The Formalism of the Psychoanalytical Literary Theory


Literary theories developed throughout the 20th century are essential in scientific discussions regarding the evaluation of various writings, allowing for a thorough investigation of literary qualities present. The formalist approaches to this topic had a tremendous impact on the studies of literature and languages, highlighting the distinctiveness of works analyzed. The emergence of New Criticism suggested by John Crowe Ransom as a part of the formalist movement has further improved the principles of examining a literary piece. This approach focused on the internal attributes of the text and negated the need to consider extrinsic factors (Childs 120). Another prominent literary theory, the psychoanalytical strategy based on Freud’s propositions, can be instrumental in identifying the leading concepts of New Criticism. The corresponding and contrasting features of the perspectives mentioned are essential to analyze in order to obtain profound knowledge of these frameworks. The current work evaluates the New Criticism movement from the standpoints of the psychoanalytical literary theory, presenting structure and symbolism as resemblant elements, and the emphasis on the author as a contrasting trait.

Defining the Primary Elements of New Criticism

As a part of a major literary approach, New Criticism incorporates several principles of formalism. Originally presented by John Ransom in his manuscript The New Criticism, this strategy aimed at evaluating the basic attributes of a literary work while maintaining a precise and objective attitude of a scientific investigator (Childs 120). According to the techniques suggested, a scholar should follow the ideas of the work’s autonomy and unity, observing it as a piece that already contains all the information necessary for a proper examination. The external influences, such as the author’s personality and the writing’s time of creation, are regarded as irrelevant in this framework, alternatively exploring the grammar semantics and syntax. Of exceptional meaning were the concepts of symbols, metaphors, and images, as they introduce figurative language and allow the reader to comprehend the thoughts and ideas behind the work (Ransom 2). Overall, the New Critics present a novel technique of text analysis, outlining the necessity to evaluate the value of the literary piece through its distinct internal features.

A prominent method of examining the text implementing a New Criticism approach is studying the work’s formal aspects. Such elements as rhythm, theme, and metaphors, become leading traits of the analysis, as they represent the structural and aesthetic qualities and serve as instruments of constructing inherent meaning (Barry 98). While the formalists directed their attention to the linguistic terms, the New Critics concentrated on the close reading technique and connected the work’s structure with its interpretation.

New Criticism from the Viewpoints of PsychoAnalytical Text Interpretation

The principles introduced by Sigmund Freud’s scientific advances were found to be highly prominent in the field of literary criticism, producing a unique method of text examination. According to Freud’s suggestions, the form utilized in specific writing resembles the thoughts and beliefs of the author himself, allowing the researcher to encounter evidence of psychological conflicts and traumas residing within the creator (Barry 98). The notion of symbolism and hidden meaning is particularly significant for this framework, as mental issues and unresolved fixations are often disguised rather than observed directly. Thus, it becomes necessary to explore the literary devices present in the writing, namely imagery, metaphors, and leading themes, in order to establish the hidden patterns of emotional difficulties.

Given the focus on metaphorical meaning and concealed ideas, it is possible that scholars of the psychoanalytical approach would agree with the representatives of New Criticism on the necessity to explore the formal elements. Both of the theories adhere to such attributes as symbols, metaphors, and themes, implementing these literary devices as a means of discovering the meaning of the work. The non-evident, undisclosed properties are of vital interest for these scholars, exploring the relationship between the ideas within the text and the distinct strategies of their expression (Barry 100). Consistent contrasts and comparisons, as well as the employment of particular allegorical elements, might indicate the presence of a concealed narrative, which enhances the value of the work and supplements the more apparent notions. As the narrative and the environment of the story develops, presenting additional conflicts and resolutions, new knowledge of the writing can be obtained.

Another corresponding feature of the frameworks mentioned concerns the overall structure of the work, its coherence, and development. From the new and psychoanalytical critics’ point of view, the unity of the piece and the connections between its parts play a significant role in the understanding of the hidden meaning. Specific disruptions or structural changes might demonstrate the deliberate intention to break the flow of the narrative, increasing the aesthetic value of the writing and introducing certain ideas (Childs 121). Evaluation of these patterns and comprehension of the goal of such inputs is a necessary part of the literary investigation according to both of the strategies, as it creates a complete and extensive interpretation.

Nevertheless, the distinction between the two approaches are imperative to discuss. From the perspective of the New Criticism framework, any external information regarding the writing or its author should be excluded from the examination, offering a possibility of an untainted and non-influenced analysis (Ransom 5). This statement is refuted by the followers of the psychoanalytic criticism, who devote a substantial amount of attention to the author and their characteristics, including potential factors that might impact their writing choices (Barry 102). Although it is possible to focus on producing a psychoanalytic critic of a character within the work, the importance of the creator’s psychological condition is still a large part of the investigation. Thus, a drastic difference with the New Criticism strategy can be observed in the implied significance of the author.


To conclude, Ransom’s theory New Criticism was evaluated according to the principles of the psychoanalytical literary approach in this paper. The framework of New Criticism, inspired by the ideas of formalism, adopts the necessity to examine intrinsic features of specific writing, abstaining from an exploration of internal characteristics. Analyzing the work as a complete and self-sufficient literary material is a crucial factor in a New Criticism scientific investigation, where extrinsic knowledge about the author and the relevant historical period is deemed unnecessary. It appears that the method of close reading, implemented in this theory, could be supported by the representatives of the psychoanalytical movement, who also strive to interpret the symbolical meaning behind the literary devices employed. Such elements as metaphors, rhythm, and imagery are highly regarded in both of the frameworks. However, a vital distinction can be observed in the primary emphasis of the two explorations, as New Criticism disregards the knowledge concerning the writer’s personality traits. In contrast, the psychoanalytic evaluation directly focuses on the mental issues of the author.

Works Cited

Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. 3rd ed., Manchester University Press, 2009.

Childs, Donald. “New Criticism.” Encyclopedia of Contemporary Literary Theory, edited by Irena Makaryk, University of Toronto Press, 2018, pp. 120-124.

Ransom, John Crowe “Criticism, Inc.” The Virginia Quarterly Review, vol. 13, no. 4, 1937, pp. 1-13.

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PsychologyWriting. "The Formalism of the Psychoanalytical Literary Theory." August 16, 2022.