New Historicism Literary Criticism Essay

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New Historicism Literary Criticism

Before I go into a discussion about New Historicism Literary Criticism I would like to begin with what Literary Criticism is. According to Pathfinders literary criticism is the evaluation, analysis, description, or interpretation of literary works. It is usually in the form of a critical essay. There are many types of literary criticism such as cultural, archetypal (mythological), marxist, feminist/gender, and many more. The true purposes of literary criticism are to help us resolve a question, problem, or difficulty in the reading, to help us decide which is the better of two conflicting readings, and to enable us to form judgments about literature.

New historicism criticism is set out to find the meaning in a text by considering the work within the framework of a prevailing idea(s) and assumptions of its historical era. It explores the historical, social, political, and cultural contexts surrounding the creation and reception of a work of literature. New historicists concern themselves with the political function of literature and with the concept of power, the intricate means by which cultures produce and reproduce themselves. New historicists reacted against earlier theorists who isolated works of literature from their historical context for a pure concentration on the words on the page. New historicists argue that works of literature do not independently transcend their time, as the New Criticism claimed, but are instead always socially and politically implicated within their historical context. These critics focus on revealing the historically specific model of truth and authority reflected in a given work.

Historical criticism examines both the time period within the story and the time period in which the story was written. The responses of the original audience are of interest to the historical critic, as are the meanings and implications of specific words, symbols, images, and characters through time. We can hardly understand the characters' lives without some sense of the time and place in which they lived, and we can hardly understand the author's purpose without understanding the cultural norms and events during the writing of the work.

New historicists suggest that as history is always interpreted and written in other words, but a practice bound up with the historian’s interpretative subjectivity. The historian’s own social and cultural context results in potential biases that new historicists argue will be reflected in writings that record history. New historicists promote the idea that history is not closed or final, as traditional historians would claim, but is found in acts of interpretation that can negotiate new readings of the textual traces of the past.

The approach of new historicism argues that a work of literature does not exist devoid of its conditions or circumstances. In this light, literary works are as much a product of the author's mindset as well as the conditions that surround it. The historical and social context of the author is almost as important as anything else in assessing the construction of the literary work. In this light, New Historicism is based off of the contingent, stressing its role in the development of literature. This can be seen in many works. I think that Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children are a fine example, because only through understanding how the experience of Partition, homelands that exist in the subjective, and the idea of displacement in Rushdie's own life can the full magnitude of the novel be explored. The works of Nadine Gordimer are another example of how the New Historicist approach can yield greater insight into the work. When seen…