We’ll play Name That Critical
Approach game at the end, so be
ready!
A way of talking about
literature
 The lens through which
we like to examine
literature
 For example

• People who believe that
understanding the
author’s life can help
readers better
understand his/her
work, often use
Biographical Criticism
 There
are many
critical approaches
however here are
some major ones to
which we may be
referring:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
Formalist
Biographical
Historical
Psychological
Mythological
Sociological
Gender
Reader-Response
Deconstructionist
Cultural Studies
 Reader-based
• Literature does not exist separate from those
who read it
• An individual’s background and feelings are part
of how they read and interpret literature
 Text-based
• Primarily look at the work itself, separate from
context in which it was written or who wrote it
 Context-based
• Examines the context in which a work was
produced
 Strongly
examines
elements such as
plot, character, style
and tone, irony,
symbol, etc.
 Believes that studying
these elements is the
most significant way
to find meaning
about the text
 Seeks
to examine a
work in isolation from
• the reader,
• the author,
• the context in which it
was written
 Do
you think this
approach is reader,
text, or context
based?
Examines how details
and people in author’s
life have affected a
work
 Might examine the
events of writer’s life,
(Hemingway’s
reporting about the
Spanish Civil war) and
use them to better
understand For Whom
the Bell Tolls

Might examine
multiple drafts to try
and decipher why a
writer crafted the way
she did
 Danger: often life
stories can overwhelm
the literature, making it
difficult to understand
or examine the work
for its own merits

 Seeks
to understand
a literary work by
investigating the
social, cultural, and
intellectual context
that produced it
 Context includes
author’s biography
 Less
concerned with
a work’s significance
today than what it
meant in its time
 How the time and
place of a story’s
creation affect its
meaning
 Emphasizes
the underlying meaning in
literature in relationship to psychological
components
• Sexual symbols, dreams, repressed feelings, an
individual character’s conscious and/or
subconscious motives, etc.
 The
critic might look at a character’s
psychological make-up, sanity, etc.
 An interdisciplinary approach
 Often draws from anthropology,
comparative religion, history, and
psychology
 Explore literature through examination of
common humanity
 Commonly discuss archetypes in literature:
symbols or situations that evoke a universal
response
• Coming of age motif
• The hero’s journey
• Good v. evil as seen in light v. dark
 Examines
literature in the cultural,
economic, and political context in which
is it written or received
 Looks at the relationship of the artist and
society
• How the social classes of characters influence
their outcomes
• The political or social statements a work offers
Examines how sexual
identity influences the
creation and reception
of literary works
 Began with the feminist
movement
 Often looks at how text
by examining “maleproduced”
assumptions in works

Men’s movement:
seeks to examine ideas
of masculinity
 May examine how
women are
stereotyped or what
roles they play in
literatureI
 nfluenced by
sociology, psychology,
and anthropology

 Attempts
to describe what happens in the
reader’s mind while reading a text
 Acknowledges that different readers
come to a text with different
backgrounds that will affect their
interpretations
 Though it rejects the idea that there is a
singular, correct interpretation, it notes
that there are not an infinite number of
interpretations
 No
central methodology is used
 Interdisciplinary field
 Primary looks at the nature of social
power as revealed in “texts”
• Cereal boxes
• Commercials
• Literature
 Seeks
to identify the overt and covert
values reflected in a cultural practice
 See
handout
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Critical Approaches to Literature