All terms

What is Formalism?

A literary theory that emphasizes the technical aspects of a text rather than its social or historical context.

Formalism: The Inner Workings of Texts

Formalism, in the world of literature, is a theory that stresses the technical aspects of a text, such as its structure, language, and literary devices, over the social or historical context in which it was produced. Formalists believe that the inner workings of a text are what make it truly great and that the purpose of literature is to create beauty through form.

Although formalism has its roots in the early 20th century, it has remained an important school of thought in literary criticism to this day. Formalism encourages writers to pay close attention to the technical elements of their work, including grammar, syntax, and punctuation, as each of these elements plays a critical role in creating the overall effect of a text. Moreover, students of formalism recognize the importance of etymology and how understanding the roots of words and phrases can enhance the meaning of a piece of writing.

Formalism in Literature: Examples of Beauty through Form

Below are two examples of how formalism is used in literature to create beauty through form.

John Keats' Ode on a Grecian Urn

Keats' masterpiece reveals his attention to literary form, especially through its beauty awakened by the sounds of the words he uses and their individual semantic meaning, thus dissolving the barriers between sense and sound.

Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea

With a clear and sparse style, Hemingway's novella focuses on the internal conflict and struggle of Santiago the fisherman, and the struggle itself becomes synonymous with his dignity, adding an additional layer of meaning to the story.