Analysis of Formalist Criticism Example Within Literary Works

Literary criticism can be understood as a formal way of how people usually debate about their interpretations of literary works through normal conversations between friends in a common room. These types of discussions are common because of how people are interested in the difference of each person’s perspectives about a single subject like a movie or a book. Because of the differences of each text, various types of literary criticisms have evolved to explain further the different sides of each story. Formalist criticism example can be found through the “Formalist Literary Criticism” which can also be called as “New Criticism”. It is concerned on the text as an object that can be analyzed independent of the author, world, or reader. It is focused in a work’s setting, characters, symbols, and point of view.

Literary criticism is more common to students and literary enthusiasts who publish their analysis of literary works. It is essentially an opinion, supported by evidence, relating to theme, style, setting, or historical or political context. It usually includes discussion of the work’s content and integrates your ideas with other insights gained from research.

Formalism is an early twentieth century mode of criticism by a group of linguists and critics who formed the Society for the Study of Poetical Language in 1915. The Society wanted to organize a ‘purer’ approach to examining the text and avoid borrowing from other disciplines such as philosophy, sociology, and psychology. Formalists believe that the art-object can be isolated from social, cultural, and historical influences and examined as an autonomous whole. Formalists or new critics believe that written works should work mostly on the intellect. They also believe in 'art for art's sake,' 'content = form,' and 'texts exist in and for themselves.' These principles lead to the development of reading strategies that isolate the overt structures of texts.

One of the most famous literary criticism since the early 20th century was the feministic criticism. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s works were used mostly for this type of literary criticism being popular as a feminist writer around the same timeline. For this reason, the researchers decided to use Gilman’s work and analyze it using the formalist criticism. Charlotte Perkins Gilman was an American feminist, lecturer, writer, and publisher who was praised for her feminist works that pushed for equal treatment of women and for breaking out of stereotypical roles. She was one of the leading activists in the late 19th and early 20th century American women’s movement. Her works detailing how women’s lives were impacted by social and economic bias are still relevant until this day.

Unlike several other literary theory and analysis that have emerged within the last century, formalism has remained one of the most frequently used forms of literary criticism and analysis—partly because unlike feminist, postmodern, and other forms, it is less prone to changes in ideology.

Nicole Smith identified formalism as a controversial form of criticism, especially since critics often considered the author and his or her historical and social positioning when offering insights on works. The formalists argued that it was possible to devise a methodology that could be applied to any text.

Prior to formalism, literature had often been viewed as a product which was always attached to its creator. Also according to Smith, the formalists did not wish to apply any other theoretical constructs—sociological, historical, and psychoanalytic—to the reading of a text; rather, the text should, in their view, stand alone and be able to be understood on its own terms.

The formalist criticism example story was found in a blog post where authors analyzed Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” using the formalist criticism. It showed the forms of symbolism, imagery, and theme portraying the mixed emotions of a wife who just lost her husband. Many people may overlook some of the subtle things described in this short story as just being a common occurrence, but it is much deeper than that. Using the formalist criticism, critics can go more in depth with the story which helps bring out all of the great, hidden qualities the story possesses. Irving Howe states that once formalist literary theories are found within, entire aspects of the story change for the reader.

In a study entitled “Gothic and the Female Voice: Examining Charlotte Perkins Gilman's ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’”, the story is analyzed in its historical context and it’s realistic depictions. In the historical context, the story clearly dramatizes Gilman's own struggle with depression, writing, and living in a male-dominated society. On the other hand, in a realistic depiction, it shows what happens to the mind when faced with forced inactivity. It is also a realistic representation of human beings' desire to overcome feelings of uselessness. This study by Lisa Gaullo showed the story’s meaning depending on the author’s history at the time she wrote the said story, and its realistic representation that makes the readers relate to it.

But Angela Joy Tinggoy analyzed the same story using the formalist criticism. Her analysis showed that the different characteristics of each character affect the story greatly. The setting which contributes a big impact in the story because of the yellow wallpaper located inside the colonial mansion. The author makes used of a progressive plot which the events are chronologically written by the narrator. Gilman used words and phrases that are only used in their time. Mostly of her stories are in the first person view point merely focusing on the main characters side.

As mentioned in an article “A Short Introduction to Literary Criticism” by Saeed Farzaneh Fard, formalistic critics believe that all information essential to the interpretation of a work must be found within the work itself; there is no need to bring in outside information about the history, politics, or society of the time, or about the author’s life. Virtually all critical approaches must begin here.

“A Summary of Formalism” written on 2013 states that critics of formalism wondered why the author’s sociopolitical positioning was ignored yet it was the main source of insights and motivation during composition. According to the formalists’ argument, formalism was an attractive approach since one could devise a methodology that was applicable across a wide cross-section of literary works, regardless of geographical or historical considerations. Its form was the content.

Sutrismi says that one of the major concerns of formalism is unity in literature; the coming together of various parts of the text to build up a whole. For the formalist, in a successful text, format and content cannot be separated because form also has meaning. In Formalism, the text is analyzed based on the relationship between the form of the text and the content of the text. 

According to Arda Arikan on his research “Formalist (Linguistic) Criticism in an English Language Teacher Education Program: The Reward Approach”, formalist criticism helped to fight against students’ misconceptions of many literary points. Some students had verbalized that classics were hard to understand because ‘they were written in a different period of time in which the spoken language was complex and different from that of todays. Some others discussed that classics included many detailed and lengthy descriptions because ‘authors preferred to be wordy in order to be realistic which was a requirement of the period in which the text was produced.’ Formalist criticism helped clear the mist surrounding the nature of good writing, including many of the classics, and how classics were written in technical terms.

New Criticism was rather unique because a sizable number of practicing. New Critics were also active as poets, novelists, and short-story writers, while almost all literary critics today are exclusively scholars and academics. Despite the numerous flaws of an exclusively New Critical approach, the New Critics were one of the most successful schools of literary theory in the admittedly brief history of literary studies. New Critics are undoubtedly the most influential, and longest-lasting, of all critical schools.. Current scholars are beginning to reevaluate the methods of the New Critics in order to apply them to the broader fields of culturally and politically relevant criticism that have emerged, and it is clear that many of the ideas of the New Critics—and those of Formalists at large—are far from obsolete.

In conclusion, although formalism basically ignores the context of the work, this kind of critical approach is one of the most important approaches. It emphasizes the value of literature apart from its context; all critical approach, in effect makes literature timeless, and it can also be performed without much research. Formalism, moreover, focuses on the construction of the fundamentals of the story. It connects it from one another to emphasize that a certain piece of literature is cannot be understood when it is separated to each other. 

10 October 2022
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