Literary Theories

The following literary theories will be utilized throughout the year in Literature and Composition 10, especially during the Reading Bingo unit for the essential question analysis.

The following literary theories include a definition followed by a handful of questions to consider when applying the theory.

Deconstructionist Theory

Using the book’s language, literary elements, format, etc. within the text as a means to understand what the text is saying

  • How does the text’s format help the reader understand what the text is saying?
  • What is the purpose of the text being set up this way?
  • What is the text about? How does the reader know? Why?
  • What is the lesson/morale of the story? How does the reader know? Why?
  • Are there any elements of the text that seem unrealistic, untrue, odd, etc.? What causes the reader to think this? Why?

New Historicist Theory

Texts are inspired by the social and cultural environment that the author experienced

  • Who is the author?
  • What is the author known for besides being an author?
  • What were/are the author’s values and beliefs? What did they stand for or against?
  • What was the political, social, cultural, etc. climate like during the author’s life?

Marxist Theory

Focus on how political and economic forces treat characters in the text

  • How are different classes of people (mis)treated?
  • Are there unequal positions of power?
  • What viewpoints are (not) represented?
  • What social classes do the characters represent?
  • How do characters from different social classes interact with one another?
  • Is there any prejudice?

Psychoanalytic/Psychological Theory

Psychological, behavioral, and/or emotional development of characters and their decisions made throughout a text

  • Why do characters behave the way they do?
  • How are young adults/teenagers shown and constructed in the text?
  • What psychological “issues” (i.e. insecurity, depression, anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) do characters have? Where did it come from? What triggers it?

Gender Criticism Theory

Looking at the relations between male and female characters within a text; roots in feminist theory, potential extension into queer theory

  • What gender inequalities exist within a text?
  • How do men and women differ in the text?
  • Do characters fit in with their gender’s stereotypical roles? Why/how?
  • Do characters challenge their gender’s stereotypical roles? Why/how?


Fields, C. (2014). Literary theories [PowerPoint slides].