For the average person hearing the term literary criticism, the style of writing that involves an examination of literature sounds like a pompous self-labeling by art critics, often involving persons who can’t produce the same art themselves. In reality, literary criticism involves deep, careful research of a work of literature, as well as an exploration of why the author wrote the work in the first place. Whether the examined work is a book, a play or a poem, all are written with motivation and context by authors who often inject their own meanings, politics, time and history into the material to be discovered later on.
Literary criticism is often considered a glorified book report by those who don’t necessarily understand the work involved to produce it. Instead, the production starts with researching the author and work to be examined. For example, if someone was to write a literary criticism of a modern production of Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman, it would likely start with the basis of why Shaw wrote the play in the first place. This becomes the premise or standard that the latest production would then be held to under examination. Does the current producer stick with Shaw’s traditional message, or does he try to rewrite the play’s message? Does the play keep with the general time setting or does it modernize the story for today’s audience and contemporary language? These elements and more can become fair game for literary analysis and related writing.
Some may argue that literary criticism is a waste of paper space and time reading. However, the art is no different than monks or rabbis debating the meaning and context of Biblical scriptures. The art follows the same analysis steps as examination of military tactics by officers in military training school, believe it or not. All these types of study share the same approach as literary analysis by deconstructing how a given concept is put together and why. By seeing how the pieces fit, a person can then identify different lessons from the topic as well as the process. Those lessons, in theory, are then transferable to similar issues in life elsewhere.
For producers and buyers of content services who want to delve into literary criticism as a written product or niche, it is important to first understand what the discipline involves. Good literary criticism makes people think about a given literary work in a different light or perspective that may often be off the beaten path. For example, anybody can state that Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is a commentary on medieval socio-economic classes and their differences. However, a modern adaptation of Chaucer may trigger a criticism analysis that, despite the modernization of the human race, not much has changed in how people treat each other since a time when riding donkeys was the common method of commuting to work.
Literary criticism is definitely not a glorified cliff notes version of a literary work. It is a science of deconstructing what makes established literature so strong and enduring. By studying the elements, content writers and buyers can help new readers see the foundations of why classic writers are considered enduring and famous.
Tom L is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.