Approaches to Literary Criticism

Welcome to our topic Approaches to Literary Criticism! Approaches to Literary Criticism will detail the various approaches to literary criticism that we will utilize to study a literary piece. However, please note that we won’t just be using such approaches to literary criticism in writing our literary analyses essays. We will be using these approaches to literary criticism before even starting reading a literary piece. It is like fitting in a new pair of reading glasses everytime we embark on a reading and writing journey. Hence, we use a specific approach to read, analyze, evaluate, interpret and judge a specific literary piece, and go on to produce a literary analysis essay on that same literary analysis. So, let’s start learning these approaches to literary criticism. Enjoy!

Intended learning outcomes (ILOs)

At the end of this lesson, you should be able to:

  1. Differentiate the various literary approaches used in literary criticism.

Approaches to Literary Criticism

The work itself (literary piece) is in the center of the map because all approaches must deal, to some extent or another, with the text itself. To critique a piece of work, one must read first the text. After which, one may utilize any of the following literary approaches below:

  1. Formalist criticism
  2. Deconstructionist criticism
  3. Historical criticism
  4. Inter-textual criticism
  5. Reader-response criticism
  6. Mimetic criticism
  7. Symbolic/Archetypal criticism
  8. Psychological criticism
  9. Marxist criticism
  10. Feminist criticism

The image below, courtesy of Skylar Hamilton Burris, maps the various approaches to literary criticism in relation to the literary piece that is going to be criticized.

The various approaches to literary criticism in relation to the literary piece.

Approaches to Literary Criticism

Formalist criticism is placed at the center because it deals primarily with the text and not with any of the outside considerations such as author, the real world, audience, or other literature. Meaning, formalists argue, is inherent in the text. Because meaning is determinant, all other considerations are irrelevant.

Deconstructionist criticism also subject texts to careful, formal analysis; however, they reach an opposite conclusion: there is no meaning in language. They believe that a piece of writing does not have one meaning and the meaning itself is dependent on the reader.

Historical criticism relies heavily on the author and his world. In the historical view, it is important to understand the author and his world in order to understand his intent and to make sense of his work. In this view, the work is informed by the author’s beliefs, prejudices, time, and history, and to fully understand the work, we must understand the author and his age.

Inter-textual criticism is concerned with comparing the work in question to other literature, to get a broader picture. One may compare a piece of work to another of the same author, same literary movement or same historical background.

Reader-response criticism is concerned with how the work is viewed by the audience. In this approach, the reader creates meaning, not the author or the work. Once the work is published, the author is no longer relevant.

Mimetic criticism seeks to see how well a work accords with the real world. How does a piece of literature accurately portrays the truth is the main contention of this literary approach.

Psychological criticism attempts to explain the behavioral underpinnings of the characters within the selection, analyzing the actions and thoughts committed fall under any of the identifiable neuroses, whether a psychological disorder is evident among them. Aside from the characters, the author and even the reader may be criticized as why they exhibit certain behavior during the actual writing and reading experience.

Archetypal criticism assumes that there is a collection of symbols, images, characters, and motifs (i.e. archetypes) that evokes basically the same response in all people which seem to bind all people regardless of culture and race worldwide. This can also be labelled as Mythological and Symbolic criticisms. Their critics identify these archetypal patterns and discuss how they function in the works.

Marxist criticism concerns with the analysis of the clash of opposing social classes in society, namely; the ruling class (bourgeoisie) and the working class (proletariat) as it shaped the events that transpired in the story.

Feminist criticism concerns with the woman’s role in society as portrayed through texts. It typically analyzes the plight of woman as depicted in the story. Generally, it criticizes the notion of woman as a construct through literature.


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