Analyzing Literature: The Reader-Response Theory Catherine Wishart Adjunct Instructor Copyright © 2010. All rights reserved. The Reader-Response Answer to Formalism • In the 1930s, students and authors became disenchanted with the supposition that the reader was not important in evaluating a piece of literature. • In 1938, Louise Rosenblatt thought that criticism should “involve a personal sense of literature”; a “spontaneous and honest reaction” (Lynn 68-9). • Reader-Response focuses on how and why a reader responds to a specific text in a specific manner. • Reader-Response embraces the idea that one text can mean something vastly different to each reader. The Tenets of Reader-Response Theory • Reader-Response theory allows for inferences and insights by the reader. • Reader-Response theory accepts that a reader’s background knowledge and experiences impact his/her interpretation of a text. • “A response paper expresses what you experienced in reading and think about the assigned text…. [and] should reflect your background, values, and attitudes in response to the work, not what the instructor thinks about it” (Kennedy 1397). • Reader-Response Theory encourages the reader to explore his/her emotional response to a literary work. • Reader-Response Theory also expects readers to work as a community to share ideas and seek common ground (Lynn 69). The Role of the Reader in ReaderResponse Theory • A reader should not passively accept a text, but should actively make meaning of the work. • No work of literature ever comes alive until it is read and contemplated by the reader. The reader “completes” the work. • The reader builds a connection with the text by reflecting on his/her mental perceptions based upon the text. • The reader seeks common ground with other readers while learning from each person’s unique response to the literature (Lynn 69). The Role of Literature in ReaderResponse Theory • Any literary work cannot be enjoyed unless a reader becomes actively involved in the words woven together. • Instead of a literary work standing alone, a literary work is coordinately as important as the reader. • The literary work depends upon the reader to assimilate and actualize the text. • The literary work serves as a vehicle with a built-in GPS, while the reader drives the work to the final destination. Both work in concert to arrive at an understanding. Readers Must Contemplate Their Responses • The reader needs to reflect on his/her reaction to a text throughout the process of reading it. Why did I think that? What in my past made me interpret that scene the way I did? How has other pieces I’ve read influenced the way I react to this text? • The reader needs to determine how believable the author is. Is there reliability in the narrator? Is the author attempting to manipulate my thinking? • The reader needs to reinterpret each section of text as he/she continues to read. Now that I have read this chapter, do I need to rethink what I thought about the previous chapter? • Readers must be able to defend their responses – – Reader-Response does not allow for “anything goes” response. The response must be based on close and careful reading of the text. Readers Reflect on Response, Not Interpretation • What is my emotional response to the text? Why do I have this response? • What does the text mean to me? • What has happened to me in my life that helps me understand this text? • Does this work change the way I see the world? My life? My goals? • What impact does the text have on me? • Does this text make me re-evaluate perceptions of what has happened to me in the past? • How can I personalize my connection to this text? Evolving Responses • Reader-Response Theory allows for a reader to respond differently to a text each and every time he/she reads the text. • As personal experiences and exposures to literature grow, a person’s response to a text changes. • Readers focus on the aesthetic – the emotional response rather than the efferent – the informational component – of reading. • Aesthetic reading also calls for empathy – the reader puts himself/herself in the place of characters to determine if the way a character reacts is realistic or morally similar to the reader’s response. You May Choose to Answer These Questions in Your Reader Response Paper • What does the text have to do with you, personally? • How much does the text agree or disagree with your view of the world and what you think is right and wrong? Cite specific lines from the text to prove your point. • How well does the text address things that you personally care about and consider important in the world? Cite specific lines from the text. • What other texts does the this text remind you of? Cite lines from the text and explain the connection. • What is your overall reaction to the text? http://utminers.utep.edu/omwilliamson/engl0310link/readerresponse.htm Resources & Works Cited • DiYanni, Robert. Literature Approaches to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. 2nd ed. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2008. Print. • Kennedy, X. J. and Gioia, Dana. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Revised edition for Burlington County College. NY: Pearson, 2011. Print. • Lynn, Steven. Texts and Contexts: Writing About Literature with Critical Theory. 5th ed. NY: Pearson, 2008. Print. • PowerPoint: https://www.faulkner.edu/admin/websites/cwarmack/Rea der-Response%20Theory.ppt. • How to Write a Reader Response Paper: http://utminers.utep.edu/omwilliamson/engl0310link/read erresponse.htm.
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