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How to Interpret Literature

Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies

Fourth Edition

Robert Dale Parker

Publication Date - August 2019

ISBN: 9780190855697

448 pages
5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches

In Stock

Retail Price to Students: $64.99

A broad and lively survey of critical theory that is current, concise, and affordable


Offering a refreshing combination of accessibility and intellectual rigor, How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies, Fourth Edition, presents an up-to-date, concise, and wide-ranging historicist survey of contemporary thinking in critical theory. The only book of its kind that thoroughly merges literary studies with cultural studies, this text provides a critical look at the major movements in literary studies from the 1930s to the present. It is the only up-to-date survey of literary theory that devotes extensive treatment to queer studies, postcolonial and race studies, environmental criticism, and disability studies. How to Interpret Literature is ideal as a stand-alone text or in conjunction with an anthology of primary readings, like Robert Dale Parker's Critical Theory: A Reader for Literary and Cultural Studies.

New to this Edition

  • Wider coverage than any book of its kind, including contemporary movements and controversies
  • Expanded accounts of contemporary models of gender, of queer time, biopower, migration and hybridity, implicit bias, racial appropriation, and the nonhuman
  • New and expanded examples, including a reading of Nella Larsen's Passing
  • A concise glossary of terms for poetic form

About the Author(s)

Robert Dale Parker is Frank Hodgins Professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


"Parker's text is a model of clarity and lucidity, and its accessible examples make even the most difficult theoretical concepts easy to grasp. How to Interpret Literature is compulsively readable--not just a page-turner--but even fun to read. My students found the book invaluable and have continued to use it as a reference in their other courses. There can be no higher recommendation than that."--Jamie Goodrich, Wayne State University

"How to Interpret Literature is the best book available in the field. In addition to being accessible to people with little to no background in literary studies, it includes some newer approaches to literature--ecocriticism, disability studies, and queer of color critique--that many competing texts don't."--Nowell Marshall, Rider University

"How to Interpret Literature offers well-informed, thorough, and incisive explanations of each theory."--Anthony Grajeda, University of Central Florida

Table of Contents


    Chapter 1: Introduction

    Chapter 2: New Criticism

    Before New Criticism
    How to Interpret: Key Concepts for New Critical Interpretation
    Historicizing the New Criticism: Rethinking Literary Unity
    The Intentional Fallacy and the Affective Fallacy
    How to Interpret: A New Critical Example
    The Influence of New Criticism
    Further Reading

    Chapter 3: Structuralism
    Key Concepts in Structuralism
    How to Interpret: Structuralism in Cultural and Literary Studies
    The Death of the Author
    How to Interpret: The Detective Novel
    Structuralism, Formalism, and Literary History
    The Structuralist Study of Narrative: Narratology
    How to Interpret: Focalization and Free Indirect Discourse
    Narrative Syntax, and Metaphor and Metonymy
    Further Reading

    Chapter 4: Deconstruction
    Key Concepts in Deconstruction
    How to Interpret: A Deconstructionist Example
    Writing, Speech, and Différance
    Deconstruction beyond Derrida
    Deconstruction, Essentialism, and Identity
    How to Interpret: Further Deconstructionist Examples
    Further Reading

    Chapter 5: Psychoanalysis
    Clinical Psychoanalysis
    Key Concepts in Psychoanalysis: The Psychoanalytic Understanding of the Mind
    Sigmund Freud
    How to Interpret: Models of Psychoanalytic Interpretation
    From the Interpretation of Dreams to the Interpretation of Literature
    How to Interpret: Further Psychoanalytic Examples
    Jacques Lacan
    How to Interpret: A Lacanian Example
    Further Reading

    Chapter 6: Feminism
    What Is Feminism?
    Early Feminist Criticism and Contemporary Feminist Criticism
    Sex and Gender
    How to Interpret: Feminist Examples
    Feminism and Visual Pleasure
    Intersectionality and the Interdisciplinary Ethos of Contemporary Feminism
    Further Reading

    Chapter 7: Queer Studies
    Key Concepts in Queer Studies
    How to Interpret: A Queer Studies Example
    Queer Studies and History
    Outing: Writers, Characters, and the Literary Closet
    How to Interpret: Outing the Closet
    Homosociality and Homosexual Panic
    Heteronormativity, the Anti-Social Turn, and Queer Time
    Queer of Color Critique
    How to Interpret: Another Queer Studies Example
    Questions That Queer Studies Critics Ask
    Further Reading

    Chapter 8: Marxism
    Key Concepts in Marxism
    Lukács, Gramsci, and Marxist Interpretations of Culture
    Contemporary Marxism, Ideology, and Agency
    How to Interpret: An Example from Popular Culture
    Variations in Marxist Criticism
    How to Interpret: Further Marxist Examples
    Further Reading

    Chapter 9: Historicism and Cultural Studies
    New Historicism
    How to Interpret: Historicist Examples
    Michel Foucault
    Cultural Studies
    How to Interpret: A Cultural Studies Example
    Cultural Studies, Historicism, and Literature
    Further Reading

    Chapter 10: Postcolonial and Race Studies
    From Orientalism to Deconstruction: Edward Said, Homi Bhabha, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
    How to Interpret: A Postcolonial Studies Example
    Race Studies
    How to Interpret: Postcolonial and Race Studies Examples
    Postcolonial and Race Studies and Literary Studies
    Further Reading

    Chapter 11: Reader Response
    Ideal, Implied, and Actual Readers
    Structuralist Models of Reading and Communication
    Aesthetic Judgment, Interpretive Communities, and Resisting Readers
    Reception Theory and Reception History
    Paranoid, Suspicious, and Symptomatic Reading versus Surface Reading
    Readers and the New Technologies
    Further Reading

    Chapter 12: Recent and Emerging Developments: Environmental Criticism and Disability Studies
    Environmental Criticism
    Disability Studies
    A Future for Critical Theory
    Further Reading

    Terms for Poetic Form
    Works Cited
    Photographic Credits