Analyzing Literature: The Formalist Perspective iterature can be read through a variety of lenses. he formalist perspective concentrates on the form of the literature itself.
Formalist criticism regards literature as a unique form of human knowledge that needs to be examined on its own terms (Kennedy 1468). What is the structure of the piece? What imagery is used? What symbols help convey a message? What is the theme?
Why Use the Formalist Perspective? T he formalist perspective began in Russia in the early 1920s. I n 1917, the Russian Revolution occurred. P rior to 1917, Russia romanticized literature and viewed literature from a religious perspective.
Why Use the Formalist Perspective? A fter 1917, literature began to be observed and analyzed. The formalist perspective allowed literature to be viewed through a scientific lens. F
ormalism allows the reader to analyze a literary piece with complete objectivity. Formalists have no Interest in and discount: T he name of the author is not important. T he time in which the author lived is not important. A
ny cultural impact on the authors life is not important. T he political beliefs of the author are not important. T he actual reader is not important. Formalists Focus on Specific Aspects Formalists pay special attention to the formal features of the text the style,
structure, imagery, tone, and genre (Kennedy 1468). Not examined in isolation what gives a literary text its special status as art is how all its elements work together to create the readers total experience (Kennedy 1468). Formalists Focus on Specific Aspects
reat literature is universal. A universal message is a message that transcends time and culture. A universal message reveals a great truth about the human condition. (DiYanni 1561). Formalists Focus on Specific Aspects pecific passages in great works of literature can be closely analyzed to determine its message and
the constructs utilized to convey the message. ormalists analyze the tension and ambiguity in a piece: Tension: the way elements of a texts language reflect conflict and opposition (DiYanni 1561). Ambiguity: the ways texts remain open to more than a single, unified definitive interpretation Formalism Ignores Peripheral Aspects
ormalists believe that looking at the psychology and biography of the author inform the writing process, not the composition itself (Kennedy 1469). ormalism does not evaluate or consider the religious, moral, or political value of a piece. Formalism Ignores Peripheral Aspects
ormalism does not evaluate or consider symbolism in a piece. ormalism strives to force literary or artwork to stand on its own people (i.e., author, reader) are not considered so the piece can be analyzed as a separate, independent entity. ecause formalism ignores peripheral aspects, it is very limiting in its
effectiveness to analyze literature. A Checklist of Formalist Critical Questions ow is the work structured or organized? How does it begin? Where does it go next? How does it end? What is the works plot? How is its plot related to its structure? hat is the relationship of each part of the work to
the work as a whole? How are the parts related to one another? A Checklist of Formalist Critical Questions Who is narrating or telling what happens in the work? How is the narrator, speaker, or character revealed to readers? How do we come to know and understand this figure? Who are the major and minor characters,
what do they represent, and how do they relate to one another? A Checklist of Formalist Critical Questions hat are the time and place of the work its setting? How is the setting related to what we know of the characters and their actions? To what extent is the setting symbolic?
A Checklist of Formalist Critical Questions hat kind of language does the author use to describe, narrate, explain, or otherwise create the world of the literary work? More specifically, what images, similes, metaphors, symbols appear in the work? What is their function? What meanings do they convey? (DiYanni 1562).
Works Cited iYanni, Robert. Literature Approaches to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. 2nd ed. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2008. Print. uerin, Wilfred L. et al. A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature. 5th ed. NY: Oxford UP, 2005. Print.
ennedy, X. J. and Gioia, Dana. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Revised edition for Burlington County College. NY: Pearson, 2011. Print.
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