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A Writer's Handbook

Theory Analysis

A literary theory analysis is usually found in upper level composition or literature classes, and is completed when a student looks for certain ideas found in the literature that supports the postulations of a certain theory. Theories include, but are not limited to, Formalism/New Criticism, Reader-Response Criticism, Feminist Criticism, Psychoanalytic Criticism, Structuralism, Marxist Criticism, Deconstructionist Criticism, Multicultural and/or Intersectionality Criticism, and Queer Theory.  The following two sources give background on many of these diverse and ever evolving theories:

Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory : An Introduction. Vol. Anniversary ed, University of Minnesota Press, 2008.

Klages, Mary. Literary Theory: A Guide for the Perplexed. Continuum, 2006.

  • Beginning the Analysis (using Harry Potter as an example)
    • Begin by looking into a theory that you are comfortable with, or one that you have a working knowledge of or interest in
    • **Using a theory that is relatively known to you is much easier than trying to write a paper about a theory you have no knowledge about, unless you plan to do some background investigation and research to learn about the theory first.
  • Make a list of the tenants of the theory that you would like to explore

(Example:  A superego examination from a psychoanalytic perspective, or an idea of gender power imbalance under a feminist viewpoint)

  • Once you have decided the scope of ideas on the theory, pinpoint how to prove that using many of the elements of character or theme analysis
  • Decide if you will need to discuss the premise of the theory in the introduction as background or if you will need a more extensive area to explain key points of the theory in a body paragraph before connecting the literary elements to it
  • Find evidence within the work to illustrate your points
  • Find secondary sources as needed that help you prove your points

Exercise 11

Brainstorm some possible theory analysis ideas with these modern, well-known movies.

Start with the following – what could you do with these?

1.  Along Came Polly

2.  Happy Death Day

3.  American Psycho

4.  Castaway

5.  The Lord of the Rings

6.  Finding Nemo