Category Archives: Study Guide

Tom Willard’s Study Guide for The Educated Imagination


Tom Willard has generously given us permission to publish his study guide for The Educated Imagination, which he prepared for a freshman seminar back in the nineties and posted at his website; the page references are to the Indiana UP edition. Tom teaches in the department of English at the University of Arizona; you can visit his website, which features a beautiful photo of Frye taken by Tom’s wife.

Study Guide for The Educated Imagination

Northrop Frye (1912-1991) read his Massey Lectures over the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC radio) in 1962. First published by Indiana University Press in 1964, the six lectures present key concepts from Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (Princeton University Press, 1957).

Chapter One. “The Motive for Metaphor.”

Frye begins by exploring the relation of language and literature. “What is the relation of English as the mother tongue to English as a literature?” he asks (p. 16), and before he can give an answer, he has to explain why people use words. He identifies three different uses of language, which he also terms types or levels of language.

1. “The language of consciousness or awareness” is our means of “self-expression,” our means of responding to the natural environment: “the world as it is.” This language produces conversation.
2. “The language of practical sense” is our means of “social participation,” our means of taking part in our civilization. This language produces information.
3. “The language of literature” is our means of entering the world of imagination: “the world we want to have.” This language produces poetry, first of all.

Science and literature move in opposite directions. Science begins with the external world and adds imagination. (Mathematics is the imaginative language of science, Frye suggests in a later chapter.) Literature begins in the imaginative world and becomes involved in civilization.

Frye now deals with the distinctive feature of literary language. When language implies an identification of the speaker and the object, it becomes metaphoric. “The desire to associate,” and to find connections between inner experience and the external world, is what Wallace Stevens calls “The Motive for Metaphor.”

This chapter provides an introduction to the book. It raises questions that will not be answered until Frye has set out a general theory of literature. These include the question of education–“What is the place of the imagination … in the learning process?” (p. 16)–answered in chapter 5. They also include a series of questions about the social function of literature and literary education, to be answered in chapter 6:

“What good is the study of literature?” (p. 13)

“Does it help us to think more clearly, or feel more sensitively, or live a better life than we could without it?” (p. 13)

“What is the relation of English as the mother tongue to English as a literature?” (p. 16)

“What is the social value of the study of literature?” (p. 16)

What is “the relevance of literature in the world of today?” (p. 27)

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Study Guide: Some Notes and Questions on The Educated Imagination


With the school year beginning, a lot of students out there will be encountering Frye for the first time, and The Educated Imagination is likely to be their first encounter.  Here, therefore, is a study guide and some questions for them to consider as they read.

The spatial or schematic form of chapter 1:

Levels of Mind
1.  (Theoria or dianoia) Speculative or contemplative: one’s mind is set over against nature.  Separating, splitting, or analytic tendency: me vs. not me; intellect vs. emotions; art vs. science.
2.  (Praxis)  Social participation: motivated by desire (one wants a better world); intellect and emotions now united; necessity (work what one has to do); adapting to environment; transforming nature.
3.  (Poesis)  Vision and imagination: also motivated by desire but here it’s a desire to bring a social human form into existence, i.e., civilization; freedom.

Corresponding Levels of Language
1.  Language of consciousness or awareness; the language of nouns and adjectives.  Language of thinking.
2.  Language of practical sense and skills (work, technology); language of teachers, preachers, advertisers, lawyers, scientists, journalists, etc.); language of necessity.  Language of action.
3.  Language that unites consciousness (level 1) with practical skill (level 2); language of imagination; literary language; language of freedom. Language of construction.

1.  Awareness that separates one from the rest of the world
2.  Practical attitude of creating a human way of life in the world.
3.  Imaginative attitude or vision of world as imagined or desired.

Chapter 1, “The Motive for Metaphor” (phrase from title of a Wallace Stevens poem)

1.  What are the two points—one simple and one complex—Frye makes in connection with the relevance of literature for today (pp. 16ff.)?
2.  What is the motive for metaphor?
3.  What does Frye mean by “a world completely absorbed and possessed by the human mind”?
4.  What does Frye mean my transforming nature into “something with a human shape”?   What does he mean by “the human form of nature,” which he seems to say is the same thing as “the form of human nature.”

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An Outline of Frye’s The Double Vision


For students and aficionados alike, a point-by-point outline of The Double Vision.

Preface.  Frye remarks on the incompleteness of the total argument in The Double Vision after three chapters and his decision to add a fourth.  Why only “after considerable hesitation”?

I.  The Double Vision of Language

[Autobiographical element: Methodist emphasis on experience and exposure to Biblical narrative: conditioning factors in a literary criticism that focuses on story and vision (3)]

A.  The Whirligig of Time, 1925-90:

1.  Myths = the functional units of human society.  Before the Depression years, capitalism was St. George who had triumphed over Marxism; mid-thirties, socialism (or communism) was St. George and fascism was the dragon; today, capitalism democracies are St. George and communism is the dragon.

2.  Similar whirligig in Hegelian and Marxist notions of conflict: Hegel = conflict of ideas leading to ultimate goal of freedom; Marx = class conflict and struggle over means of production.  Today, Hegelian thrust for freedom being revived.

3.  Cyclical rhythm of history produces different myths of freedom, but these are secondary myths or ideologies that don’t result in genuine freedom, which comes from primary, not secondary concern.

B.  Primitive & Mature Societies:

1.  Primary concerns = food, sex, property, freedom; secondary concerns = political & religious ideologies.  Western democracies have been better at fulfilling the needs that spring from primary concerns, but McCarthyism, American imperialism, etc. show that something is still needed, something beyond the material: the spiritual.

2.  The difference between the spiritual aspect of primary concerns and ideology or secondary concerns can be seen in the difference between primitive & mature societies:

a.  Primitive societies: hierarchical; individual subordinated to the group

b.  Mature societies: group functions to create genuine individuality (an “individualized society”); mature societies contain spiritual people: soma pneumatikon (spiritual body), rather than soma psychikon (natural body)

C.  The Crisis in Language: the difference between ideological & spiritual concern is a difference in language

1.  Descriptive or demonic literalism: descriptive accuracy, logical argument, ideological, creedal dogma

2.  Imaginative literalism: counter-historical, counter-logical language of myth, metaphor, paradox, interpenetrative, open, kerygmatic vision.  Imaginative literalism is a key point in Frye.  For whatever else it is, the New Testament is written in literary language.  “The literary language of the New Testament is not intended, like literature itself, simply to suspend judgment, but to convey a vision of spiritual life that continues to transform and expand our own.  That is, its myths become, as purely literary myths cannot, myths to live by; its metaphors become, as purely literary metaphors cannot, metaphors to live in” (17-18).  Kerygma or proclamation.

Key concept: interpenetration: here (p. 18) defined as “the free flowing of spiritual life into and out of one another that communicates but never violates.”   See also the beginning of chapter 3, where Frye, drawing on Whitehead, sees interpenetration as “spiritual vision.”

The language of spirit is the language of love.

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