Background Information Should Be Used!

Thinking back to when we discussed as a class should the background information of the authors life be used to determine why is it that an author writes? Well from my point of view  since class discussions we tend to go back to an authors bibliography’s and background information in the book then truthfully it should be used to determine why an author writes. Authors write what they know and they write what they experienced and what they been thorough. For example take Ms. Dalloway for instance  the character Septimus was dealing with a post traumatic stress disorder in the novel he was having hullicantions of his friend that died in the war, it’s similar  to when we take a look at Woolf’s background story she too was dealing with a disorder a bipolar disorder. What she was going through and the way she was feeling during her time period must of have a tremendous effect on how she wanted to portrade Sptimus as to use Septimus as a figure to speak for her without her explicitly telling the readers what her state of mind was at the moment. Woolf used Septimus as a war hero  suffering from shell shock to even speak to the readers how the first world war even still scared her, it traumatized her in a way and for that background information should be used to determine why it is  an author writes. I don’t care what Philosophers and critics say that you should disregard what you know about the author and focus on what your getting from the text. I feel if anything knowing the background information helps us to not only understand the text better but to be able to engage in the text more and have a sense of feeling that your in the book and your experiencing and seeing what’s being described on those pages.

What Do You Think?

Based on wednesday’s class discussion that the Androgynous mind is sexless and that it is both the mind of a man and woman, thinking about this it poses the question  should any man and woman give up the way that they think and just focus on thinking the same? Is that even possible is my thought? I honestly don’t think a woman can just give up her views and think the same as a man nor can a man give up his views and the way he sees things and think the same as a woman. For the two to become one in thought it’s very hard for me to picture happening. The reason for this is that woman for a long time have their own feminist perspective on different situations like the case of say something is said in a book isn’t going to be the same way a man judge the book the same he’s going to have his own perspective on the idea. The two individual can simple agree with each other on the same idea but to disregard their individual views and think the same I don’t see it happening.

Psychological Criticism and Dickinson’s Poetry

The psychological approach is a unique form of criticism in that it draws upon psychological theories in its interpretation of a text. Linking the psychological and literary worlds bring a kind of scientific aspect into literary criticism. The three branches of psychological criticism that we have discussed in class are Psychoanalytic criticism, trauma and Cognitive criticism.

The first approach that we have discussed was psychoanalytic criticism. According to our Dictionary of Critical Theory, psychoanalysis is, “1) a discipline founded on a procedure for the investigation of mental processes that are otherwise inaccessible because they are unconcious; 2) a therapeutic method for the treatment of neurotic disorders; and 3) a body of psychological data evovling into a new scientific discipline.” Freud believes that society sublimates, or channels its unconscious through the creative process. This is where literature come into play. When criticizing Emily Dickinson’s poetry a psychoanalytic approach can be utilized. Take for example Dickinson’s poem There’s a certain slant of light,:

There’s a certain slant of light,
On winter afternoons,
That oppresses, like the weight
Of cathedral tunes.

Heavenly hurt it gives us;
We can find no scar,
But internal difference
Where the meanings are.

None may teach it anything,
‘Tis the seal, despair,-
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the air.

When it comes, the landscape listens,
Shadows hold their breath;
When it goes, ‘t is like the distance
On the look of death.

The psychoanalytic critic would look of the unconscious desires sublimated by Dickinson in her poem. In the psychoanalyst’s mind everyone’s actions are governed by sexual/pleasure seeking motives. Dickinson would have these desires and since they cannot be expressed in society she must sublimate them in her creative outlet, poetry. For example, with Freud’s theories in mind, we might draw the conclusion that Dickinson got a sexual pleasure from pain.

The second approach of psychological criticism discussed in class is trauma. According to Caruth’s article Trauma and Experience: Introduction”, “…in trauma the greatest confrontation with reality may also occur as an absolute numbing to it, that immediacy, paradoxically enough, may take the form of belatedness.” The affects of trauma on an author can manifest itself in their writing. Say for instance we learned that Emily Dickinson’s mother had killed herself in front her, this traumatic experience would be influential on her writing and we could interpret her poems with this in mind. (Trauma does not stand so much on it’s own as it is linked to psychoanalysis. The unconscious desires, perhaps influenced by trauma, of an author are the true meanings underlying all of their work.)

The third approach of psychological criticism discussed in class is the Cognitive Approach. Whereas the psychoanalytic approach  focused on the author and why they wrote what they wrote, the cognitive approach focuses on the reader and how their mind works while reading literature. This approach explains why humans associate certain mindsets with situations. The process is scientific in nature and draws evidence such as evolutionary findings to support its claim. The cognitive critic would read Dickinson’s poem, There’s a certain slant of light, and focus on what mindsets the reader associates with each line and why they do so. Through an understanding of a cognitive approach on literary works such as Dickinson’s poetry the reader can reach a better understanding of the poem’s intellectual complexity and the logic behind how easily they can follow what is going on in the poems.



Dickinson’s poem:

Dictonary of Literary Theory by David Macey

Trauma and Experience: Introduction by Cathy Caruth


In Her Head: Psychological Criticism and Dickinson

Photo of Emily Dickinson

A photo of Emily Dickinson taken in 1848.


Psychological Analysis, in its simplest form, is the dissection of an author’s works and theuse of these parts to understand their subconscious (Or, sometimes, conscious) intentions. As subjects for psychological analysis go, Emily Dickinson is as good a candidate as any. For much of her fifty-six years of life the poet remained at home and out of the public life. She shared her works mostly through letters with friends and family and, for the most part, rarely communicated with others. The poet kept council with friends or those in her family and her talents as a poet weren’t appreciated during her lifetime.

Now, we don’t want to go too much into the writer’s life. This is a post about psychological criticism, after all, not biographical. But this pension for isolationism can’t be ignored in the analysis and, in a way, forms the main point of Dickinson’s life and subconscious drives. Many of Dickinson’s works focus on loneliness and inward reflection, a habit that can be described as a subconscious, or unintentional, drive towards expressing her own isolationism.

Now, to start, it’s wise to delve into the root of this isolationism in Dickinson. Using bibliographic evidence it is hard to say why Dickinson had such a deep-seated desire to remain at home. Even at a young age she preferred to remain around her family, evident when she left Mount Holyoke Female Seminary when the homesickness became too much. It’s very probable that the desire to not leave home is an unconscious desire born from some past trauma, a topic Cathy Caruth dedicates some attention to in her work. Yet Dickinson’s past is so incomplete and any sign of trauma so buried that it is unlikely to find any source on the topic.

With biographical evidence lacking the written word is the next step. In the title-less “I had been hungry all the years” the speaker details how she, starving for so long, is given a chance to eat but, ultimately, refuses. Now, with psychological criticism you can look at the poem’s subject matter two ways: The food is literal and it is a poem written by someone who is suffering from anorexia or the food is a metaphor, the meal representing the things that the rest of the world enjoys (Everyone eats, after all) and that her presence as one of the “persons outside windows” means that the speaker is an outsider, only ever observing the action of “eating” and never partaking herself.

Social interaction has never looked so delicious.

Now, it could be that Dickinson suffered from Anorexia. The ailment was certainly around at Dickinson’s time and, while there is no evidence to support it, neither is their evidence to deny it. More likely, however, is this idea of the poem tapping into Dickinson’s own feelings of being isolated from society. She is the one outside the window, always watching other people indulging themselves on the pleasures of life. When given the chance to indulge herself in this meal, however, she is tempted but ultimately refuses, finding that she has no appetite for the food.

Using psychological criticism alone we can tell that Dickinson, through whatever early trauma or twist of subconscious imprinting, has lost her ‘appetite’ for social interaction. She is content with her place and is content with her life at home. She surrounds herself with family members who she has already formed bonds with, and for the writer that seems to be enough. And in a way she is fine with that: In the last stanza of the poem she accepts that she has no need for what others think they need to survive and accepts her psychological state, for good or ill.

Biographical Information

Online Poetry Source 


The Dirt on “Home Burial:” Biographical Criticism and the Poetry of Robert Frost

I’ll define biographical criticism as a critical approach that uses the events of an author’s life to explain meaning in the author’s work. Examples are ubiquitous and familiar: Samuel Clemens piloted a riverboat in the Antebellum Era, John Steinbeck researched migrant workers and families in California before publishing Grapes of Wrath, and Joseph Conrad captained a steamboat in the Congo. Chaucer’s grandmother, according to my AP English teacher, served as his inspiration for the Wife of Bath. Even as early as my 7th grade English class, I learned that Shakespeare had a son named Hamnet who died around the time the Bard wrote Hamlet.

According to Benson, a biographical approach considers a work’s first-order context – the author’s life – and recognizes literary study as being an art not a science (110). He places it at odds with New Criticism, so a work takes on a different meaning when viewed through the lens of an author’s life.

Let’s attempt a biographical critique of Frost’s “Home Burial.” We read it in class and know already that Frost and his wife Elinor, just like the poem’s couple, lost their first-born son soon after his birth. Because the poem is long, I suggest a new tab for this link to follow along at home.

Imagine the author of "Stopping by Woods..." threatening his sister from this porch

Frost’s poems are often in first person, so it seems ironic that this poem is written not only in dialogue but also in third-person. A way of pushing away a poem that Frost called “sad” and never read aloud in public (Thompson 598)? Perhaps, but Thompson gives several more details about the poem’s background. Frost admitted the emotional parallels between him and his wife after their child’s death and Amy’s and her husband’s after theirs. Amy’s declamation that “the world’s evil” in Line 110 is a verbatim quote from Elinor Frost following her own child’s death.

The true subject of the poem – from a biographical perspective – is the death of Frost’s nephew, child of his sister-in-law Leona White Harvey, in 1895. It was her relationship with her husband that inspired the poem. Thompson implies yet another connection to Frost’s life, this time to his childhood in San Francisco. In the index under “Home Burial,” he lists page 10. While no reference to the poem exists on that page, it does describe how Frost’s mother would at times leave the house when his and flee to a neighbor’s when his father was drunk. If I may posit my own connection, a fight with his sister Jeannie (Thompson 340) in which he used a loaded pistol to force her back into the house may have inspired the force alluded to at the poem’s closing. Also, the poem was written in England at a time when Frost was homesick.

Those life events are the personal context for “Home Burial.” Rather than adding meaning to the poem, whose text remains unchanged, these revelations about Frost’s life and the poem’s possible inspirations change the interpretation of Frost’s life. Biographical criticism may explain the personal context of the poem, but it does not explain the poem’s meaning, its significance.

Rather, as we discussed today in class, it limits the interpretations. Because we know Frost’s and Harvey’s firstborn children died, we assume also that Amy and her husband lost their firstborn. No mention is made of other children, but they might be there (lack of evidence is not evidence of absence). The attendant implications for Amy and her husband’s relationship are enormous; “Newlyweds” weathering a crisis from their first child’s death is more tragic and dangerous than parents struggling with the death of their third.

I argue biographical criticism casts the choices inherent in writing as clues to the author’s personality – not the poem’s meaning. In this way, Frost’s oeuvre is the leading witness in finding meaning in Frost. We can see him taking different strategies when dealing with an emotional Elinor, progressing from belittling, to consolation, to denunciation, to confrontation. In this way biographical criticism creates an interpretation of the author, as Foucault suggests, and can reveal much about the times and culture of when the work was written.



*** on this last link, click “ok” – it will take you to the search terms in the catalog

Useful Linkage:

Mrs. Dalloway: beginning and ending

This week we have been discussing pages 3-4 and pages 179-182 of Mrs. Dalloway in relation to the themes of death/life, fun/fear (terror), communication (empathy, connection), and time. We are particularly interested in the use of free indirect discourse. Are there comments about these passages that you’d like to add? Feel free to do so here! (And don’t forget that we have another month of discussion on Mrs. Dalloway, so these themes will recur….)