Introduction to Literary
What does this painting mean?
Literary Analysis
Form an argument about a piece of
literature by examining the smaller pieces
that make up the work as a whole.
 Express your personal perspective,
interpretation, or judgment or the work by
explaining how evidence from the text to
supports your interpretation.
Reading Glasses
Any piece of text can
be read with a number
of different sets of
“glasses,” meaning
you are looking for
different things within
the text.
Literary criticism helps
readers understand a
text in relation to the
author, culture, and
other texts.
Some Common Ways to Analyze
 Biographical
 Historical/Cultural
 Mythological
 Gender
 Social
Formalist Analysis
A formalist analysis of a text focuses on symbolism,
metaphor, imagery, characterization, and so on.
Formalism ignores the author’s biography and focuses
only on the interaction of literary elements within the
It’s what you do most often
in English literature.
A Checklist of Formalist Critical
- What is the work’s plot? How is its plot related to its
What is the relationship of each part of the work to the
work as a whole? How are the parts related to one
- Who is narrating or telling what happens in the work?
How is the narrator, speaker, or character revealed to
readers? How do we come to know and understand this
- Who are the major and minor characters, what do they
represent, and how do they relate to one another?
(DiYanni, Robert. Literature Approaches to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. 2nd ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2008).
- What is the setting and how does it relate to what we
know of the characters and their actions? To what extent
is the setting symbolic?
- What kind of language does the author use to describe,
narrate the literary work? What images, similes,
metaphors, symbols appear in the work? What is their
function? What meanings do they convey? (DiYanni
A Formalist Analysis of “The Three
Little Pigs”
What does the wolf symbolize?
How do the pig’s actions foreshadow the
their impending conflict with the wolf?
What does the setting (the three houses)
reveal about the theme?
Biographical Analysis
Looks for the author’s
 By examining the
author’s life, we can
have a deeper
understanding of the
A Biographical Analysis of The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
Suzanne Collins wrote The Hunger Games because she loved
the story of Theseus and the Minotaur when she was a kid. In this
story, the evil king of Crete placed 7 young men and 7 young
women from Athens in the labyrinth where they would have to
fight the Minotaur to escape. Theseus eventually volunteers and
defeats the Minotaur.
Hunger Games is a direct reflection of her love of this story.
 Youth from different districts are sent to the games as a
reminder of the past and for the entertainment of the capital.
 Katniss volunteers and enters the games along with other
youth from the districts.
 Katniss is the champion of the poor and represents hope
Historical/Cultural Analysis
Examines a text in relation to its
historical or cultural backdrop.
 Examines a text’s effect on history or
culture or vice versa.
 Often very similar to a biographical
analysis, but you are analyzing how the
text relates to history or culture (past or
Historical/Cultural Reading of
Pixar’s Wall-E
What can Wall-E
reveal about our
 How do the people in
the movie reflect our
beliefs about
Mythological Analysis
Not about mythology
 It is about the universal elements of
human life that are common in all cultures.
 Like ancient mythology, literature is a
window to creating meaning for human
 In other words, stories make us feel like
our lives are more significant.
Mythological Analysis
Central to mythological theory are archetypes.
universal elements present in the literature of all
Mythological Analysis
Common Archetypes
The Hero = Beowulf, Spiderman, Luke
Skywalker, Braveheart
 The Outcast = Freak the Mighty, Lord of the
Flies, Cain
 The Quest = LOTR, Star Wars, Freak the
 Sacrificial King = Jesus, The Lion the Witch
and the Wardrobe, LOTR
 Evil Personified = Wicked Witch of the
West, the Devil, the Emperor in SW
Gender Analysis
Gender analysis views literature through
the lens of socially-constructed gender
 Feminism
seeks to correct women’s inequality to men
in society
In its most basic form, feminism is about
A Feminist Reading of Cinderella
As a single, young woman, Cinderella is without
means or opportunity because she is unattached to a
father or a husband.
It is only through the magic of a fairy godmother that
she can be made presentable and meet the prince
AND he is the only means of her escaping her plight.
What skills does she have? She is beautiful, can sing
well, and is kind. What does this say about her ugly,
untalented step-sisters?
Social Analysis
Investigates assumptions and values
associated with culture, race, class.
 For example: Are the rich always good or
bad? Are the poor always good or bad?
Social Analysis
Explores the power struggles of those
who are minorities in dominant culture.
 Examines who has/does not have
power, how they attained it/why they
don’t have it, and what they do with
it/how they are manipulated by it.
Social Analysis
Believes that literature is essentially
political; it either supports or refutes
economic oppression. In other words,
the author either reinforces the status
quo or rebels against it.

Introduction to Literary Criticism