Literary Approach - Sociological Criticism

The Norton Introduction to Poetry
Editor: J. Paul Hunter, University of Chicago
(Norton & Company, 1999)

The Norton Introduction to Poetry: Sociological Criticism

University of Chicago professor emeritus J. Paul Hunter defines critical approaches to evaluating poetry and prose in this excellent text published by Norton & Company. The book is now in its ninth edition with contributing editors Alison Booth, University of Virginia, and Kelly J. Mays, University of Nevada.

“Literature is seen as one aspect of the larger processes of history, especially those processes involving people acting in social groups or as members of social institutions or movements. Sociological criticism assumes that the most significant aspects of human beings are social and that the most important functions of literature thus involve the way that literature both portrays and influences human interactions. Much sociological criticism centers its attention on contemporary life and texts, seeking to affect both societal directions and literary ones in the present, but some sociological criticism is historical, concerned with differences in different times and places, and anxious to interpret directions of literature in terms of historical emphases and patterns.”

Sociology is the study of people with differing cultural, philosophical, and religious beliefs. The application of this technique to literature spotlights contradictory concepts in past and present society, seeking to explain human behavior in groups. Interpretation exposes the scrutinized words and may reveal a biased motive in the poem or story.