VCE English and EAL, English Language, and Literature guide - units 3 & 4

Guide to research and literary criticism of current texts used in VCE English and English as an Additional Language (EAL), English Language, and Literature

VCE Literature - Literary theory and interpretation


Literary criticism can be written from a range of perspectives, interpretations and theoretical structures.

A theory is a structure that can be applied to a literary work. A theoretical judgement may be formal and may judge a work as part of a larger body of literature and beyond.

A perspective is seeing a work though a specific set of beliefs, or point of view. Generally a perspective is a more personal and emotional response to a specific text.

For example a work might be assessed by someone with strong religious or political beliefs. This perspective may influence how they judge a work, or which elements of a work that they focus on. Whereas a literary theorist may judge works within a predetermined theoretical structure. 

This article from the Internet encyclopedia of philosophy provides a good description of literary theory. The Purdue University has a very good guide to Literary theory and schools of criticism.

Literary theory

Literary theorists often look beyond the story and focus on the language, structure and subtext of a literary work

Authors may intentionally apply a particular perspective, theory or set of beliefs to a story.

However cultural and societal influences and prejudices may be unintentionally reflected in a narrative through the language used and the way in which characters, events and actions are described.

A literary theorist may not be applying their own belief system to a work, but rather applying a dispassionate theory in order to understand the beliefs and influences on the author that effected the creation of their work, and the manner in which the style and structure of a work may resonate with the reader.

Our Library holds a range of books about literary theory.

Some of these are ebooks and can be accessed and downloaded for loan by any  registered Victorian resident. If you have not borrowed an ebook from the Library before check our Ebooks research guide for advice.

General works on literary theory

The following books relate to specific literary theories

For reviews of specific works based on a particular literary theory see the articles below.

Literary perspectives

Literary criticism can be written from a range of perspectives and interpretations.

Criticism from a specific perspective may relate to a reviewer applying their own social, political or religious beliefs to a work.

Finding examples of specific perspectives or theories being applied to specific works can be a challenge. Often it is a matter of having an understanding of a specific perspective and then thinking about how that perspective might apply to a work.

Sometimes it is difficult to separate a perspective from a theory. For example a critic may write from a feminist perspective and apply feminist literary theory to a work.


There are a range of cultural journals that approach subjects from a specific perspective. Many of these will include reviews and articles on literature and can be used as examples of approaching literary criticism and comment from a specific perspective. These journals are all available online to any any registered Victorian resident

Searching tips

Below are some examples of searches for analysis of authors, or novels that focus on a specific interpretation. See the search examples for tips on searching.

Thea Astley

William Faulkner As I lay dying

Jane Austen Northanger Abbey

Margaret Atwood Alias Grace

Literature databases

Use the topic tabs at the top of this guide for instruction on using the most appropriate database.

If you live in Victoria register to access these databases from home.

VCE guides

See also our Introduction to the Library guide.

Past VCE Study Design documents from the VCAA have been archived on Trove.