What is New Historicism?

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teachertaylor | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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New Historicism is a school of critical literary thought that was developed in the 1980s-90s.  The work of Stephen Greenblatt is often cited as being the primary influence of this theory.  New Historicism proposes that literature should be primarily read and understood through its historical context and that history is understood through the texts that are produced during the time.  Under this theory, authors are products of this historical environment and, as a result, cannot divorce themselves from the influence of the historical times.  Authors then become the chroniclers of history because their perspectives color the objective events of the times.  Further, New Historicism examines relationships of power that exist within and among societies and looks for the ways that these are evidenced in texts.  The Great Gatsby is a great text to view under the lens of New Historicism because it is so grounded in the era of the 1920s and addresses the hierarchy of socioeconomic class as it existed at that time.

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