Derrida

Entries 3-4 Due on February 18

5 February 25

de Man, Austin, and/or Butler

6 March 3

Baudrillard, Cixous, and/or Freud

7 March 10

Bloom, Lacan, Kristeva, and/or Deleuze

Entries 5-7 Due on March 10

8 March 31

Mulvey, Žižek, and/or Marx

9 April 7

Trotsky, Lukács, Benjamin, Horkheimer and Adorno, Althusser, and/or Jameson

10 April 14

Jauss or Fish

11 April 21

Anderson, Anzaldúa, Fanon, or Wă Thiong’o

Entries 8-11 Due on April 21


Here are the student selections:


Student Work

Tiffany Bennett

Focus (film)

Matthew Cornelison

Hemingway, "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" (short story)

Matthew Dombrowski

Girls (television series)

Michael Faulknor

Prison Break (television series)

Christine Hammond

Lowry, The Giver (novel)

Kristen Johnson

Dexter (television series)

Abby Killebrew

Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (novel)

Courtney Osborne

Jackson, "The Lottery" (short story)

Micah Parr

Seven Pounds (film)

Walter Rabon

South Park (television series)

Sarah Rogers

Supernatural (television series)

Hannah Sims

True Detective, Season 1 (television series)

Samantha Strickland

Austen, Pride and Prejudice (novel)

Group Presentation

In the formal presentation, three groups of four to five students will collaborate to teach three of the following eight critical approaches to the class:


cognitive criticism

existentialism and phenomenology

reader-response criticism

feminism and gender studies

queer theory

African-American criticism

postcolonial criticism



One week before the presentation, the group should inform the class of what 1 overview article and 2-3 theoretical articles it will teach as well as provide the professor with clean copies of the articles (if not in Barry's Beginning Theory and Leitch's Norton Anthology).


During the 30-40 minute presentation followed by 10 minute question and answer session, the group should


Sign Up

You will sign up for 3 groups of 4-5 on Thursday, March 3.


Date Theory Students
R, 4-14

Group 1

Reader-Response Criticism

Matthew Cornelison

Michael Faulknor

Walter Rabon

Hannah Sims

T, 4-19

Group 2

Postcolonial Criticism

Matthew Dombrowski

Kristen Johnson

Abbie Killebrew

Courtney Osbourne

T, 4-26

Group 3

Feminism and Gender Studies

Tiffany Bennett

Christine Hammond

Micah Parr

Sarah Rogers

Samantha Strickland

Theory Selection

Groups will report their first and second choices of critical approach from the list above on Thursday, March 10.

Exam 1

Exam 1 will cover formalism (Liberal Humanism, New Criticism, and Russian Formalism) and structuralism (structuralist linguistics, semiotics, archetypal criticism, narrative theory) and will be taken in class on Tuesday, February 9. There will be two essay questions. In the first essay, you will be asked to compare and contrast the formalist and structuralist methodologies. The second essay question will ask you to demonstrate and practice the formalist and structuralist critical approaches to literature on your choice of one text from the following: Ai's "Fairy Tale," Anne Sexton's "Red Riding Hood," or Angela Carter's "The Company of Wolves." You may bring printouts of the literary works to the exam; but you may not use your textbooks.


Your theory essay will be graded on 1) your ability to balance a broad understanding of the general theory with a healthy amount of specific terms from particular theorists as well as on 2) your ability to assess similarities and differences between the two general theories.


Your application essay grade will be based on how you interpret the text; in other words, illustrate your understanding of the critical methodologies by making apparent the questions a New Critic and structuralist ask of a text.


If I were to study for this exam, I would 1) create an outline of key terms and compose their definitions, 2) write practice essays comparing and contrasting formalism and structuralism using those keys terms, and 3) write practice essays interpreting the one literary work from formalist and structuralist perspectives using those key terms.


Note: It is impossible to illustrate your knowledge of all of these terms in a 75 minute exam. Prioritize the ones that are fundamental for an understanding of the general theory and distinguish particular theorists within that theory.

Exam 2

Exam 3

Student Work of Literature Theorists

Tiffany Bennett

Pleasantville (Ross, 1998)

Freud, Lacan

Matthew Cornelison

Melville, poetry

Wimsatt and Beardsley, Jauss

Matthew Dombrowski

The Hunger Games (Ross, 2012)

Jameson, Mulvey

Michael Faulknor

Titanic (Cameron, 1997)

Althusser, Wimsatt and Beardsley

Christine Hammond

Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Wittig, Žižek

Kristen Johnson

Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions

Butler, Anzaldúa

Abbie Killebrew

O'Connor, "The River"

Derrida, Lacan

Courtney Osborne

Gilman, "The Yellow Wallpaper"

Freud, Gilbert and Gubar

Micah Parr

My Sister's Keeper (Cassavetes, 2009)

Derrida, de Man

Walter Rabon

Ultimate Spider-Man (2000-2011)

Brooks, Frye

Sarah Rogers

The Princess Bride (Reiner, 1987)

Frye, Mulvey

Hannah Sims

Avatar (Cameron, 2009)

Marx, Trotsky

Samantha Strickland

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Gondry, 2004)

Cixous, Žižek