Literary analysis, or literary criticism, refers to a reader's efforts to investigate a text to understand why it has been constructed or written the way it is as well as to understand the types of cultural, social or personal assumptions or arguments it makes. Although any person with a critical eye can evaluate a text, several thematic approaches to literary criticism have emerged in the past 200 years to help readers narrow their focus when engaging in literary analysis.
Some of the first approaches to literary criticism include biographical and historical approaches. In a biographical approach, a reader theorizes how the author's life is evident in the text. A reader might identify evidence of the biography in characters or events throughout the text, or a reader might make conclusions about the author's life based on the events of the text. Historical approaches similarly attempt to connect the events of the text to the time period in which the text was written. Historical approaches attempt to uncover how real events impacted the author's approach to both the subject matter and style of the text. Traditional approaches are sometimes criticized for being too concerned with context and not the text itself.
Philosophical approaches to literary analysis evaluate either the way a prevailing moral or religious viewpoint has influenced the content of the text or the way a text poses and responds to pressing philosophical inquiries. A moralist approach is a general philosophical approach in which a reader evaluates the way that an author establishes ethical codes for right and wrong. An existentialist approach assumes that individuals in texts are isolated from their environments, which are perceived as strange, alien and void of any inherent truth -- key tenants of existentialist philosophy. Existentialist approaches are critical of representations of authenticity versus absurdity and subjective versus objective morality.
Psychological and Sociological Approaches
Psychological and sociological approaches evaluate both the explicit and implicit representations of psychological and sociological phenomena in a text. Psychological approaches evaluate the psychology of both the characters in and the author of a text. Freudian approaches evaluate the role of the author's or character's ego as well as the presence of popular Freudian concepts such as sexuality, repression and the subconscious. Sociological approaches are more concerned with individuals and their relationship with society. A Marxist approach regards a text as the result of work and focus largely on the role of class in both the context and the creation of the text. A feminist approach examines the roles of gender and patriarchy in a text and evaluates a text's stance on feminist issues.
Introspective approaches are one of the more recent developments in literary analysis. An introspective approach evaluates how the text relates to, addresses or impacts the reader. Reader-response analysis is the most common of the introspective approaches. In a reader-response approach, the reader takes an active role in garnering meaning or value from a text. The reader is responsible for taking an inventory of her own biases, values or assumptions prior to reading and pinpointing the ways that a text challenges or reinforces those traits. Introspective approaches also value the subjectivity of the reader's experience and assume that an objective reading is either impossible or no more valuable than a subjective reading.
- Bedford/St. Martin's: Critical Approaches
- Kristi Siegel: Introduction to Modern Literary Theory
- "Encyclopedia of Contemporary Literary Theory"; Irena R. Makaryk; 1993
- "Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction"; Jonathan D. Culler; 2000
- "Literary Theory and Criticism: An Oxford Guide"; Patricia Waugh; 2007
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