Privilege: As a verb, to address interpretively, in literary study, one set of textual or contextual issues before, and often instead of, others. Since no scholar or critic can account for all of the causes, contents, or connotations of even a single text, all interpretive acts involve some degree of privileging, which, in turn, involves priorities grounded in a hierarchy of values. For instance, Marxist critics privilege social class in analyzing texts; reader-response critics privilege readers’ responses to literary works; and structuralists privilege the idea that all elements of human culture, including literature, can be understood as part of a system of signs.
As a noun, that status of authors, narrators, and characters which derives from information that is known — and perhaps available — to them alone. For example, third-person omniscient narrators (e.g., the narrator in Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain [1997; adapted to film 2003]) have “authorial privilege,” as do characters whose first-person narratives are privileged by hindsight (e.g., Lily Owen in Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees ).
As an adjective (“privileged”), the special status accorded to certain persons, works, ideas, or forms of expression by a given culture. Texts considered classics are privileged, as are Ludwig von Beethoven’s nine symphonies and Julia Child’s French cookbooks. In the United States, television is privileged over radio, football over soccer, cars over public transit, the individual over the group, and so forth.