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What is literary criticism?


Criticism: The study, analysis, interpretation, and history of literature. It is a dialog.

"Criticism asks what literature is, what it does, and what it is worth." Encyclopedia Britannica

Literary criticism analyzes, interprets, and evaluates works of literature. Though you most often find criticism in the form of an essay, in-depth book reviews may also be considered criticism. Criticism may analyze an individual work of literature. It may also examine an author’s body of work.

Why use literary criticism?

Literary criticism is the act of interpreting literature.

Authors present us with work that can have multiple meanings, expecting us to consider thoughtfully--to interpret. Writers and critics build on each others' understanding of a work of literature in a kind of dialog. Noted authors often have a body of criticism attached to their work. Critics evaluate and debate the ideas of fellow critics. Good criticism can help us develop a better understanding of a work. It can help us develop a point of view about a work, whether or not we agree with the opinions of the critic.

As you work with literary criticism in your writing it is important that you incorporate your own reactions and points of view.

When looking for criticism, check for:
  • Credentials of the writer
  • Quality of the sources--journals, books, Websites

Opinions supported by evidence, relating to:
  • Characterization
  • Voice
  • Style
  • Theme
  • Setting
  • Technical qualities of the writing (artistry, style, use of language)
  • Interpretation
  • Complex ideas and problems
  • Relationship of work to the time, or social, historical, or political trends

When looking for criticism, AVOID:
  • Plot summaries, SparkNotes, Pink Monkey, etc.
  • Casual posts on discussion groups
  • The works of other students
  • Author biography

LitCritPathfinder