Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Anatomy of Criticism, a book that is similar to an anatomical chart depicting parts and functions of the human body, proposes a holistic system for reading and understanding literary works. Northrop Frye wrote Anatomy of Criticism, which consists of four interrelated essays, to explore the nature of literature and how it functions as an art form. His ultimate objective is to direct literary criticism toward a comprehensive system of theories, principles, and techniques, and away from personal reactions and ideological interpretations.
One essay in the book, “Historical Criticism: Theory of Modes,” posits that literature can be divided into five categories, or fictional modes. These modes correspond to the range of the protagonist’s power of action. Stories about gods belong to the mode of myth, and stories about extraordinary human beings with supernatural powers belong to the mode of romance or legend. Stories about extraordinary human beings subject to the powers of nature and the constraints of society belong to the mode of high mimetic, and stories about ordinary people belong to the mode of low mimetic. Stories about powerless people belong to the ironic mode.
These five fictional modes can be either tragic or comic depending on whether the protagonist fails or succeeds at the end of the story. Thus, there are complementary patterns in each mode (for example, a dying god in which nature is destroyed in contrast to...
(The entire section is 1378 words.)
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