New Criticism vs. Structuralism

What's the Difference?

New Criticism and Structuralism are both literary theories that focus on the analysis of texts, but they approach this analysis in different ways. New Criticism emphasizes close reading of the text itself, focusing on the language, form, and structure of the work to uncover its meaning. In contrast, Structuralism looks at the underlying structures and systems that shape the text, such as language, culture, and society. While New Criticism seeks to understand the text on its own terms, Structuralism looks at how the text is influenced by larger systems of meaning. Both theories offer valuable insights into the interpretation of literature, but they prioritize different aspects of the text in their analysis.


AttributeNew CriticismStructuralism
FocusTextual analysisStructural analysis
InterpretationClose reading of individual worksFocus on underlying structures and systems
AuthorAuthor's intention is not relevantAuthor's intention is not relevant
TextText is autonomous and self-containedText is part of larger structure or system
MeaningMeaning is inherent in the textMeaning is derived from relationships within the structure

Further Detail

New Criticism

New Criticism is a literary theory that emerged in the early 20th century, focusing on close reading and analysis of texts. It emphasizes the text itself as the primary source of meaning, rather than considering the author's intentions or historical context. New Critics believe that a text should be analyzed based on its internal structure, language, and form, rather than external factors.


Structuralism, on the other hand, is a broader theoretical framework that originated in the field of linguistics and later expanded to other disciplines, including literary criticism. Structuralists focus on the underlying structures that shape human experience, such as language, culture, and society. They believe that these structures determine the meaning of a text, rather than the text itself or the author's intentions.


Despite their differences, New Criticism and Structuralism share some common attributes. Both approaches prioritize the text itself as the central focus of analysis, emphasizing the importance of close reading and attention to detail. They also both reject the idea of interpreting a text based on external factors, such as the author's biography or historical context.


One key difference between New Criticism and Structuralism is their approach to meaning. New Critics believe that meaning is inherent in the text itself, while Structuralists argue that meaning is constructed through the interaction of various structures, such as language and culture. New Criticism tends to focus on individual texts, while Structuralism looks at texts as part of a larger system of signs and symbols.


In terms of methodology, New Criticism emphasizes close reading and analysis of the text's language, form, and structure. New Critics pay attention to literary devices, imagery, and symbolism to uncover the text's deeper meanings. Structuralists, on the other hand, use a more systematic approach, looking at the underlying structures that shape the text's meaning, such as binary oppositions, language patterns, and cultural norms.


Both New Criticism and Structuralism have had a significant impact on literary criticism and theory. New Criticism helped to establish the importance of close reading and textual analysis in literary studies, influencing generations of scholars and critics. Structuralism, on the other hand, introduced a new way of thinking about the relationship between text and meaning, paving the way for poststructuralist and postmodern theories.


In conclusion, while New Criticism and Structuralism have distinct differences in their approach to literary analysis, they also share common attributes in their emphasis on close reading and attention to detail. Both approaches have made important contributions to the field of literary criticism, shaping the way we understand and interpret texts. By considering the strengths and weaknesses of each approach, scholars can gain a more comprehensive understanding of literature and its role in shaping human experience.

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