Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (2008) defines theory as a formal statement of rules on which a subject of study is based, or ideas that are suggested to explain a fact or event. It can also refer to an opinion or explanation. Similarly, Encarta Dictionaries 2009 defines theory as a body of rules, ideas, principles, and techniques that apply to a subject, distinct from actual practice. While something may be possible in theory, it may not always happen in practice. This demonstrates that theory consists of suggested ideas to explain various aspects.
Literary criticism refers to the act of interpreting and studying literature, involving a critical analysis of a literary piece. Literary critics apply different theories to texts or essays to provide critical judgments or conclusions.
Literary theory, also known as critical theory, encompasses the methods used in the literary criticism of various works. It involves following specific academic, scientific, or philosophical approaches in systematically analyzing literary texts. Literary theories explain the assumptions and values underlying different forms of literary criticism.
Literary theories serve as lenses through which we can view texts. Multiple theories can be simultaneously applied, allowing for new perspectives in reading. The following are some commonly employed literary theories:
- Feminist Criticism: This criticism explores cultural and economic differences in patriarchal societies that hinder women from realizing their full potential and cultural identities. It focuses on the unequal gender relationship, portraying women as the oppressed gender while men are seen as dominant.
- Marxist Criticism: This theory examines the relationship between social classes based on the economic and cultural theories of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. It focuses on class struggles.
- Psychological Criticism: Also known as Psychoanalytic Criticism, this approach considers a literary work as an expression of the author's personality, state of mind, feelings, and desires.
- Archetypal Criticism: Archetypes are character types, images, or situations identifiable in various literary works. Archetypal criticism explores the universal, primitive, and elemental patterns that evoke profound responses in readers.
- New Historicism Criticism: This theory analyzes a text by considering specific historical information about the time when the author wrote it. It aims to shed light on the marginalized perspectives often overlooked in traditional historical accounts.
- Reader-Response Criticism: This theory focuses on the reader's experience and interpretation of a literary work, considering it as an active process where meaning is constructed through the interaction between the reader and the text.
For example, in the novel "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen, feminist criticism examines the societal restrictions placed upon women in the 19th century. The female characters, such as Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters, are limited by societal expectations and face challenges in asserting their independence and achieving equal status.
In George Orwell's novel "Animal Farm," Marxist criticism analyzes the allegorical representation of different social classes in a society governed by animals. The pigs, who seize power and establish a hierarchy, represent the bourgeoisie, while the working-class animals symbolize the proletariat.
In Emily Bronte's novel "Wuthering Heights," psychological criticism delves into the complex characters of Heathcliff and Catherine. It explores their deep-seated desires, conflicts, and psychological motivations, unraveling the intricate web of emotions portrayed throughout the story.
In J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings," archetypal criticism examines the heroic journey undertaken by the character Frodo Baggins. His quest to destroy the One Ring embodies the archetype of the hero's journey, with elements such as the mentor (Gandalf), the threshold guardian (Gollum), and the ultimate confrontation with evil (Sauron).
In William Shakespeare's play "Macbeth," New Historicism criticism explores the political and social context of the Jacobean era, delving into the themes of power, ambition, and the anxieties of King James I's reign.
In Franz Kafka's novella "The Metamorphosis," reader-response criticism invites readers to reflect on their personal experiences and emotional responses to Gregor Samsa's transformation into a giant insect. Different readers may relate to themes of alienation, identity, or familial relationships based on their individual perspectives.
These theories provide valuable insights into the analysis and interpretation of literary works. By employing different lenses, readers can deepen their understanding and appreciation of literature.There are many more literary theories, these ones have been used just as examples.