New Criticism

New criticism is all about existing in the present moment, as it encourages a style of criticism that focuses only on what can be seen on the pages of the text. No more need to study the historical context, biographical data and philosophical contribution of a text to what it means. All that matters is the text itself! 

New Criticism New Criticism

Create learning materials about New Criticism with our free learning app!

  • Instand access to millions of learning materials
  • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams and more
  • Everything you need to ace your exams
Create a free account
Table of contents

    But what exactly is new criticism? Let us look at the definition, theory and of new criticism, alongside an example and a few notable critics that contributed to this movement.

    New criticism: definition

    The definition of new criticism is as follows:

    New Criticism: A style of criticism that emphasizes the close reading of texts as a self-contained piece of work capable of producing independent meaning, without the accompaniment of any philosophical, historical or biographical context surrounding the text.

    New criticism believes in analysing the value of literary works based only on the text itself, without taking into account the following:

    • The author's background or intentions while writing the text

    • The reader's emotional or physical response to the text

    • The social, economic, political or historical context of the text

    • The moral or philosophical importance of the text

    Once the context of the text has been removed, the meaning and value of the text should only rely on what is seen on the page. This means focusing the literary study on the text's aesthetic qualities, such as its

    • Form
    • Structure
    • Language and tone
    • Literary devices and techniques
    • Characterisation
    • Symbols and metaphors
    • Actual setting (not context)

    New criticism focuses on how something is being said, not why, to determine what is being said.

    New criticism: theory

    New criticism arose as a literary theory in the 20th century as a response to traditional styles of literary criticism in America that placed more emphasis on the external factors surrounding a text, rather than the text itself. These old literary schools believed that the meaning of the text is reliant on its author's biography, its historical and cultural context and the philosophical or moral importance of the text.

    However, New Critics believed that this approach was too distracting, subjective and emotional. They believed that art should be enjoyed simply for art's sake, rather than ascribing a greater socio-political, moral or didactic purpose to the text. Hence they came up with a far more systematic and objective way of studying literary texts.

    Intentional Fallacy

    New Critics believed that failure to view a text independently can lead to Intentional Fallacy.

    Intentional Fallacy: The false notion that the author's intentions affect the interpretation of a text.

    The reality is that while interpreting a text, the critic (or reader) has no idea what the author's true intentions were while producing the text. In some cases, the meaning of a text may not live up to the author's intentions, while in others it may be far more complex and meaningful than the author originally intended. Hence, the author's intentions should be of no relevance and should not have any bearing on the meaning of the text.

    the design or intention of the author is neither available nor desirable as a standard for judging the . . . work of literary art.1

    Affective Fallacy

    A similar notion called Affective Fallacy was also introduced by New Critics as something that should be avoided during literary analysis.

    Affective Fallacy: The malpractice of taking into consideration the emotional and psychological reactions of the reader while interpreting a text.

    Every reader may interpret a text differently, and there is no way a critic can have access to readers' response that is free of personal biases, unified and constant. Therefore, they should not confuse the meaning of a text with the reader's reaction.

    New criticism: example

    To better understand New criticism, let us apply this style of criticism to analyse a text. For this example, we will be analysing F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby (1925).

    The Great Gatsby is set during the Jazz Age (1920-1930) in America, the period following the end of the First World War. A sudden rise in the national economy led to an era characterised by extravagance, opulence and social mobility. However, under the glittering surface, this period was also characterised by the relaxation of social and moral values, materialism and the stratification of society into the rich and working classes. The Eighteenth Amendment (1919) banning the sale of alcohol resulted in massive bootlegging businesses. The Jazz Age eventually came to an end with the Great Depression in 1929.

    When viewed in this context, Fitzgerald's novel can be viewed as a criticism of the American Dream in the 1920s. Gatsby's driving force in the novel, his love interest Daisy, represents wealth, sophistication and aristocracy - the very promise of the American Dream. Winning her heart, therefore, represents part of Gatsby's quest to climb the social ladder and chase the American Dream.

    Throughout the novel, Gatsby continues to blindly pursue Daisy, resorting to illegal activities to meet her standards. Despite all his efforts, she ultimately chooses her husband and 'old money' social status. Therefore, the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy represents the hollowness of the American Dream that lures honest and ambitious men into craving materialism, easy money, immorality and empty happiness.

    American Dream: An ideal that endorses the idea that the United States is a country where all people are afforded equal opportunities to pursue prosperity, freedom and happiness.

    However, a new critic would view The Great Gatsby (1925) without paying heed to the social and cultural context of the Jazz Age. When The Great Gatsby is analyzed through a new criticism lens, Gatsby's rise to a self-made businessman, his relationship with Daisy, and his tragic downfall are seen as exactly as what it is; a man's blind pursuit of unrequited love and the sacrifices he is willing to make along the way. Similarly, Gatsby's fixation with recreating his past relationship with Daisy represents the common human condition of longing for unfulfilled dreams and wanting to freeze time to happier, simpler times.

    In this analysis, the context of the Jazz Age and the American Dream are removed while deriving the novel's meaning, and the text is seen as a love story gone wrong. Therefore, by viewing the story from the eyes of a New Critic, The Great Gatsby reveals much more about the human condition than acting as socio-political commentary. A New Critic then derives a text's meaning without looking at its context.

    New criticism critics

    Here are two notable critics who helped form the basis of the new criticism movement in the early 20th century.

    Ivor Armstrong Richards (1893-1979)

    The work of English critic I. A. Richards greatly contributed to the foundations of new criticism.

    In 1929, Richards published Practical Criticism, a book that took a scientific-empirical approach towards literary criticism. He conducted a study where he asked undergraduate students at Cambridge University to analyse 13 poems without giving them contextual details such as their author, date of publication, and historical and cultural background.

    The resultant interpretations produced by the pupils demonstrated the depth of meaning that could be derived from literary analyses when looking at the text alone. This established a new methodology for interpreting literary texts, which later became known as new criticism.

    T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)

    American poet T. S. Eliot greatly influenced the new criticism movement through his critical essays, particularly “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1917) and “Hamlet and His Problems” (1919).

    In his essay "Tradition and the Individual Talent", Eliot suggested that the only context in which we should view art is the context of the artist's previous works. This is because when an artist creates new work, they are carrying the aesthetic traditions of their previous works.

    This contributed to the new criticism movement by endorsing the idea that art should be viewed only in the context of other art, rather than its historical, biographical or philosophical contexts that have no certified influence on the meaning of the text.

    New Criticism New Criticism critics T.S. Eliot StudySmarterFig. 1 - T.S. Eliot,

    Even though the foundations of new Criticism had already been laid in the early 20th century, the movement was first coined in John Crowe Ransom’s The New Criticism (1941), which loosely outlines the principles of analysing literature by only looking at its text.

    Importance of new criticism

    New criticism certainly allows a far more systematic and objective way of studying literary texts. It ensures that the meaning of the text does not stray too far away from the text itself. The value of a text is in no way overly influenced by assumptions about the author's intentions, the reader's responses, or the historical and cultural context surrounding the work.

    However, new criticism also serves a greater purpose. It introduced a style of literary criticism that is democratic in nature. This is because, according to New Critics, anyone with access to and interest in literature has equal power to criticise it. One does not require years of research and a variety of sources about the author's life, historical background, socio-political context etc. to criticise and appreciate literature. All that is needed is the text itself! Therefore, new criticism made literary criticism easier and more accessible.

    New Criticism - Key takeaways

    • New criticism is a style of criticism that emphasizes the close reading of texts as a self-contained piece of work capable of producing independent meaning and excludes any philosophical, historical or biographical context surrounding the text.
    • According to New criticism, the meaning and value of the text should only rely on what is seen on the page. This means focusing the literary study on the text's aesthetic qualities, such as its form, structure, language, characters etc.
    • Two concepts within new criticism theory include:
      • Intentional Fallacy

      • Affective Fallacy

    • Prominent New Critics include:

      • Ivor Armstrong Richards (1893-1979)

      • T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)

    • New criticism allows a far more systematic, objective and democratic way of studying literary texts

    References

    1. William K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley, 'The Intentional Fallacy' (1946)
    New Criticism New Criticism
    Learn with 10 New Criticism flashcards in the free StudySmarter app

    We have 14,000 flashcards about Dynamic Landscapes.

    Sign up with Email

    Already have an account? Log in

    Frequently Asked Questions about New Criticism

    What is new criticism?

    New criticism is a style of criticism that emphasizes the close reading of texts as a self-contained piece of work capable of producing independent meaning and excludes any philosophical, historical or biographical context surrounding the text.

    How to analyse a poem using new criticism?

    To analyse a poem using new criticism, simply set aside the context of the poem and focus only on the following:

    • Form

    • Structure 

    • Language and tone

    • Literary devices and techniques 

    • Characterisation

    • Symbols and metaphors

    • Actual setting (not context)

    What was the main focus of the new criticism?

    The text is the main focus of New Criticism. New Criticism focuses on how something is being said, not why, to determine what is being said. 

    What is the origin of New Criticism?

    Even though the origins (or foundations) of New Criticism had already been laid in the early 20th century, the movement was first coined in John Crowe Ransom’s The New Criticism (1941), which loosely outlines the principles of analysing literature by only looking at its text. 

    What is an example of a new criticism critic?

    Examples of prominent New Critics include:

    • Ivor Armstrong Richards (1893-1979)

    • T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)

    1
    About StudySmarter

    StudySmarter is a globally recognized educational technology company, offering a holistic learning platform designed for students of all ages and educational levels. Our platform provides learning support for a wide range of subjects, including STEM, Social Sciences, and Languages and also helps students to successfully master various tests and exams worldwide, such as GCSE, A Level, SAT, ACT, Abitur, and more. We offer an extensive library of learning materials, including interactive flashcards, comprehensive textbook solutions, and detailed explanations. The cutting-edge technology and tools we provide help students create their own learning materials. StudySmarter’s content is not only expert-verified but also regularly updated to ensure accuracy and relevance.

    Learn more
    StudySmarter Editorial Team

    Team New Criticism Teachers

    • 9 minutes reading time
    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
    Save Explanation

    Study anywhere. Anytime.Across all devices.

    Sign-up for free

    Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

    The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

    • Flashcards & Quizzes
    • AI Study Assistant
    • Study Planner
    • Mock-Exams
    • Smart Note-Taking
    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App