4 Critical Approaches Chart
Use the critical approaches discussed in the chart below to help you find an interesting angle from which to approach a text. Each approach is given a brief description (Beliefs), some guidelines for studying a text (Practices) and prompts to inspire your discussion (Questions).
Do not simply list and answer the questions for a particular critical approach. Instead, use the questions as a starting place for your actual analysis. The questions are intended to be thought-provoking, not a list to be completed.
- Meaning is made by binary oppositions (happy/sad, man/woman, black/white); in every binary relationship, one item is favored over the other one
- This favoring of one concept in the binary relationship can be questioned and reversed to open up new ideas and meanings
- Identify the binary oppositions in the text, and determine which items are favored
- What are the binary oppositions that govern the text?
- What ideas, concepts, and values are being established by these binaries?
- Cite three different interpretations for the text by flipping a series of three major binaries.
- Any interpretation of the text is influenced by the reader’s own status, which includes gender and attitudes towards gender
- Men and women are different: they write differently, read differently, and write about their reading differently
- Identify the gender of the author and narrator/main character of the text
- Observe how sexual stereotypes might be reinforced or undermined in the text–specifically, how the text reflects, distorts, or supports the place of women (and men) in society
- What types of roles do men/women have in the text? Do any stereotypical characterizations of men/women appear?
- What are the attitudes toward women held by the male characters?
- What is the author’s attitude toward women in society? Explain your reasoning using detailed examples from the text.
- The reader’s response is what counts. We can’t know for sure what an author intended, and the text is meaningless unless a reader responds
- Responding to a text is a process. Descriptions of the process are valuable because one person’s response may enrich another reader’s response
- Focus on how particular details shape readers’ expectations and responses
- What did the author intend for you to feel while reading this work, and how did he or she make you feel it?
- What kind of reader is implied by this text? For example, does it address you as if you are intelligent and well-informed, or as if you are inexperienced and innocent?
- How is your response shaped by the text? For example, do the actions of a certain character bring you pleasure or displeasure? Why?
- Interpretation of a text should be based on an understanding of its context
- The context includes information about the author; when the text was written; where the text was written
- Research the author’s life and relate that information to the text
- Research the author’s time and location (the political history, economic history, etc.) and relate that information to the text
- How can you connect the author’s life to his or her text? Are there common issues, events, concerns?
- Is the author part of a dominant culture, and how does that status affect the work?
- What events occurred surrounding the original production of the text? How may these events be relevant to the text under investigation?