Pellissippi HOME | Library Site A-Z

Literary Criticism: Critical Literary Lenses

Critical Literary Lenses

A Critical Literary Lens influences how you look at a work. A great example that is often used, is the idea of putting on a pair of glasses, and the glasses affecting how you view your surroundings. The lens you choose is essentially a new way to focus on the work and is a great tool for analyzing works from different viewpoints. There are many approaches, but we will look at four common ones.

Socio-Economic (Marxist Criticism)

Definition: Examines complications found within a capitalist system, including social structures, wealth disparities, and class hierarchies.


Questions to ask:

  • What role does class play in the text?
  • How does class affect the characters and the actions they choose?
  • Maybe a character moves from one class to a new one, what are the implications?
  • What characters have money? What characters are poor? What are the differences?
  • Does money equate to power?
  • Perhaps a rich character is a villainess and poor character is morally rich, why is this? What causes this?  

Explore more:


Definition: Examines how gender roles and/or sexuality are characterized in the work. This approach is not limited to issues involving women.  


Questions to ask:

  • Is the author male or female? How do they connect with the text?
  • Are there traditional gender roles? Do characters follow these roles? How would they view a character that did not follow traditional roles?
  • Are women minor characters in the text or do they take on a prominent role? What roles do they have? Does it relate back to the gender of the author?
  • How does the author define gender roles?
  • What role does society/culture play in gender roles/sexuality in the text?
  • Would an LGBTQIA character be accepted in the text? Why or why not?

Explore More:


Definition: Analyzes a work in its historical context (i.e. Understanding the time period, author's background, and how the events of the time affect the author and possibly the characters of the text).


Questions to ask:

  • What time period was the work written, and what time period is the literary work taking place in? Is there a connection?
  • What is the background of the author? How does this affect their world-view? What role does this world-view have in the text?
  • Were major historical events taking place? What were they? How does the text reflect this?
  • Are the characters a product of their time? 
  • Are any of the characters a voice for change? What message is the author trying to convey through them?

Explore More:


Definition: Based on the theories of Sigmund Freud in which one's behaviors are influenced by their unconscious thoughts and fears. When using this criticism focus on the subconscious and how it affects and influences the conscious mind. Many times this theory is applied to the author and what the text is telling us about their psyche; however, it can be applied to characters as well.


Questions to ask:

  • What does the text reveal about the author? What message is the author trying to relay? 
  • What attitudes appear in the text? How do they change or progress through the piece?
  • What kinds of family dynamics are happening in the work? 
  • Perhaps a character shows signs of mental repression, what events have influenced this? How does it affect their daily life? How does it affect relationships with family and/or friends?

Explore More: