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!

Historical Criticism: This approach “seeks to understand a literary work by investigating the social, cultural, and intellectual context that produced it—a context that necessarily includes the artist’s biography and milieu.” A key goal for historical critics is to understand the effect of a literary work upon its original readers. Types of Literary Criticism: Since ancient times, readers have debated and critiqued literature from a variety of perspectives. Some have looked at a story or play from a moral stance, considering how values are represented in a text. Another critic might evaluate a poem in terms of its form. LITERARY CRITICISM AND THEORY Page 5 MODULE: I CLASSICAL AGE PLATO Plato was the first scholastic philosopher who had given a systematic shape to criticism. He lived in the fourth century B.C. He was the most celebrated disciple of Socrates. By his time the glory of Athenian art and literature began to fade and was taken.

  1. As a genre, literary analysis differs from other types of writing you may have done about literature, such as an evaluation. For instance, as an assignment for school, you may have watched a play or read a story and had to write a review of it. A review calls upon the writer to make an evaluation, to describe and analyze the work in question.
  2. Postcolonial criticism is a new and emerging type of literary criticism. It is a type of cultural criticism that focuses on literary texts produced in places that were, at one time, under the influence of European (read: white) colonial rule. Basic tenets of postcolonial criticism: Seeks to break down the false images and myths.

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:

Types Of Literary Criticism And Examples Pdf

  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
Forms of literary 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.

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.

Literary Schools Of Thought

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.

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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.


  • Dobie, Ann B. (2009). Theory into Practice: An Intro to Literary Criticism. Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
  • Fry, Paul H. (2013). Theory of Literature. New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Habib, M. R. (2011). A History of Literary Criticism: From Plato to Present. UK: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.

Literary Criticism– The analysis of a literary text though various lenses that highlight authorial stance, purpose, and perspective

Types Of Literary Criticism Pdf

Part of the fun of reading good literature is looking for all its meanings and messages. Since people have written literature, critics have been interpreting it …. going all the way back to ancient Greece and Rome. For many centuries, literary criticism has been limited to some basic approaches involving historical, moral and biographical perspectives. But during the 20th century, critical approaches have become much more varied due to the huge increase of educated people and their widely diverse reactions to literature. As the meaning of what literature is and can be or should be has changed, so has the critics’ responses to it.

Below are outlined for you six of the dozen-or-so “schools” of literary criticism currently deemed valid by the academic world. A critical viewpoint is simply a lens through which we look at a piece of literature, allowing this lens to shape our reaction to the work. These different schools are not exclusive – in fact, most critical essays use ideas from several types of criticism. But depending upon what work you are reading, and what your own ideas about what good literature should do, or your own ideas about life and the world, some critical methods will work better than others or be more helpful for your understanding of a work. The goal of literary criticism is always to help us understand and appreciate a work more fully, no matter what approach(es) we use.

The following definitions are paraphrased from A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature, 4th edition, Guerin, Labor, Morgan, Reesman & Willingham. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1999

Traditional Critical Approaches

  1. Historical-Biographical. This approach sees a literary work as a reflection of the author’s life and times or the life and times of the characters in the work. Critics using this school of thought investigate how plot details, settings, and characters of the work reflect or are representative of events, settings, and people in the author’s life or a direct outgrowth of — or reaction to– the culture in which the author lived.
  2. Moral-Philosophical. This approach takes the position that the larger function of literature is to teach morality and probe philosophical issues, such as ethics, religion, or the nature of humanity. Literature is interpreted within the context of the philosophical thought of a period or group, such as Christianity, Existentialism, Buddhism, etc. Often critics will see in the work allusions to other works, people, or events from this perspective, or see the work as allegorical.
  3. Formalistic Criticism. Using this type of criticism, a reader would see the work as an independent and self-sufficient artistic object. This approach is also sometimes referred to as the “New Criticism,” since it came back in vogue in the 1960s-70s, but it was originally an outgrowth of the “Art for Art’s Sake” movement of the late 1800s. Formalistic critics assume that everything necessary for analyzing the work is present in the work itself and disregard any connection to possible outside influences such as the author’s own life or historical times. This criticism considers what a work says and how it says it as inseparable issues. It focuses on close reading, with sensitivity to the words and their various meanings. It searches for structures, patterns, imagery and motifs, and figurative language along with the juxtaposition of scenes, tone, and other literary techniques in order to come to conclusions about the meaning of the work.

Newer Approaches to Literary Criticism

  1. Psychological Criticism. This approach deals with a work of literature primarily as it is an expression – in fictional form – of the author’s personality, mindset, feelings and desires. It also requires that we investigate the psychology of the characters and their motives in order to figure out the work’s meanings. This school of criticism got its start with the work of Sigmund Freud, which incorporated the importance of the unconscious or sub-conscious in human behavior. Some typical “archetypal” Freudian interpretations include: rebellion against a father, id versus superego, death-wish forces, or sexual repression. Dreams, visualizations, and fantasies of characters in modern works usually stem from Freudian concepts.
  2. Feminist / Gender Criticism. This approach asks us to use a wide variety of issues related to gender, concerning the author, the work itself, the reader, and the societies of the author and reader, to determine the stance of the work on the feminist continuum. These critics would argue that in order to achieve validity, a literary criticism that claims universality must include the feminine consciousness, since till very recently and in many instances yet today, works of literature and criticism have been male-dominated and therefore necessarily skewed in their perspective. Feminist critics look for the development of male and female characters and their motives to see how the author and his or her times affected the gender roles in the work.
  3. Sociological / Marxist Criticism. This viewpoint considers particular aspects of the political content of the text; the author; the historical and socio-cultural context of the work; and the cultural, political, and personal situation of the reader in relationship to the text. These critics tend to focus on the overall themes of the work as they relate to economic class, race, sex, and instances of oppression and/or liberation. Author, critic and reader bias is explored.