Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Dr. John McKenna


Nearly all would agree that the first purpose of literary criticism is to determine the artistic merit of a written work. Of course, this general agreement founders when it is carried to its logical step: deciding on the criteria for this aesthetic evaluation. The multiplicity of critical approaches currently appreciated create a morass of aesthetic criteria that largely leaves the initial purpose of literary criticism without any definitive statement. We all know the purpose of criticism is to discern art from non-art, but the subjectivity of this intended purpose, coupled with its sheer simplicity of expression, leaves the critic with his own basic dilemma. This dilemma arises since the general agreement that criticism should be the determination of art is lost a priori. For why would the critic, excluding extreme personal prejudices or messianic attitude, bother in the first instance to expand his talent on a work devoid of artistic merit? The answer is self-evident: he would not. Therefore, the general agreement on the first purpose of literary criticism is only tenable insofar as the determination of art is made solely through the critical effort and the desires that initiate it. The literary critic has determined in his own mind that a particular work, or collection of works, is art before he begins to examine it from a specific critical viewpoint.


A Thesis Presented to the Department of English and the Faculty of the Graduate College University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts University of Nebraska at Omaha. Copyright 1972 Cameron G. Northouse.

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