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Exploring the metanarrative of the traditional literary critical essay

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A professor of English and an assistant professor of Education bring together humanistic textual analysis and descriptive empirical research to explore faculty perceptions and uses of the assignment they name the traditional literary critical essay and define as a critical essay that describes, analyzes or interprets a literary text(s) through close reading of the text(s)’s literary elements, such as theme, character, imagery, language, and metaphor. Through humanistic textual analysis, the authors demonstrate a consistent story of the prevalence of the traditional literary critical essay assignment in college literature classrooms in conjunction with negative assumptions about the purposes of the assignment, its political associations, and what influences faculty to use it. These historically situated issues were used to construct survey questions to explore faculty members’ perceptions of these assumptions. Carnegie institution ratings were used to sample faculty from colleges and universities across the United States. The survey was completed by 735 full-time faculty who teach literature courses. Survey findings support assumptions about the assignment’s prevalence but call into question several other assumptions in the historical narrative and point to the need for scientific study of pedagogical beliefs related to student writing in literature classes.
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Keywords: New Criticism; close reading; formalism; metanarrative; pedagogy; traditional literary critical essay; writing assignments

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2013

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