Formalism is a branch of literary theory that became widespread at the beginning of the 20th century. It has evolved as a reaction to the traditional position on the priority of content over form. Formalists argued that the content of literature changes due to historical causes, while the forms of art have historical stability. For example, novel structure has not significantly changed in several centuries. In the following literary theory essay the author has shown several examples of formalism in literature.
What Are Some Good Examples of Formalism in Literature?
Formalism is a method of criticism which “examines a literary text or artwork through its aesthetic composition such as form, language, technique and style” (Formalism, 2018). Formalism began in Russia during the 20th century by a group of linguists who desired a straightforward analysis to text examination. Rather than incorporating societal, historical, or cultural influences into a critique of a literary work, proponents of formalism believe in examining the work as it is. Although outside influences can improve one’s understanding of a composition, there must first be a focus on the composition itself.
One story that is closely examined in a formalist fashion is Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. A man named Gregor Samsa is suddenly transformed into a bug. His “abrupt and unexplained transformation is juxtaposed with a lot of really mundane day-to-day details” (Shmoop Editorial Team, 2008). From a close reading, one can get a glimpse of the loneliness that Gregor feels on a daily basis and the transformation could be a literal manifestation of Gregor’s alienation from society.
Another literary work that can be closely examined is Translations from the Natural World by Les Murray. In this poetry book, “Murray makes birds, cows, bats, and other favorites of the animal kingdom talk” (Shmoop Editorial Team, 2008). The structure, language, and literary devices presented in each poem provide a unique way in which Murray can express a different emotion. By closely analyzing the text, one can appreciate the artistry of his words while also understanding the importance of viewing life through a different lens.
Academia has long relied on a formalist approach to literary work. Students are first encouraged to study the intricacies of the text before integrating the external influences. To analyze a piece of art, one must first be acquainted with the way it is presented. Only then can it be appreciated for what it is, rather than how it relates to broader context.
Formalism. (2018, January 9). Retrieved January 9, 2018, from http://blogs.bcu.ac.uk/virtualtheorist/formalism/
Shmoop Editorial Team. (2008, November 11). The Metamorphosis. Retrieved January 9, 2018, from https://www.shmoop.com/metamorphosis/
Shmoop Editorial Team. (2008, November 11). Formalism Texts – Translations from the Natural World by Les Murray (1992). Retrieved January 9, 2018, from https://www.shmoop.com/formalism/translations-from-the-natural-world-text.html
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