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Literary Criticism: Home

This guide introduces you to resources on literary theory and criticism.

What is literary criticism?

Literary criticism is the study, interpretation, and analysis of a work of literature and of its author's place in literary history. Literary theory (e.g., feminist, narrative, etc.) often informs the critical analysis of a literary work. Criticism may examine a particular literary work, or may look at an author's writings as a whole.

From Purdue OWL:Writing a Literary Analysis:

Important Literary Concepts

The Basics Other Key Concepts
  • Plot
  • Setting
  • Narration/point of view  
  • Characterization
  • Symbol
  • Metaphor
  • Genre
  • Irony/ambiguity
  • Historical context
  • Social, political, economic contexts 
  • Ideology
  • Multiple voices
  • Various critical orientations
  • Literary theory

What is an Analysis?

An analysis of a literary work may discuss:
  • How the various components of an individual work relate to each other
  • How two separate literary works deal with similar concepts or forms
  • How concepts and forms in literary works relate to larger aesthetic, political, social, economic, or religious contexts


Literary Theory and Schools of Criticism

Literary Theory and Schools of Criticism Introduction

A very basic way of thinking about literary theory is that these ideas act as different lenses critics use to view and talk about art, literature, and even culture. These different lenses allow critics to consider works of art based on certain assumptions within that school of theory. The different lenses also allow critics to focus on particular aspects of a work they consider important. For example, if a critic is working with post-colonial theories, they might consider the same story but look at how characters from colonial powers (Britain, France, and even America) treat characters from, say, Africa or the Caribbean. 


 Moral Criticism, Dramatic Construction (c. 360 BC-present)

 Formalism, Neo-Aristotelian Criticism (1930s-present)

 Psychoanalytic Criticism (1930s-present)

 Marxist Criticism (1930s-present)

 Reader-Response Criticism (1960s-present)

 Structuralism/Semiotics (1920s-present)

 Post-Structuralism/Deconstruction (1966-present)

 New Historicism/Cultural Studies (1980s-present)

 Post-Colonial Criticism (1990s-present)

 Feminist Criticism (1960s-present)

 Gender/Queer Studies (1970s-present)

Please view Descriptions of the Different Schools of Criticism for detailed information.

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