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Schools of Literary Criticis m. The Purpose of Criticism. To help us resolve a difficulty in the reading . ( 2) To help us choose the better of two conflicting readings. ( 3) To enable us to form judgments about literature. . Historical / Biographical School.

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the purpose of criticism
The Purpose of Criticism
  • To help us resolve a difficulty in the reading.

(2) To help us choose the better of two conflicting readings.

(3) To enable us to form judgments about literature.

historical biographical school
Historical / Biographical School
  • Analyze the work as the reflection of an author's life / times (or of the characters' life / times).
  • Belief that it is necessary to know about the author and the political, economical, and sociological context of his times in order to truly understand his works.
  • A natural tendency for readers.
  • Literature is naturally more moving when we can connect it to life.
to use historical biographical criticism
To use historical/biographical criticism
  • 1. Research the author’s life and relate that information to the work.
  • 2. Research the author’s time (political history, intellectual history, and economic history) and relate it to the wok.
  • 3. Research the belief structures and ways of thinking and relate them to the work.
advantages of historical criticism
Advantages of Historical Criticism
  • This approach works well for some works--like those of Alexander Pope, John Dryden, and Milton--which are obviously political in nature.
  • One must know Milton was blind, for instance, for "On His Blindness" to have any meaning.
  • It also is necessary to take a historical approach in order to place allusions in their proper classical, political, or biblical background.
disadvantages of historical criticis m
Disadvantages of Historical Criticism
  • the meaning / value of a work may be determined by the author's intention is "the intentional fallacy." 
  • reduce art to the level of biography and make it relative (to the times) rather than universal.
gender feminist criticism
Gender (Feminist) Criticism
  • Developed in late 20th century
  • Studies “women’s issues” of repression, oppression, exploitation, and exclusion of women
  • Also masculine roles and stereotypes
  • concerned with the place of female writers in the cannon (most commonly taught body of literature)
  • Simone de Beauvoir gender (masculinity and femininity) are created by society
  • Misogyny (women as monsters) vs. idealization (women as saints)- seeks a balance
to use gender criticism
To use gender criticism
  • 1. Consider the gender of the author and the characters; what role does gender or sexuality play in this work?
  • 2. Observe how sexual stereotypes might be reinforced or undermined. Try to see how the work reflects or distorts the place of men and women in society.
  • 3. For men, imagine yourself as a woman reading the work.
advantages of gender criticism
Advantages of Gender Criticism
  • Women have been somewhat underrepresented in the traditional cannon- a feminist approach to literature redresses this problem.
  • Men can better understand female characters.
disadvantages of gender feminist criticism
Disadvantages of Gender (Feminist) Criticism
  • turns literary criticism into a political battlefield
  • overlook the merits of works considered "patriarchal."  
  • often too theoretical.
reader response criticism
Reader-Response Criticism
  • Inspired in late 1930s but didn’t really catch on until the 1970s
  • Reaction to problems and limitations found with new criticism (not all literature is suited for new criticism, such as 18th Century literature)
  • The reader play plays a role in the meaning of any work- inspired by Einstein’s theory of relativity, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle
  • A subjective perspective
to use reader response
To use Reader-Response
  • 1. Read and evaluate the text very slowly, describing the response of an informed reader at various points.
  • 2. Describe your personal response as you read the text.
  • 3. React to the text as a whole, expressing the subjective and personal responses to it.


  • It recognizes that different people view works differently, and that people's interpretations change over time.
  • Disadvantages:
  • tends to make interpretation too subjective.
  • does not provide adequate criteria for evaluating one reading in comparison to another.
  • Too informal at times
psychological criticism
Psychological Criticism
  • Asks “why did you do that?”
advantages of psychological criticism
Advantages of Psychological Criticism
  • It can be a useful tool for understanding some works, in which characters obviously have psychological issues.
  • Like the biographical approach, knowing something about a writer's psychological make up can give us insight into his work.
disadvantages of psychological criticism
Disadvantages of Psychological Criticism
  • can turn a work into little more than a psychological case study, neglecting to view it as a piece of art.
  •   Critics tend to see sex in everything, exaggerating this aspect of literature.
  • some works do not lend themselves readily to this approach.
began with freud
Began with Freud
  • Freud’s id (instinct), ego(rational), and superego (repression)
  • Oedipal complex (subconscious rivalry of a boy with his father for mother’s love)
  • Everything relates to sex
beyond freud
Beyond Freud
  • Subconscious acts upon author- shows in work
  • Repression: the mind hides desires and fears
  • Isolation: experience of an event without any of the expected response
  • Sublimation: channeling an unacceptable urge into art or fantasy
  • Displacement: replacement of a safe object of emotion for a dangerous one

Denial: the subject falsifies reality, flatly refuses to accept it

  • Projection: one sees his/her own characteristics in someone else
  • Intellectualization: rationalizing as a way of avoiding uncomfortable emotions
  • Reaction formation: one is convinced that the opposite of a terrible situation is the case

~ can make analysis more interesting

to use psychological criticism
To use psychological criticism
  • 1. Try to apply some developmental concept to the work, author, or characters (Oedipal complex, repression, gender confusion, etc)
  • 2. Relate the work to psychologically significant events in the author’s life.
  • 3. consider how repressed material may be expressed in the work’s symbols or imagery.
new criticism traditional
New Criticism (Traditional)
  • Emerged in the 1920s, dominated from the late 1930s through the 1960s
  • Thinks of themes as whole statements rather than phrases (“the big picture”)
  • Intellectual exercise
  • Objective perspective
to use new criticism
To use new criticism
  • Determine what ambiguities, ironies, and tensions are present.
  • 2. Read closely. Assume that all aspects are established carefully to contribute to the unifying theme: figures of speech, points of view, diction, recurrent ideas or events, etc.
  • 3. Describe how the various elements of the text work to unify it.


  • can be performed without much research
  • emphasizes the value of literature apart from its context (makes literature timeless). 
  • Disadvantages:
  • The text is seen in isolation.
  • ignores the context of the work. It cannot account for allusions.
  • tends to reduce literature to little more than a collection of rhetorical devices.
deconstruction criticism
Deconstruction Criticism
  • Language doesn’t have a set meaning; words always refer to other words
  • The relationship between words and things is arbitrary and therefore can be changed
  • Multiples meaning indefinitely
  • Seems ridiculous, but can create more creative and careful writer and reader
  • May show us how a text can be misread, and what is excluded or suppressed in a text
to use deconstruction criticism
To use deconstruction criticism
  • 1. Identify the oppositions in the text.
  • 2. Determine which character, concept, theme or idea seems to be favored and look for evidence that contradicts that favoring.
  • 3. Expose the incongruities in the text; if you read too closely, the text will fail to make sense, or at least contradict itself.
deconstruction examples
Deconstruction examples
  • A sign by an elevator: “Seeing eye dogs only.”
    • Logical meaning?
    • Literal(deconstructionist) meaning?
  • A sign in fast food restaurants: “Picture menus available upon request.”
    • Logical meaning?
    • Literal(deconstructionist) meaning?