Literary Theory - A Brief Memoir
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Literary Theory - A Brief Memoir

The course which almost drove me crazy.

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Literary Theory - A Brief Memoir
Rich Grundy

It was quite possibly the longest eight weeks I’ve experienced thus far in my pursuit of a BA in English/Creative Writing. If you’ve never experienced this brain melting course for yourself, picture eight weeks of abstract, comfort-zone violating thought. Consider the stress that is no right or wrong answer, but your answer definitely isn’t right… but neither is it wrong. Picture eight weeks of thinking outside the box, as well as inside the box, around the box, pretending the box isn’t actually there, hyper-focusing on what the box is made of, or worried about who the box belongs to.

That’s what a Literary Theory course is like. Eight weeks thinking your brain might explode at any time.

Literary Theory is, essentially, the tool box from which we draw upon in order to interpret a literary work. Put another way, Literary Theory is the set of principals or tools by which we attempt to understand a work of literature; the theories that reveal what literature can mean.

That doesn’t help at all, does it? Let me try this another way. When we read a story, we draw our own interpretations, meanings and conclusions from it. Stories will impact us all in unique ways. What literary theory does is provide a lens through which to examine these stories closer. “Close Reading,” the practice is called. There are many different lenses, and each one will cast the story in a different light.

For example, you could look at a story through the lens of psychoanalytic theory, using the ideas of Sigmund Freud to analyze the character’s motivations. Or, perhaps you identify with feminism, and recognize the ways that women are portrayed. There are theories that focus on the historical context of the work, and theories that ignore it and the authors intentions completely, looking only at the way the story is written. There are even literary theories that focus on how the story made the reader feel based on their own personal experiences.

Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? It is, until you dive in head first and try it. These literary theories are difficult to understand because each has its own set of rules, tenets and vocabulary that must be strictly adhered to in order to apply the theory successfully. All you have to go on, as a student mind you, is the scholarly explanations and studies of those with years of theoretical experience and their textbook attempts to teach it to you. Never mind that you are expected to grasp each theory well enough in one week’s time to apply it to a literary work. Never mind that you only have a handful of weeks to get the big picture idea of a vast concept that can take years to grasp just one variation of.

Have I worried you yet? If not, you are a brave and stout-hearted individual, and I commend you and wish you the best of luck in your literary theory journey. May you find deeper insight and greater understanding! If I have, allow me to try and ease your concern. I passed my Literary Theory class. It was difficult, yes, but completely passable by a dedicated student. You will work hard, you will feel lost and confused and in despair at times, ready to yank out your hair or quit altogether. You will likely walk away with little more understanding than when you started, but you can make it through! You can pass Literary Theory, too!

This brief article acts as a release and therapy from my time with Literary Theory. A way for this author to unload the burden it created, and perhaps give a head’s up to what one can expect if a Literary Theory class is in their future. Remember, it may be a difficult step down whatever road you are on. But it is a step that you can push through and make no matter how difficult it may seem. I did it, my classmates did it, and class upon class has done it before and will do so again. I’m proud of this achievement. You will be, too.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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