The study of rules that enable social phenomena, considered as signs, to have meaning. Hence, in literary criticism, semiotics is the analysis of literature in terms of language, conventions, and modes of discourse. (Handbook to Literature) Semiotics include a process of semantics, syntactics and pragmatics.

Semantics: Relationships between each individual sign and to what it refers (denotata or meaning, consider that meaning will be subjective and relevant to an individual’s personal experiences and this is okay in the critical process). On your paper, respond to the following question for each of the three elements:

What does the element mean to you?

Syntactics: Relationships among each individual sign in formal structures (conventional views of the signs and denotata–i.e. the way the signs relate to established languages and schools of thought):

What does the element mean to your society at large?

Pragmatics: Relationships between each individual sign and sign-using agents, specifically in the form of context, which might also include the instance of “utterance” or the sociopolitical intention behind the piece. This is not a personal creator intention, but rather a societal intention. We will use Derrida’s concept of différance, or to defer and differ, in exploring this societal intention. Example: “woman” both defers and differs to “man.” Woman is like man in human shape, thought, creation and so many ways, and yet, woman differs in genitalia, hormones and the ability to create man. 

Deference: What might the obvious intention of the element be?

Difference: What is the ironic or opposite meaning of this obvious intention?

Compare and Contrast: How do the obvious intention and ironic intention compare and contrast?



A Handbook to LiteratureWilliam Harmon.

Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. Peter Barry.

Critical Theory: A Very Short Introduction. Stephen Eric Bronner.

Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide. Lois Tyson

The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. David H. Richter

Literary Theories and Schools of Criticism. Purdue Online Writing Lab. 

The Norton Anthology of World Literature: Literary TermsMartin Puchner, et al.

Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. Janet Burroway, Elizabeth Stuckey-French & Ned Stuckey-French.

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