What Are the Functions of Literary Criticism?


What is a Literary Criticism?

The primary function of literary criticism is to interpret literature in a way that will increase understanding.

  • Literary criticism began in 19th century Europe among the bourgeois class, writes Professor Terry Eagleton of the University of Manchester in "The Function of Criticism: From the Spectator to Post-Structuralism."

Academics in the literary, political and philosophical fields assembled to discuss literature and apply the resulting ideas to their areas of interest.

Criticism is not an art; it is not a science; it has no method and no theory. It is a craft with varying maxims and devices; a difficult craft, but always subordinate to the arts. That is why it must vary as they have varied.

A LITTLE MATTER OF SENSE, Jacques Barzun, June 21, 1987

Literary criticism is to examine a work and to make the meaning clear and finally, to evaluate its worth.

What Are the Functions of Literary Criticisms?

1. Understanding Meaning

The Victorian poet Matthew Arnold was the first contemporary literary critic, S.N. Radhika Lakshmi writes on the website Literature-Study Online.

  • Arnold's criticism usually involved poetry; his support of literary criticism greatly influenced the literary world, building a new appreciation for its practice.
  • Arnold's scientific approach to criticism included both individual and comparative evaluations.
  • He would explore an author's purpose for writing, helping to determine what the author was saying beyond the obvious.

2. Philosophy

Arnold was a moralist who based his interpretations on this philosophical foundation, Lakshmi writes.

  • Arnold assumed the position that poetry ought to have a moral foundation, with positive ideals and perspectives to communicate to readers.
  • He thought that poetry founded on amoral or indifferent beliefs was counterproductive and rebellious to life itself.

3. Discover History

Citing Aristotle, Arnold believed that poetry was more valid than historical accounts because it was created as an emotional reaction to events instead of being a subjective report.

He based his moralist perspectives on this belief:

  • By assessing literary devices, metaphors, similes, social norms and societal interpretations in literature from a given period, you can learn a lot about that period as well as about its society.

4. Develop Writing Skills

Literary criticism will not only help students better understand literature, but it will also help them to write it, according to the humanities department at Georgia Perimeter College.

  • Literary criticism and interpretation give meaning and value to an author's work.
  • It is important for every writer to understand literary criticism so that he can improve the way he communicates directly and indirectly.
  • Literary criticism also helps students discover new ideas, develop philosophical positions and learn about the nuances of societies from throughout history.
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