What is Psychological Criticism in Literature

In the field of literature, the term criticism refers to the analysis, evaluation, and interpretation of a literary text. In simple words, it examines what is good and bad about a work and why is it good or bad. A criticism also connects the content of a literary work to different concepts and theories presented by different critics. To read more about different literary theories and how to write a literary criticism, see 

How to Write a Literary Criticism

What is Psychological Criticism in Literature

Psychological criticism in literature refers to the way in which the work of a particular writer is analyzed through a psychological lens. This approach psychologically analyses the author of the work or a character in his work. It helps the readers understand the motivations of the writer as well as the characters. In other words, this criticism helps us to understand why the writer writes the way he does, how have his biographical circumstances affect his writing and why do characters in the story behave in a particular way.

For example, suppose the protagonist in the story is a murderer; evaluating the psychological state, the past of the character might help the reader to understand why he became a murderer. This criticism approach can explore the writer’s motivations in selecting this subject and how his past has influenced his choice. For instance, being aware that the writer was a victim of a violent crime may cause the reader to interpret the story very differently.

What is Psychological Criticism in Literature

This psychological approach, which reflects the effect of psychology on both literature and literary criticism, was mainly influenced by the work of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Sigmund Freud put forward the theory that literary texts are a manifestation of the secret unconscious desires and anxieties of the author. Thus, evaluating the behavior of a character will help the reader to trace the childhood, family life, fixations, traumas, conflicts. However, these facts are not directly expressed in the work; they are often expressed indirectly in the form of dreams, symbols, and images. Therefore, this criticism may sometimes provide the readers clues to understand the symbols, actions, and settings that are otherwise difficult to understand. 

The psychological criticism is not concerned with the intentions of the author. Instead, it is more concerned with what writer never intended, i.e., what the writer has unconsciously included in the work.

Carl Jung explored the link between literature and a concept called ‘collective unconscious of the human race.’ This theory claims that all stories and symbols are based on models from mankind’s past. Jung was the first to link the concept archetype to literature.

However, extreme care has to be taken when using this criticism to evaluate a work because it can become reductive in nature. The person who analyses this work should be careful so as not to project any personal psychological issues onto the analysis. When researching the biographical history of the writer, the critic must be careful to avoid incorrect attributions.

Summary

  • Psychological criticism in literature is the psychological analysis of motivations of the author and his work.
  • This criticism is based on the theory that author’s physiological state is unconsciously reflected in different aspects of the work such as characters, symbols, setting, and language.

Image Courtesy:

“By Leonid Pasternak (Public Domain) via

About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.


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