LITB4 advice – critical interpretations.

The critical anthology for LITB4 always throws up some uncertainty in the areas of criticism. Students often try to direct their essays at the obvious – the feminist analysis of Duffy for example, will tell us little, whereas the feminist approach to Dickens can be enlightening.

Students could use these checklists which I have found on line ( to clarify their approaches to the coursework should they be addressing the Critical Theory question.

Many students will engage closely with this and the result of this will be seen in the writing for the LIT B 3 examination where they will eagerly discuss a Marxist interpretation of Frankenstein, for example. Whilst this is to be encouraged during the reading of the texts, they need to be aware that digression away from the specific essay title will not serve them well.

These notes should not replace close study of the anthology and are designed merely to stimulate the thought process.


o 1
Consider the roles and situations of female characters. Make lists of different aspects of the female character’s place in the overall story. Include anecdotal scenarios that will back up a holistic thesis.
o 2
Look at the relationship of female characters to each other. Examine any discrepancies that might shed light on the overall role of females in the book.
o 3
Review the role of female characters in relation to their male counterparts. Literary criticism has its famous set of contrasts, for example, man vs. nature, nature vs. society, that set up points of inquiry. In this case, your fundamental contrast would be woman vs. man.
o 4
Look at the vocational roles of women in the literature. Much of literary criticism can be applied to the workplace. Studying the work that each character does provides a great starting point for analyzing the whole of the work.

o 5
Consider the attitudes of characters and how their world-views contribute to the eventual outcomes in the story. The goals of characters may or may not cause outcomes. Evaluate how “powerful” each character becomes.

Challenges to the Literary Canon
o One major approach to feminist literary criticism revolves around the desire to challenge or redefine the literary canon that has been dominated by men. In particular, as Scherman again notes, “feminist criticism makes space for and listens to women’s voices previously muted or drowned out by dominant patriarchal literary-critical practices.” In this sense, feminist literary criticism takes a particular stand against what the academic community has considered to be the norm for what it considers to be “literature.” This critique of traditional scholarship is an approach that rejects traditional norms on the assumption that traditional literary analysis has a political and ethical agenda biased against women. For this reason, writers like Josephine Donovan hope to recapture the radical basis for feminist literary criticism by reinvigorating it with both the political and ethical components inherent in the inception of the movement. By exploring previously ignored writers and studying the women’s literary tradition, critics hope to unveil previously held assumptions that marginalize the place of women in society.

Textual Analysis
o Another popular approach to feminist literary criticism is to examine closely what the text says, or as the case may be, does not say. In other words, what the text leaves out says much about the writer, literature in general, and society as a whole. By using this “hermeneutics of suspicion” literary critics hope to reveal how women are marginalized in the language of literature, according to Ady. In some ways, this approach to literary criticism assumes that there is an unconscious transference of previously held assumptions to the text through the act of writing. What is written reveals what society believes. Influenced by the rise of post-modernism, feminist literary critics believe that the act of writing is not neutral, instead it is influenced by the values of the writer who then transfers those values to the text, often unintentionally. By understanding these values, feminist literary critics hope to reveal these subconscious ideas to show how women have been marginalized in literature.


o 1
Approach the text with an eye for how the characters interact. Marxist thought relies on relationships between individuals, and even those aspects of relationships that are ‘social’ can be part of a Marxist critique.
o 2
Evaluate the vocational roles of all characters. The Marxist critique includes a focus on a “class system” where the vocations of characters provide the most direct reference to their place within this system. Look at the level of luxury that each individual has and how much they have to work.
o 3
Look at how characters use their free time. Part of the Marxist critique is based on the argument that individuals can use free time productively. Examining the free choices of individuals is actually a large part of Marxist literary criticism.
o 4
Assess the role of government in the piece of literature. Is it draconian? Laissez-faire? Marxist thought relies on government as a model for liberty and also for communalism: look at the tools that government uses. Does the government, in soliciting citizenship, appeal to the capitalist tendencies of individuals or to their innate love of community?
o 5
Use Marxist writers as a guide. Pick ideas outlined by Marxist writers of past eras and apply them to your particular study.

Modelled on the political theories of Karl Marx, Marxist literary criticism contends that all literature can be viewed as a clash between lower and upper classes. It is largely sociological. “Theorists working in the Marxist tradition, therefore, are interested in answering the overarching question, whom does it [the work, the effort, the policy, the road, etc.] benefit? The elite? The middle class? And Marxists critics are also interested in how the lower or working classes are oppressed – in everyday life and in literature. Generally, Marxist theory frames literature within the context of economics and how those economics affect both the upper and lower classes.


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