A literary criticism, sometimes called a literary analysis or literary critical analysis, is an examination of a literary work. The scope of a literary criticism can be to examine a single aspect of the work or the work as a whole and involves taking the literary work apart into its separate components and evaluating how they fit together to achieve the purpose of the work. Literary criticism is commonly done by students, scholars, and literary critics, but anyone can learn to criticize literature.
Method 1 of 3: Take a Basic Review for Beginners
Step 1. Read the work carefully
You start a review not when you sit down to write it but when you sit down to read the literary work. In all literary works, whether they are novels, short stories, essays, or poems, ask yourself why the characters do what they do.
Step 2. Create a graphic organizer
To help you organize the plot and characters so that you can think about the text, it helps to make a graphic organizer. There are many ways to create a chart so that you can organize your observations, including an idea web, a Venn diagram, a T-chart, and more.
For example, for a T-box, list the names of the characters in one column and their actions in another as you read. After reading, you can add a column that contains why you think they did each action
Step 3. Think about the literal meaning
After you finish reading a literary work, think about what each character did and how each action contributed to the plot. Look at your graphic organizer to help you understand what happened on the site. At this point, don't try to decide what the author says. Just observe the actions and the plot with the naked eye.
This is similar to a work of art. Rather than looking at a painting to determine what the artist was communicating, just look at what is literally present in the painting. For example, what is present in Van Gogh's Starry Night? Don't think about what he's trying to say in the painting; think of the stars, the eddies in the night sky, and the houses below it
Step 4. Think about what the author might suggest about society or humanity
After you have a good understanding of the events in the play, you can try to understand what the author was suggesting about human nature through the characters and their actions. This is called themes.
- For example, ask yourself why the witch turns the prince into a beast in Beauty and the Beast. What does this action suggest about human nature?
- Also think about what lesson the reader can learn from the characters. What does the Beast teach us?
Step 5. Formulate a thesis statement
After you have selected a lesson that the reader can learn from the literary work, it is time to formulate a thesis statement. A thesis statement is a single sentence that makes a claim about the literary work that can be supported using textual evidence, such as quotes from the work.
- The format of a thesis statement might look like this: _______ is true because __________, ____________, and ___________. The first blank is your opinion. For example, the Beast teaches us that we should be hospitable towards everyone.
- The rest of the blanks tell why your opinion is true: the Beast teaches us that we should be hospitable towards everyone because he learns from his mistake, becomes a compassionate person throughout his time as the Beast, and regrets having been rude to that witch.
- However, keep in mind that there are many different ways to formulate a thesis. Most importantly, make sure your thesis includes a claim and a summary of the reasons for claiming it. For example, you could formulate the thesis as "Because the Beast suffers for its actions, Beauty and the Beast argues that we must be hospitable towards everyone and this theme is sustained throughout all of history."
Step 6. Locate evidence in the work to support your thesis
Look again at your graphic organizer and look for the events that demonstrate all the reasons why your thesis is true. Highlight these events and make sure you have the page numbers.
- You can summarize these events or use direct quotes from the book, but both methods must have a page number. This prevents plagiarism.
- For example, you could use a quote showing how the Beast is inhospitable as one of your first examples. You can then use other examples from the text to show the continuation of this topic.
- You don't have to use direct dating all the time. You can also paraphrase a passage in your own words or summarize longer passages where you describe the events in less detail in your own words. Regardless of whether you are citing, paraphrasing, or summarizing, be sure to include a page number for your evidence.
Step 7. Make a sketch
Make a sketch using your thesis statement to prepare an organized essay. A sketch should have Roman numerals for each paragraph and regular numbers for the parts of each paragraph. Look online for an example of a good sketch to guide you.
Fill in the outline with the topic sentences and events from the play that support each topic sentence
Step 8. Write your essay
Writing your essay shouldn't be difficult if you've prepared a detailed sketch. Write at least five paragraphs. The thesis statement goes to the end of the first paragraph and each paragraph in the body has one or two citations or examples from the text. Be sure to introduce each quote or example and then explain them after including them in the body paragraphs.
Close the essay with a concluding paragraph where you summarize the essay in just a few sentences
Step 9. Review the essay
Be sure to review and edit your essay. Look for typos, punctuation errors, and grammar errors. You must correct these errors (what is called revising) before submitting the essay. It is helpful to ask someone else to read the essay to help you find these errors.
Method 2 of 3: Apply Advanced Criticism Techniques
Step 1. Read the literary work critically
When you read a literary work for the purpose of criticizing it, be it a poem, a short story, a non-fiction essay, or a memoir, you should read it with an active mind. This means that you should ask questions when reading.
- You should read with a pencil and paper handy, as well as a dictionary. Jot down the main ideas in the margins and search for words as you go.
- Ask "how", "why" and "and what" to help you read critically.
Step 2. Evaluate as you read
Aside from noting in the margins of the text when important ideas occur, you should write down important ideas and topics on a piece of paper as you read, also taking note of the page numbers. You should also think about the text in terms of critical thinking, such as evaluating the clarity and accuracy of the work and also its current relevance to society.
Evaluate the elements of the play as you progress, such as the plot, themes, examples of character development, setting, symbols, conflicts, and point of view. Think about how these elements interact to form the main theme
Step 3. Brainstorm what you will be writing about
Before deciding on a thesis statement (in fact, to formulate it at first), you should brainstorm what aspect of the work you want to write about. Look at the notes you made when you read, see if there are any ideas you have already gleaned from the work, and include them in your brainstorming. You may want to choose a theme of the work that has particularly caught your attention and criticize how well the author presented it through the elements that you evaluated in your notes. There are many ways to brainstorm, including the following:
- make a list
- map a network
- perform free writing
- For example, when reading Pride and Prejudice, it might seem to you that the character of Darcy needed to develop more than Jane Austen did, or you might prefer the character of Jane over the character of Lizzy and feel that Jane would have been a better heroine (for For example, Jane has the same name as the author, which gives you grounds to explore the argument that Austen might actually have preferred her.) Make a list, network, or free write with ideas like these.
Step 4. Formulate a thesis statement
Once you have filled out your brainstorming and selected a critical perspective (either based on your own observations or on a critical theory), you should formulate a basic thesis statement. A "basic" thesis is one that can be changed and adapted to your writing as you write your essay.
- The thesis must present your opinion in a justifiable way accompanied by a solid reason why your opinion is true.
- The formula for a basic thesis statement might look like this: _______ is true because of __________, ____________, and ___________.
Step 5. Create a sketch
You should always use an outline as it requires you to organize your reasoning in a logical way so that your criticism is solid and credible. An outline will include items such as your thesis statement, the content of your body paragraphs, and quotes and examples with page numbers. This makes writing your essay so much easier because all your research is gathered in one place.
You can also take advantage of an outline to form key sentences, such as the hook (the first line of the introductory paragraph), the topic and transition sentences for each paragraph in the body, and your conclusion
Step 6. Select quotes and patterns that support your thesis
When creating your sketch, you can start choosing direct quotes and examples from the text itself (the primary source) and the research you've done (secondary sources). If you include a topic sentence in each body paragraph, you can add the correct quotes to support each idea.
- Look at your notes and identify any patterns you see in the text that support your thesis statement, such as the fact that no one is ever sure what Darcy does until after he does it, which contributes to a lack of character development. in Pride and Prejudice (if you were to try to test the validity of the argument that Darcy is underdeveloped, for example).
- You should include a page number or attribution to the author each time you talk about a specific event, paraphrase a quote, paraphrase an excerpt, or use a direct quote. Usually, you put a page number in parentheses after the sentence.
Step 7. Look for other criticisms to support your thesis
In order to write a strong review, you need outside sources who agree with you. This increases the credibility of your argument and shows that you have the mental fortitude to think critically about what you read. External sources are also called secondary sources and you have to make sure they are reliable, such as articles in peer-reviewed literary journals, published books, and book chapters.
You should also address any criticism that disagrees with your thesis, as refuting counterarguments also lends credibility to your thesis
Step 8. Use the sketch to write your essay
Once you've gathered your research, formulated a thesis statement, and filled out a detailed sketch, it's time to write your critique. By this point, you will have quite a bit of information and have finished the entire organization so writing the piece should be a seamless process.
- If you created your sketch in a word processor, you can simply fill it in with additional information.
- You can also treat the sketch like a road map. Please refer to it as you write your review to make sure you include all the points and examples you have identified.
Step 9. Pay attention to homework and style guidelines
Be sure to follow your instructor's guidelines for homework. For example, there may be specific questions you need to answer in your essay. You may also have requirements regarding page length or word count that you have to meet. You will also need to use the correct style to format your essay, such as MLA, APA, or Chicago.
MLA is the most common format for essays with a literary basis, but you should ask your instructor if you are unsure
Step 10. Discuss your dates
Your essay should include citations from the primary source (the literary work itself) and secondary sources (articles and chapters that support your argument). Make sure to analyze all the quotes you include in a way that expresses your own opinion rather than mechanically repeating someone else's.
- For example, after submitting a quote, you could explain what it means or demonstrates, as well as how it supports your thesis. Don't just paraphrase or summarize quotes after submitting them. Summarizing does not demonstrate critical thinking. Instead, try to explain to your readers the importance of each quote or example.
- Try creating date sandwiches. A quote sandwich is simply how you position a quote in an essay. There should be a sentence introducing the citation and the author, then the citation itself followed by one or more sentences analyzing the citation.
- Be sure to include a list of references or works cited that includes all the sources you cited or paraphrased in the essay. This prevents plagiarism.
Step 11. Review your review
Proofreading, editing, and proofreading are important parts of the writing process and should be done before submitting or publishing a literary review. When doing your proofreading, it helps to ask someone else to proofread the essay or read it aloud to yourself to find sloppy mistakes, complicated formulations, and weak organization.
Method 3 of 3: Evaluate Literature by Reading
Step 1. Find the author and the cultural context
If you are going to read a work of literature for the purpose of critiquing it internally rather than for an essay, you should start by understanding the cultural setting of the work. Knowing the social context of a written work increases your understanding of the vocabulary, setting, and motivations of the characters, all of which are crucial to forming an accurate critique.
Step 2. Highlight and look for words and passages that you don't understand
Bring a highlighter or pen with you to your reading sessions and mark the words you don't understand. Looking them up in a dictionary as you read will increase your understanding of the text, as does knowing the cultural environment in which the text was written.
Step 3. Research the meaning of the title
Once you start reading, consider the meaning of the title. Ask yourself why the author chose that title. Is it a simple title, only related to the setting or main objective, like the title of the story "The yellow wallpaper"? If so, why would the author downplay the work so much?
Questioning the title helps determine the main topic and contributes to a more accurate criticism
Step 4. Decide what the central theme is
Thinking about the title will help you determine the main theme of the work. Determining the main topic provides a trunk from which the branches of the rest of your analysis of the text will emerge. You will observe the literary elements of this text and, if you know what topic they should be aimed at, this helps you to criticize to what extent the author achieves it.
Step 5. Examine the components of the work
Examine the elements of the literary work you are about to read by exploring how each element is presented in the text. Identify examples of each item and determine how each relates to the main topic. You may want to write down where these connections are so that you can organize your thoughts.
- Scenario: the description of the surroundings.
- Plot: the events of the text.
- Characters - The motivations and depth of each character, such as how much they change or do not change as a result of events. Characters can be people, objects, even ideas (especially in poetry).
- Conflict: the opposition that the main character encounters and its climax and resolution.
- Topics: what the narrator observes about human nature.
- Point of view: the way a character thinks, be it curious, condescending, etc. It can also be the perspective from which the text is narrated, be it first person, third person, etc.
- Tone: the way the text feels, be it sad, happy, angry, listless, etc.
- Symbols: objects, people or places that are constantly repeated throughout history and seem to represent another abstract idea.
Step 6. Form an interpretation of the play
Once you have analyzed the different elements of the text, you can form an interpretation based on your analyzes. This interpretation may be that the author could have done a better job, that the author is profound, that some of the elements of the text are linked to modern society in an interesting way, etc.
- You may want to write down your interpretations of the work at this point as it is an excellent stepping stone to obtaining a thesis statement if in the end you do have to write an essay about the text.
- You can review external sources, such as refereed articles and books, to verify that your interpretations are accurate or if you need to work on them further.
- You should always consider how the author's techniques contribute to the overall meaning of the text.
- If you don't feel like you have a good understanding of all the specific components after the first reading of a literary work, read it again with the components in mind before criticizing it.
- Be careful not to summarize the entire work when criticizing literature. It is your job to evaluate the meaning of the play, not to summarize its plot.