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.

Approach Beliefs Practices Questions
Deconstructive Criticism
  •  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
  1. What are the binary oppositions that govern the text?
  2. What ideas, concepts, and values are being established by these binaries?
  3. Cite three different interpretations for the text by flipping a series of three major binaries.
Feminist Criticism
  •  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
  1. What types of roles do men/women have in the text?  Do any stereotypical characterizations of men/women appear?
  2. What are the attitudes toward women held by the male characters?
  3. What is the author’s attitude toward women in society? Explain your reasoning using detailed examples from the text.
Reader-Oriented Criticism
  •  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
  1.  What did the author intend for you to feel while reading this work, and how did he or she make you feel it?
  2. 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?
  3. How is your response shaped by the text? For example, do the actions of a certain character bring you pleasure or displeasure? Why?
Historical Criticism
  •  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
  1. How can you connect the author’s life to his or her text? Are there common issues, events, concerns?
  2. Is the author part of a dominant culture, and how does that status affect the work?
  3. What events occurred surrounding the original production of the text? How may these events be relevant to the text under investigation?



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Introduction to Literature Copyright © by William Stewart is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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