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First impressions are important when meeting new people, applying for jobs, and even when reading literature. It provides us with an idea of what is going on, where things are taking place, and who the important characters are. This first impression can be described is the Pre-Critical Response; the average reader performs this type of analysis every time he or she reads. For some people, this simplistic perspective is satisfactory; others find the quest for deeper understanding intriguing and part of the ultimate experience gained through literature.
The Formalistic Approach is one way to analyze literature in order to gain fuller understanding. This approach examines a piece of literature by identifying its individual structures and form. It studies sentence structure in terms of verb placement, the multiple meanings and etymology of words, and the stanza and line breaks. The Formalistic Approach stresses sensitivity to words and their connotations, denotations, and implications they may have to surrounding words and phrases. Location, setting, place, and time are other aspects identified through this approach. Formalistic analysis is referred as "...close reading in practice" (HCAL 73).
The Dialogical Approach recognizes "...the essential indeterminacy of meaning outside of the dialogic - and hence open - relationship between voices" (HCAL 349). The voices of a novel or work create a dimension all their own. Dialogical's creator, Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin, uses the key term of carnivalization to describe the "...diversities of speech and voice reflected in its structure" (HCAL 351). Mood and tone are derived from this and can be further amplified through the Formalistic Approach of analysis.
My Pre-Critical Response to Thomas Gray's "Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes" is as follows: A cat was playing with a fish in the fish bowl. The cat fell in and then drowned because none cared enough to save her. When I take a second look, details of the setting and location; language usage and sentence patterns; tone and mood; deeper meanings to the poem can be found. The Formalistic and Dialogical Approaches can be used to find these deeper meanings.
Setting and location are essential when creating atmosphere.
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The language usage through word choice, syntax, and style create a dimension all their own. Gray uses an array of words commonly found in someone who is highly educated and knowledgeable. He uses descriptive words with hidden meanings and connotations. For example, he uses the names of Tom and Susan for people who will not come to his aid. Tom and Susan are generally the names of household servants who should be around to come to his aid, and yet in fact are not. This implies the relationship and feelings the servants have toward their Master and toward his possessions. The word choice for the title, ode in particular, suggests this is a tribute to a loved one or someone of meaningful significance. This in fact is true; the cat's owner as a tribute writes this poem to his beloved friend the cat. The sentences are long as well as the complexities of the thoughts. The descriptions are vivid; they come to life; they leave much to the imagination.
Tonality and mood is set through the interaction of the speaker. The speaker of this poem is the owner of the cat. He is the only speaker and his tone stays consistent throughout. He uses parodies by making the simplest things seem so complex, humorous to some degree. Over-exaggeration and colorful descriptions add to the flow of the poem. The speaker is direct with his feelings. He is honest and open about the world as he sees it. His specific word choice displays this openness. He makes references to mythology, references to family, and references to mankind.
Taking a second look at this poem has revealed many new things. The central idea and train of thought still remains, yet depth has been found. Word choice, sentence structure, and mood are important things to analyze when reading and re-reading literature. It creates an added dimension to an elementary viewpoint after only one glance. So, go ahead and take a second look.
Wilfred Guerin et al. A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature. -4th ed. New York. Oxford University Press, Inc. 1999.
Gray, Thomas. "Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes"