English 3900 Critical Approaches to Literature, Spring 2017

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 Elizabeth Bishop's "Crusoe in England"

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 Henry James' The Turn of the Screw

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

  1. New Criticism Overview
  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: 1) Semiotics, 2) Genre Criticism
  8. Structuralism Overview: 3) Narratology, 4) Interpretive Conventions
  9. Roman Jakobson
  10. Northrop Frye
  11. Tzvetan Todorov
  12. Roland Barthes

Article Summary and Critical Reading

Written Summary or Reading

During the semester you will write two informal papers, an article summary and a critical reading, and post them to GeorgiaVIEW > Course Work > Assignments > Article Summary or Critical Reading the day before we discuss a theorist's work in class so I have time to read your response before class.


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 pose 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 GeorgiaVIEW > Course Work > Assignments > Article Summary or Critical Reading on the day before we are scheduled to discuss an article. Failing to submit to GeorgiaVIEW means failure of the assignment, as you will not be allowed to present in class unless you already submitted to GeorgiaVIEW and I have had a chance to read your response.
  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. Failing to present the article to the class without providing a valid absence excuse will result in a two letter grade penalty.
  3. I will return your graded assignment to you in GeorgiaVIEW >Course Work > Assignments > Article Summary or 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 Assignment dropbox. Here's how to calculate your course grade.
  4. For example, we are scheduled to discuss Frye on Thursday, 1-26. Therefore, someone's article summary will be due in GeorgiaVIEW on Wednesday, 1-25. In class on Thursday, 1-26, 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 > Course Work > Assignments > Article Summary.

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

W, 1-25

R, 1-26




M, 1-31

T, 2-1





AS David Boughton


M, 2-13

T, 2-14


AS Philip O'Connor


W, 2-15

R, 2-16


AS Madeline Benford

CR Meg Oberholtzer

M, 2-20

T, 2-21

de Man

AS Olivia Julian

CR Frankie Brasch

W, 2-22

R, 2-23


AS Victoria Lara

CR David Boughton

M, 2-27

T, 2-28


AS Jack Zerkel

CR Emily Newberry

M, 3-6

T, 3-7



CR Bailey Freeman

W, 3-8

R, 3-9


AS Meg Oberholtzer

CR Kallie Farr

Deleuze and Guattari

AS Emily Chick

CR Philip O'Connor

M, 3-13

T, 3-14


AS Frankie Brasch

CR Olivia Julian

M, 3-27

T, 3-28


AS Bailey Freeman

CR Jack Zerkel


AS Emily Newberry

CR Madeline Benford

W, 3-29

R, 3-30

Horkheimer and Adorno


CR Emily Chick

M, 4-3

T, 4-4


AS Kallie Farr

CR Victoria Lara

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 17, 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. Here are examples from former students Sarah Beth Gilbert and Lesley Trapnell. 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 Works


Ransom, Brooks, Wimsatt, and/or Eichenbaum


Barry, Saussure, Jakobson, and/or Frye

Entries 1-2 Due on January 31 (submit on January 26 if you want feedback before the exam)


Todorov and/or Barthes


Foucault and/or Derrida

Entries 3-4 Due on February 21


de Man, Austin, and/or Butler


Baudrillard, Cixous, and/or Freud


Bloom, Lacan, Kristeva, and/or Deleuze

Entries 5-7 Due on March 14


Mulvey, Žižek, and/or Marx


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


Williams, Jameson, Althusser, and/or Hall


Sedgwick or Fish

Entries 8-11 Due on April 25


Here are the student selections:


Student Work

Madeline Benford

The Following (2013-2015)

David Boughton

Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Frankie Brasch

Flynn, Gone Girl

Emily Chick

Criminal Minds (2005-present)

Kallie Farr

Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate

Bailey Freeman

Virgil, Aeneid

Olivia Julian

Dan in Real Life (Dir. Hedges, 2007)

Victoria Lara

Black Mirror (2011-present)

Emily Newberry

Breaking Bad (2008-2013)

Phillip O'Connor

Californication (2007-2014)

Meg Oberholtzer

About Time (Dir. Curtis, 2013)

Jack Zerkel

Albee, At Home and The Zoo

Group Presentation

In the formal presentation, four groups of three students will collaborate to teach four 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



On Thursday, March 9, groups will inform the professor of their first and second choice of topics in GeorgiaVIEW > Course Work > Assignments > Group Presentation.


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


During the 25-35 minute presentation followed by 10 minute question and answer session, the group should


Sign Up

You will sign up for 4 groups of 3 members on Thursday, March 2.


Date Theory Students
R, 4-13

Group 1

Feminism and Gender Studies

Frankie Brasch

Bailey Freeman

Olivia Julian

T, 4-18

Group 2

Reader-Response Criticism

Emily Chick

Kallie Farr

Meg Oberholtzer

R, 4-20

Group 3


Madeline Benford

Emily Newberry

Jack Zerkel

T, 4-25

Group 4

Postcolonial Criticism

David Boughton

Victoria Lara

Philip O'Conor

Exam 1

Exam 1 will cover formalism (New Criticism and Russian Formalism) and structuralism (structuralist linguistics, semiotics, archetypal criticism, narrative theory) and will be taken in class on Tuesday, February 7. 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: A. E. Stallings' "Fairy-Tale Logic," A. E. Stallings' "Sisyphus," Monica Ferrell's "Myths of the Disappearance," Monica Ferrell's "Harmless, Recalled as a Fairy Tale," or Margaret Atwood's "Fiction: Happy Endings."

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

Madeline Benford

Shakespeare, Macbeth


David Boughton

The Lego Movie

Althusser and Williams

Frankie Brasch

Asher, 13 Reasons Why

de Man and Mulvey

Emily Chick

Shire, "Conversations about Home"

Freud and Fish

Kallie Farr

Hardy, "The Ruined Maid"


Bailey Freeman

Browning, "Porphyria's Lover"

Marx and Sedgwick

Olivia Julian

Friman, "Getting Serious"

Eichenbaum and Butler

Victoria Lara

Rankine, Citizen


Emily Newberry

Browning, "My Last Duchess"

Foucault and Žižek

Meg Oberholtzer

Sandell, Song of the Sparrow


Jack Zerkel

Swiss Army Man