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Literary Theory essay
← Symbolic Conflicts in ‘Young Goodman Brown’Three Faces of Death →

Literary Theory. Custom Literary Theory Essay Writing Service || Literary Theory Essay samples, help


1. What (according to Prof. Arndt) is the point of literary theory?

 Professor Arndt explains that the main point of literary theory is to guide us whenever tackling real literature. This means we have to relate what we read with the real world events.

2. What does it mean to say literature can aim at truth as unconcealment? (Give an example.)

It means that when literature is read, it is not meant for one to feel like they are hopping into the fictional piece, but rather illuminates the world in which one already lives. It enables one to see aspects of the human life which were not visible to them before.

In the literary piece Search of Lost Time, Proust describes how the piece of literature revealed a language that was able to open his mind to the hidden truths of the real world that was once concealed. 

3. What does it mean to say lit.criticism aims at truth as unconcealment? (Give an example.)

The point of literally criticism is to make clear what we are not able to see on our own, even after viewing the literal forms. The ability to bring forth what has been an undisclosed aspect of literature is only possible through the use of criticism. This is what is termed as unconcealement, bringing out what is beyond the usual conceptual thought.

4. What are three questions we should ask of any literary theory?

What is does it grasp most sensitively?

What does it grasp in only a violent and disfiguring way?

 What is entirely beyond its reach?

5. Prof. Arndt thinks the point of literary theorizing is to move from an average towards agenuine understanding of Literature, and the only way to do this is also to move from an inauthentic towards a more authentic understanding of literature.

(a)    What is the difference between an average and a genuine understanding?

Average understanding is basic. Thoughts are shallow, confused and vague in this kind of understanding. Genuine understanding, on the other hand, refers to allowing your mind to decipher what the literature is all about. Giving it your all and one can go an extra mile to consult.

(b)   What is the difference between an inauthentic and an authentic understanding?

Inauthentic understanding is based on the opinions acquired from other people regarding a piece of literature; we have it because it is common with that of other people.  This is not what one, as an individual, does possess. Authentic understanding is coming to our own conclusions gained from our own experience about a work of art. It calls for originality.



6. What is aesthetics?

Aesthetics is the study of feelings evoked in a subject by objects of art or nature. They influence how we relate.

7. (a) What is an “ontological” concept of beauty?

The ontological concept of beauty is the relation of the nature of things with the way they look, their character and essence.

(b) If we understand beauty ontologically, by what criteria should we judge works of art?(What questions should we ask of a work of art to decide if it is good?)

Does the art show the things essence?  Does the art show us what we aspire to be?  Does the art show true beauty? Ontological judgment dictates that we view art depending on its nature, in order to determine its goodness and ethics.


(a) What is the “subject”?  The “subject” is the representation of the intrinsic character held in the mind of a person.  It represents the main point being analyzed.

(b) What does it mean to say beauty is “subjective”?  Every person has their opinion on what beauty is or ought to be, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” therefore there is no point arguing as each person has their ideal taste. It all depends with the view and definitions that different people hold on beauty.


9. What (for Kant) is “free” beauty? What is an example of free beauty?

“Free” beauty does not have a predetermined view of what something should be, it is just simply beautiful for what it is. Free beauty focuses on the internal nature and the sensual qualities of an item. An example would be flowers, flowers are simply just beautiful, and unless someone knows about flowers would understand its dependent beauty.

10. What is the meaning of the slogan, “Art for art’s sake”?

Art should be independent from any other social aspect such as religion, politics or ethics. It should not be judged using non aesthetic criteria, or subordinated to non aesthetic concerns.



(a) What is the task of art, according to the ethical approach?

The task of art, according to the ethical approach is to provide an ethos, that is, a lesson on how to live.

(c)    What is an ethos?

Ethos is what is viewed as what is right to do and also what is best to do. It provides a general aspect on how best to live. it gives the general direction of the best virtues in society.

(c) What are some of the elements of an ethos (name three)

1. A hero-This is someone whose example we follow as they are our idea of the ideal

2. Virtue-These are the aspects that make us feel our lives are worth living and worth relating with others.

3.  Morality-This is a good sense for relation with others


(a) What is the “character” of a real person or fictional protagonist?These are the beliefs of the protagonists and their way of life.

(b) What is the “arc” of a character? The arch of a character is the sequence of change they undergo during the story.

(c) What is a “character arc” story? A story of how a character changes from a bad ethos to a good ethos, in a sense a better person, through trials and tribulations.

13. In a few sentences: What is art, according to Tolstoy? (Quote one sentence from Tolstoy.)

 Art refers to what we do perceive. It is an internal feeling that one possess. It cannot be regarded as either good or bad as it hold both sides of the coin. It also relates to how we react to the perceptions we have.

Tolstoy, in chapter 11, says:

Art, in all its forms, is bounded on one side by practically useful and on the other by unsuccessful attempts at art.

Tolstoy also says:

People will understand the meaning of art only when they cease to regard beauty...as the aim of this activity.   

14. The conventional character arc story has three parts or acts: What does each partof a character arc story show or do? What happens in the turning points between acts?

(Explain by giving examples. An original example will earn extra credit.)

  1. A character arch story begins with the highlighting of a character’s ethos, and the flaws in it. 
  2. Between the acts, a crisis is created and the obstacles cause the character to rethink their life and how they are living it.
  3. The last part of the story shows the transformation inn ethos, and general character. For instance, Ivan in the story of Tolstoy lives in pride and pleasure. The recognition that he is dying presents to him the crisis. However, later he gets a vision of his son crying for him and from this he is able to defy death and act on love for his family.

15. Prof. Arndt says Tolstoy fails to distinguish three relations art may have to feelings.

(a) What does it mean for art to express feelings? It means to be able to find a connection with the other person in question.

(b) What does it mean for art to cultivate feelings?  It mean to give rise to a way of doing things through constant and persistent practice.

(c) What does it mean for art to precipitate feelings (i.e. emotional catharsis)?  It means that the people involved can have the impact of the particular art and embrace it while relating with others.



(a) What is hermeneutics?It is the art of interpretation of the meaning and sense of works of art.

(b)What is interpretation? Interpretation is the process of clarifying what a piece of art means, and the sense to be found in it.

(c) What is explication?

Explication is taking the significances throughout the literary piece and clarifying them.  It means making clear what is not so evident.

17. What is analysis? What is the difference between explication and analysis? (Give examples.)

Analysis is the study of parts or the whole text, clarifying the significance and functions of various aspects of the story, such as the character.  Explication is a close reading of the text, and attempting to explain what is happening in the course of the story more clearly.

18. What are the four levels of meaning that a hermeneutic approach tries to explicate?

1.  What the author was trying to say or do.

2. The other level is the meaning of various words in different contexts and the connotations even if they were beyond the writer’s control.

3. T he power of the work to reveal what was hidden or unclear.

4.  The revelation of the basic or essential nature of something


(a) What is the basic question hermeneutics asks of a work of literature?

What is the meaning of a literary work? 

(b) What is the basic question poetics asks of a work of literature? Poetics’ basic question for a work of literature is that “does it mean, or be?”

How does one understand this literary piece using the aesthetically? The understanding of a piece of art should be in understanding what the writer meant to say or do.

20. There are three versions of the hermeneutic circle:

1. The circle of part and whole.

2. The circle of familiar and foreign (own and other)

3. The circle of beings and Being.

Explain one version of the hermeneutic circle.

How, in that version, does the process of interpretation move in a circle?

(Explain the circular movement of interpretation with reference to a particular example.)

The familiar and foreign circle states that our first interpretation is probably incorrect because we use our own personal experiences and do not think about the author’s personal experience or reasons for writing the literary piece. We first translate what is written into our own terms, and therefore get the message inaccurately.  It comes full circle because once we understand that we need to put aside what we feel , think and our own experiences, we revise what we originally thought and find new hidden truths. For instance, when we read the Greek mythology, we already have a perception of what a hero should do, and as we see contrast in behavior, we might interpret it as deviation from the norm. However, as the reading continues, the sense in the actions of the character begins to show, and we can now see the new truths.



(a) What is phenomenology?  Phenomenology is the study of appearances as they are in experience, not in the hidden sense. It represents what we perceive as being real.

(b) What is the motto of phenomenology? To the things themselves.

22. What are two principles of phenomenological thought?

1.  One must think with guided examples.

2.  Thinking must start by describing the phenomena as it appears.

23. Milan Kundera says that when writers create fictional characters, they face questions about the nature of the self: What is a self? What makes us who we are? What should we focus onand write about in order to reveal who someone is? Kundera also says that writers implicitlyanswer these questions by the way they portray fictional characters. What are four differentanswers to the question of the self, i.e. what is the focus of four different ways of portraying fictional characters? The self refers to the inner feeling that one may possess. What is felt and what one conforms to. It means for us to understand what a particular form of literature is driving home, we have to be emphatic enough. We have to relate the state in the work of art to our normal lives.

The self can be portrayed by summary, which is telling the general facts concerning the character. The self can also be portrayed by repeated action or habit, such that you associate it with the character. The use of the self portrait is also effective, where the character introduces himself to the audience. The self is also portrayed by use of appearance.

24. Why are phenomenologists interested in literature?

(How do they approach literary text? What do they look for and try to do?)

(Be prepared to give an example.)

 Phenomenologists approach works of literature in the actual sense, the way things actually appear in reality.

They also see works of literature as illuminations of things which have previously not been visible to the normal thinker.

Another approach is where they regard literal works as pre-theoretical insights, using them to rethink and come up with new theories.

They aim to:

1. To find in the literary piece how things appeared in experience.

2.  And to find pretheoretical insights and retrain our minds about the concepts in which we think.

25. Kundera says: “The novelist is neither historian nor prophet: he is an explorer of

existence.” What does this mean?

It means he or she has the main aim of gaining knowledge from the works and relating it to the real world situations. It implies the novelist uses the knowledge gained in application to the present life.


Very Short Essay Question:

Which text (that we have read and discussed) have you found most illuminating?

What specifically did it help you see that you hadn’t been able to see clearly before?

At first I did not understand why there are many debates on whether The Heart of Darkness is a story about dehumanization of part of the human race, how a story can yield such different results.  I thought it would be interesting to read the story first, jot down my notes and come to conclusions and then re-read the story.  By using the The circle of familiar and foreign method, I was able to see the second time hidden truths that I missed the first time and came to different conclusions on these insights.  I was a bit worried when I check my notes and saw that the first time I read the story I thought this story was a racist story and the second time I felt more compassion for the “civilized whites”.  I was shocked that I, too, am on the edge on whether the story is based on dehumanization of part of the human race.  I think maybe a third try would point me into a definite direction.

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