English 3900: Critical Approaches to Literature, Fall 2018

TR 2:00-3:15 p.m., Arts & Sciences 340A

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 our class asks:

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

In Class Activities

1. Practice Interpretation Exercise

To prepare for the collaborative interpretation exercise assignment, let's divide into groups and practice the exercises in Lois Tyson's "Using Concepts from New Critical Theory."


Here are your groups:

  1. "Appreciating the Importance of Tradition: Interpreting 'Everyday Use'" (45-51): Robert Abbott and Celestial Beltman
  2. "Recognizing the Presence of Death: Interpreting 'A Rose for Emily'" (51-7): Madi Brillhart and Ashley Donnelly
  3. "Understanding the Power of Alienation: Interpreting 'The Battle Royal'" (57-63): Jalen Frasher and Aurora Perez
  4. "Respecting the Importance of Nonconformity: Interpreting 'Don't Explain'" (63-9): Ben Stokes and Daelyn Stone
  5. "Responding to the Challenge of the Unknown: Interpreting 'I started Early—Took my Dog'" (69-74): TBA

On your own outside of class, individual students will

  1. read your assigned literary work,
  2. read your assigned Tyson exercise, and
  3. find textual evidence for a potential essay on the literary work using the Tyson exercise prompts.

As a group in class on Thursday, group members will

  1. combine your textual evidence,
  2. compose a thesis for a potential essay on the literary work using the Tyson exercise prompts,
  3. create an outline for a potential essay, and
  4. share their thesis and outline with the class.

Article Summary and Article Application

Written Summary and Application

The informal article summary compels you to practice determining the key ideas of a specific theorist's essay and the informal article application compels you to apply a specific theorist's ideas when interpreting a work of literature.


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

The article application, which will crtically read a work of literature by applying a particular theorist's ideas, 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 and broaching issues for class discussion (without simply reading your written summary) while the article application 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 Assignments > Article Application two days 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 Article Application 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 Kristeva on Tuesday, 9-11. Therefore, someone's article summary and someone else's article application will be due in GeorgiaVIEW on Sunday, 9-9. In class on Tuesday, 9-11, one student will informally present the main ideas of Kristeva's essay and another student will informally apply Kristeva's essay to a reading of a work of literature. 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 (sum) and one article application (app) at least three weeks apart.


Written Due Date


Due Date



T, 9-4

R, 9-6


sum Robert Abbott


S, 9-9

T, 9-11


sum Aurora Perez


Deleuze and Guattari



T, 9-11

R, 9-13


sum Madi Brillhart



sum Celestial Beltman


T, 10-2

R, 10-4



app Aurora Perez




S, 10-14

T, 10-16



app Ben Stokes

S, 10-21

T, 10-23



app Celestial Beltman




T, 10-30

R, 11-1


sum Ben Stokes

app Ashley Donnelly


sum Jalen Frasher

app Madi Brillhart

T, 11-13

R, 11-15


sum Ashley Donnelly

app Robert Abbott


sum Jalen Frasher


Interpretation Exercise

While the article summary compels you to practice determining the key ideas of a specific theorist's essay and the article application compels you to apply a specific theorist's ideas when interpreting a work of literature, both in an informal setting and by yourself, the interpretation exercise requires you to work with a partner to complete an interpretation exercise in Lois Tyson's Using Critical Theory and then 1) compose a formal essay that applies the general concepts of a critical approach in the interpretation of a work of literature, and 2) formally present your essay to the class. Your single, collaboratively written essay should be built from the interpretation exercise, guided by a thesis, and prove a theoretically informed interpretation of a work of literature using appropriate evidence. Your well-organized presentation should clearly convey how you are using concepts from the critical theory to interpret the work of literature, and each member should speak during the presentation.


Sign Up

Due Date



T, 9-18

Tyson, Psychoanalytic Theory:

Dickinson, Ellison, Faulkner, Gomez, Walker

Aurora Perez

Ben Stokes

R, 10-18

Tyson, Marxist Theory:

Dickinson, Ellison, Faulkner, Gomez, Walker

Robert Abbott

Ashley Donnelly

T, 10-25

Tyson, Feminist Theory:

Dickinson, Ellison, Faulkner, Gomez, Walker



T, 11-6

Tyson, Lesbian, Gay, and Queer Theory:

Dickinson, Ellison, Faulkner, Gomez, Walker

Jalen Frasher


T, 11-20

Tyson, Postcolonial Theory:

Dickinson, Ellison, Faulkner, Gomez, Walker

Madi Brillhart

Celestial Beltman

Group Presentation

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

On Tuesday, November 13, students will form groups. By Thursday, November 15, groups will inform the professor of their first and second choice; groups will meet with the professor about the upcoming project in class on Tuesday, November 27.


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 copies of the articles (if not in Tyson's Critical Theory Today and Leitch's The Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism ).


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


Sign Up

You will sign up for 2 groups of 3-4 members on Tuesday, November 13.


Date Theory Students

T, 12-4

Existentialism and Phenomenology

Robert Abbot

Celestial Beltman

Madi Brillhart

Ashley Donnelly

R, 12-6

African-American Criticism

Jalen Frasher

Aurora Perez

Ben Stokes

Exam 1

Exam 1 will cover formalism (New Criticism and Russian Formalism) and psychoanalysis and will be taken in class on Thursday, September 20. There will be two essay questions. In the first essay, you will be asked to compare and contrast the formalist and psychoanalytic methodologies. The second essay question will ask you to demonstrate and practice the formalist and psychoanalytical approaches to literature on your choice of one text from the following, the poem "Black Art" by Anne Sexton or the short story "How to Be an Other Woman" by Lorrie Moore. 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 psychoanalytic critic 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 the formalist and psychoanalytic approaches using those keys terms, and 3) write practice essays interpreting the one literary work from formalist and psychoanalytic perspectives using those key terms.

Exam 2

Exam 3

Student Work of Literature Theorists

Robert Abbott

Hughes, "Let America Be America Again"

Fanon, Sartre

Celestial Beltman

Rowling, Harry Potter and the Death Hallows

Marx, Althusser

Madi Brillhart

The Haunting of Hill House

Freud, Mulvey

Ashley Donnelly

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Sedgwick, Wittig

Jalen Frasher

Morisseau, Detroit '67

Hurston, Hughes

Aurora Perez

Rizal, El Filibusterismo

Fanon, Jameson

Ben Stokes

Heller, Catch-22

Lukács, Freud