Mapping the world's opinions

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How should we think about interpreting literature?

In the world of literary criticism, there are many theories about the correct way to interpret literature. Some critics argue that the text alone determines a work's meaning, while others pay more attention to factors like historical context or the reader's experience. Scholars have also practiced other methods of literary criticism influenced by feminist, Marxist, or psychoanalytic theories, to name a few. So, what are the various theories about interpreting literature?

Formalism and New Criticism

These theories focus on the text alone as the sole determiner of meaning.

The text alone determines its meaning

When trying to interpret a literary work, readers should pay close attention to the text itself, disregarding outside influences. This method emphasizes close reading, form, irony, paradox, symbols, patterns, and allusions. Explore

Reader-Response Criticism

Reader-Response critics argue that readers play a significant role in determining a text's meaning. They disagree about the extent of this. Some argue that meaning inheres completely in the reader, while others insist that it resides in both text and reader.

Both the reader and text determine meaning

Popularized by Louise M. Rosenblatt, this theory argues that the text and the reader make meaning together. Explore

A text's meaning depends solely on the reader's experience.

Subjective reader-response critics argue that a reader's beliefs about and experience of a text determines meaning. Explore

Psychoanalytic Criticism

Inspired by the theories of psychoanalysts, this school of criticism investigates the unconscious mind's influence on a text.


Carl Jung

This page was last edited on Thursday, 6 Aug 2020 at 16:32 UTC