Brizee, Allen, and J. Case Tomkins. “Literary Theory and Schools of Criticism.” OWL at Purdue. The Writing Lab and OWL at Purdue and Purdue U, 1995-2012. Web. 20 Oct 2012.
Literary Theory and Schools of Criticism
A very basic way of thinking about literary theory is that these ideas act as different lenses critics use to view and talk about art, literature, and even culture. These different lenses allow critics to consider works of art based on certain assumptions within that school of theory. The different lenses also allow critics to focus on particular aspects of a work they consider important. For example, if a critic is working with certain Marxist theories, s/he might focus on how the characters in a story interact based on their economic situation. If a critic is working with post-colonial theories, s/he might consider the same story but look at how characters from colonial powers (Britain, France, and even America) treat characters from, say, Africa or the Caribbean. Hopefully, after reading through and working with the resources in this area of the OWL, literary theory will become a little easier to understand and use. Disclaimer
Please note that the schools of literary criticism and their explanations included here are by no means the only ways of distinguishing these separate areas of theory. Indeed, many critics use tools from two or more schools in their work. Some would define differently or greatly expand the (very) general statements given here. Our explanations are meant only as starting places for your own investigation into literary theory. We encourage you to use the list of scholars and works provided for each school to further your understanding of these theories. Although philosophers, critics, educators and authors have been writing about writing since ancient times, contemporary schools of literary theory have cohered from these discussions and now influence how scholars look at and write about literature. The following sections overview these movements in critical theory. Though the timeline below roughly follows a chronological order, we have placed some schools closer together because they are so closely aligned. Timeline (most of these overlap)
* Moral Criticism, Dramatic Construction (~360 BC-present) * Formalism, New Criticism, Neo-Aristotelian Criticism (1930s-present) * Psychoanalytic Criticism, Jungian Criticism(1930s-present) * Marxist Criticism (1930s-present)
* Reader-Response Criticism (1960s-present)
* Structuralism/Semiotics (1920s-present)
* Post-Structuralism/Deconstruction (1966-present)
* New Historicism/Cultural Studies (1980s-present)
* Post-Colonial Criticism (1990s-present)
* Feminist Criticism (1960s-present)
* Gender/Queer Studies (1970s-present)
Reader-Response Criticism (1960s-present)
What Do You Think?
At its most basic level, reader response criticism considers readers' reactions to literature as vital to interpreting the meaning of the text. However, reader-response criticism can take a number of different approaches. A critic deploying reader-response theory can use a psychoanalytic lens, a feminist lens, or even a structuralist lens. What these different lenses have in common when using a reader response approach is they maintain "...that what a text is cannot be separated from what it does" (Tyson 154). Tyson explains that "...reader-response theorists share two beliefs: 1) that the role of the reader cannot be omitted from our understanding of literature and 2) that readers do not passively consume the meaning presented to them by an objective literary text; rather they actively make the meaning they find in literature" (154). In this way, reader-response theory shares common ground with some of the deconstructionists discussed in the Post-structural area when they talk about "the death of the author," or her...