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Literary Critical Theories / Perspectives

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  1. Literary Critical Theories / Perspectives • Just like there are movie critics, there are also literature critics. A literature critic’s job is to evaluate a piece of literature in order to derive meaning from it. • Literature critics fall into different schools of thought which are called literary critical theories (literary criticisms) or critical perspectives. • Each one of these critical theories / perspectives has a different opinion on which is the most important aspect of any literary work. Each one also makes certain assumptions about literature and the world.

  2. Reader Response Criticism • The most important aspect of literature is THE READER! • The reader’s response to any text is shaded by the reader’s own experiences, social ethics, moral values, and general views of the world. • Assumptions: • When encountering a text, a reader derives meaning from both the text itself and from a personal interaction with the text. • Different readers form different acceptable interpretations of a text because a text allows for a range of acceptable interpretations.

  3. Cultural Criticism • The most important aspect of literature is CULTURE! • This theory examines how differing religious beliefs, ethnicities, class identifications, political beliefs, and individual viewpoints affect how texts are created and interpreted. • What it means to be a part of – or excluded from – a specific group contributes to and impacts our understanding of texts in relation to culture. • Assumptions: • Ethnicity, religious beliefs, social class, and so on are crucial components in interpreting a text. • An examination of the relationship between dominant and marginalized cultures is essential.

  4. Feminist Criticism • The most important aspect of literature is RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN THE GENDERS! • This theory examines patterns of thought, behavior, values, enfranchisement, and power in relations between the genders. • Assumptions: • A pervasively patriarchal society conveys the notion of male dominance through the images of women in its texts. • Because many literary texts in patriarchal societies are written by men, many of these texts lack complex female characters. The female reader is an outsider who must assume male values in terms of perception, feelings, and actions. • Female characters often reflect stereotypical attitudes toward women. • Texts authored by women may have different viewpoints than texts authored by men.

  5. Historical Criticism • The most important aspect of literature is HISTORY! • This theory recognizes the significance of historical information in interpreting literature. • Assumptions: • Texts both influence and are influenced by the times in which they are created. • A text cannot be separated from its historical context, which is a web of social, cultural, personal, and political factors.

  6. Marxist Criticism • The most important aspect of literature is MONEY AND POWER! • This theory asserts that the presence of economic inequalities in a power structure drives history and influences differences in religion, race, ethnicity, and gender. • Assumptions: • All aspects of humanity are based on the struggle for economic power. • The basic struggle in society is between the haves and the have-nots.

  7. Archetypal Criticism • The most important aspect of literature is UNIVERSAL SYMBOLS! • Archetypes are universal symbols – images, characters, motifs, or patterns that recur in myths, oral traditions, songs, and literature. • Assumptions: • Certain images recur in texts from diverse cultures that share a common interpretation – water, the sun, the garden, the desert. • Certain characters recur – the hero, the trickster, the villain, the damsel in distress. • Certain motifs and patterns recur – creation stories, quest stories, voyage to the underworld stories, rags to riches stories.