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Notes: 1) Of lines need to be more connected. 2) Is a bit too long on the Historicism 3) Is too brief. 5) Is a bit choppy, analysis more of the New Historicism 6) Is too generalized, stay focused on New Historicism 7) Needs to be closer to the topic. 9) Is a little weak and too generalized
Total word count 1383
1)There are various ways to critique and analyse literature. These methods have evolved over time and approach the critique of literature from a very different perspective. New criticism provides a critical method of interpretation of literary works but this paper focuses on New historicism which is a method which lays stress on analysing literature through the cultural context. The story a portrait of “The Artist as a Young Man” can be critiqued by understanding the context of political unrest of 1890s, theological struggles and struggle for independence.
2) Prior to 1980’s, examining a work in-depth and evaluating its syntax were common approaches. The social conditions of the society and the biography of the author were considered useless and aspects like metaphor, rhythm and meter were considered more important. It was only in 1980s that a new approach was developed by Greenblatt (Tiwary and Chandra, 2009) which said that a text was the product of its context. This approach was New Historicism. New historicism is based on the idea that literature ought to be interpreted keeping in mind the context of the history of the author as well as that of the critic. The author’s times and circumstances along with the environment and prejudice of the critic have an influence.
3)It is in this regard that new historicism is based on the assumption that literature cannot be detached from the culture and society. A text can be understood completely only if there is an understanding of the culture and society of the time when the text was written. Stephen is an intelligent person and is very sensitive as well. Even though he struggles to find peace in patriotism, morality and faith, he finds tranquillity only in art. He is happy until he gets exposed to this understanding that things are not back and white but rather grey as well. He is unable to get himself to blindly trust and pray to God or to have faith in things.
4)“A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” is a semi-autobiographical novel in which Stephan Dedalus, the protagonist is a fictional alter ego for Joyce. The story has Dublin’s history, culture and society because the setting of the story is in Dublin. It is the society which helps in the awakening of Stephen and he ends up questioning catholic and Irish conventions. There are various instances in the story when the concept of new historicism can be applied.
5)The first criticism of the text can be done when Stephen’s friend Davin tells him ”a man’s country comes first, Ireland first’’ (185), he replies, ”do you know what Ireland is? It is the old sow which eats her farrow.” It is the protagonist’s anger for his country of that time. This anger may or may not be applicable in the present context. He is finding it difficult to deal with the political, theological and social condition and he isn’t proud of anything. He is unable to believe in the church and the politics and refuses to serve in them. The Ireland of that time, did in fact paralyze the artist in the protagonist. The only solution left is to flee the place because everything seems stagnant. He doesn’t flee the place at first because there are something that he really likes about the place. But ultimately he has to sacrifice everything in his life to be an artist.
6)Furthermore, in this story, the mood of the society and the nation is depicted. The struggle to reach their independence, the political mood of the country, and the religious aspects at that time are all clearly seen in the book. Stephen is also unhappy with this family and feels distanced from them as well apart from the society. He is unable to understand the relationship that he shares with his father. This is a clear cut case of a person who is a rebel against the society of that time. Someone who opposes the society is also very likely to be in an opposite direction to the family as well. This is how this story becomes a slice of the history of Dublin and Ireland. Even though this is not history in the formal sense, one can know and understand history in an indirect manner through this book. One aspect which seems to be missing in the political context is the Act of Union (1800) (Mezey, J.H. 1999). The mood at that time was not mentioned in the book.
7)There is no denying the fact that the kind of questions we ask and the analysis that we do in the present times is also having an influence of our own culture and environment. It is only today that one can understand the aspects like questioning religion, moving to another place for becoming an artist or the meaning of a city which is stagnant and suffocating. Many such questions would be useless or would be asked differently at that time. For instance, if a critic has felt purposeless and aimless in life in the present day, he will be able to relate better to the condition Stephen. If a critique feels helpless about his place, he will be able to understand the helplessness which was being faced by Stephen.
8)Acting against one’s family and society could be common in the present times but was not so common at that time. It is easier to understand the concept in the present context than it is to understand during those times. Understanding the confusions that a young child can develop after listening to various viewpoints on politics and religion is also clear in the story. Stephen develops this confusion when he is invited to the dinner table with adults for the first time and is very happy about it. This is the Christmas dinner (Toolan, M., 1987), therefore, he has to witness a heated argument between two elders and which leaves him completely confused.
9)The feeling of one’s hometown being less modern and having less opportunities is also very understandable in the present context because everyone has these feelings in the current times. Even though there are little things that Stephen is attached to and finds beauty in, there are some things which he hates a lot. He thinks that people have a lot more potential and they are not using it completely. He is frustrated to see this lack of ambition and purpose. He is also not able to understand the reason for no one questioning some fundamentally confusing and questionable things. The feeling of being rootless (Woodward, A.G., 2009) is also very understandable.
10)It is safe to conclude that by looking at literature and history as a part of the cultural exchange, one can critique a portrait of the artist as a young man in a unique manner. One can understand the contexts of the events and the understanding also has a bearing of the present context of the critique. The context of political unrest of 1890s, theological struggles and struggle for independence are all alive in the story. The story is not a complete fiction because it ends up being a window to the history of Dublin in those times.
Mezey, J.H. 1999. Ireland, Europe, The World, The Universe: Political Geography in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Journal of Modern Literature. Volume 22, Number 2, Winter 1998/1999. pp. 337-348
Tiwary and Chandra. 2009. New Historicism and Arundhati Roy’s Works. Journal of Literature, Culture and Media Studies. Number 1, Summer, June 2009. Retrieved from http://www.inflibnet.ac.in/ojs/index.php/JLCMS/article/viewfile/8/7 on January 6th, 2016.
Toolan, M. 1987. Analysing Conversation in Fiction: The Christmas Dinner Scene in Joyce’s: “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”. Poetics Today. Vol. 8, No. 2 (1987), pp. 393-416. DOI: 10.2307/1773043