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By reading and discussing literature, we expand our imagination, our sense of what is possible, and our ability to empathize with others. Improve your ability to read critically and interpret texts while gaining appreciation for different literary genres and theories of interpretation. Read samples of literary interpretation. Write a critique of a literary work.
Texts that interpret literary works are usually persuasive texts. Literary critics may conduct a close reading of a literary work, critique a literary work from the stance of a particular literary theory, or debate the soundness of other critics' interpretations. The work of literary critics is similar to the work of authors writing evaluative texts. For example, the skills required to critique films, interpret laws, or evaluate artistic trends are similar to those skills required by literary critics.
Why Write Literary Criticism?
People have been telling stories and sharing responses to stories since the beginning of time. By reading and discussing literature, we expand our imagination, our sense of what is possible, and our ability to empathize with others. Reading and discussing literature can enhance our ability to write. It can sharpen our critical faculties, enabling us to assess works and better understand why literature can have such a powerful effect on our lives.
"Literary texts" include works of fiction and poetry. In school, English instructors ask students to critique literary texts, or works. Literary criticism refers to a genre of writing whereby an author critiques a literary text, either a work of fiction, a play, or poetry. Alternatively, some works of literary criticism address how a particular theory of interpretation informs a reading of a work or refutes some other critics' reading of a work.
Diverse Rhetorical Situations
The genre of literary interpretation is more specialized than most of the other genres addressed in this section, as suggested by the table below. People may discuss their reactions to literary works informally (at coffee houses, book clubs, or the gym) but the lion's share of literary criticism takes place more formally: in college classrooms, professional journals, academic magazines, and Web sites.
Students interpret literary works for English instructors or for students enrolled in English classes. In their interpretations, students may argue for a particular interpretation or they may dispute other critics' interpretations. Alternatively, students may read a text with a particular literary theory in mind, using the theory to explicate a particular point of view. For example, writers could critique The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin from a feminist theoretical perspective. Thanks to the Internet, some English classes are now publishing students' interpretations on Web sites. In turn, some students and English faculty publish their work in academic literary criticism journals.
Over the years, literary critics have argued about the best ways to interpret literature. Accordingly, many "schools" or "theories of criticism" have emerged. As you can imagine--given that they were developed by sophisticated specialists--some of these theoretical approaches are quite sophisticated and abstract.
Below is a summary of some of the more popular literary theories. Because it is a summary, the following tends to oversimplify the theories. In any case, unless you are enrolled in a literary criticism course, you won't need to learn the particulars of all of these approaches. Instead, your teacher may ask you to take an eclectic approach, pulling interpretative questions from multiple literary theories.
It is often helpful to find out what others have written about the literery work you are studying. Keep in mind that criticism has not been published on all literary works. It is easier to find criticism on famous authors than on more obscure writers. Individual short stories or poems can also be challenging.
Literery criticism may be found in a number of forms:
Criticism in Books
Use the NCSU Libraries Catalog to find books by critics who have studied and written about your literary author. Here's a sample search - click for demo.
1) Type Eudora Welty in Search for words: (Anywhere) box
2) Look at the Refine Your Search box on the left, and find the Subject section. Click on Criticism and Interpretation
Criticism in Journal Articles
The library subscribes to a number of online databases that help you locate literary criticism articles.
- Tip: When using any of these databases, keep in mind that your literary author would be considered the subject or topic of the article. The word author in these databases would ordinarily refer to the person who wrote the article, rather than the literary author you are studying.
MLA International Bibliography
This is the most complete database that indexes scholarly literature journals. The articles are often very focused on a narrow topic. Note that MLA does not include research with a primary focus on ancient Greek and Roman (classical) authors. For literary research on classical authors, see the Classics Research Guide.
Tip: To search for criticism on a literary author, you can usually just type the authors name in the 1st search box without limiting to a specific field .If your your literary author has also written criticism, and you want to limit to articles that are about your author, you can use the pulldown to change to SU Subjects-ALL. To narrow your search to criticism of a particular work, you can type the name of the literary work.
Literary Reference Center Plus
Database including full text versions of selected literary criticism.
Academic Search Complete
This is a general interdisciplinary databases that covers many topics. It's not as complete as MLA (see above). But it includes many full-text articles, so it is often a quick way to find an article.
Tip: Since this database also covers popular magazines, you should limit your search by checking the box that says Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals.
This is a general interdisciplinary databases that covers many topics. It's not as complete as MLA (see above). JSTOR specializes in providing full text articles going back to the earliest issues of a journal. It has only scholarly journals, not popular magazines.
Tip: To search for criticism on Virginia Woolf, for example, try this:
1) Click on Advanced Search
2) Type Virginia Woolf in The Exact Phrase Box (or, type the name of the specific literary work)
3) Check off Language and Literature in the bottom section under These Discipline(s) and/or Journal(s)
For some current literature or popular books, there may be no criticism published in scholary books or journals, but you may still find book reviews in popular magazines or newspapers.
Academic Search Complete
This is a general interdisciplinary databases that covers many topics, including both scholarly journals and popular magazines, so it includes many book review.
Tip: Type the name of the book. If you choose, you can limit your search book reviews by using the Document Type box under Limit Your Results
Book Reviews Guide
For older books that do not have reviews listed in Academic Search Premier, there are some specialized sources that index book reviews in older periodicals.
This series of reference books collects and reprints literary criticism that was originally published in other places. It includes both excerpts and full reprints. This makes it easy to find criticism written by different people collected in one place. The reprints are arranged chronologically, starting with the earliest. Therefore, these is a good place to look if you want to learn what people were saying about a particular literary work right after it was published, and then trace how opinions evolved over time. The list below show the different series, which are based on the time period that the author live and wrote. If you don't know which set to use, keep in mind that the cumulative indexes in the last volume of each series cross-index one another.
Contemporary Literary Criticism (CLC)
[authors now living, or who died after December 31, 1999]
D.H. Hill Library. PN80 .C65 (6th floor bookstacks)
Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism(TCLC)
[authors who died between 1900 and 1999]
D.H. Hill Library. PN771 .G27 (6th floor bookstacks)
Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism (NCLC)
[authors who died between 1800 and 1899]
D.H. Hill Library PN761 .N56 (6th floor bookstacks)
Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800(LC)
[authors who died between 1400 and 1799]
D. H. Hill Library. PN86 .L53 (6th floor bookstacks)
Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism (CMLC)
[authors who died before 1400]
D.H. Hill Library PN661 .C42 (Learning Commons)