Northrop Frye Introduction - Essay


(Herman) Northrop Frye 1912–

Canadian critic and editor.

Frye has exerted tremendous influence in the field of literary criticism and in the area of education in literature and the humanities. This influence derives mainly from his Anatomy of Criticism, a work in which Frye made large and controversial claims for literature and literary critics.

In Anatomy, Frye argued that judgments are not inherent in the critical process. He further asserted that literary criticism can be "scientific" in its methods and its results, without borrowing concepts from other fields of study. Literary criticism, in Frye's view, can and should be autonomous in the manner that physics, biology, and chemistry are autonomous disciplines.

For Frye, literature is schematic because it is wholly structured by myth and symbol. The critic becomes a kind of scientist, determining how symbols and myth are ordered and function in a given work. The critic need not, in Frye's view, make judgments of value about the work; a critical study is structured by the fact that the components of literature, like those of nature, are unchanging and predictable.

Frye believes that literature occupies a position of extreme importance within any culture. Literature, as Frye sees it, is "the place where our imaginations find the ideal that they try to pass on to belief and action, where they find the vision which is the source of both the dignity and the joy of life." The literary critic serves society by studying and "translating" the structures in which that vision is encoded.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed. and Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 8.)