Quick Guide to Textual Analysis

Critical Lenses

When you do a close reading, you are taking part in literary criticism. Over the years, scholars have tended to focus on a few types of literary criticism to make meaning of texts. Each examines some aspect of our society and asks what a particular story or poem tells us about that aspect. Let’s start by looking at a few of these, as they can be helpful guides for the close reading process.

#1. History

There are several schools of literary criticism that focus on history. New Historicism, for example, asks how a story represents or is an artifact of the time period when the author wrote it.

#2. Race / Ethnicity

Various schools study what texts can teach us about race, ethnicity, or other aspects of heritage. These schools include African American Studies, Asian Studies, Latino/a or Chicano/a Studies, Native American Studies and so on. Asking what a story tells us about race or ethnicity does not necessarily mean we interpret the author’s message, but perhaps simply how she reflects attitudes or ideas about race prevalent when she wrote the text.

#3. Gender / Sex / Sexuality

Like schools that look at race and ethnicity, some schools look at gender, sex, and sexuality. These schools include Feminism, Queer Studies, Gender Studies and more. For example, Feminism examines power structures in stories and how they affect men and women. When people, particularly women, are controlled by forces beyond their influence, and those forces affect them because of their sex or gender, those forces are called “patriarchy.” A Feminist critic asks how patriarchy affects the characters in a text.

#4. Class or Social Position

Critics who study class in texts look at power structures. They examine who makes the decisions, who makes the rules, who enforces them, how, and why. An example of this would be Marxist Criticism which examines how money, production, and economics establish and support power structures.