The Importance of Context in Understanding Literature

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From the onset of the twentieth century there has been an ongoing debate on context and text. Literary theorists all over the world propounded many theories that either divorced the two or made their bond stronger. From the 1920s there came a wave of critical theories, the New Critics pleaded for critical monism. The New Criticism took the poem as a work of art, a structure having an independent existence. They completely divorced the work of art from the biographical, sociological context; removed the piece of literature from time and space and made the work an independent, autonomous and self-contained entity. Criticism, according to the Structuralists, is an activity and it is not concerned about the world but with certain linguistic formulations. Deconstruction presumes that literature is a form of writing. A poem or a novel or a story is a structure of traces. A critic who makes an attempt to discover the meaning of a word in a poem or the poem as a whole does one thing- that is, he substitutes one word for another or indulges in a play with words.
Reader Response critics believed that the meaning lies not in the texts but in the minds of the reader. For them, a text does not exist without a reader. They, too, focused on a context but from a point of view of the reader. The readers according to his/her own experience connotes the meaning, which is to say that his /her own context, era in which the reader is living has edge over that of the author’s. The Feminist Critics approach the text from a woman’s point of view. The context remained a women’s world, her roles and duties, her sufferings, according to which she could interpret the text. New Historicism resituates the text in the context. Postcolonial criticism, particular...

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