In literature, what is biographical theory? 

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Biographical theory is a form of literary criticism that analyzes literature through a lens which considers the writer's life experiences, race, gender, philosophical outlook, and so forth. This way of analyzing literature looks externally, then, for insights into the work's intent and meaning. Biographical theory is a useful approach in that it takes into account the author's outlook. It works quite plausibly in readings of, for example, the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald. His class consciousness was a dramatic force in his life and found its way into works like The Great Gatsby and "Winter Dreams." However, biographical theory does not necessarily recognize the phenomenon of an author's imaginative sense of occupying the mind and sensibilities of someone outside himself/herself in constructing the work, nor does it consider formalist ideas about analyzing text without information not found outside the work.

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Biographical theory refers to how an author’s life influenced his or her work.

Criticism refers to how we analyze and interpret a work of literature.  Biography refers to an author’s background and life.

When looking at a work, we can analyze it from a variety of perspectives.  The biographical perspective focuses on the author’s background and how that specifically affected the work.  For example, where the author grew up, his culture and family situation, and the times he lived in, influence his work.

Consider, for example, William Golding’s famous work Lord of the Flies.  Golding was a teacher.  Chances are he saw a lot of the behavior of the characters in his work.  He also lived through World War II.  This impacted his outlook, and his writing.

“He must have flown off after he dropped us. He couldn’t land here.
Not in a place with wheels.”
“We was attacked!” (ch 1)

This is an example of how both his personal background and the historical time period affected his life, his outlook, and his works.

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