Critical Lenses

Reader Response
  • Karl Marx believed human history consisted of a series of struggles between classes – “the haves” and “the have-nots”
  • Marx believed that materialism was the ultimate driving force in history.
  • This lens analyzes the economic and social conditions represented in a text.
  • It assumes that all literary works are either protesting or endorsing the status quo
  • Practice using the social/Marxist lens here:
  • Historically, writing (and interpretation) has been dominated by men and masculine perceptions
  • This lens emphasizes the roles, expectations, biases, and social positions of gender in texts, especially of women.
  • Practice using the feminist/gender lens here:
  • Carl Jung described the “the collective unconscious” as the thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and aspirations that all human beings share from all cultures and eras.
  • Archetypes, products of the “collective unconscious,” are symbols, characters, situations, or images that all people react to in the same way.
  • Practice using the archetypal lens here:
  • Colonized groups are forced to the margins by their colonizers (called “Othering”), despite having historical claim to the land they inhabit.
  • This lens examines what it means to be a part of or excluded from a particular group based on one’s religion, ethnicity, race, social class, political beliefs, etc
New Historicism/Historcial
  • Considers the social, cultural, and political context of the author in an effort to understand the text’s meaning.
  • Interpretation is a kind of cultural production. All writers are influenced by a particular historical context
  • The psychological explores the unconscious world and the manner in which it reveals itself in a text.
  • There are some patterns such as anxiety, repression, fear of death or the unknown, that can be applied to characters, authors, and human beings in general.
  • Requires the reader to know about the author’s life in order to fully understand the meaning of the text.
  • Writing reflects the systems of meaning available to the author.
  • There can be no absolute knowledge about anything because language can never say what we intend it to mean.
  • Language is self-contradictory. The deconstructionist’s job then is to point out places in the text that are contradictory.
New Criticism
  • Emphasizes the form of a text (i.e. literary devices, structure, etc.) and how the form influences meaning.
  • The complexities of the text can be resolved through careful analysis of its form.