Craig White's Literature Courses

Terms / Themes




Oxford English Dictionary: 4. The collection or list of books of the Bible accepted by the Christian Church as genuine and inspired. Also transf., any set of sacred books; also, those writings of a secular author accepted as authentic.

Wikipedia: "Western canon": The term Western canon denotes a criterion of books and, more broadly, music and art that have been the most importan and influential in shaping Western culture.

The term "literary canon" refers to a classification of literature used widely to refer to a group of literary works that are considered the most excellent or representative of a particular time period or place.


For example, there can be a literary canon comprised of


works from a particular nation or country, or


works by a particular author or group of authors, or


works written within a specific set of years, or


even a collection of works that were all written during a certain time period and in a certain region.


In this way, a literary canon establishes a collection of similar or related literary works.


In its broadest sense, "the canon" refers to the essential works of literature that a student, instructor, or scholar is expected to have read, e.g. works by Shakespeare, Faulkner, Tomi Morrison, Dickens, Hawthorne, Homer, Sophocles, and many other more or less major figures who rise and fall in status or prestige in response to changing tastes and the needs of history.


Of course, there are many ways in which literary works can be classified, but status in the canon applies a certain validity or authority to a work of literature. When a work is entered into the canon, thus canonized, it gains status as an official inclusion into a group of literary works that are widely studied and respected. Those who decide whether a work will be canonized include influential literary critics, scholars, teachers, and anyone whose opinions and judgments regarding a literary work are also widely respected. For this reason, there are no rigid qualifications for canonization, and whether a work will be canonized remains a subjective decision.

InnovateUs: Canon refers to a rule and a list of books containing names of important books serves as a rule or guide for reading. A literary canon automatically suggests a reading list which belongs to a country or a certain period in time. It contains mainly literary works by authors who are accepted as an authority in their field and their writings constitute a serious body of literature in any given language. The collection of works included in a literary canon is largely approved by cultural and academic institutions and is regarded as Literature of that language. If a book is included in a literary canon it means it has attained a certain status of authority and is of  high aesthetic quality which gives the viewer or reader  the idea that that book is highly regarded in the literary world.


The "canon" is important not only as an indication of literary significance but, since the Civil Rights Era, as an issue in the "culture wars" between dominant-culture Americans who defend an earlier order and multicultural Americans


"The Old Canon" "The New Canon"
works by "Dead White European Men" and a few women who could write like them works by women and people of color or other repressed or marginalized groups
Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave
Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre Anais Nin, The Wide Sargasso Sea