ENGL 115 Introduction to Novels

Literary Criticism - An Introduction

What is Literary Criticism?

Literary Criticism is analysis, interpretation and evaluation of authors and their works of literature, which can include novels, short stories, essays, plays and poetry.

Such critical analysis is often written by literary critics and is found in essays, articles and books.

Literary "criticism" is not necessarily negative; "criticism" means a thoughtful critique of an author's work or an author's style in order to better understand the meaning, symbolism or influences of a particular piece or a body of literature.

Schools of Literary Theory

Literary critics may analyze works of literature from a particular philosophical or literary perspective.
These perspectives often develop as a response to the political, economic, cultural, educational and artistic climate of a historical period.
These perspectives, referred to as Schools of Literary Criticism, may include, but are not limited to, the following:

Literary Perspectives
  • Formalist
  • Biographical
  • Historical
  • Psychological
  • Mythological
  • Sociological
  • Gender Studies
  • Reader Response
  • Deconstructionist
  • Cultural Studies
  • Post-Colonial
  • Feminist
  • Marxist
  • Critical Race Studies

NOTE: This is not an exhaustive list. There is ongoing debate as to naming conventions and overlap between the literary schools

Sample Criticism

The excerpt below is taken from a scholarly essay titled "Publish or Perish: Food, Hunger, and Self-Construction in Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior." 

Note how criticism argues an interpretation of a text, and supports and explores that argument by bringing in examples from the text (symbols, quotes, plot, character, etc.) under study as well as ideas from other critics.

(click on image to enlarge)

Excerpt of criticism on The Woman Warrior

The critic's argument: "Although I will locate Maxine's concerns with physical survival on the essentialist 'side' of the debate, and her concerns with imaginative survival on the constructivist side, my larger interest will be to trace how Kingston defines and redefines food and hunger in ways that constantly blur that too tidy distinction."

Full text linked below:

Getting started

Literary Theory

Learn more about schools of literary criticism from library reference sources.

Search by specific schools of criticism or the broader term: literary criticism.