I am interested in analyzing the whole novel. What are the schools of literary criticism I can apply to Great Expectations? To which area can each school be directed?

I would be delighted if each person provided one particular school of criticism that can be used in analyzing Great Expectations and it could be used. This question is only for humanist scholars who are aware of literary theory and literary criticism as well as the novel Great Expectations.

  • 3
    That depends on what your goals are. If you're interested in Dickens' depiction of women or colonialism you'll use a very different method than if you were interested in how Dickens' contemporary audience reacted to his works. For instance.
    – Stuart F
    Nov 30, 2022 at 15:43
  • Which school do you think I should use in both cases? and do you know other practical literary criticism theories and where to apply them? Nov 30, 2022 at 16:10
  • 1
    As it stands, this question seems too broad to work here: there's so many possible answers, based on different types of analysis and different literary criticism schools, so I don't think this could be answered well within the scope of a StackExchange answer. If you narrow it to ask about a particular school and whether/how its methods can be applied, or ask about a particular type of analysis you're interested in and which lens/method would work best for that, then this might be better (or it might still be too broad or opinion-based, I'm not expert enough in literary criticism to be sure).
    – Rand al'Thor
    Nov 30, 2022 at 16:46
  • If each one answer this question from one way of analysis, I will get my whole answer. So can you name one particular school of criticism that can you use in analyzing great expectations and how are you going to use it? Nov 30, 2022 at 17:07
  • There is hardly any "school" of literary criticism or literary theory that can't be applied. Some theories have focused on particular genres or periods, but those choices are preferences rather than rules. As Stuart F said, what theory works best for you depends on what you want to focus on in your analysis. There is a list of schools of literary theory on Wikipedia that will give you choice overload.
    – Tsundoku
    Nov 30, 2022 at 17:30

1 Answer 1


I think there is a bit of a misconception here. I'll start with a few problems with the questions and end with a few suggestions.

First, StackExchange doesn't do well with open-ended and opinion-based questions. You might find other fora a better option for the question as you actually asked it. It might even make for a decent discussion in the chatroom.

Second, it's not really accurate to say you want to apply a "school of thought" to a text. A theory can be used to provide a lens, and a school of thought is the intellectual context in which that theory is developed. Saying you want to apply a school of thought to a text is a quick shorthand way of saying you want to apply a lens. So that's what you ought to be talking about, if I understand your question correctly.

In that case, you have options, like reading it through a feminist, Marxist, post-colonial lens. You could also read it in light of contextualist, structuralist, post-structuralist, postmodern, historicist, post-historical, etc. theories of literature. All these approaches are created in order to better understand the text.

The issue is that the breadth is so vast. It would be like an alien saying: "I want to study earth. What science is best used to study it?" Each reading will yield different results, and some will be more relevant than others, certainly. But then the applications will also be just as varied. At any rate, you can't get to it all and have it make sense.

Even for a single text like Great Expectations, you have many volumes of scholarship dedicated to understanding it.

The best thing to do is to get a companion to the text, like those put out by Cambridge (whose series are really useful for students, imo!), Oxford, or Routledge that have essays covering some of the basics of the work in question. Usually these edited volumes cover enough of the approaches for you to get an idea of current scholarship and how it works.

  • Thank you cmw for your detailed answer as well as for suggesting the companion books. Nov 30, 2022 at 22:36
  • @IhssanBenbouhia You're welcome! Let me know if you have questions along this line.
    – cmw
    Dec 1, 2022 at 17:04

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