Literary criticism and literary theory are said to be not identical with each other.  How are they different?

Expert Answers
Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Practically speaking, from a student's point of view, literary theories are different ways of analyzing literature.  Literary theories are perspectives one brings to literature when one analyzes, or "criticizes," literature.

For instance, one might study medieval Arthurian legends from a feminist perspective, feminism being one literary theory.  One might find that Arthurian legends present women as either Virgin Mary-like beauties (Madonnas) or scapegoats for society's ills.  Women are either put of pedastals and idolized for their beauty and purity and destined to be rescued by men, or are impure and morally at fault and cause society's problems.

One might also look at the famous story "The Necklace" from a Marxist/Economic point of view.  What is Mathilde's economic situation?  What chance for economic success does she have?  If she were not poor to begin with, wouldn't she have been aware of the possibility that the necklace was only costume jewelry, rather than genuine?  What are the physical costs of poverty?

Numerous literary theories exist, of course.  For a student, they enable one to do literary criticism from various points of view and perspectives. 

wannam eNotes educator| Certified Educator
Although literary criticism and literary theory sound very similar, they are not the same thing. One reason they seem so similar is that literary criticism is influenced by literary theory. Literary theory analyzes the author's intentions and the relationships between the author, work, reader, and the time period in which the work was written. Literary theories look at the why. Literary criticism makes a judgement on the work rather than studying what is behind the work. It analyzes how effect the writer was as well as how effect other aspects of the work were. Let's look at a specific example. Literary Theory might tell us that the author wrote this work to explain their feelings about an injustice. Literary Criticism will look at how effectively that author conveyed their message. The Theories influence how we think about the work and therefore our critiques of the work. The two are interconnected but different aspects of literary analysis.
futureeinstein | Student

Literary criticism is the study, evaluation, and interpretation of literature, whereas Literary theory is the philosophical discussion of its methods and goals.