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Welcome to Critical Lenses!
Many educated readers use critical lenses
to see texts from new angles and
discover new meanings within a text.
Critical lenses are also called “literary
Where do they come from?
 Different literary theories or lenses come from other
writers and thinkers (mostly philosophers,
sociologists, and historians)
 Once these new philosophical or historical ideas have
become part of a culture, educated readers and
literature scholars start using these lenses to get new
ideas about texts, or to discover new themes in them.
A few major critical lenses
 Historical / Biographical
 Feminist
 Psychoanalytic
 Socio/Political (Marxist, etc)
 Post-Colonial
Historical lens
 The historical lens looks at a novel or text by thinking
about the history surrounding it.
 The critic thinks about questions such as:
 How was this text received by readers when it first came
 What were the social values and attitudes at the time that
might have affected this text?
 What actual historical events did the writer refer to, and
how was the event altered in the fictional account?
Feminist lens
 Feminist criticism looks specifically for what a text
reveals about the position of women and the
relationships between women and men.
 The critic thinks about questions such as:
 Does the author present the text with a primarily male or
female viewpoint?
 What sorts of assumptions does the text make about the
roles of men and women?
Psychoanalytical lens
 The Psychoanalytical lens tries to discover the hidden
mindsets and motivations of the author and
 The critic thinks about such questions as:
 What are the unconscious wishes of the characters?
 How do the images and metaphors in this text reveal the
psychological motivations of the characters?
 What would Freud say about this author?
Socio-political (Marxist) lens
 The Socio-political lens tries to make sure that the text is
read with an eye to the political and economic contexts of
when it was written. (more narrow than Historical
 The critic thinks about such questions as:
 What kinds of political power and institutions are present in the
 How do political, economic, and social forces drive the characters
to do certain things?
 Is there a “culture of power” in this text, and is there evidence of
the oppression of a class of people?
 Post-colonial theory looks at a text, focusing on the
effects of colonization. In particular, post-colonial
criticism thinks about the relationship between the
colonized and the colonizer.
 The critic thinks about questions such as:
 How did colonization affect the people who were colonized?
How did it affect the colonizers?
 What kinds of resistance were there to colonial control? What
were the results?
 How does the text use language(s) to portray characters?
The key thing to remember…
Critical lenses are a TOOL you can use to unlock other
interesting aspects of a text that might not come to the
surface on the first reading. By applying them, you
start to notice subtexts or secondary messages that
didn’t shout out to you on the first reading, and that
makes the text richer and more interesting!