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Source: Abrams, M.H. 1980. A handbook to Literature.USA:The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc.

Literary Criticism

According to Abrams, criticism is the analysis, study, and evaluation of individual works of art, as well as the formulation of general methodological or aesthetic principles for the examination of such works. From the earliest days of literary history, criticism has been a major aspect of literary theory and practice.

Abrams in The Mirror and The Lamp has pointed out that all critical theories discriminate four elements in “the total situation of a work of art”. They are:

1. the work, that is, the thing made by the maker, the poem produced by the poet, the artifact created by the artificer

2. the artist, the maker, the poet, the artificer

3. the universe, that is, the nature that is imitated, if art is viewed as imitation, the material of the real world or the world of ideal entities out of which the work may be thought to take its subject

4. the audience, the readers, spectators, or listeners to whom the work is addressed.

If the critic views art basically in terms of the universe, in terms of what is imitated, the critic is using the mimetic theory. If the critic views art basically in terms of its effect on the audience, he or she is using the pragmatic theory. If the critic views art basically in terms of the artist, that is, views it as expressive of the maker, the critic is using the expressive theory. If the critic views art basically in its own terms, seeing the work as a self-contained entity, the critic is using an objective theory.

Criticism may also be classified according to the purpose that it is intended to serve. The purposes that critics have had are:

  1. to justify one’s own work or to explain it and its underlying principles to an uncomprehending audience
  2. to justify imaginative art in a world that tends to find its value questionable
  3. to prescribe rules for writers and to legislate taste for the audience
  4. to interpret works to readers who might fail to understand them
  5. to judge works by clearly defined standards of evaluation
  6. to discover and to apply the principles which describe the foundation of good art


Read the poem below. Try to understand it by analyzing each line. Then, using your own words, explore what the poem tells us about. Post your answer on this website, or e-mail it at abidhalim@yahoo.com.

The Little Boy Lost

``Father! father! where are you going?

O do not walk so fast.

Speak, father, speak to your little boy,

Or else I shall be lost.''

The night was dark, no father was there;

The child was wet with dew;

The mire was deep, & the child did weep,

And away the vapour flew.

(William Blake)

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