Literature & Criticism
· Short Works of Literature with Contrasting Critical Interpretations ·
Kate Chopin, “The Story of an Hour” (1894)
- Toth, Emily. “Girls and Women.”
Unveiling Kate Chopin. University Press of Mississippi, 1999, pp. 3-21.
- Some key ideas: The story “can be read as a criticism of marriage itself, as an institution that traps women” (10).
- Unveiling Kate Chopin (archive.org)
- Berkove, Lawrence I. “Fatal Self-Assertion in Kate Chopin’s ‘The Story of an Hour’.”
American Literary Realism, vol. 32, no. 2, 2000, pp. 152–58.
- Some key ideas: “There is evidence of a deeper level of irony in the story which does not regard Louise Mallard as a heroine but as an immature egotist and a victim of her own extreme self-assertion” (152).
- Cunningham, Mark. “The Autonomous Female Self and the Death of Louise Mallard in Kate Chopin’s ‘Story of an Hour.’”
English Language Notes, vol. 42, no. 1, Sept. 2004, pp. 48-55.
- Some key ideas: She didn’t see her husband, and merely died of joy because of her sense of liberation.
- Foote, Jeremy. “Speed That Kills: The Role of Technology in Kate Chopin’s ‘The Story of An Hour.’”
The Explicator, vol. 71, no. 2, 2013, pp. 85-89.
- Some key ideas: The husband’s train commute may have caused/exacerbated problems in marriage, and the speed of telegram led to the misunderstanding about his death. (These technologies were both relatively new at the time.)
Edgar Allan Poe, “Annabel Lee” (1849)
- Booth, Bradford A. “The Identity of Annabel Lee.”
College English, vol. 7, no. 1, Oct. 1945, pp. 17-19.
- Some key ideas: The “kinsmen” are probably a poetic way of referring to the “angels” who are mentioned later in the poem (18); some details suggest Annabel Lee is a representation of Sarah Elmira Royster Shelton (17-18), while other details suggest Annabel Lee is a representation of Virginia Poe (18), but this is a poem rather than an exact autobiography (18-19).
- Jones, Buford and Kent Ljungquist. “Poe, Mrs. Osgood, and ‘Annabel Lee.’”
Studies in the American Renaissance, 1983, pp. 275-280.
- Some key ideas: The poem “Annabel Lee” was inspired by another poem featuring angels and demons.
- Richardson, Mark. “Who Killed Annabel Lee?: Writing about Literature in the Composition Classroom.”
College English, vol. 66, no. 3, Jan. 2004, pp. 278-293.
- Some key ideas: Either the narrator, or Annabel Lee’s relatives, killed her or let her die (286).
Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address (1863)
Begin with the “Final Text” and compare small changes in wording with the other versions.
To engage with the arguments below, you may want to read Lincoln’s other speeches and writings,
available in the searchable digital edition of Lincoln’s Collected Works.
- Huston, James L. “The Lost Cause of the North: A Reflection on Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural.”
Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, vol. 33, no. 1, winter 2012, pp. 14-37.
- Some key ideas: Huston argues that Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address does not use the phrase “all men are created equal” to attack slavery, but merely to talk about the American republic; the point of the address (according to Huston) is that the Civil War was about preserving the Union and its form of government, not about slavery (27-30). Later, in his Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln rejects the point he made in the Gettysburg Address and says the war was caused by slavery (16-17, 35, 37). Huston defends his point that preserving the Union was Lincoln’s focus in the Gettysburg Address by using Lincoln’s arguments in other speeches and writings that secession from the Union was illegal (17-24) and that secession threatened majority rule and therefore the form of government of the republic (24-25), as well as other Northerners’ perception at the time that the Civil War was about preserving the Union, not about slavery (29-30).
- Elmore, A. E. “The Heart of the Message.”
Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: Echoes of the Bible and Book of Common Prayer. Southern Illinois University Press, 2014, pp. 190-218, 247-249.
- Some key ideas: Elmore argues that Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address uses the phrase “all men are created equal” to attack slavery (190, 200, 205-208, 217-218). According to Elmore, Lincoln was responding to writers and speakers such as Ross, Calhoun, who defended slavery by criticizing the Declaration of Independence and its idea that all men are created equal (200, 203-205). Lincoln had earlier argued that the phrase “all men are created equal” applied to African Americans (206-207), an idea which his political opponent Douglas rejected (205-206). To give further context and support for this point, Elmore argues that, in the early years of the United States, both North and South hoped slavery would eventually come to an end but did not know how to end it (190-193), but that after slavery became more profitable, and German political scientists suggested that inequality was necessary for social organization (193-195), Southern thinkers rejected their own earlier criticism of slavery and concluded that slavery was a good thing (195-200). Stephens, a congressman from Georgia who knew Lincoln, rejected the anti-slavery idea of racial equality (208-209), and he and other Southern thinkers saw slavery and ideas about race as the cause of the Civil War until nearly the end of the war (208-215). According to Elmore, Lincoln’s use of the phrase “all men are created equal” from the Declaration of Independence was thus a reminder that North and South had previously agreed in moral opposition to slavery, and that only more recently had Southern thinkers rejected the idea of human equality.
- Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: Echoes of the Bible and Book of Common Prayer (Google Books)
Christina Rossetti, “Goblin Market” (1862)
- Carpenter, Mary Wilson. “‘Eat me, drink me, love me’: The Consumable Body in Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market.’”
Victorian Poetry, vol. 29, no. 4, Winter 1991, pp. 415-434.
- Some key ideas: “undeniably homoerotic” (416)
“Her salvation is to be found not in controlling her appetite but in turning to another woman” (417).
- Morrill, David S. “‘Twilight is not good for maidens’: Uncle Polidori and the Psychodynamics of Vampirism in ‘Goblin Market.’”
Victorian Poetry, vol. 28, no. 1, Spring 1990, pp. 1-16.
- Some key ideas: “The implications of pleasure, pain, sucking, and enervation suggest some sort of vampirism, however muted and altered, and Polidori’s work [The Vampyre (1819)] would have given Christina Rossetti free and unmistakeable access to the psychodynamics of the myth” (2).
- Pionke, Albert D. “The Spiritual Economy of ‘Goblin Market.’”
SEL, vol. 52, no. 4, Autumn 2012, pp. 897-915.
- Some key ideas: “If… temptation [is] represented by an encounter with the goblins and their wares which, if accepted, precipitate a fall of incipient death, avoidable only through a sensuously and eucharistically charged episode of redemption—then it is clear what is scarce in ‘Goblin Market’ is redemption. …This spiritual economy of scarcity suggests that the market has always already existed in ‘Goblin Market’; however, the goods being exchanged are not commodity fetishes, but souls” (899).
- Watson, Jeanie. “‘Men Sell Not Such in any Town’: Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Fruit of Fairy Tale.”
Children’s Literature, vol. 12, 1984, pp. 61-77.
- Some key ideas: “Laura has desired that which is forbidden her, though it should be hers by right.
…Laura’s salvation becomes ironic” (74).
“Rossetti… affirms the truth of imagination and knowledge over conventional moral conduct” (75).
Robert Frost, “Mending Wall” (1914)
- Davis, Matthew. “The Laconic Response: Spartan and Athenian Mindsets in Robert Frost’s ‘Mending Wall.’”
Literary Imagination, vol. 7, no. 3, 2005, pp. 289-305.
- Some key ideas: “The neighbor’s reply… is Laconic [i.e., Spartan] not only in its brevity
but also in its reliance on ancestral wisdom” (295).
“In Frost’s poem, the neighbor’s reply is Laconic in a third sense, too; that is, in its function, which is to cut off further discussion” (296).
“Like [the Athenian] Socrates, the speaker proceeds by asking questions, and the questions are clearly designed to encourage questioning of old truths” (298).
“Some readers have assumed that Frost identified primarily with the neighbor; others have argued that he sides with the speaker. …Frost, always cagey in such matters, insisted that he could not be simply identified with either character” (303).
- Trachtenberg, Zev. “Good Neighbors Make Good Fences: Frost’s ‘Mending Wall.’”
Philosophy and Literature, vol. 21, 1997, pp. 114-122.
- Some key ideas: “The neighbor and the narrator… have opposing views of property” (116).
“The poem shows the neighbor rejecting the human connectedness that constitutes membership in community, in favor of the personal security of his own property… the notion that property’s primary function is to mark off separate domains within which individuals are independent of each other” (116).
“The narrator understands that property and community are not necessarily opposing concepts… property divisions must be actively maintained, and this activity can be the basis of community” (116).
William Blake, “The Little Boy lost” & “The Little Boy found” (1789, 1794, 1818)
Blake, William. “The Little Boy lost.” Songs of Innocence and of Experience, copy T.
The William Blake Archive, http://blakearchive.org/copy/songsie.t?descId=songsie.t.illbk.13
Blake, William. “The Little Boy found.” Songs of Innocence and of Experience, copy T.
The William Blake Archive, http://blakearchive.org/copy/songsie.t?descId=songsie.t.illbk.14
- Connolly, Thomas E. and George R. Levine. “Pictorial and Poetic Design in Two Songs of Innocence.”
PMLA, vol. 82, 1967, pp. 257-264.
- Some key ideas: “The illustration for ‘The Little Boy found’ …shows the mother holding the child’s hand… The mother’s head is clearly surrounded by a halo. What is unusual is the persistence with which the critics have taken their cues from the mother’s halo alone and have identified what is clearly a female figure as God” (263).
- Erdman, David V. “Query: Nightgowned adult in ‘The Little Boy Found.’”
Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly, vol. 1, no. 1, 1967, p. 9.
- Grant, John E. “Recognizing Fathers.”
Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly, vol. 1, no. 2, 1967, pp. 7-9.
- Some key ideas: The figure in the picture “is God” but “appears like the boy’s father,” which explains why he does not look like Christ (9). In different printings of this poem, the figure looks different. Blake’s illustrations of Christ do not always look extremely masculine, although they usually have beards.
- Connolly, Thomas E. and George R. Levine. “Recognizing Mother.”
Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly, vol. 1, no. 3, 1967, pp. 17-18.
- Grant, John E. “Mother of Invention, Father In Drag.”
Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly, vol. 2, no. 2, 1968, pp. 29-32.
- Grant, John E. “Mothers and Methodology.”
Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly, vol. 2, no. 3, 1968, pp. 50-53.
John Keats, “La Belle Dame sans Merci” (1819/1820/1848)
- Johnson, Barbara. “Gender Theory and the Yale School.”
A World of Difference. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987, pp. 32-41.
- Some key ideas: It is ambiguous whether the lady really loves the knight or does not, and whether she is a seductress or he is just hysterical (36-37).
- A World of Difference (ACLS Humanities E-Book)
- Swann, Karen. “Harassing the Muse.”
Romanticism And Feminism, edited by Anne K. Mellor. Indiana University Press, 1988, pp. 81-92.
- Some key ideas: Most critics assume that the knight really does want the lady, but what if what he really wants is to be “one of the gang,” part of the group of men (“kings and princes”) who think of “woman” as a “delusive fantasy” (90)?
- Romanticism And Feminism (archive.org)
- Moise, Edwin. “Keats’s ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci.’”
Explicator, vol. 50, no. 2, 1992, pp. 72-74.
- Some key ideas: In the first version of the poem, “the knight is sexually reluctant at best” and “the poet portrays the lady’s sexuality as frankly eager” (73). In the second version, the knight is less reluctant (73).