Literary Analysis – New Criticism

New criticism strives to act as a method of interpreting literature using only the text itself. Designed as an objective approach, the reader is instructed to analyze the piece of literature in light of how it appears and acts as singular, concrete object, regardless of author’s intention, values or beliefs. Similarly, a new critic is taught to separate themselves from the text also, taking into account only the piece’s form and content into consideration upon analysis. With this thinking comes process, a procedure in which to follow to successfully analyze like a new critic.

A new critic must read the text many times before starting to find aspects to analyze. Once familiar with the work, once must note the diction of the piece. This is very important, for new criticism is based almost ultimately in the specificity of the words used in the text. While searching the syntax, new critics will take note of any literary elements, including but not limited to: allusion, symbolism, tone, theme, setting and point of view. Within the maze of words and letters, these literary elements will spring conflicts, or tensions, in the text. It is the new critics job to analyze how these interrelationships and ultimately decipher how the tensions are resolved. Below is an excerpt from The Gold-Bug, and below that an example of a new critic’s analysis.

“I shall not pretend to describe the feelings with which I gazed. Amazement was, of course, predominant. Legrand appeared exhausted with excitement, and spoke very few words. Jupiter’s countenance wore, for some minutes, as deadly a pallor as it is possible, in the nature of things, for any negro’s visage to assume. He seemed stupefied — thunderstricken. Presently he fell upon his knees in the pit, and burying his naked arms up to the elbows in gold, let them there remain, as if enjoying the luxury of a bath.”

The tone the narrator catches in this paragraph can be described as one of bewilderment. He is baffled, besides himself at the treasure he is looking down upon. It’s interesting that he begins the paragraph with “I shall not pretend to describe the feelings with which I gazed”, when in the next line he does just that, giving vivid descriptions of his emotions along with everyone else’s. He says “amazement” was “predominant”, implying that there were also many of things he was feeling. This is an important notion because it highlights just how crowded his brain felt at the time, with so many different feelings all rising at once.

Although there is more to discuss in regards to himself, the narrator then goes on to describe how the other characters reacted. That Legrand seemed “exhausted” with excitement is vital. This man just found the object of his obsession, a buried treasure that will solve all his monetary problems, yet he is not jumping for joy or celebrating. Instead, he speaks “very few words” (implying that he did say something indeed, although we are not told what it was) and chooses to savor his moment of victory internally.

He describes Jupitar most intriguingly, saying his “countenance wore…as deadly as a pallor as it is possible, in the nature of things, for any negro’s visage to assume.” The syntax here with the narrator describing the black man as pale is intentionally paradoxical, used to emphasize just how shocked the man was. Here the narrator connects death, a main theme of the work (the map by which the treasure was found was drawn out in the shape of a skull; the insect had been described as being a similar shape; and just above the dig site dangled a skull off the tree branch), one usually accompanied by a negative connotation, with the reaction of a man who is undeniably happy. A new critic sees an example like this as a mechanism through which the tension brought about by the idea of death stays prevalent throughout the piece. He continues, saying Jupitar appeared “thunderstricken”, an adjective that alludes to a fatal strike.

Next the mood changes. Jupitar falls “upon his knees into the pit”, “burying his naked arms in gold up to the elbows.” Lets first look at the phrase “upon his knees”, which triggers thoughts of surrender and rejoicing. The fact that the word “burying”, a word associated with death, immediately follows, again contributes to the overall theme of the work. Again an allusion to death is brought to about in a positive light. The including of the word “naked” reasserts the same notion. When people die, same as when they are born, it is their body that is undergoing the change, not the clothes or anything else that society deems necessary. Birth and death are strictly natural occurrences, and so when Jupitar’s arms are naked in the wealth, this symbolizes a deeper, inner connection with the treasure. Finally, we are told Jupitar’s positioning in the gold resembled him “enjoying the luxury of a bath”, a cleansing of sorts, that perhaps indicates this moment as monumental and revolutionary in the man’s life.

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