The Definition of Literary Appreciation and Criticism

Stages of Literary Appreciation (reflection)

Ogenlewe (2006) posits that ‘literary appreciation refers to the evaluation of works of imaginative literature as an intellectual or academic exercise.’ In this process the reader interprets, evaluates or classifies a literary work with a view to determining the artistic merits or demerits or such a work. Donelson and Nilsen (2009) echo this sentiment and add that it is the process by which one ‘gauges one’s interpretive response as a reader to a literary work’. This means that the reader is able to gain pleasure and understanding for the literature, understand its value and importance and admire its complexity.

Nilsen and Donelson (2005) further determined that a main goal of teaching literature is to elicit a response from students so they can explore their own lives and improve their logical thinking skills. Therefore, the key to developing appreciation for reading is first selecting appropriate adolescent literature in which students can identify and make connections. This can foster love for reading and improve their language arts skills as well.

Literary appreciation focuses on the adequate grasp of the definitions and applications of traditional literary devices such as plot, character, metaphor, setting and symbolism which may be encountered within texts.

According to Donelson and Nilsen (2009), literary appreciation occurs in seven stages.

Level 1: Pleasure and Profit (literary appreciation is a social experience)

Level 2: Decoding (literacy is developed)

Level 3: Lose yourself (reading becomes a means of escaping)

Level 4: Find yourself (discovering identity)

Level 5: Venture beyond self (‘going beyond me’, assessing the world around them)

Level 6: Variety in reading (reads widely and discusses experiences with peers)

Level 7: Aesthetic purposes (avid reader, appreciates the artistic value of reading)

Margaret Early’s Stages of Growth in Literary Appreciation determines that the personal attitudes, reading and observing skills are all part of literary appreciation. Stages which readers go through are added unto without dropping the previous stages. Thus, literary appreciation is a lifelong process. However, occasionally students are ill-equipped to handle transition from childhood literature to adolescent literature and fail at establishing literary appreciation.  This may occur as a result of a student’s late or early cognitive maturity. As teachers, we must understand that in order to appreciate literature students must experience pleasure from their reading. Transaction reading journals and literature circles can be helpful as students can document their progress and reflect on them. They should be provided with a forum to respond to literature in the classroom, discuss personal responses, ideas and deductions with other students. This will also allow them to make text to text connections.

Knickerbocker and Rycik (2002) asserts that it is important to understand literary development that teachers should consider students stages of development and select materials and methods appropriate to them. This sentiment is supported by Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development at which children are said to go through mental development at different ages. They affirm that each level must provide a sense of satisfaction for the reader if he or she is expected to move unto the next stage.


Literary Criticism

Literary criticism is the study, evaluation, and interpretation of literature. Modern literary criticism is often informed by literary theory, which is the philosophical discussion of its methods and goals. Though the two activities are closely related, literary critics are not always, and have not always been, theorists.

Whether or not literary criticism should be considered a separate field of inquiry from literary theory, or conversely from book reviewing, is a matter of some controversy. For example, the Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism draws no distinction between literary theory and literary criticism, and almost always uses the terms together to describe the same concept. Some critics consider literary criticism a practical application of literary theory, because criticism always deals directly with particular literary works, while theory may be more general or abstract.

Literary criticism is often published in essay or book form. Academic literary critics teach in literature departments and publish in academic journals, and more popular critics publish their criticism in broadly circulating periodicals such as the Times Literary Supplement, the New York Times Book Review, the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, The Nation, and The New Yorker.

History of Literary Criticism

Aristotle’s Poetics clearly defines aspects of literature and introduces many literary terms still used today.

Classical and medieval criticism

Literary criticism has probably existed for as long as literature. In the 4th century BC Aristotle wrote the Poetics, a typology and description of literary forms with many specific criticisms of contemporary works of art. Poetics developed for the first time the concepts of mimesis and catharsis, which are still crucial in literary study. Plato’s attacks on poetry as imitative, secondary, and false were formative as well. Around the same time, Bharata Muni, in his Natya Shastra, wrote literary criticism on ancient Indian literature and Sanskrit drama.

Later classical and medieval criticism often focused on religious texts, and the several long religious traditions of hermeneutics and textual exegesis have had a profound influence on the study of secular texts. This was particularly the case for the literary traditions of the three Abrahamic religions: Jewish literature, Christian literature and Islamic literature.

Literary criticism was also employed in other forms of medieval Arabic literature and Arabic poetry from the 9th century, notably by Al-Jahiz in his al-Bayan wa-‘l-tabyin and al-Hayawan, and by Abdullah ibn al-Mu’tazz in his Kitab al-Badi.

Definition of Literary Criticism

Literary criticism is simply the attempt to explain a literary work. A literary critic is one who explains or interprets a literary work–its meaning, production, aestheticism, and historical value.


The history of literary criticism dates back to Plato and Aristotle. Both philosophers expressed ground breaking opinions about literature, specifically on the issues of literary mimesis (imitation and representation) and didacticism. Literary mimesis asks the question, “Does literature imitate life, or does life imitate literature?” Didacticism in literature asks the question, “How does the text lend itself as an instructional or moral guide to life?”

Tools of Literary Criticism

The tools with which a literary critic uses to interpret a text are literary theories. A literary theory is a method for analyzing a literary work. Some critical theories include New Criticism, Psychoanalytic Criticism and Marxist Criticism.

New Criticism

New Criticism is characterized by its emphasis solely on the text. A New Critic approach to a literary work is only concerned with the meaning, irony, ambiguity, symbols and universal themes of the text, without any regard to authorial intent, historical or cultural contexts.

Psychoanalytic Criticism

Psychoanalytic Criticism uses psychoanalysis as a means of explaining the behavior and motives of the characters in a literary work. Psychoanalytic Criticism also explores how the psyche of the author informs the text.

Marxist Criticism

Marxist Criticism approaches a literary work from a socioeconomic standpoint. A Marxist critique of a literary work explores how the text intentionally or unintentionally supports capitalism, imperialism or other philosophies.



Electronic Sources: (Taken on Saturday, March 16, 2013 at 20.00.) (Taken on Monday, March 18, 2013 at. 15.23.) (Taken on Monday, March 18, 2013 at 15.28.)


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