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English & American Literature

What is Literary Criticism?

Literary criticism - found in books and journals - is the study, interpretation, and evaluation of a work of literature and of its author's place in literary history. Literary criticism of a work usually offers interpretation of its meaning, analysis of its structure and style, judgement of its worth by comparison with other works, and an estimation of its likely effect on readers. Literary theory (e.g., feminist, narrative, etc.) often informs the critical analysis of a literary work. Criticism may examine a particular literary work, or may look at an author's writings as a whole.

From Purdue OWL:Writing a Literary Analysis:

Important Literary Concepts

The Basics Other Key Concepts
  • Plot
  • Setting
  • Narration/point of view  
  • Characterization
  • Symbol
  • Metaphor
  • Genre
  • Irony/ambiguity
  • Historical context
  • Social, political, economic contexts 
  • Ideology
  • Multiple voices
  • Various critical orientations
  • Literary theory


What is an Analysis?

An analysis of a literary work may discuss:
  • How the various components of an individual work relate to each other
  • How two separate literary works deal with similar concepts or forms
  • How concepts and forms in literary works relate to larger aesthetic, political, social, economic, or religious contexts


Criticism vs Reviews

Criticism differs from book reviews in several ways: it entails both analysis and judgement; it may be published many years after a literary work is published; it is usually longer and more complex than a book review. A book review documents the critical reception of a book at its time of publication. It is usually more "consumer-oriented," i.e., placing more emphasis on recommendation than analysis.
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More information on literary theories, critics...