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Find Literary Criticism

An overview of the print and electronic resources for literary criticisms at MVCC.

What is a literary criticism and how do I find one?

Literary criticism is the term given to studies that analyze, interpret, and evaluate works of literature. Literary criticisms may examine a particular literary work (like a play, short story, or novel), or it may look at an author's writings as a whole.

Finding literary criticisms can be challenging. This research guide was created to help students understand what a literary criticism is and how to research for a literary criticism paper.

Literary criticisms can be published many different ways which means you can find them in more than one location. They can be published as a chapter in a book that is made up of many critical essays. These books can be part of the circulating collection or in a series of reference books located in the reference collection. Most students look for literary criticisms in the library's online databases.

The left side navigation panel will direct you to separate pages on how to find literary criticisms in books through the library catalog, and through online databases.

Developing ideas for a literary criticism paper

Many students fall into the trap of spending too much time summarizing the literature being analyzed as opposed to critiquing it. As a result, it would be wise to check with your teacher regarding how much plot summary is expected. As you approach this project, remember to keep your eye on the ball: What, exactly (in one sentence) is the gist of your interpretation?

You can develop your ideas by researching the work of other literary critics. How do other critics evaluate an author's work? What literary theories do literary critics use to interpret texts or particular moments in history? Reading sample proposals can help you find and adopt an appropriate voice and persona. By reading samples, you can learn how others have prioritized particular criteria.

Below are some of the questions invoked by popular literary theories. Consider these questions as you read a work, perhaps taking notes on your thoughts as you reread.

New Criticism/Formalism

  • Character: How does the character evolve during the story? What is unique or interesting about a character? Is the character a stereotypical action hero, a patriarchal father figure, or Madonna? How does a character interact with other characters?
  • Setting: How does the setting enhance tension within the work? Do any elements in the setting foreshadow the conclusion of the piece?
  • Plot:What is the conflict? How do scenes lead to a suspenseful resolution? What scenes make the plot unusual, unexpected, suspenseful?
  • Point of View: Who is telling the story? Is the narrator omniscient (all knowing) or does the narrator have limited understanding?

Reader-Response Criticism

How does the text make you feel? What memories or experiences come to mind when you read? If you were the central protagonist, would you have behaved differently? Why? What values or ethics do you believe are suggested by the story? As your reading of a text progresses, what surprises you, inspires you?

Feminist Criticism

How does the story re-inscribe or contradict traditional gender roles? For example, are the male characters in "power positions" while the women are "dominated"? Are the men prone to action, decisiveness, and leadership while the female characters are passive, subordinate? Do gender roles create tension within the story? Do characters' gender roles evolve over the course of the narrative?

New Historicism Criticism

How does the story reflect the aspirations and conditions of the lower classes or upper classes? Is tension created by juxtaposing privileged, powerful positions to subordinated, dominated positions? What information about the historical context of the story helps explain the character's motivations? Who benefits from the outcome of the story or from a given character's motivation?

The above text for developing ideas for a literary criticism paper was adapted from "Literary Criticism" by Joe Moxley, used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0

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