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In the book called Critical Theory Today, written by Lois Tyson, she talks about many different theories. When Tyson says “Knowledge is what constitutes our relationship to our world for it is the lens through which we view our world. Change the lens and you change both the view and the viewer,” he is saying that based on each person’s knowledge, they view the world differently than others do. For example; someone who keeps having bad things happen to them such as their car getting stolen or their house getting robbed, they will think that the world is cruel. A person who has not had any of that happen to them may think that the world is a beautiful place. As Tyson also mentions in the book, some people see the values of the world while others only see the limitations of it. The second part of the quote means that the viewer has a completely different view than others because they see the world differently than others. Their lens is different because they bring certain things into focus while blurring other things out. An example of this would be trying on different glasses. Some glasses focus on the things that are nearby, only allowing what’s in front of you to be seen, while other glasses allow you to see things far ahead. People chose what they want to see and how they see it. When looking through the psychoanalytic and marxist lens, feminism is explained through both of those lenses. New criticism teaches us why people read and understand the text the way that they do. African Americans share many similarities that lesbians, gays, and queers do. All of those groups faced a lot of discrimination. Each lens sends out a different message to each reader.
The first topic that Tyson talks about is Psychoanalysis. She states that psychoanalytic criticism has “become part of our everyday lives…” (Tyson 11). Psychoanalysis is important to understand because it helps us understand human behaviors. It helps us understand why a person acts the way that they do. Things that can affect the way that they are would be their past experiences from their childhood and adulthood. The unconscious, which is painful experiences and emotions that are stored within us, plays a big role in psychoanalysis. When it comes to Feminism, psychoanalysis “can be used to help us understand the psychological effects of patriarchal ideology as well as why women and men internalize it” (Tyson 94). Feminist criticism explains ways that literature reinforces the economic, political, social, and psychological oppression of women. When looking through the psychoanalytic lens, women are lower than men both economically and socially. “Feminism “attempts to reveal the ways in which patriarchal gender roles are the ultimate source of our experience,” explains Tyson (Tyson 281). Many jobs pay men higher than women. This is because women are expected to sit at home, clean, cook, and take care of the children. Men are expected the opposite. They are seen as the only ones who should be bringing money home. Tyson also states that “many feminists draw on elements of psychoanalytic and Marxist theory as well as other critical theories because they find them useful in examining issues relevant to women’s experience (Tyson 94).
Next Tyson talks about Marxism. Marxism is having and keeping economic power when it comes to social and political activities such as education, philosophy, religion, government, the arts, science, technology, and the media (Tyson 53). When it comes to looking through the Marxist lens, human events and human productions can’t be understood without understanding the circumstances in which the events occur. Feminism heavily relies on Marxism. Marxism and Feminism are linked because both groups praise or favor a side and see it as greater or better than the other. Marxist theory is useful in examining issues relevant to women’s experience. Before the 1920’s, women were not allowed to vote because many people believed that they weren’t as intelligent as men were. Since women stayed at home doing house chores, they didn’t always get to go to school. Therefore, they were looked down upon for their intelligence. Women were also abused and raped. They were seen as useless because of their past and who they are. Today, many women are still looked down upon. They still have certain gender roles and don’t fully have all the things that men do, such as the types of jobs and salaries.
New Criticism involves our interpretations when reading and writing literature. Tyson states that each person’s interpretations of a text are based on their past experiences. She also mentions that “like all human beings, historians live in a particular time and place, and their views of both current and past events are influenced in innumerable conscious and unconscious ways by their own experience within their own culture” (Tyson 137).The author may have had intended a different interpretation for the readers than what they really are interpreting. The way that a person interprets the text is based on their own decision. Sometimes the text does not live up to the author’s standards, however, sometimes it has more meaning to it than the author intended it to have. Tyson said that the “readers’ feelings or opinions about a text may be produced by some personal association from past experiences rather than by the text” (Tyson 137). For example: If one is afraid of heights, they will not be interested in reading a book that talks all about skydiving and bungee jumping. When reading the text, that person will be uninterested and may think that it is not a very smart idea to do those activities. On the other hand, one who enjoys activities that involve adrenaline will be interested in the text. They will find some type of purpose in it. When it comes to New criticism, readers use “close reading” by carefully examining the text in order to interpret it. A Marxist critic would agree with new criticism. Both of these theories explain that human actions and thoughts cannot be understood if their past experiences and emotions are not understood. When one examines a person’s past, they get a more clear image as to why they act the way that they do. In literature, one’s understandings and thoughts are all based on the things that happened to them in the past.
African American criticism and lesbian, gay, and queer criticism all have a few things in common. When it comes to lesbians, gays, and queers, many of them today are afraid to come out and express themselves. This is because they are afraid of what those around them will think of them or what they will say. Tyson states that “today, gay men and lesbians in America still face discrimination in the military; in obtaining jobs and housing; in using public facilities, such as hotels and taverns; in areas of family law such as the right to marry…” (Tyson 320). These types of people are looked down upon at times. Some people think that gays, lesbians, and queers are sick and evil. Back in the 1800’s, African Americans were discriminated for their color and race. Many were bought into slavery. African Americans were not allowed to drink from the same drinking fountains as white people did. They were also not allowed to go to the same schools. African American children had to walk several miles each day to school even though they had schools near them. The colored people were not allowed to vote. They had to take literacy tests that were extremely hard and did not make any sense. None of them ever passed them. This was done purposely so that they won’t have any rights. Also, African Americans were not allowed to sit on buses together with the white people. Looking at all the problems that the lesbians, gays, queers, and African Americans faced shows that both categories face discrimination due to who they are.
Lesbian criticism is similar with feminism. Tyson mentions that both of these theories came from the “same soil,” meaning that they come from the same background. Most lesbian critics are feminists because they are concerned with issues that relate to personal identity and politics. However, feminism addresses the issues that are related to sexism and the difficulties that come along with it, while lesbian criticism addresses the issues that are related to both sexism and heterosexism. Both feminists and lesbians have suffered discrimination because of who they are. Today, many still have to face it because it is not accepted by everyone.
Structuralism is made up of two levels: the visible and invisible level. The visible level consists of activities, objects, and the behaviors that we observe, participate in, and interact with each day. The invisible level includes structures that organize everything in order for it all to make sense. For example: the English language has more than one million words that can be pronounced multiple ways. The different ways that a speaker says them all have a different meaning to them. Tyson states that structuralists believe that the structures “are generated by the human mind, which is thought of a structuring mechanism” (Tyson 211). The way that we see the structures does not give results as to how we see the world. When looking through a structuralist lense, it can help us see the similarities and differences between two groups. Tyson mentions that “structuralist principles can be used to study underlying similarities among the experiences and productions of women from various cultures as well as underlying similarities in the ways they are oppressed.
New historicism and cultural criticism are very similar. New historicism asks why the event happened and why the interpreters are interpreting the information the way that they are. Tyson mentions that new historicists “don’t believe we have a clear access to any but the most basic facts of history” (Tyson 283). New historicism rejects New Criticism’s idea of providing information beyond the history. Tyson uses an example to explain this; she says that an author’s background cannot be used to understand their work. New historicism and cultural criticism share the view that human history and culture constitute (Tyson 295). Both theories argue that human experience does not give us any further information.
In conclusion, each theory creates a different theory. In order to understand one theory, a person must first understand another theory. All the different types of theories define each other. Some theories may agree with each other, while others disagree. They both have similarities and differences among each other when looking through the different lenses. They way that each person sees each theory through the different lenses is all based on what had happened in their past. Their past experiences affect their understanding of literature. Also, not everyone interprets the same message that the author had intended them to. After reading Tyson’s book, Critical Theory Today, I have gained better knowledge of the meanings of each theory.
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