Association for the Study of Ethical Behavior in Literature, St. Francis College, Brooklyn
ASEBL Journal, Spring 2011, Vol. 7.1
V o l u m e 7 , I ss u e 1
Nissim Ezekiel, Collected Poems Stephen K. George, Ed., Ethics, Literature, Theory: An Introductory Reader Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye R.K. Narayan, The Guide Martha C. Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness
J O U R NA L
KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF MY ETHICS: THE ETHICS OF READING IN THE BLUEST EYE AND “SONNY’S BLUES” VERNITA BURRELL
To assess the ethical perspective of a literary work is haphazard at best; literary critics who determine what kind of ethical position or moral behavior should be considered when evaluating a piece of literature run the risk of having their critical analyses construed as nothing more “than subjective opinion” (Booth 24). The perception in ethical criticism is twofold: it allows the critic to peruse a piece of literature to articulate certain acceptable (meaning moral) prescriptions and it places the onus upon the critic to induce his audience to accept these prescriptions as legitimate and necessary. This is a difficult task to achieve, because the audience must ascertain whether those moral insights proffered by the critic are akin to their own view of society. The critic also risks devaluing the aesthetic nature of the literary work, alienating those who believe that literature should be judged by its artistic and innovative merits rather than by an arbitrary ‘ethical’ or ‘corrupt’ estimation. Whatever the difficulties, ethical literary criticism is a principle by which critics and readers – consciously or unconsciously – appraise the ethical value of a literary work, and the effect upon this influence in society determines how a literary work is understood and valued. A literary critic will judge a work of art based on “credibility, complexity, [and] depth” (Yehoshua 12), but the complaint that plagues literary criticism stems from the...