Literary Interpretation Part 3


Terms to Know and Use for Discussing

Author’s Purpose, Theme, and Characterization

predestination, a theological doctrine that asserts that God predestines from eternity the salvation of certain souls.

So-called double predestination, as in Calvinism, is the added assertion that God also foreordains certain souls to damnation. Predestination rests on the basis of God’s omniscience and omnipotence and is closely related to the doctrines of divine providence and grace. Calvinism rejects the role of free will and teaches that grace is irresistible and that God by an absolute election saves the souls of some and abandons the souls of others. In early American literature, we see this belief in Puritan literature.

realism, in literature, a philosophical attitude, as well as a writing technique, that arose as a reaction to

romanticism in the late nineteenth century.

The realist attempts to experience life objectively. He/she concentrates on the five senses: seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, smelling. An effort is made to ignore, if not discount, the emotions. Emotions are unreliable; “facts” are not. As an attitude toward life, the realist strives to make no value judgments and seems to say: “What you see is what you get–nothing more, nothing less.”

As a writing technique, realism is the objective description.

Mark Twain (late 19th century) and Ernest Hemingway (20th century) wrote with realism. Whether or not they exhibited realistic philosophical attitudes is open to interpretation.

relativism, is a philosophical attitude dominant in the twentieth century.

Relativism states that human judgments are always conditioned by the specific social environment of a particular person, time, or place. Cognitive relativists hold that there can be no universal knowledge of the world, but only diverse interpretations of it. Moral relativists hold that there are no universal standards of moral value, but only the cultural norms of particular societies.

I cannot know whether a particular act or decision is right or wrong unless I know and understand the circumstances that produced the act or decision.  “Right and wrong,” “good and bad” are relative terms, not absolute terms. A commonly heard comment is “It’s relative.”

romanticism, a philosophical revolt in 18th century against rationalism.

Broadly speaking, a romanticist is one who views life with optimism. He/she recognizes that life has difficulties, even tragedies, but believes that we, as individuals, can overcome them; therefore, the ability and desire to confront adversity is a required, as well as necessary, quality. In addition, romanticists believe the individual to be the center of life and that literature is valuable as an expression of human feelings and attitudes.

Romanticism places an emphasis on the importance of imagination and the spiritual feelings inherent in the human being. Romanticists believe that as humans, we have more than just he five senses that science recognizes–seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling, smelling. Our “sixth sense” involves interior feelings that cannot be objectively proven. This leads to an emphasis on the “romantic” qualities such as idealism and mysticism. The romanticist emphasizes frequent and direct contact with nature because through nature, we learn. Nature is both a teacher and a healer for humankind.

transcendentalism, in American literature, a philosophical and literary movement that flourished in New England from about 1836 to 1860.

Transcendentalism originated among a small group of intellectuals who were reacting against the orthodoxy of Calvinism and the rationalism of the Unitarian Church. It is related to romanticism, but it strives for a spiritual awareness. Like Romanticism, transcendentalism recognizes a “sixth” sense but believes that it can be extended to the “all knowing” state of awareness, well beyond idealism.

If you think about the Hindu mystic or, perhaps, the Buddhist monk who draws inward to become “one with the universe,” you will come close to understanding the concept of transcendentalism.

See Part 1 and Part 2 to get a whole understanding!

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