All psychoanalytic approaches to literature have one thing in commonthe critics begin with a full psychological theory of how and why people behave as they do, a theory that has been developed by a psychologist/psychiatrist/psychoanalyst outside of the realm of literature, and they apply this psychological theory as a standard to interpret and evaluate a literary work. The developer of the theory and the details of the theory will vary, but the theories are all universalist in scope, positing patterns of behavior that are not dependent on specific times, places, and cultures. Frequently invoked theorists include Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Jacques Lacan.
Because psychoanalytic theories have been developed outside the realm of literature, they are not tied to a specific aesthetic theory and are frequently coupled with other schools of literary criticism (e.g., feminist psychoanalytic criticism, reader-response psychoanalytic criticism, etc.).
Psychoanalytic literary criticism can focus on one or more of the following: