Historical context in literature - Deepstash

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Understanding Historic Context Is Key to Analysis and Interpretation

Historical context in literature

We cannot fully appreciate or understand a work of literature without context.

Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" cannot be fully understood if the reader is unaware of the Romantic movement in the early 19th century. The lives of Europeans were transformed by the technological disruptions of the Industrial Age. The Romantics captured the public's sense of isolation and fear that many experienced. Knowing this backdrop changes "Frankenstein" into an allegory for how technology can destroy us.

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Understanding a text
Understanding a text

We often forget that our interpretation of a text is influenced by our preexisting beliefs, knowledge and expectations.

Hermeneutics theory describes the method and interpretation of a text. The hermeneutic circle encourages us to read in the context of a cultural, historical, and literary context and with our own personal context.

The hermeneutic circle

Interpreting a text doesn't happen out of context. The concept of the hermeneutic circle is to understand the whole by seeing how the parts interact with each other, and how they interact with the whole.

When we first read a text, we gain an initial understanding. As we move through the text, we keep on updating our understanding based on the new knowledge. In turn, the new context will inform the way we interpret the text.

Consider the context

When practising critical reading, it is crucial to be aware of the context of the text.

Before reading a text, ask :

  • What do you want to gain from reading this topic?
  • What are your existing beliefs?
  • What do you think you know about the topic already?
  • What philosophical movement does the author belong to?
  • How does this text fit within their main work?
  • Take into account the historical and cultural context of the text, the author, and yourself.

It is not practical to go through this process every time you read, but keeping these questions in mind will help you to understand the text.

The sentence

If we think of a book as an individual house, each sentence becomes a tiny part of the house. Some are mostly functional, while others are the details we remember and take away.

The great sentence

A great sentence makes you want to think it over slowly while considering it. The sentence must have a certain distinction of style and order that is unique to the author.

Great sentences in moderation

Some writers bestow greatness in every sentence without tiring their readers while others can become wearisome with the unrelenting sequence of such sentences. Great minimalist sentences may be enjoyed for longer.

It’s up to you

It's up to you to become a good writer and you probably already know everything else you need to know, somewhere underneath the noise and the anxiety and the outside instructions.

Write

There is no substitute for writing. 
Start small. Write a good sentence, then a good paragraph. Write a lot. You might not be great from the start, but it is the road to good writing.

Writing is not typing

Writing is about thinking, researching, contemplating, outlining, composing, then maybe some typing with revisions as you go, deletions, additions, reflections, setting aside and returning afresh.
Typing is what you do in the middle of the two vast thoughtful processes.