Viewed through critical lenses



Formalist (New Criticism): A piece of literature should be treated as an independent and self-sufficient object.  Close reading produces meaning and the search is for the detailed and subtle analysis of the complex interrelations and ambiguities of the components within a work.

·         What elements of the story seem most significant in the creation of meaning?

·         Recurring motifs/symbols?

·         Why is this book considered a work of art?

·         Major transitions?

·         Patterns?

·         What parallels are apparent?



Historical/ Sociological:  One applies specific historical information about the time during which an author wrote to a text.  Historical, in this case, refers to the social, political, economic, cultural, and intellectual climate of the times. 

·         What are the relations of power?

·         How and why is a character identified as “other”?

·         Consider what images of “Others” or processes of “Othering” are present in the text.  How are these “others” portrayed?

·         How do those with authority attempt to contain any subversion of that authority?

·         What historical/cultural events illuminate the text? 

·         Implications of class?

·         Reflect author’s class?  Analysis of class relations? 

·         Ideological vision?  Utopian vision?

·         Solutions to conflicts?

·         Certain cultures (mis)represent other cultures, thereby extending their political and social domination in the modern world order.



Psychoanalytic: Psychological criticism deals with a work of literature primarily as an expression, in fictional form, of the personality, state of mind, feelings, and desires of its author.  The assumption of psychoanalytic critics is that a work of literature is correlated with its author’s mental traits.

·         Does work reveal specific life/social conditions during historical period?

·         How is the text shaped by its (intentional or unintentional) representation of cultural difference (the ways in which race, class, sex, gender, religion, cultural beliefs, and customs combine to form individual identity)?

·         Motives for characters’ behaviors?

·         How does character’s background affect his psychological behavior?

·         Psychological aspects important to analyzing character?

·         Hegemony – is there an idea of parental authority?

Gender/Feminist:  A feminist critic sees cultural and economic disabilities in a “patriarchal” society that have hindered or prevented women from realizing their creative possibilities, including woman’s cultural identification as merely a passive object, or “Other,” and man is the defining and dominating subject. 

·         Assumptions regarding gender images of men/women?

·         How and why is the woman identified as “other”?

·         Covert ways in which male power is established?

·         Female points of view/feelings – is missing, why?



Archetypal:  Constantly recurring symbols, motifs, or universal patterns in all stories and mythologies regardless of culture or historical period.

  • Emphasis on self and shadow?
  • Hero?  Wanderer?  Orphan?  Mad Scientist?  Monster?
  • What characteristics define this archetype?
  • What are his goals?
  • What are his fears?
  • What are his nemeses?