English 2300
Practical Criticism:  Research and Methodology
Guide and Exercises for Self-Testing

Bressler, Chapters 1-2










Exercise
The approaches to interpretation and the schools of criticism we have studied may be understood in part by the way in which their adherents see the function of literature.  That is, whether they assume that a literary work has ontological existence or assume that some extrinsic criteria must be brought to bear on the text for its meaning to become clearer.  There is of course a great deal of range and overlap in the assumptions of the various approaches.

Try to arrange the approaches and schools listed below in order from the one that is most objective (assumes the ontological existence of a text) to the least objective (holds the strictest view that literature is functional rather than ontological).  Come back to this exercise periodically throughout the semester to retest your grasp and the development of your own thinking.  (As the semester progresses, I will revise some of the categories to reflect your deepening knowledge.)

You may envision the scale as something like the following:
 

Ontological---------------------------------------------------------------------------------Functional


Deconstruction, feminism, Freudian psychoanalytic criticism, gynocriticism, Jungian psychoanalytic criticism, Lacanian psychoanalytic criticism, Marxism, New Criticism, New Historicism, phenomenological reader-response criticism, structuralist reader-response criticism, Structuralism, subjective reader-response criticism

Terms

hermeneutics
ontology
epistemology
philology
mimesis
the sublime
touchstone theory
Abramís categories of literary 
 valuation
mimetic
pragmatic
expressive
objective


Bressler, Chapter 3, New Criticism

Exercises

1.  Explain how the scene through the open window of Mrs. Mallard's room may be interpreted as an objective correlative in Chopin's "The Story of an Hour."  How does it communicate emotions directly to readers?

2.  Explain how the metaphor that likens the approaching idea of freedom as a seductive lover functions as a paradox in "The Story of an Hour."

3.  Which of the following elements would be least likely to figure prominently in a New Critical interpretation of "The Story of an Hour"?  Be prepared to explain why.  Discuss any elements listed that present difficulties in deciding their likely prominence.
 

Terms
close reading
objective correlative
paradox
Intentional Fallacy
Affective Fallacy
organic unity of the literary work


Bressler, Chapter 4, Reader-Response Criticism

1.  What conflicts might "The Story of an Hour" have created in the minds of Chopin's contemporary readers?  Does the author appear to be aware that the story might create such conflicts?  Are the same conflicts created for readers today?  For any group of readers today?

2.  Describe the implied reader of "The Story of an Hour" and cite evidence from the story that led to your description.

3.  Which of the following elements might figure prominently in a reader-response interpretation of "The Story of an Hour"
    a. based on structuralism?
    b. based on phenomenology?
    c. based on subjectivity in interpretation?
 

  • the denotations and connotations of the meaning of the word freedom
  • Kate Chopin's marriage to Oscar Chopin
  • the death of Oscar Chopin
  • the irony captured in t he doctor's interpretation of the cause of Mrs. Mallard's death:  "the joy that kills"
  • the women's movement of the nineteenth century
  • the opposition between marriage and freedom in the story
  • Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women
  • the image of freedom as a lover
  • the narrator's "objective" tone
  • Chopin's other short stories and her novel The Awakening
  • a reader's views on marriage
  • society's views on marriage
  • the image of Mrs. Mallard as a goddess of Victory
  • the phallic image of Brently Mallard's key in t he door at the end of the story
  • the atmosphere outside Mrs. Mallard's bedroom window
  • the simile in the following passage:  "She sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless, except when a sob came up into her throat and shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dreams."
  • the motivations and behavior of Josephine and Richards
  • the fact that the Mallards are a middle class couple
  • Kate Chopin's public statements on the suppression of women in marriage
  • the tendency in the history of Western metaphysics to privilege men over women
  • the relation between the brevity of the story, the use of the term hour in the title, diction and imagery that suggest brevity and rushing, the sudden ending, and the brevity of the time during which Mrs. Mallard enjoys her freedom.
  • the fact that Mrs. Mallard does not go into shock upon hearing the report that her husband is dead
  • the fact that the story was written during what Elaine Showalter calls the feminist period of women's writing
  • the fact that the narrator refers to Brently Mallard by his full name but always to Louise Mallard as Mrs. Mallard
  • the description of Mrs. Mallard as still "young" and "fair"
  • the fact that Brently Mallard "had never looked save with love upon" Mrs. Mallard
  • the fact that Mrs. Mallard "did not stop to ask if it were not a monstrous joy that held her"

  • the reader's gender; the implied reader's gender
    Terms

    transactional experience
    narratology
    phenomenology
    identity theme
    implied reader
    reception theory
    interpretive community


    Bressler, Chapter 5, Structuralism/Deconstruction

    Structuralism
    1.  Interpret Chopin's metaphor of freedom (or the "thing") as a seducer of Mrs. Mallard in "The Story of an Hour" from a structuralist point of view; that is, as a sign that refers to a system of signs outside the text rather than as part of a metaphorical pattern within the story that shapes its organic unity.

    2.  What are the various binary operations at work in "The Story of an Hour"?

    3.  Which of the following elements would be most likely to be emphasized in a structuralist interpretation of "The Story of an Hour"?  Discuss any that seem to create difficulties in your choosing.
     

  • the denotations and connotations of the meaning of the word freedom
  • Kate Chopin's marriage to Oscar Chopin
  • the death of Oscar Chopin
  • the irony captured in t he doctor's interpretation of the cause of Mrs. Mallard's death:  "the joy that kills"
  • the women's movement of the nineteenth century
  • the opposition between marriage and freedom in the story
  • Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women
  • the image of freedom as a lover
  • the narrator's "objective" tone
  • Chopin's other short stories and her novel The Awakening
  • a reader's views on marriage
  • society's views on marriage
  • the image of Mrs. Mallard as a goddess of Victory
  • the phallic image of Brently Mallard's key in t he door at the end of the story
  • the atmosphere outside Mrs. Mallard's bedroom window
  • the simile in the following passage:  "She sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless, except when a sob came up into her throat and shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dreams."
  • the motivations and behavior of Josephine and Richards
  • the fact that the Mallards are a middle class couple
  • Kate Chopin's public statements on the suppression of women in marriage
  • the tendency in the history of Western metaphysics to privilege men over women
  • the relation between the brevity of the story, the use of the term hour in the title, diction and imagery that suggest brevity and rushing, the sudden ending, and the brevity of the time during which Mrs. Mallard enjoys her freedom.
  • the fact that Mrs. Mallard does not go into shock upon hearing the report that her husband is dead
  • the fact that the story was written during what Elaine Showalter calls the feminist period of women's writing
  • the fact that the narrator refers to Brently Mallard by his full name but always to Louise Mallard as Mrs. Mallard
  • the description of Mrs. Mallard as still "young" and "fair"
  • the fact that Brently Mallard "had never looked save with love upon" Mrs. Mallard
  • the fact that Mrs. Mallard "did not stop to ask if it were not a monstrous joy that held her"

  • the reader's gender; the implied reader's gender
    Terms
    sign
    signifier
    signified
    semiotics
    mytheme
    binary opposition
    langue
    parole


     Deconstruction
    1.  Deconstruct Chopin's metaphor of freedom (the "thing") as a seductive lover in "The Story of an Hours"; that is, discuss the image as an example of "misspeaking" (aporia) rather than an example of New Critical paradox or simple structuralist parole.

    2.  In what ways might "The Story of an Hour" itself be said to deconstruct some of the basic assumptions of Chopin's dominant culture?  What privileged terms are specifically reversed?

    3.  Which of the following elements would be most likely to be emphasized in a deconstructive reading of "The Story of an Hour"?  Discuss any that create problems for you in making your selection.
     

  • the denotations and connotations of the meaning of the word freedom
  • Kate Chopin's marriage to Oscar Chopin
  • the death of Oscar Chopin
  • the irony captured in t he doctor's interpretation of the cause of Mrs. Mallard's death:  "the joy that kills"
  • the women's movement of the nineteenth century
  • the opposition between marriage and freedom in the story
  • Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women
  • the image of freedom as a lover
  • the narrator's "objective" tone
  • Chopin's other short stories and her novel The Awakening
  • a reader's views on marriage
  • society's views on marriage
  • the image of Mrs. Mallard as a goddess of Victory
  • the phallic image of Brently Mallard's key in t he door at the end of the story
  • the atmosphere outside Mrs. Mallard's bedroom window
  • the simile in the following passage:  "She sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless, except when a sob came up into her throat and shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dreams."
  • the motivations and behavior of Josephine and Richards
  • the fact that the Mallards are a middle class couple
  • Kate Chopin's public statements on the suppression of women in marriage
  • the tendency in the history of Western metaphysics to privilege men over women
  • the relation between the brevity of the story, the use of the term hour in the title, diction and imagery that suggest brevity and rushing, the sudden ending, and the brevity of the time during which Mrs. Mallard enjoys her freedom.
  • the fact that Mrs. Mallard does not go into shock upon hearing the report that her husband is dead
  • the fact that the story was written during what Elaine Showalter calls the feminist period of women's writing
  • the fact that the narrator refers to Brently Mallard by his full name but always to Louise Mallard as Mrs. Mallard
  • the description of Mrs. Mallard as still "young" and "fair"
  • the fact that Brently Mallard "had never looked save with love upon" Mrs. Mallard
  • the fact that Mrs. Mallard "did not stop to ask if it were not a monstrous joy that held her"

  • the reader's gender; the implied reader's gender
    Terms

    transcendental signified
    logocentrism
    phonocentrism
    arche-writing
    supplementation
    differánce
    aporia
    undecidability


    Bressler, Chapter 6, Psychoanalytic Criticism

    1.  Discuss the significance of the following passage in a psychoanalytic interpretation of character in Chopin's "The Story of an Hour":
     

    She sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless, except when a sob came up into her throat and shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dreams.

    She was young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression and even a certain strength.  But now there was a dull stare in her eyes, whose gaze as fixed away off yonder on one of those patches of blue sky.  It was not a glance of reflection, but rather indicated a suspension of intelligent thought.


    2.  Using Freud's tripartite model of the development of the psyche, explain how the final sentence of Chopin's story may represent the dominant morality principle of the superego.  Using Lacan's linguistic model of the psyche, explain how the final sentence may represent the dominance of the symbolic order.

    3.  Which of the following elements would most likely to be emphasized in a psychoanalytic reading of "The Story of an Hour"?  Discuss any that create problems for you in making your selection.
     

  • the death of Oscar Chopin
  • the irony captured in t he doctor's interpretation of the cause of Mrs. Mallard's death:  "the joy that kills"
  • the women's movement of the nineteenth century
  • the opposition between marriage and freedom in the story
  • Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women
  • the image of freedom as a lover
  • the narrator's "objective" tone
  • Chopin's other short stories and her novel The Awakening
  • a reader's views on marriage
  • society's views on marriage
  • the image of Mrs. Mallard as a goddess of Victory
  • the phallic image of Brently Mallard's key in t he door at the end of the story
  • the atmosphere outside Mrs. Mallard's bedroom window
  • the simile in the following passage:  "She sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless, except when a sob came up into her throat and shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dreams."
  • the motivations and behavior of Josephine and Richards
  • the fact that the Mallards are a middle class couple
  • Kate Chopin's public statements on the suppression of women in marriage
  • the tendency in the history of Western metaphysics to privilege men over women
  • the relation between the brevity of the story, the use of the term hour in the title, diction and imagery that suggest brevity and rushing, the sudden ending, and the brevity of the time during which Mrs. Mallard enjoys her freedom.
  • the fact that Mrs. Mallard does not go into shock upon hearing the report that her husband is dead
  • the fact that the story was written during what Elaine Showalter calls the feminist period of women's writing
  • the fact that the narrator refers to Brently Mallard by his full name but always to Louise Mallard as Mrs. Mallard
  • the description of Mrs. Mallard as still "young" and "fair"
  • the fact that Brently Mallard "had never looked save with love upon" Mrs. Mallard
  • the fact that Mrs. Mallard "did not stop to ask if it were not a monstrous joy that held her"

  • the reader's gender; the implied reader's gender
     
     
    Terms
    Freudian
    id
    ego
    superego
    Oedipus Complex
    Electra Complex
    Jungian
    personal conscious
    personal unconscious
    collective unconscious
    archetype
    Lacanian
    imaginary order
    symbolic order
    real order


    Bressler, Chapter 7, Feminism

    1.  Discuss "The Story of an Hour" as a work of the "feminist" era of women's writing as distinguish from the "feminine" and the "female" eras by Elaine Showalter.

    2.  To what extent can the narrator of "The Story of an Hour" be viewed as an ironic representative of the dominant, male order represented by the "doctors" in the story's final sentence.

    3.  Which of the following elements would be most likely to be emphasized in a feminist reading of "The Story of an Hour"?  Discuss any that create problems for you in making your selection.
     

  • the denotations and connotations of the meaning of the word freedom
  • Kate Chopin's marriage to Oscar Chopin
  • the death of Oscar Chopin
  • the irony captured in t he doctor's interpretation of the cause of Mrs. Mallard's death:  "the joy that kills"
  • the women's movement of the nineteenth century
  • the opposition between marriage and freedom in the story
  • Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women
  • the image of freedom as a lover
  • the narrator's "objective" tone
  • Chopin's other short stories and her novel The Awakening
  • a reader's views on marriage
  • society's views on marriage
  • the image of Mrs. Mallard as a goddess of Victory
  • the phallic image of Brently Mallard's key in t he door at the end of the story
  • the atmosphere outside Mrs. Mallard's bedroom window
  • the simile in the following passage:  "She sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless, except when a sob came up into her throat and shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dreams."
  • the motivations and behavior of Josephine and Richards
  • the fact that the Mallards are a middle class couple
  • Kate Chopin's public statements on the suppression of women in marriage
  • the tendency in the history of Western metaphysics to privilege men over women
  • the relation between the brevity of the story, the use of the term hour in the title, diction and imagery that suggest brevity and rushing, the sudden ending, and the brevity of the time during which Mrs. Mallard enjoys her freedom.
  • the fact that Mrs. Mallard does not go into shock upon hearing the report that her husband is dead
  • the fact that the story was written during what Elaine Showalter calls the feminist period of women's writing
  • the fact that the narrator refers to Brently Mallard by his full name but always to Louise Mallard as Mrs. Mallard
  • the description of Mrs. Mallard as still "young" and "fair"
  • the fact that Brently Mallard "had never looked save with love upon" Mrs. Mallard
  • the fact that Mrs. Mallard "did not stop to ask if it were not a monstrous joy that held her"

  • the reader's gender; the implied reader's gender
    Terms
    gynocriticism
    Models:
      biological
      linguistic 
      psychoanalytical
      cultural
      American
      British
      French


    Bressler, Chapter 8, Marxism

    1.  To what extent does "The Story of an Hour" confine itself to and reveal the values of a privileged class?

    2.  Discuss Mrs. Mallard's experience as an illustration of Marx's basic assumption that life determines consciousness rather than the other way around.

    3.  Which of the following elements would be most likely to be emphasized in a Marxist reading of "The Story of an Hour"?  Discuss any that create problems for you in making your selection.
     

  • the denotations and connotations of the meaning of the word freedom
  • Kate Chopin's marriage to Oscar Chopin
  • the death of Oscar Chopin
  • the irony captured in t he doctor's interpretation of the cause of Mrs. Mallard's death:  "the joy that kills"
  • the women's movement of the nineteenth century
  • the opposition between marriage and freedom in the story
  • Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women
  • the image of freedom as a lover
  • the narrator's "objective" tone
  • Chopin's other short stories and her novel The Awakening
  • a reader's views on marriage
  • society's views on marriage
  • the image of Mrs. Mallard as a goddess of Victory
  • the phallic image of Brently Mallard's key in t he door at the end of the story
  • the atmosphere outside Mrs. Mallard's bedroom window
  • the simile in the following passage:  "She sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless, except when a sob came up into her throat and shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dreams."
  • the motivations and behavior of Josephine and Richards
  • the fact that the Mallards are a middle class couple
  • Kate Chopin's public statements on the suppression of women in marriage
  • the tendency in the history of Western metaphysics to privilege men over women
  • the relation between the brevity of the story, the use of the term hour in the title, diction and imagery that suggest brevity and rushing, the sudden ending, and the brevity of the time during which Mrs. Mallard enjoys her freedom.
  • the fact that Mrs. Mallard does not go into shock upon hearing the report that her husband is dead
  • the fact that the story was written during what Elaine Showalter calls the feminist period of women's writing
  • the fact that the narrator refers to Brently Mallard by his full name but always to Louise Mallard as Mrs. Mallard
  • the description of Mrs. Mallard as still "young" and "fair"
  • the fact that Brently Mallard "had never looked save with love upon" Mrs. Mallard
  • the fact that Mrs. Mallard "did not stop to ask if it were not a monstrous joy that held her"

  • the reader's gender; the implied reader's gender
     
    Terms
    dialectical materialism
    base
    superstructure
    bourgeoisie
    proletariat
    reflection theory
    Frankfurt School
    hegemony
    production theory
    interpellation
    political unconscious


    Bressler, Chapters 9 and 10, New Historicism and Cultural Studies

    1.  Discuss Josephine's and Richards's expectations of how the news of her husband's death will affect Mrs. Mallard as examples of the social rules to be found in the text of "The Story of an Hour."

    2.  Discuss Elizabeth Cady Stanton's speech, "The Solitude of Self," as a document that serves as a cultural context for "The Story of an Hour."  How might Chopin's story be interpreted as doing the same kind of cultural work as Stanton's speech and similar contemporary documents?

    3.  Which of the following elements would be most likely to be emphasized in a New Historicist or a cultural studies reading of "The Story of an Hour"?  Discuss any that create problems for you in making your selection.
     

  • the denotations and connotations of the meaning of the word freedom
  • Kate Chopin's marriage to Oscar Chopin
  • the death of Oscar Chopin
  • the irony captured in t he doctor's interpretation of the cause of Mrs. Mallard's death:  "the joy that kills"
  • the women's movement of the nineteenth century
  • the opposition between marriage and freedom in the story
  • Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women
  • the image of freedom as a lover
  • the narrator's "objective" tone
  • Chopin's other short stories and her novel The Awakening
  • a reader's views on marriage
  • society's views on marriage
  • the image of Mrs. Mallard as a goddess of Victory
  • the phallic image of Brently Mallard's key in t he door at the end of the story
  • the atmosphere outside Mrs. Mallard's bedroom window
  • the simile in the following passage:  "She sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless, except when a sob came up into her throat and shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dreams."
  • the motivations and behavior of Josephine and Richards
  • the fact that the Mallards are a middle class couple
  • Kate Chopin's public statements on the suppression of women in marriage
  • the tendency in the history of Western metaphysics to privilege men over women
  • the relation between the brevity of the story, the use of the term hour in the title, diction and imagery that suggest brevity and rushing, the sudden ending, and the brevity of the time during which Mrs. Mallard enjoys her freedom.
  • the fact that Mrs. Mallard does not go into shock upon hearing the report that her husband is dead
  • the fact that the story was written during what Elaine Showalter calls the feminist period of women's writing
  • the fact that the narrator refers to Brently Mallard by his full name but always to Louise Mallard as Mrs. Mallard
  • the description of Mrs. Mallard as still "young" and "fair"
  • the fact that Brently Mallard "had never looked save with love upon" Mrs. Mallard
  • the fact that Mrs. Mallard "did not stop to ask if it were not a monstrous joy that held her"

  • the reader's gender; the implied reader's gender
     
     
    Terms
    discourse
    episteme
    postcolonialism