Critical Introduction

Critiquing Everyday Life: A Deep Dive Into Barthelme’s Masterpiece

While reading “Critique de la Vie Quotidienne” written by Donald Barthelme, we were able to analyze the different potential meanings the literature hinted at. We took different approaches to understand the layers of meaning behind his work. The story was examined through multiple lenses including a subjective personal response, a deconstructive lens, a psychological lens, post-colonial lens, cultural studies, feminist theory, and Marxist theory. Using these different stances will bring a distinctive understanding to Barthelme’s short story “Critique de la Vie Quotidienne” with everyone contributing to the short story’s promising meaning.

Reader Response – Austin Holton

In his essay, Austin Holton uses a subjective reader response to compare personal life experiences with the main characters in “Critique de la Vie Quotidienne.” In this essay, he compares the characteristics of the family in the story to those of his family and himself, using examples from the text as well as stories from his life. Barthelme’s story sets a cautionary example of the disintegration of a family. The memories the story brought back serve as a reminder to put forth an effort to provide a better environment for his own family.

Deconstruction – Erin Nelson

In her essay, Erin Nelson deconstructs the protagonist of “Critique de la Vie Quotidienne” and uncovers how he is both an abuser and a victim. While it is impossible to fully ignore the superficial cruelty, her essay finds the ways a reader might be sympathetic to the plights of the speaker. By recognizing patterns in Barthelme’s male protagonists, the essay encourages readers to look past the violence and alcohol to see how self-repressive behaviors and coping mechanisms function within the story. She argues that pain and barbarity can co-exist, creating an ethical dilemma in understanding the man beneath the monster.

New Historical – Brooke Brown

In her essay, Brooke Brown analyzes Donald Barthelme’s “Critique de la Vie Quotidienne” through a New Historical Criticism lens to explore the context in which this short story was written. The story is examined with regard to the historical setting of the early 1970s in which it was written. Personal obstacles faced by Barthelme throughout his lifetime, as well as the changing views toward marriage and divorce in the era, are discussed in terms of how they influenced the story. This essay demonstrates how Barthelme employs the domestic tensions of the time to directly address the patriarchal and misogynistic beliefs that persisted during the period through the perspective of a privileged male protagonist who embodies period-typical male ignorance.

Darin Neuberger uses the psychological lens to explore the characters in “Critique de la Vie Quotidienne,” as well as the relationships between them. Using Nancy Chodorow’s psychological theories he reveals the character’s pasts, futures, and present motivations. Additionally, he evaluates Barthelme’s critique of his own father and the significance of the child’s lack of an Oedipus complex. Chodorow’s theory allows him to expose Barthelme’s unconscious reasons and anxieties for writing about the family in the story.

Cultural Studies – Ken Hissong

Ken Hissong’s “Everyday Jerk: A Cultural Studies Analysis of Donald Barthelme’s “Critique de la Vie Quotidienne’” peers into the world behind the story. A cultural studies analysis investigates not only how literature impacts a society, but also how society influences the author. By looking closer at the family dynamic depicted and the narrator’s problematic masculine nature, cultural paradigms appear. The toxic masculinity may be a response to feminism and the “new man” mentality.  The anger, resentment, and boredom could come from the comfort of a life without strife. This essay does not seek to excuse the narrator’s behavior. What it attempts is an evaluation of how culture may define us in surprising ways.

Marxism – Ashlynn Mahoney

In her essay, Ashlynn Mahoney describes the relationship between the characters of “Critique de la Vie Quotidienne” and how capitalism affects their lives. The essay explores how Barthelme’s works are influenced by his experiences in the real world and how the family is affected by capitalism by drawing on Marx’s theory of alienation. The essay explores other themes within Barthelme’s work, such as how the post-war economy affected the family’s dynamic, how literary devices were used to represent the father’s alienation, and socioeconomic norms at the time. This essay’s goal is to show how capitalism indirectly affects the family’s social dynamic and how it was their ultimate downfall.

Feminism – Annie Yost

Annie Yost’s composition, “Critique de la Vie Quotidienne: Feminism and How it Relates” covers how “Critique de la Vie Quotidienne” by Donald Barthelme was to demonstrate the concept of separation between husband and wife. This essay uses feminism as a critical lens to examine how men have attempted to understand why women prefer to separate themselves when dealing with activist movements, and why it was important for women to do so. Annie looks at how Barthelme’s characters interact with each other, to show her point that separatism was vital for women’s personal growth. Yost uses two articles that researched on how separatism became, and how women were starting to differ from men in other ways. The importance of this essay is to realize that women needed to detach themselves from their male counterparts to experience employment rather than being trapped in their homes.

Postcolonialism – Erika Plascencia

Within her article, Erika Plascencia’s “Footsteps of a Colonizer” examines the short story “Critique de la Vie Quotidienne” written by Donald Barthelme. Using postcolonialism and (post) modernism lens it will dissect the complexities of power dynamics, cultural dominance, and privilege. Within the lens of postcolonialism and (post)modernism, Erika will reveal the relationship between colonizers and the colonized by revealing the family’s lifestyle, revealing the disconnection between perspectives. The essay deconstructs the character’s lives, shedding light on how the dominant culture replaces the original one.

Using these different viewpoints and lenses to understand literature, this gives the readers the advantage to get vast meanings from the text. These eight authors came to different interpretations of the short story “Critique de la Vie Quotidienne,” with Darin providing a psychological perspective, Erin’s deconstruction, Austin subjective reader response. Along with new perspectives with Ken’s focusing on cultural studies, Ashlynn using Marxist Theory, Erika’s Post colonialism, and Annie’s feminist lens. Through each piece concludes with different ideas; it is evident the common thread of how impactful this story is runs through this critical edition. The remarkable thing about literature is that it’s complexities mirror that of life, and using a critical lens to understand it, can help to understand life itself.


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Beginnings and Endings: A Critical Edition Copyright © 2021 by Liza Long is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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