After discussing the differences between these schools of thought in lesson discuss which one you think is more appropriate for approaching Dickinson's poetry. What does each school of critical thinking offer?
Sian :)

It is difficult to decide which of the two schools of thought is best for approaching Dickinsons poetry as both has flaws and positive aspects. New criticism allows the reader to interpret the poem however they feel appropriate and it can help with imagination of what Dickinson is trying to show because Dickinson's aim in most of her poetry was for them to be riddles as seen with poem 986 or to purely be left for the reader to interpret and discover the mystery of what she writes. Dickinson's style of writing poems further indicates that she wishes them to be interpeted by the reader alone as she gives a few clues within her poems through her use of capitalisation and similies. However, this limits us as we are only able to unserstand our own interpretations of the peoms and not understand maybe why she wrote it or her influences in life.
Historicism is benefitial when analysis Dickinson's poetry as it enables the reader to understand the poem more and what she may be trying to describe or talk about. It also helps to understand her influences in what she writes about or why she writes about it, allowing us to have a closer insight into her personal life and society. However, this limits us to be judgemental and assume what Dickinson is writing about as we know about her personal life, we may look past her real intentions and what she is really trying to say through her work and it may ruin it as it is ment to make the reader think.


New criticism allows you to focus on your interpretation without influence from context. It also allows you to develop several alternative interpretations, looking at what individual phrases might mean, or the significance of particular grammar and punctuation. It’s quite an open-minded approach to a poem, which it seems Dickinson favours due to the ambiguity in a lot of her poems. Historicism also has its own benefits. It gives you a focus and lets you perhaps get more of a feel for what was going through the poet’s mind. Knowing what we do about Dickinson’s life, we can experience events around or involving her and the thoughts she had at the time. It can, however, be limiting, as we look for clues in her poems that we think apply to the context.

I think that both schools of critical thinking are appropriate for Dickinson’s poems, depending on which poem it is. ‘After a great pain, a formal feeling comes’, for example, has such a tone of familiarity, knowledge and understanding that I feel it would be more appropriate to apply historicism. With poems such as 986, however, I would be more inclined to adopt new criticism. I think perhaps that a good way of approaching her poems in general would be to first analyse them using new criticism, and then apply historicism, thus allowing us to get everything we can out of the poems rather than just trying down to pin down a particular meaning or approaching a poem with a specific influence.


Both school of thoughts are appropiate depending which poem you are analysing. New criticism allows you to intrepret the poem in your own way, the freedom of thoughts is there and the reader does not need to know the backgroung history of Dickinson in order to get their ideas for that poem. The evidence from Dickinson's life shows that she didn't like the people putting titles on her poem, giving them titles which restrict the way people read the poem as it influences you to think in partcular way. The poem 986 is best one to take as an example of where new criticism will be thoroughly used as it is a riddle and Dickinson leave the poem to be interpreted by the readers.

Historicism is however another important school of thought which sometimes readers need to be familiar with, nevertheless Dickinson wants her readers to just try and solve the riddle without actually getting any particular answers. Historicism, I think limits the thought process because a reader try to base around the background information given, which restricts the new criticism.

I think both school of thoughts need to be familiar to the reader, because I think one cannot exist without the other. New criticism should be the first approach and then historicism should be applied to maybe back up a point.


I found it really hard to explore the literary theories, new critisim and historicism. With the new critisim you can focus on the word if you have no context whatsoever of Emily Dickinson. However it is incredibly hard to identify the themes throughout the poem if you have already explores and analysed her background to support her and how it influenced her to continue with the poems thematically.

With historism, you have a much influence and exploration of the poems and the poet Emily Dickinson for the reason that we know her a background and then we can easily annoyed and infer the various meanings of the poems. In my opinion, in this situation I believe that I prefer the historism as we have already established her influences and inspirations that lead us to the analysis of her poems.


Leave a Reply.