Introduction to Literary Theory
What is Literary Theory?
A very basic way of thinking about literary
theory is that these ideas act as different
lenses critics use to view and talk about
art, literature, and even culture. These
different lenses allow critics to consider
works of art based on certain assumptions
within that school of theory. The different
lenses also allow critics to focus on
particular aspects of a work they consider
Why should we bother to learn
about critical theories?
According to Tyson, “Theory can help us learn to
see ourselves and our world in valuable new
ways, ways that can influence how we educate
our children, both as parents and teachers; how
we view television, from the nightly news to
situation comedies; how we behave as voters
and consumers; how we react to others with
whom we do not agree on social, religious, and
political issues; and how we recognize and deal
with our own motives, fears, and desires” (2).
She continues by saying, “And if we believe that
human productions—not just literature but also, for
example, film, music, art, science, technology, and
architecture—are outgrowths of human experience
and therefore reflect human desire, conflict, and
potential, then we can learn to interpret those
productions in order to learn something important
about ourselves as a species. Critical theory [. . .]
provides excellent tools for that endeavor, tools that
not only can show us our world and ourselves through
new and valuable lenses but also can strengthen our
ability to think logically, creatively, and with a good
deal of insight.
Four Theories this quarter
African American (and minority) Criticism
Lesbian, Gay, and Queer Criticisms
QHQs in your
Q: What are the most popular
interpretative theories in academia
Q: When do we cross the line into
critical theory territory from just
enjoying something for what’s on its
Q: When do theories transform from
tools of understanding to restraints
of our appreciation of literature?
Q: Is there any such thing as a wrong
Q: If a text “unwittingly” advocates
for something it would appear to
deride, is it the fault of the author?
Q: Does critical theory help us identify
and codify the elusive devices
authors utilize to convey a message?
Theory and Gatsby
Q: “Think of each theory as a new pair of
eye‐ glasses through which certain
elements of our world are brought into
focus while others, of course, fade into the
background.” (Tyson 3).
How does this quote relate to the use of
eyes in The Great Gatsby?
Read: Critical Theory Today: Chapter 5
“New Criticism” Pp. 135-164
Post #6: QHQ: New Criticism