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Literary Theory

Exploring Literary Theory Post World War II: A Multifaceted Examination

In the aftermath of World War II, the landscape of literary theory underwent significant evolution, witnessing the emergence of diverse perspectives that sought to interpret and critique literature through various lenses. This essay delves into three pivotal sections of post-World War II literary theory: New Criticism, Feminist Criticism, and Post-Colonialism. Each section highlights key tenets, influences, and contributions, illuminating the dynamic discourse within the realm of literary analysis during this period.

New Criticism

New Criticism, prominent in the mid-20th century, emphasized close reading of texts while largely disregarding authorial intent, historical context, and societal influences. Championed by figures like Cleanth Brooks and John Crowe Ransom, New Criticism aimed to evaluate literature based solely on its intrinsic qualities, such as imagery, symbolism, and irony. By isolating the text from external factors, New Critics aimed to uncover universal truths and aesthetic values inherent within the literary work itself. This approach, however, drew criticism for its tendency to overlook socio-cultural dimensions and the lived experiences of marginalized groups.

Feminist Criticism

In response to the perceived androcentrism of traditional literary analysis, Feminist Criticism emerged as a vital lens through which to examine literature. Feminist theorists such as Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir, and Elaine Showalter sought to interrogate patriarchal power structures embedded within literary texts and the broader cultural milieu. By centering issues of gender, sexuality, and identity, Feminist Criticism aimed to expose and challenge representations of women in literature, while also amplifying the voices of female writers and characters. Through intersectional analyses, Feminist Criticism expanded its scope to encompass the experiences of women from diverse racial, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds.


Post-Colonialism emerged as a response to the legacy of colonialism and imperialism, interrogating the power dynamics inherent in literature produced within and about colonized societies. Influenced by theorists such as Frantz Fanon, Edward Said, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Post-Colonial Criticism examined the ways in which colonial discourses perpetuated stereotypes, marginalization, and cultural erasure. By deconstructing colonial narratives and amplifying indigenous perspectives, Post-Colonialism aimed to decolonize literary canons and empower formerly colonized peoples to reclaim their cultural identities. Moreover, Post-Colonial Criticism fostered dialogue between different cultural traditions, facilitating a more nuanced understanding of global literature.

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