How can the historical events in The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh be explained in the light of New Historicism and New Criticism?
Both forms of literary criticism would emphasize different aspects about the historical events that Ghosh illuminates in The Shadow Lines. On one hand, the New Criticism approach would focus on the meaning of historical events within the text. The interpretation of historical events would remain textually bound. The New Criticism approach would seek to understand the impact of the historical events on the characters in the text: "New Critics believed the structure and meaning of the text were intimately connected and should not be analyzed separately. " This means that the historical events in Ghosh's rendering would have to be analyzed in terms of the narrative's plot development and its impact on the characters. Little in way of political or social extrapolation could be offered. For example, Robi speaks to the issue of Partition and "Independent" India through a question:
…why don’t they draw thousands of little lines through the subcontinent and give every little place a new name? What would it change? It’s a mirage; the whole thing is a mirage. How can anyone divide a memory?
The New Critic would strive to understand this historical detail from the point of view of how this impacts the character. It would have to remain dependent and connected to the narrative. Exploring how "memory" impacts each character in the novel becomes the most important element. Historical developments become part of this appropriation. The New Critic offers analysis within the text and reduces the role of other biases and presuppositions that might detract from textual appreciation.
A New Historical approach to literary criticism of Ghosh's work would focus on these exact presuppositions. "The limits of the possible" lies at the heart of New Criticism. In this, there is a desire to understand the effect of material conditions on historical events. This understanding becomes essential to the appreciation of literature in its totality. The aesthetics of the text become directly linked to the complex social political understanding within both the work and that which gives rise to its creation. The New Historical approach would seize upon what Ghosh gave as his reason for writing The Shadow Lines:
[It was] a book that led me backward in time to earlier memories of riots, ones witnessed in childhood. It became a book not about any one event but about the meaning of such events and their effects on the individuals who live through them.
In Ghosh's own understanding, the New Historical approach of seeking to understand the contextual realities that support the historical development within the novel is critical. The historical events in the novel can be understood by analyzing the meaning of "such events" on other people as well as what motivated them. This reality is what guides historical understanding. Being able to analyze the biases and histories that are imposed helps to enhance the New Historicist approach. It is one that denies totality and takes as much as possible in terms of seeking to understand the various networks that define consciousness.
In understanding the historical events in Ghosh's work, one sees how both schools of literary criticism offer distinctly different frames of reference. It becomes essential for the student of each to understand their guiding tenets. Adhering to these ideas reveals different aspects of meaning to Ghosh's text.