Using Theory as a Writer

Drafting the proposal for my MFA thesis has been challenging to say the least. Besides the endless bureaucratic communications and regulations, my proposal has to incorporate discussions of craft, theme, and theory to demonstrate my mastery of fiction. Though, this has led me to evaluate my experiences with literary theory and the relationship between theory and contemporary writing.

There are tons of literary theories that you can study from New Criticism to Post-Modernism. My favorites are Feminist theory and Deconstructive theory, with some interest in Marxist theory. Before I proceed, just because these are the theories, I lean towards doesn’t mean I’m a radical Nazi-feminist or a harsh communist. These theories simply evaluate particular structures in literature; for example, feminist theory studies the power dynamics of genders (particularly between men and women) in the context of patriarchy in literature, and Marxist theory evaluates the impact of class and money on the characters. These are things that I find interesting and therefore am more likely to use these theories when reviewing literature.

Throughout college and now most of graduate school, I’ve been intensely interested in the creation and development of power structures and how this becomes integrated into social classes, perceptions of religion, and gender identities. In my own life, I’ve seen how government structures have impacted the development of local communities and larger parts of society and this process has inspired several character attributes. For example, witnessing the various school shootings and acts of violence against the LGBTQ+ community has given me an opportunity to think about the purpose of weaponry and how guns and knives have historically been produced, distributed, and advertised. Additionally, this horrific violence has permitted me to experience communal sorrow, therefore providing space to consider what love is and how society encourages us to show our support and compassion for others.

With my background in gender studies and my personal experiences with spirituality, I also intend to evaluate how power structures are created and challenged by spirituality. Western society places an emphasis on material gain and social status, but spiritual practices and religions encourages the practitioner to remove themselves from earthly life and pleasures. This contrast in life goals and intentions creates conflict in present society, but few people acknowledge or attempt to resolve this crisis between spirituality and secularity. Deconstructive theory, however, does investigate the gaps between material signs and abstract concepts and challenges the arbitrary creation of power structures. In recent movies like Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and sci-fi novels like Ursula Le Guin’s the Dispossessed, the perception of gender roles and the resulting societal hierarchies and values are being questioned and disputed, causing people to reconsider the validity of status and identities in modern day.

While I don’t intend to write toward the purpose of producing texts for theoretical criticism, by understanding literary theory I’m able to better understand how reality impacts the fictional world that I’ve created. Furthermore, I can create both believable worlds and worlds that are just different enough to be freeing for the reader, therefore permitting a space that is unique and safe for the reader’s individual experience.

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