English 3900 Critical Theory, Fall 2022

TR 2:00-3:15 p.m., Atkinson Hall 107

Interpretation Survey

Spend a few moments writing all the questions you ask of every text you read or watch: a poem, a short story, a novel, a play, a film, a television show, a graphic novel. We'll post your questions here, and throughout the semester we'll compare them to the questions the theorists we're reading would ask.


Here are the questions our class asked on Thursday, August 18.

Here are the questions the theorists we're reading would ask any work of literature:

In Class Activities



Article Summary and Article Application

The informal article summary compels you to practice determining the key ideas of a specific theorist's essay, and the informal article application compels you to apply a specific theorist's ideas when interpreting a text. In order to develop tentative understanding of sometimes difficult ideas, you will pair up to discuss the article, and then one person will summarize it and the other will apply it. Over the course of the semester, you will both summarize an article and apply an article.

Article Summary

The article summary, which will summarize a particular theorist's essay, should

Article Application

The article application, which will critically read a text by applying a particular theorist's ideas, should

Due Dates

  1. Your written assignment will be due in two places (first, GeorgiaVIEW > Course Work > Discussions and, second, either Assignments > Article Summary or Assignments > Article Application) two days before we are scheduled to discuss an article. Failing to submit to GeorgiaVIEW means failure of the assignment.
  2. I will return your graded assignment to you in GeorgiaVIEW > Course Work > Assignments > Article Summary or Article Application approximately one week after we discuss the article in class. Due to GeorgiaVIEW limitations, I am unable to return graded assignments to you unless and until you submit them to the Assignment dropbox. Here's how to calculate your course grade.
  3. For example, we are scheduled to discuss Herman on Tuesday, 9-6. Therefore, someone's article summary and someone else's article application will be due in GeorgiaVIEW on Sunday, 9-4. It is recommended that the two students who signed up to write the summary and application, respectively, meet to discuss article's main ideas and how to apply them in interpreting an in-class text such as the Rich poem, the Achebe novel, etc. Each student will write their own paper (either summary or application) and post it to the class discussion board by Sunday, 9-4. I will return the graded article summary and application to the students the following week in GeorgiaVIEW > Course Work > Assignments > Article Summary or Article Application.

Sign Up

Sign up here for two slots: one article summary (sum) and one article application (app) at least three weeks apart. Note that you will discuss the article with the other person scheduled to write about it as well as coordinate your summaries and applications.

Group Presentation

In the formal presentation, groups of three or four students (formed on Thursday, October 21) will collaborate to teach a critical approach to the class.


One week before the presentation, the group should inform the class of what 1 theoretical article it will teach as well as provide the professor with copies of the articles (if not in Literary Theory: A Practical Introduction and Literary Theory: An Anthology).


During the 30-45 minute presentation followed by 10 minute question and answer session, the group should


Sign Up

Sign up for groups here by Thursday, October 22.

Exam 1

Exam 1 will cover formalism (Liberal Humanism, New Criticism, Russian Formalism), structuralism (semiotics, genre criticism, narratology, interpretive conventions), and existential humanism (existentialism and phenomenology, reception theory and reader response criticism, ethic) and will be taken in class on Tuesday, September 20. There will be two essay questions. In the first essay, you will be asked to compare and contrast two of the three theories from your choice of formalism, structuralism, and existential humanism). The second essay question will ask you to demonstrate and practice applying those two selected theories in interpretations of your choice of one text from either the poem "Red Riding Hood" by Anne Sexton or the short story "The Company of Wolves" by Angela Carter. You may bring printouts of the literary work to the exam; but you may not use your textbooks.


Your theory essay will be graded on 1) your ability to balance a broad understanding of the general theory with a healthy amount of specific terms from particular theorists as well as on 2) your ability to assess similarities and differences between the two general theories.


Your application essay grade will be based on how you interpret the text; in other words, illustrate your understanding of the two critical theories by making apparent the questions a formalist, structuralist, and/or existential humanist ask of a text.


If I were to study for this exam, I would 1) create an outline of key terms and compose their definitions, 2) write practice essays comparing and contrasting two critical theories (formalism, structuralism, and/or existential humanism) using those keys terms, and 3) write practice essays interpreting the one literary text from two critical perspectives using those key terms.

Exam 2


Exam 3