Literary Theory Assignment

Literary Theory

New Criticism

A theory that is not concerned with context — historical, biographical, intellectual; not interested in the intent, affect or meaning of the author or the reader-response reaction of the reader. It is solely concerned with the text itself — its language and organization; how the text speaks for itself. This approach would involve an intense reading of the text (used mostly in poetry analysis) in which the language and style is closely examined, without giving any consideration to the meaning or emotion of the writer or the reader (also known as Formalist Criticism)


The reader takes an active role in deciphering meaning. A poem, for instance, has no real existence or meaning until it is read; its meaning can only be discussed by its readers. We differ about interpretations only because our ways of reading differ. It is the reader who applies the code in which the message is written and in this way actualizes what would otherwise remain only potentially meaningful. Hence, the reader is not a passive recipient of an entirely formulated meaning, but an active agent in the making of meaning. The meaning of the text is never self-formulated by the writer; the reader must act upon the textual material in order to produce meaning.

Feminist Theory

Since traditional literary theory is based on patriarchal systems (male-dominated writing and criticism), the feminist critics wish to divorce themselves from any one particular past theory as they focus on redefining literature from a feminine perspective. In so doing, critics focus on female characters; redefining women’s roles in literature and life, and examining the treatment of women in literature from a woman’s point of view.


In Historicism, critics view literary history as part of a larger cultural history. Historicists studied literature in the context of social, political and cultural history, and they viewed a nation’s literary history as an expression of its evolving spirit. Studying the particular period of history during which a piece of literature was written could give the reader the necessary background on that writer’s point of view and his influences. Biographical Criticism examines an author’s life history in order to gain insight into his literary work.

Psychological Criticism

Critics view literature through the lens of modern psychology, exploring human behavior (conscious, subconscious and unconscious), literary language and symbolism. Psychological criticism often employs three approaches: the creative process of the author, the author’s motivation and behavior, and the psychoanalysis of an author’s fictional characters. Sociological Criticism examines literature in the cultural, economic and political context in which it is written or received, and explores the relationship between artist and society.

Marxist Criticism

A form of sociological criticism which focuses on the economic and political elements of art. Marxist criticism often explores the ideological content of literature. Even if a work of art ignores political issues, it makes a political statement, Marxist critics believe, because it endorses the economic and political status quo, thereby illustrating the principles of class struggle.

Mythological Criticism

Critics look for the recurrent universal patterns underlying most literary works. A central concept in mythological criticism is the archetype, a symbol, character, situation, or image that evokes a deep universal response. The idea of the archetype came into literary criticism from the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung. Jung believed that all individuals share a “collective unconscious,” a set of primal memories common to the human race, existing below each person’s conscious mind. Critic Joseph Campbell identified archetypal symbols and situations in literary works by demonstrated how similar mythic characters appear in virtually every culture on every continent.

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