Reflection Paper Purpose
The purpose of this reflection paper is to work to make sense of what you read based on Literary Theory and reflect on questions within the reflection paper instructions.
Reflection Paper Instructions
In this Reflection Paper, carefully consider the section Reading Like a New Critic. Your job in this reflection is to choose one of the poems from this unit and interpret the poem as if you were a New Critic.
While it may be helpful to look up the definitions of difficult or obscure words, you are expected to do NO outside research. The paper needs to be 500 words, use 12 point font, and be double spaced. There is no heading requirement. Use left justification for the paper’s formatting and indent the first line of each paragraph using the “tab” button. Be sure to use quotation marks when quoting from the poem or the Learning Unit materials.
This from the section reading like a new critic
Reading Like a New CriticThe Writing Process and the Protocols of Close Reading
If New Critics provide us with so many strategies for not reading a text, they should present us with strategies for reading texts. And they do. They suggest protocols of reading that are the heart of traditional close readings of texts. In a nutshell, a close reading exposes a problem or issue that needs examination to bring unity to work; a close reading demonstrates how a literary work’s meaning is unified, balanced, and harmonized by its aesthetic—or literary—structure. Then, your close reading often identifies a tension or ambiguity—the issue or problem—that can be resolved by showing that the literary work achieves unity even in the apparent tension or ambiguity. Consequently, the critic can often examine how language creates tension through paradox or irony. Paradox (when something appears contradictory or discordant but finally proves to be actually true) and irony (when a perceived meaning or intention is eventually found not to be accurate) result from a writer’s use of language in a metaphorical way.
There is no more famous example of a professional critical reading than Cleanth Brooks’s “Keats’s Sylvan Historian: History without Footnotes.” Brooks’s reading of Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” begins by disagreeing with T. S. Eliot, who believed the concluding lines of the poem—“Beauty is truth, truth beauty”—constituted a major flaw in the poem, for, as Brooks relates, “the troubling assertion is apparently an intrusion upon the poem—does not grow out of it—is not dramatically accommodated to it.” Eliot feels the urn’s speech doesn’t make much sense—and that the statement isn’t true. Brooks sets out to counter Eliot and prove that the poem is unified around the central paradox of the poem: “What is the relation of the beauty (the good, the perfection) of a poem to the truth or falsity of what it seems to assert?”
Brooks contends that the poem is “a parable on the nature of poetry and art in general” and that the concluding lines must be taken in the “total context of the poem.” When read in this manner, the urn’s speech was “‘in character,’ was dramatically appropriate, [and] was properly prepared for.” To support his contention, Brooks provides a stanza-by-stanza close reading in which he suggests that the paradox of the speaking urn is naturally part of each stanza and related to a key thematic concept: the poem highlights the tension between bustling life depicted on the urn and the frozen vignettes of the “Cold Pastoral.” Brooks concludes, “If the urn has been properly dramatized, if we have followed the development of the metaphors, if we have been alive to the paradoxes which work throughout the poem, perhaps then, we shall be prepared for the enigmatic, final paradox which the ‘silent form’ utters.’” In concluding his essay, Brooks warns readers not to fall into the trap of paraphrase, for we must ultimately focus on “the world-view, or ‘philosophy,’ or ‘truth’ of the poem as a whole in terms of its dramatic wholeness” (Brooks’s emphasis).
Brooks’s reading of Keats’s ode is an exemplar of New Critical reading. Remember, a close reading will examine a literary work and find some objective meaning (a theme) harmonized with structure, thus balancing theme and form.
Implementing the Reading Protocols: A Strategy
To perform a close reading, use the following strategy:
- Identify a tension or ambiguity in the literary work, the “problem” that needs to be solved by a close reading. In other words, your interpretation will highlight a theme or meaning that resides in work.
Demonstrate how the work sustains or achieves this meaning through its artistic “principle of composition,” which might include an examination of the following:
- point of view
- language use (i.e., denotation, connotation, metaphor, simile, personification, rhythm)
Close Reading Strategies: A Process Approach
To review, New Criticism provides us with concrete strategies to use when we read and interpret works of literature. Such reading and interpreting, however, never happens after just a first reading; in fact, all critics—New Critics and the others we examine later in this text—reread works multiple times before venturing an interpretation. You can see, then, the connection between reading and writing: as Chapter 1, “Introduction: What Is Literary Theory and Why Should I Care?” indicates, writers create multiple drafts before settling for a finished product (writing is never adequately “finished”); the writing process, in turn, is dependent on the multiple re-readings the writer has performed to gather evidence for the paper. You must integrate the reading and writing process. As a model, use the following ten-step plan as you write using New Critical theory:
- Carefully read the work you will analyze.
- Formulate a general question after your initial reading that identifies a problem—a tension—that is fruitful for discussion.
- Reread the work, paying particular attention to the question you posed. Take notes, which should be focused on your central question. Write an exploratory journal entry or blog post that allows you to play with ideas.
Construct a working thesis that makes a claim about the work and accounts for the following:
- What does the word mean?
- How does the work artistically demonstrate the theme you’ve identified?
- “So what” is significant about the work? That is, why is it important for you to write about this work? What will readers learn from reading your interpretation?
- Reread the text to gather textual evidence for support. What are literary devices used to achieve the theme?
- Construct an informal outline that demonstrates how you will support your interpretation.
- Write the first draft.
- Receive feedback from peers and your instructor via peer review and conferencing with your instructor (if possible).
- Revise the paper, including revising your original thesis statement and restructuring your paper to best support the thesis. Note: You probably will revise many times, so it is important to receive feedback at every draft stage if possible.
- Edit and proofread for correctness, clarity, and style.