From the onset of the twentieth century there has been an ongoing debate on context and text. Literary theorists all over the world propounded many theories that either divorced the two or made their bond stronger. From the 1920s there came a wave of critical theories, the New Critics pleaded for critical monism. The New Criticism took the poem as a work of art, a structure having an independent existence. They completely divorced the work of art from the biographical, sociological context; removed the piece of literature from time and space and made the work an independent, autonomous and self-contained entity. Criticism, according to the Structuralists, is an activity and it is not concerned about the world but with certain linguistic formulations. Deconstruction presumes that literature is a form of writing. A poem or a novel or a story is a structure of traces. A critic who makes an attempt to discover the meaning of a word in a poem or the poem as a whole does one thing- that is, he substitutes one word for another or indulges in a play with words.
Reader Response critics believed that the meaning lies not in the texts but in the minds of the reader. For them, a text does not exist without a reader. They, too, focused on a context but from a point of view of the reader. The readers according to his/her own experience connotes the meaning, which is to say that his /her own context, era in which the reader is living has edge over that of the author’s. The Feminist Critics approach the text from a woman’s point of view. The context remained a women’s world, her roles and duties, her sufferings, according to which she could interpret the text. New Historicism resituates the text in the context. Postcolonial criticism, particularly Edward Said maintains that the ‘text’ is ‘worldly’ for it exists in the world and about the world. In any reading of the literary text we have to take the author, the text, the reader and the world into consideration.
Whichever the school of criticism is, the context remains a paramount module in understanding the text. The purpose of the paper is that any literature- Australian, American, Indian, Caribbean, and South Asian etc. cannot be completely understood or the meaning distorted if we put the text out of its millennia. Though with the application of different critical approaches one can find multitude of meanings for a given text but we have to keep in mind that all critical theories cannot be applied to a single text. And there is much more that the text reiterates than the critical theories can bring into view. In my paper, thus, I take up literary texts and show how context is important for textual understanding. For this purpose I take into account examples from Indian Literature.
The history of Indian literature is neither, too, vast nor, too, old. Literature, as it is said, is the mirror of society and it depicts the social, political, economic, religious sentiment of a particular era, century,...