Psychological Criticism is

Psychological criticism, or psychoanalytic criticism, took off in popularity in the early decades of the twentieth century. Sigmund Freud, who based some of his theories on analyses of literature, particularly Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, is the figure primarily associated with psychological criticism, though Jacques Lacan and Carl Jung have played key roles as well. Psychological criticism frequently addresses human behavior—at the conscious and/or unconscious level—as well as the development of characters through their actions. For example, according to Freud in The Ego and the Id, a work of literature is an external expression of the author’s unconscious mind.

Key Terms: Dialectic; Hermeneutics; Semiotics; Text & Intertextuality; Tone


Foundational Questions of Psychological Criticism

  • What motivates the speaker or protagonist? Does the speaker or protagonist appear to be consciously or unconsciously motivated?
  • How do desires and wishes manifest in the text? Do they remain largely fulfilled or unfilled? How does their fulfillment, or lack thereof, affect the character’s development?
  • Does the text chart the emotional development of a character? How?
  • How do the characters in the text evoke archetypal figures such as the Great or Nurturing Mother, the Wounded Child, the Whore, the Crone, the Lover, or the Destroying Angel)?

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