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St. Norbert College, Spring 2012

Wayne Booth on Ethical Criticism

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012 by

Abstract

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Wayne Booth’s introduction to his book The Company We Keep discusses the necessity of ethical criticism in a literary critic’s toolbox and how ethical criticism can be used to better understand literary work.  First, Booth explains that “ethics” needs to be defined before the criticism can be used.  Booth argues that ethics is “not just moral standards of honesty, decency or tolerance” (8).  Booth continues to say ethical criticism concerns the reader’s responsibility to the story, in addition to judging the stories and the effects on the reader.  Booth points out the different factors needed in order to understand and apply ethical criticism: “ethical,” “character” and “virtue.”  It is noted in the introduction about how ethical criticism correlates and interacts with other criticisms, such as political and philosophical.  Booth discusses the differences between applying an ethical criticism to a narrative versus a story; however, the introduction does not delve very deep into this application.  Booth extrapolates ethical criticism in how a reader should apply the criticism and literary work to their lives.  At the end of the introduction, Booth says ethical criticism only works if there is a connection between the reader and the piece of literature, which may or may not coincide with the author’s original intent.

Summary

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Wayne Booth’s introduction to his book The Company We Keep discusses the necessity of ethical criticism in a literary critic’s toolbox and how ethical criticism can be used to better understand literary work.  First, Booth explains that “ethics” needs to be defined before the criticism can be used.  The very definition of ethics is controversial and cannot be universally agreed upon, making ethical criticism a challenging topic to explain.  Booth argues that ethics is “not just moral standards of honesty, decency or tolerance” (8).  Booth continues to say ethical criticism concerns the reader’s responsibility to the story, in addition to judging the stories and the effects on the reader.  Booth points out the different factors needed in order to understand and apply ethical criticism: “ethical,” “character” and “virtue.”  The differences in definitions and understanding of these words change how a person applies ethical criticism to a piece of literature.  It is noted in the introduction about how ethical criticism correlates and interacts with other criticisms, such as political and philosophical.  Booth discusses the differences between applying an ethical criticism to a narrative versus a story; however, the introduction does not delve very deep into this application.  Booth extrapolates ethical criticism in how a reader should apply the criticism and literary work to their lives.  At the end of the introduction, Booth says ethical criticism only works if there is a connection between the reader and the piece of literature, which may or may not coincide with the author’s original intent.

Evaluation

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Wayne Booth’s introduction to his book The Company We Keep discusses the definition of ethical criticism, as well as its viability and legitimacy.  Booth makes a valid point about defining ethics before applying ethical criticism.  However, he does not define ethics; instead, Booth explains ethics as covering all qualities both good or bad that involve the reader, author and character in the piece of literature.  Since ethics cannot be universally defined, I found it difficult to understand exactly what ethical criticism is and how it can be applied to different pieces of literature.  However, it was interesting to read about Booth’s questions on ethics, character and virtue, and how those relate to ethical criticism.  Booth explains how the reader should take into account the ethical value of the work itself in order to best understand how to react and then apply it to their own life (10).  In the introduction, Booth notes how the way a reader encounters a text changes their ethical view of the work, in addition to their already preconceived ethical ideas.  Booth states ethical criticism not only concerns the after effects the story has on the reader, but also the ethics involved in the reader’s experiences of the literary work.  This kind of thinking begs the question, which is also the title of the book, what company do we keep, and how does that change a reader’s interpretation and understanding of literature.  This final part of the introduction swayed me into agreeing with Booth about the importance of ethical criticism.  Although it may not answer all questions, it will help the reader understand the significance of the literary work within their lives and society.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Introduction (pg. 3-20) to Wayne C. Booth’s The Company We Keep

Permalink for this paragraph 0 http://books.google.com/books?id=bnqx5GNRw8sC&printsec=frontcover&dq=booth+the+company+we+keep&hl=en&sa=X&ei=vKiNT7yIOcKcgQfe3Y3yDQ&ved=0CDIQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=booth%20the%20company%20we%20keep&f=false