Cognitive Mapping in Literary Analysis

Style, Vol. 36, No. 3, pp. 466-483, 2002

25 Pages Posted: 7 May 2009

See all articles by Margaret H. Freeman

Margaret H. Freeman

Myrifield Institute for Cognition and the Arts - MICA

Date Written: May 6, 2009


The way poets think is the way we think. Recent work in cognitive linguistics explores the analogical processes by which the human brain makes sense of its world. The human mind, under this view, thinks analogically. Analogy is the process underlying all the topoi of classical rhetoric (such as definition, classification, comparison and contrast) and figures of speech (such as synedoche, metonymy, metaphor). It also informs the structure of poetry. Its components include cognitive mapping skills that create levels of identification across different domains and projections across multiple mental spaces. In order to understand what literary critics do when analyzing a literary text, we need to identify the kinds of cognitive mappings they use.

Cognitive analysis of readings of an Emily Dickinson poem posted to an online discussion group shows that the readers are using metaphorical and metonymical mapping strategies and their own cultural knowledge and backgrounds to understand the poem. By linking literary analysis with the general processes of the human mind, a cognitive approach to literature shows how human creativity can be nourished by reading poetry. Blending, in particular, shows exactly how important metaphorical thinking is to human creativity. There are at least four additional ways in which cognitive linguistics can contribute to literary analysis: 1) it can explicate and possibly evaluate the differences between multiple readings; 2) it can identify what cultural knowledge influences interpretation; 3) it can contribute to a clarification of the writer’s - as opposed to the reader’s - conceptual world view; and 4) it can form the basis for an empirical study of literary interpretations. Finally, cognitive linguistics integrates different literary approaches by showing how they make use of cognitive mapping strategies across ICCMs in exploring the conceptual processes of the writer, reader, and text.

Keywords: cognitive mapping, blending, metaphor and metonymy, Emily Dickinson

Suggested Citation

Freeman, Margaret H., Cognitive Mapping in Literary Analysis (May 6, 2009). Style, Vol. 36, No. 3, pp. 466-483, 2002, Available at SSRN:

Margaret H. Freeman (Contact Author)

Myrifield Institute for Cognition and the Arts - MICA ( email )

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Heath, MA 01346-0132
United States
413 337 4854 (Phone)

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