Biographical Criticism Essay

Literature is always said to be the echo of life. It reflects the time, the mind’s state, and author’s life. Whenever one looks into any literature piece, they do not only read what is on the text but also try to understand the context that matters. These contexts include the life of the author, the era it was written, the social condition during the time it was set, and others. There are many ways in which a literary piece can be read and interpreted. The act of interpreting a literary text is called literary criticism.

As said by Lamb (2003), literary criticism is an attempt to assess and comprehend the creative writing, the literature of an author. In this paper, the researcher uses a type of literary criticism to institute the meaning of the text. The researcher uses biographical approach to literary criticism. Eagleton (1996) describes this approach as a strategy of relating the author’s life and thoughts to his/her works. This allows the reader to understand elements employed in the work, plus to relate works to authorial meaning and readers.

MHS Composition Guide states that there are central biographical questions needed to reflect on in taking this approach. These questions are: • What biographical facts has the author used in the text? • What biographical facts has the author changed? • What insights do we acquire about the author’s life by reading the text? • How do these facts and insights increase (or diminish) our understanding of the text? These questions wil used in the development of the body of this paper. In this paper, the researcher also attempts to give assessment in life to her short story, and to the main character of the short story “The Story of an Hour”.

Horward (2005) states that Katherine O’Flaherty, also known as Kate Chopin, was one of the most renowned female writers of her time. Her universal themes are what made her extraordinary. She wrote several short stories including “The Story of an Hour”, “Euphrase”, “Mrs. Mobry’s Reason”, “A Shameful Affair” and many others. Kate Chopin was raised into a home of women in St. Louis. This had been a very big influence to her writings, mainly on her views about feminism – views about women. Chopin was later widowed at 32, and there she started writing for herself and for her six children.

Chopin was an extensive reader that is why she was able to write stories of herself into creative ones. In the early 1970’s, it was the resurrection of women’s rights movements, and Kate Chopin was one of those contributors to the occurrence. She contributed a lot with her writings about women, daytime dramas, the feminine mystique, women’s liberation, Mars vs. Venus, self-help and open marriages. Definitely, Kate Chopin’s early experiences had a great influence on her writings. One of her celebrated short stories is “The Story of an Hour” and it is entirely famous not only in American Literature – but also in the world.

While reading the short story, the reader finds connection between the life of the author and the life of the main character of the short story. These connections are the similarities that the reader had taken into consideration: Chopin and Her Father’s Loss One of the main events in the story is a loss of someone very important, more particularly, Mrs. Mallard’s husband’s loss. Josephine, Mrs. Mallard’s sister, had brought the sad message that there was a railroad disaster and of those listed as ‘killed’ was Brently Mallard, who was Mrs. Mallard’s husband.

In Kate’s life, she had lost someone too, in a railroad accident in 1855 to a train accident. A Widow Mrs. Mallard is sooner or later, assumed to be a widow, but readers will soon find out that Mr. Mallard is alive. In Kate’s life, his father had widowed her mother. Both experienced having lost someone very special and as well as being widowed but definitely, their responses to the loss may entirely be different. In the end, before she would have learned about Brently’s return from the accident, Louise died of heart disease – of joy that kills. This suggests that she had a monstrous joy, because it killed and consumed her to death.

Perhaps, Chopin would just let Louise die instead of seeing Brently again, wherein she will be living like a prison again. Freedom for Women In “The Story of An Hour”, Chopin has made no suggestion to the readers that Mrs. Mallard was sorry for her husband’s loss. Instead, she has uttered ‘over under her breath’: “free, free, and free! ”, which suggests how happy Mrs. Mallard is to have lost her husband, because she has now freedom of herself. The joy she senses in possessing her freedom is something which consumes her. In Kate’s life, she was used to write about resurgence of women’s rights.

She experience a period when there was this declined and confinement of women’s public needs like education, the vote, rights to her own property and her own children. Those events drove her to write this kind of feminist text instead of choosing other universal themes. Briefly, the title of this novel, “The Story of an Hour” is a image of the feelings provoked by the main character, Louise Mallard. In connection to this, it can be confirmed that this novel is a reference to Kate Chopin’s life since most of the events in Louise’s life are similar, or at least made a great influence to that of the story, “The Story of an Hour”.

The biographical approach made by the researcher accomplishes its purpose because an understanding able of the issues behind the book went through by tracing the history and life of Kate Chopin. Literature can bring us to the world of the author. Therefore, this research established that literature reflects the time, state of mind, and the life of the author through understanding the connection between Kate Chopin and Mrs. Mallard in the short story, “The Story of an Hour. ” References:

Original Text: References Chopin, K. (1976). The Awakening and Selected Stories of Kate Chopin. New York: Signet Classic. Eagleton, T. (1996). Biographical Approach. An introduction to Literary Theories (2 ed. ) University of Minnesota Press. Horward, A. ( 2005). A Woman Ahead of Her Time. Retrieved 28 April 2010 from: http://www. angelfire. com/nv/English243/Chopin. html Lamb, A. (2003). The topic: literary criticism. Retrieved 24 April 2010 from: <http://42explore. com/litcrit. htm>

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.

 

Referenced:

http://www.jstor.org/stabl

http://dksn.sirsi.net/uhtbin/cgisirsi/?ps=imHqbyGYdK/SIRSI/22350016/9 

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

Useful Linkage:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biographical_criticism

Posted inBiographical Criticism | TaggedElinor White Frost, Foucault, Frost Biographical Criticism, Home Burial, Jeanie Florence Frost, Robert Frost |

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