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New Criticism in the English and American Literature Essay

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Updated: Oct 15th, 2021


The New Criticism was the dominating trend in the English and American literature, and mainly literary criticism in the 1920s. The key premise of this approach is to evaluate a poem or a novel if there is no historical context or meaning whatsoever. New Criticism often incorporates Formalism, and it is claimed to study the relations between any text’s ideas and the forms of the text. New Critics “may find tension, irony, or paradox in this relation, but they usually resolve it into unity and coherence of meaning“. Working with prototypes of sound, images, presented by the sounds, structure, point of view, and other techniques visible on close reading of the text, they seek to define the function and suitability of these to the self-contained work.

Reader Response

The poetry of the New Criticism period may be regarded as the poetry of powerful response to this critical approach. The fact is that, the reader response, which is the most essential component in literature, is regarded to be lacking in the New Criticism. It is featured by the fact, that the literature (mainly poetry) of that period was not aimed for the broad reader.

Nevertheless the New Criticism followers do not argue, that the meaning of the poem or novel is unimportant, they object the approaches that help to regard the poem as an effort for representing the “real world.” The New Critics justify the evasion of discussing a poem, its content through the principle of the “Heresy of Paraphrase”. Consequently, any effort to state the meaning of the poem appears to be heretical, as it is an affront to the honesty of the complex arrangement of sense within the literary creation.

Thus “Women” by Louise Bogan is created for the admiration of the independence, strength and power on the one hand, and weakness and tenderness on the other. This poem was written, when the women of the world started their feministic movements, and aimed to be equal with men. However, Louise Bogan saved his admiration, and devoted these romantic and strict lines to ladies.

The Weary blues is written in the context of the aggravating racial discrimination of the African American population, and extensive development of blues. Langston Hughes aims to address the admirers of jazz, and attract their attention by joining arts and politics in the only verse. It should be emphasized, that this poem is rather melodic, however at first sight seems to be without clear rhythm.

Political Criticism

Originally, the poetry of the New Criticism period (1920s) was followed by a huge amount of complex and sophisticated theoretical principles, such as structuralism, deconstruction, and “cultural studies”. This literature was evaluated from the viewpoint of the neo-Marxist method for decoding and understanding literary and other cultural achievements, artifacts and literary creations. Cumulatively, their supreme result on literary research has been to depose the key premise of New Criticism ‑ the independence of art ‑ and in its place to arrange institutionally the social and political approaches of the New Left, turning the criticism into a weapon of assault against such external aims as American external policy, capitalism, imperialism, and patriarchy.

The Critical approach towards the politics in the New Criticism approach is regarded to be rather useful. Originally, the New Criticism persisted through the Cold War period, and inherent readings or close readings are regarded to be the essential tool of literary criticism. New Critical readings place essential emphasis on the particular over the general, however making strong accent of personal words, syntax, and the order of the words and sentences that provide the key meaning of immanent the text. They regard the imagery, metaphor, rhythm etc.

The Weary Blues by Langston Hughes fully corresponds its name, as according to the definition of New Orlean blues players: “blues is the music, which appears when a kind man is depressed”. Originally, the reason to be depresses is rather serious, especially taking into account, that the protagonist is the African American. The structure and the rhythm of the poem is strict, and in spite of the fact, that metaphors are also not too deep, like in the previous example, the Weary Blues may be regarded as one of the best poems of the New Criticism epoch in literature.

The “Women” by Bogan is difficult to analyze from this point of view, however, the context of feminist movements, and the allover poverty during the restoration after the war is clearly defined in the features, that are attributed to women in this poem.

New Historical Approach

Taking into account the historical context, everything becomes clear: the world was experiencing the essential changes, and the changing of the character of the relations among countries was reflected in the poetry. That is why the political view point is rather essential in criticizing the poetry of that time. The end of the 1920s were featured by the beginning of the Great Depression, that had its consequences all over the world. Originally, this was reflected in the entire creation of that time, as it deeply impressed people, and the novelists and poets could not miss this fact. It should be mentioned, that the very fact of the historical context often makes the critics focus on the plot, and the personal motivations, reflected in the poetry.

Another fact, that should be mentioned – is the total euphoria, that captured people after the end of the World War 1 also reflected in the poetry, however the beginning of the New Criticism era took place during the decrease of the euphoria wave, consequently, it is not brightly represented in the poetry.

As for the historical approach, it should be emphasized, that both poems “Women” and “The Weary Blues” are written in the context of crises: financial, social and political, that is why they are written mainly in dramatic colors.


In conclusion, it is necessary to mention, that the very fact of the appearing of New Criticism approach in literature and poetry in particular, reveals the fact, that people are ready to create regardless of the world situation, and the circumstances, that totally influence people’s lives. The New Criticism followers did not take into account the personal motifs seriously, however, they aim to regard the political moment of the poetry, as the political estimation of the poems aimed to criticize not only the plot features, but also the technical features, such as rhythm, words, the order of the sentences and phrases. It should be mentioned, that the images, used for the description of the circumstances, may be estimate not only from the political point of view, but also from the angle of the further creation, and more innovative approaches.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "New Criticism in the English and American Literature." October 15, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/new-criticism-in-the-english-and-american-literature/.


IvyPanda. (2021) 'New Criticism in the English and American Literature'. 15 October.

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