Introduction to Literary Theory

Literary Theory

In the world of English literature, there are approaches to studies and understanding that have been deemed applicable, while others have proved to fail. Since the beginning, scholars have been looking for ways of discovering what things work better where. They all seek a better understanding of literature. And that is where the “literary theory” emerges from. It can be defined as a body of ideas and methods we use in the practical reading and understanding of literary works. The term encompasses not only meaning in these works but ideas that reveal what they can mean. 

We can also say that literary theory is a description of a text-based on outlined principles, which one can say are tools that help in understanding written art. Literary interpretations vary on a large scale, but they all meet on the foundation of in theory, though each can present different levels of critical activities. In this case, we are saying it is the literary theory that creates the relationship between the writer and their work. In other words, literary theory develops the importance of race, class, and gender in literary studies, both from the view of the author’s background and the events unfolding within the story. 

The literary theory tries to provide approaches for the hidden role of the historical context in interpretation. Also, it taps into the relevance of language and the unconscious aspect of the written word. Hence, literary theorists search through the history and evolution of different genres, including narrative, dramatic, lyric, and the most recent novel and short stories, while uncovering the role of formal elements of literary structure. Again, literary theory, in recent years, has tried to explain the extent to which text is more linked to culture than on an individual author; hence, it helps in discovering how texts create the culture as well.

Definition of Literary theory

Literary theory is also referred to as critical theory or theory. And in recent years, it has been evolving into ‘cultural theory’ in the study area of literature. The term can be understood from different concepts and intellectual assumptions that foundation the rests of processes of explaining and interpreting texts. A theory is simply a set of principles that fuel the understanding of a specified field of study. Hence literary theory on the context mean rules derived from internal examination of written texts or understanding of external to text that can be used in different interpretive environments. Every critical practice about literary art is affected by the specified structure of ideas, at least in more than one way: one, that theory provides a guideline for what the components of a critical subject, in this case, the literary; and two the specific goals of critical theory – the process of interpretation.

For instance, when you mention “unity” of “Oedipus the King,” you will unveil Aristotle’s idea of phonetic. Chinua Achebe argues that “The Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad fails to recognize Africans as fully human. This approach brings up a perspective fueled by a postcolonial theory that digs into the issue of exploitation and racism. And anyone can take this approach, owing to the fact that these are historical occurrences that cannot be ignored. Now, consider critics that interpret the climactic drowning of Edna Pontellier in “The Awakening” as suicide. Such an approach, in general, calls for a supporting architecture of feminist and gender ideas. The basic concepts that create a foundation for criticism of written text be accepted or rejected by a critic and the situation of the theory within and the academic subject of literary studies.

Literary theory and interpretation

There is an indirect link between literary theory and the official process of descriptions in written art; they run parallel, but with a well understood course in their history with philosophy. They, therefore, form a historical path dating back and the days of Plato. In “The Cratylus, there is a meditation by Plato on the link between words and what they represent. Plato was more skeptical about signification; his idea was that words do not bear any etymological relation to what they talk about became a great topic of interest. However, they are sort of “imposed.” This idea has become a major concern among the scholars of the 20th century both in “Structuralism” and “Poststructuralism” alike. But then, there has been a notable consistent belief in “reference,” which states words and images represent an objective reality. And this has been provided as ‘having to do with ideas of knowledge’ support for theories in literature throughout Western History.

The modern theory begins in Europe during the 19th century and gradually becomes a critical part of modern literary studies. The earliest development can be linked with German “Higher criticism” that came from basic interpretations. This approach analyzed biblical texts, comparing with narratives from other cultures. And in France, Charles Augustine Saint Beuve insisted that a biography could be used to explain a literary piece of work fully. When Friedrich Nietzsche epistemologically suspected this approach, that facts are only facts if they have been well interpreted, it formed the basis for the greatest influence on the literacy theory. His criticism of knowledge has impacted literature studies, igniting the ushering of a new era of intense theorization that is still evident.

The word “theory” comes from the Greek term “theoria,” which indicates a view or perspective of the Greek stage. And it leads us to a partial understanding of theoretical approaches to literature. And it is the exact perspective we find in the literary theory. Some literary theories claim to offer a contrary view with a full system of understanding literature, but a more in-depth look will still bring them back to this. Currently, the theory is overlapped with important areas with older schools exerting an impact that engulfs everything.


Literary theory has always implied or shown in directness a conception of the world beyond the text. But in the twentieth century, the area of literary studies has been expanded into a broader field of research, influenced by three movements, “Marxist theory,” Feminism,” and “Postmodernism.” These are the major theories todayLiterary Theory, echoing the Traditional Literary Criticism approach.   


1031 Words


May 13, 2020


3 Pages

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