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 also practice 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.
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.
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.
Inspired by the theories of psychoanalysts, this school of criticism investigates the unconscious mind's influence on a text.
Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic interpretation
Freud introduced an approach to psychology that he called “psychoanalysis” as a way of analyzing and treating neuroses. He soon realized that psychoanalysis can be used to analyze many important aspects of human civilization, like religion, mythology, art, and literature.