New Criticism/Formalist

Everything you learned from English 101 with respect to the research paper you may apply to this project as well; the major differences are (1) you have a broader range of selections to choose from in poetry, fiction, and drama; and (2) you may choose a critical approach (e.g. psychological, historical, cultura, reader-response, gender/queer, biographical, idelogical) different from the New Criticism/Formalist approach you were limited to using in 101. Although there are many ways to approach the organization of your essay, here is a brief review of the basic structure of the essay with its parts as you learned it in English 101:

-Introduction which includes a paragraph identifying the work and author and the reasons you selected this as a subject for your paper; a paragraph in which you define your critical approach (the reading in our text on critical approaches will help you here as you work to develop this paragraph); your thesis statement (a statement of intent, the position you will be arguing for and supporting in the body of your essay)

-Body consisting of somewhere between five and ten paragraphs in which you discuss the work, analyze from the critical approach you have selected, and support with evidence from the poem, your own reasoning, and quotes from the research you have found.

-Conclusion in which you re-state your thesis, discuss why your findings are important, and make recommendations to your reader (i.e., where should the reader go from this point, what can he/she do with what you have discovered and proven?)


1. How do the elements of the poem or story or drama (e.g. style, structure, imagery, tone, characterization, setting, point of view, or symbolism) work together to create the reader’s total experience?

2. What do we discover about the poem or story or drama when we focus on the words of the text rather than facts about the author’s life or the historical milieu in which the text was written?


1. How much has the author’s experience shaped – both directly and indirectly – what he or she has created?

2. How does reading biography change and deepen our response to the work?

3. What is suggested about the author’s life – preoccupations, fears, motives, memories – in the text itself?


1. How does a particular work register its impact on the reader’s mental and sensory faculties?

2. From a close study of the text what understanding do we gain of the author’s motivations and behavior as an artist?

3. What are some of the memories, motives, and fears within the characters themselves that shape the work?


1. What happens in the reader’s mind while interpreting a text?

2. How do different individuals see the text differently?

3. How do religious, cultural, and social values affect the reading of the text?

4. With what different assumptions to men and women read the same text?


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