New Criticism in Literature

New Criticism which influenced literature from the 1940s through the 1960s has left a permanent impact on the way we interpret literature. “New Criticism” to a great extent is the literary product of the frail human being who has been cut off from all the certainties of the world that he perceived earlier. Therefore, it is a literary criticism that aspires to interpret literature without the support of any context since all of these have been made absurd by the incidents of World War I. The term “New Criticism” originated from J.C Ransom’s book “The New Criticism” which was published in 1941. So the term New Criticism came after a while when writers like T.S Eliot and I.A Richard had become established within the Anglo-American academia.

I.A Richards’ contribution in New Criticism:

In his most famous work, “Practical Criticism”, published in 1929, Richards assessed his students’ readings and interpretations. His assessment’s goal was to motivate students to focus on the “words on the page” rather than the author’s books, diaries, letters or the social cultural background. In this observation with unnamed and context-less poems, we come across a criticism of romantic concepts which strongly depended on a poet’s personality and social cultural background.

At the center of this new sort of critical thinking lies a new reading approach, i.e. close reading. Close reading concentrates on the form of the poem, it’s usage of rhyme, the way it puts together a specific set of words, symbols, rhyme, meter, and images and how these words, symbols, rhyme, meter and images interact with one another to produce a level of tension and complexity within the text. For New Criticism, the complexity of a text is produced by the various and frequently opposing interpretations woven into a work. These meanings are essentially the result of four literary devices: tension, paradox, irony and ambiguity.

Literary language and everyday language:

For New Criticism, the language of literature is distinct from everyday language. Everyday language doesn’t aim to be pleasing or emotionally expressive. The purpose of it is not to point not to itself but to the external world, which it tries to represent, refer to and describe. This type of language is termed as referential language by I. A Richards. On the contrary, the language of literature can be examined by emphasizing not on its capability to refer the reader to an outer world, but by its capability to internally structure words and symbols to produce a complicated pattern of meaning. This type of language is termed as emotive language by I.A Richards.

Organic Unity:

According to New Criticism, a literary text is an eternal and independent linguistic object. In contrast to common language, literary language’s form – the selection of words and arrangement that produce the artistic experience – is inextricably linked to its content or meaning. To put it another way, how a literary text means is inextricably linked to what it means. Just like a complex biological body whose parts cannot be isolated from the whole, the meaning and the form of a literary text evolve together. This was the yardstick by which New Critics evaluated a literary work’s value as Wimsatt and Beardsley stated: “Judging a poem is like judging a pudding or a machine”. When a text has organic unity, all of its formal parts work together to create that unity. 

New Criticism as an intrinsic criticism:

Because New Critics argued that their judgements were purely based on the context generated by the literary text and the language offered by the text, they called their analytical method “intrinsic criticism” to describe how they stayed inside the text’s boundaries. Extrinsic criticism, on the other hand, is defined as criticism that uses social and biographical contexts to evaluate a literary text. New Critics also named their practice “objective criticism” because they believed that focusing on each text’s inherent elements means that each text – each element being interpreted – would itself determine how it would be interpreted. 

A work of art, according to New Criticism, is a permanent and independent verbal thing. The literary text remains unchanged despite changes in readers and readings. The meaning of the text is as objective as physical existence on the page, because it is made up of words arranged in a particular relationship to one another – specific words arranged in a specific way – and this distinct relationship develops a complex of meaning that no other pattern of words can recreate. New Critics claimed that a poem’s meaning could not be described just by summarizing or translating it into common language. They contended that changing one line, one image, one word of a text would result in a completely different poem.

The most accurate interpretation:

Provided that the literary text was now seen as a self-contained object with fixed meaning, New Critics asserted that the most precise interpretation of each literary text could be discovered that best explained the text itself: that best describes whatever the text means and how it generates that meaning, to put it simply, that adequately describes it organic unity. For that reason, during the peak days of New Criticism, writings trying to interpret a literary text quite often started with a study of other critics’ viewpoints of the same text with the purpose to show that everyone else’s interpretation or viewpoints fell short – that essential events or images were unaddressed, that complexities structuring text were not addressed – often due to lack of knowledge of the text’s subject. To put it another way, in order to prove that your interpretation of a text was the most accurate, you would have to prove that all previous interpretations were in some manner deficient. 


It is paradoxical that New Criticism’s greatest contribution to critical theory – its emphasis on the text itself – was accountable for its downfall. In the late 1960s, New Criticism was overshadowed by a rising popularity among almost all other schools of literary criticism in the political and cultural content of literary works as well as the ways in which that subject matter both reflects and shapes society, an interest that the New Critical reliance on interpreting the literary text as an independent artistic object with a specific meaning could not serve. 

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