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Schema theory and the analysis of text worlds in poetry.

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1995
<mark>Journal</mark>Language and Literature
Issue number2
Number of pages30
Pages (from-to)79-108
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This article demonstrates an approach to the study of text worlds in poetry based on the theory of background knowledge and comprehension generally known as schema theory. It is argued that such an approach constitutes a useful alternative to the possible-world models which have traditionally been applied to the description of fictional worlds. From a cognitive point of view, text worlds can be seen as resulting from the application of certain portions of the reader's background knowledge (schemata) to the interpretation of texts. The reader's perception of a particular text world will depend on the extent to which his or her existing schemata are confirmed or challenged during the process of interpretation. Following Cook (1990 and forthcoming), I describe the former outcome as 'schema reinforcement' and the latter as 'schema refreshment'. Two contemporary poems (Seamus Heaney's 'A Pillowed Head' and Sylvia Plath's 'The Applicant') are analysed in detail, in order to: i. show the possibility of combining linguistic description and schema theory in the analysis of texts, and ii. demonstrate the usefulness of the notions of schema reinforcement and schema refreshment in accounting for the differences between the worlds projected by different texts. A partial redefinition of the notion of schema refreshment is suggested in the light of the analyses.