Critical Approaches to Reading Texts[1]

Ø      Does the text reveal unconscious feelings, desires, aggressions, anxieties, etc. of a writer or speaker or culture? How are these elements revealed in language?

Ø      Are certain “defense strategies” evident in the text (through which the author or culture simultaneously hides and reveals unconscious desires, etc.)?

Ø      What does the text reveal about human behavior (motivated by the Pleasure Principle or “id”), repression, and desire?


Ø       What does this work reveal about men and women in relationship to each other within a socio-economic context?

Ø       How are gender roles depicted in the work? What roles to the male and female characters play? What images of men and women are found in the work? Are there stereotypical images? Are they strong? Weak? Independent? Dependent? In conventional or unconventional roles? Are stereotypes challenged or not?

Ø       What are the values emphasized in this work? Are these values reified or challenged? What gender are these values usually associated with? What are the implications of this?

Ø       What kinds of relationships are depicted between men and women? Between women and women? Men and men?

Ø       What attributes or associations are tied to certain behaviors or certain types of women/men?

Ø       How and why do female/male characters succeed or fail? What kind of reward do they receive?

Ø       How are “femininity” and “masculinity” defined? What is a “woman”? What is a “man”?

Ø       What are the qualities of a “good” or “bad” woman or man?

Ø       Does the role of women in the text work to support or undermine the social and political system of the past and present readers (contextualize and historicize the text). How does this particular representation of women function? Does the text reinforce or challenge patriarchy? What does it tell us if it does both simultaneously?

Ø       How does gender intersect with race, class, and other social categories?

Ø       What does the history of the work’s reception by the public and by the critics tell us about the operations of patriarchy?


·         Deconstruction

-Deconstruction involves the close reading of texts in order to demonstrate that any given text has irreconcilably contradictory meanings, rather than being a unified, logical whole.

-This approach assumes that language is inherently contradictory and unstable, that it can assert multiple and contested meanings, regardless of authorial intention.

-Historically, groups traditionally ignored, suppressed, oppressed, and disadvantaged have effectively used deconstruction to question traditional notions of race, class, gender, nationality, etc. (often applied by feminist and Marxist critics to uncover “subtexts” in texts)


Questions to ask when using this approach:

Ø      How does the text undermine or negate its own philosophy or ideological hierarchy?

Ø      What multiple and contradictory meanings does the text convey?

Ø      What contradictions of language, image, or event do you notice? Where is the statement of values or belief (the philosophy or ideology largely privileged in the text) contradicted by characters, events, or statements in the text?

Ø      Can you identify any irreconcilable views offered as coherent systems? Any binary oppositions whose intended or privileged meaning breaks down?









[1] Durso, Patty Keefe. “A Brief Overview of Critical Approaches.” February 12, 2006.