Essay reader response criticism

This pilot project was designed to correlate the word-list data with the post-reading responses The pragmatic studies of readers have been almost completely unrelated to reader response theory. This is only "fair play", since the theorists seldom test their ideas against real readers. It makes a funny kind of sense that the pragmatists seldom appear to design their studies to prove or disprove theory, but either never mention theory or attach it loosely to the beginning or endings of their essays to prove they've done their homework.

Reader-Response vs. New Criticism Essay

Attempts to prove or disprove theory might be useful subjects for inquiry in future pragmatic studies. Three Historically Important Studies.

In his Practical Criticism, I. Richards reported the results of asking Cambridge undergraduates to read thirteen poems authorship not identified and ranging from John Donne to minor poets , then to "comment freely" on their "readings" as many as ten re-readings during a week pp. Richards documents — in excruciating detail — the many ways of misconstruing meaning in poetry when it is presented "without any hint of provenance" p. Richards presents his findings not to indict the "products.

We must treat it as the normal and probable event" p. Richards explains the general "ineptitude of readers" p. The removal of these contextual clues led both to feelings of helplessness in the readers and to a number of "vices" in their readings. Both Richards and Rosenblatt as we shall see later in choosing to present the poems without contextual markers created abnormal test situations. By forcing readers to respond to the words of the text only, both researchers deny a reality condition in trying to create an unbiased test situation.

This experimental design inevitably sets up perfect conditions for "errors" and encourages the discovery of differences between readers' responses. Almost fifty years later, Norman N. Holland in 5 Readers Reading decided to conduct "more or less undirected interviews with a few readers who had taken standard personality tests" x to see whether his earlier theory of a "transformational" model of literary response would be validated l5.

He taped extensive interviews with five undergraduate students on Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" and then read their responses to the story in light of their "identity themes" pp. Instead of finding a great deal of overlap between the readers, Holland found that the readers perceived very different stories.

Holland had collected "more than two hundred pages of free associations for each reader" from "ten or so interviews" p. He used these interviews rather than the standard psychological tests which had also been run on each subject "as the primary source of data on personality" p. Holland arrived at "four principles that describe the inner dynamics of the reading experience : "Style Seeks Itself' p. These principles are psychological descriptions of how readers transform the characters and events in stories to defend their own identity themes while reading fictions. Holland, like Richards, used a free-response method, but Holland's method was molded by three interventions Richards had not allowed.

The readers knew the author and the name of the story some had even read it before in other classes. The readers' responses and personalities were both elicited by questions from Holland and reported by him. He "rework[ed] and refin[ed] the interpretation of the individual readings in the light of the readers' identity themes According to Holland in "Re-Covering "The Purloined Letter" : Reading as a Personal Transaction" 16 , this method of gathering reader responses produces no "uniform core" of meaning "from the text" as opposed to "individual variations" contributed "from the people" ; in fact, the responses have "nothing in common" p.

Thus, while Richards is distressed at the general decrease in ability "to make plain sense of poetry" p.

They perceive the outcomes of their experiments very differently. Neither Richards' or Holland's method offers much hope of revealing clear connections between the text read and the reader's perception of the text. Richards' model withholds so much from the readers that they become bewildered ; Holland's filters so much through "the sixth reader", as he calls himself, that the experiment can make no claim to objectivity She, like Richards, distributed poems "without author or other identification", but instead of allowing repeated readings before responses, she asked the students to "jot down whatever came to them According to Rosenblatt, this procedure shows that readers respond actively to short texts, "shuttling back and forth" to "reinterpret earlier parts of the text in light of later parts" l8.

Although Rosenblatt's procedure reveals more.

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Research Conducted in the Past Ten Years. Almost all of the pragmatic research done in the past ten years has been published in essays rather than in book-length studies. It is ipso facto less fully explained than the work by Richards, Holland, and Rosenblatt ; however, the structural designs of these studies are amenable to contrast and comparison. If an approach is taxonomical, it is, by definition, based on specifics : features in the texts and variables about the readers e.

The more the text and the respondents can be segmented by principled means into textual features or reader variables, the more likely it is that a scientifically replicable method of reader response analysis has been achieved. When enough significant features and variables can be objectively described and measured, an explanation of what happens when readers read literary texts may begin to be possible. Obviously, one must decide how much is "enough" and what counts as "significant" for this hypothesis to lead to a provable conclusion.

In a sense, the researchers in the eighties and early nineties have been working toward that goal, though not in a very systematic way. My work on reader responses looked at seventy-two characters in first acts of twenty-one plays by correlating eleven semantic and syntactic features with judgments of fifteen readers about seven character traits. Since there were so many nested numbers i. The 51 degrees of freedom 72 characters minus 21 first acts for Character- by-Play variance that is, variance caused by "differences in personality traits, social roles, educational levels of characters" p.

The assertions I was able to make about the cluster of syntactic features that contributed to readers' comparative judgments of characters on traits like dominance, excitability, poetry, education, negative attitude, etc. Although this project reported on a small number of readers fifteen , it reported all readers' judgments on a large number of characters who are contrasted within plays on seven character traits. More importantly, it correlated the readers' judgments with features in the texts ; it is the only early pragmatic study to attempt correlations between features in the texts and readers responses to questions about what is depicted in the texts.

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The questions that can legitimately be raised are what other character traits and what other features of texts would have correlated at significant levels if they had been measured? A convincing start, it should be followed up by me or by others attempting to replicate it or to show that many other textual features correlate with these and other character traits. David Bleich's study of four male and four female responses to fiction by Emily Bronte and Herman Melville and to poetry by William Wordsworth and Emily Dickinson is completely impressionistic — the only contrastive feature of the texts of interest to Bleich is their genre ; the only variable of interest about the readers is their sex l9.

The sample is small and includes the author of the study as one of the subjects. The responses gathered are responded to in the same impressionistic manner that is used on the literary texts read. Just as Holland's critical practice is based on Freudian theory, Bleich's "subjective criticism" is loosely based on psychological insights. His teaching methods encourage lengthy investigations of personal associations. By definition, he is not moved toward analytical methods that involve attention to features of the texts ; his pedagogy could plausibly be based on variables about the readers, but it is not.

His primary conclusions about male and female readers is that there is a genre difference in male and female reader responses. Males and females respond in similar ways to the author's voice in lyric poetry, but differently to fiction : the women enter the fictional world, while the men conduct a dialogue with the author about the characters and situations. These generalizations may be accurate representations of the differences between male and female responses to fictions, but Bleich has not proven that they are ; he has only given us his impressions of the students' impressions.

Bleich, knowing that very little can be asserted from a sample of two males and two females, conducted a second study, based on the insights gained in the first, but using a much larger sample. One hundred and twenty freshmen were assigned to write an essay retelling Faulkner's "Barn Burning" ; the students wrote in a large lecture room for about thirty minutes and produced from to word essays.

Reader-Response vs. New Criticism Essay - Words | Major Tests

Fifty male and fifty female essays were selected at random for use in this inquiry ; the students knew that gender differences. Despite the differences in procedures and numbers, Bleich comes to the same conclusions : men tried to "deliver a clear simple structure or chain of information" ; "the women presented the narrative as if it were an atmosphere or an experience" p.

Bleich asserts that women readers enter the fictional world they are not averse to drawing inferences about the relationships being portrayed and men readers stick to the facts they distance themselves from the events and objectify the story, make it other than themselves. Bleich concludes that women "see" feelings more quickly than men do ; he then goes on to larger generalizations about the narrator's voice being the "mother tongue" p. A long jump from those freshman English essays. Elizabeth Flynn's study of differences between male and female responses to the reading of three frequently assigned short stories Joyce's "Araby", Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants", and Woolfs "Kew Gardens" is "informed by a conception of the reading process which assumes that reading involves a confrontation between self and 'other'" p.

Like Bleich and Holland before her, Flynn approaches the reading process psychologically, using the terms "domination" and "submission" to describe two negative relationships that readers can have with texts. As model for a positive interaction between the reader and text, Flynn posits "a third possibility" in which "the reader learns from the experience without losing critical distance ; reader and text interact with a degree of mutuality" p.

Reader-Response Criticism

This standard is then used as a yardstick against which student responses are measured and mostly found wanting. Flynn goes through the 52 responses story by story, quoting from responses and giving loose summary numbers about the males and females who submitted to or dominated the story and the ones who successfully interacted with it. She generalizes that "men students were often closer to the extremes of domination or submission, and the women were often closer to the interactive center" p. She concludes by asserting that many males react to disturbing stories by "rejecting" them in an attempt to "dominate" the text, and females "more often arrive at meaningful interpretations of stories because they more frequently break free of submissive entanglement in texts" p.

Even though she comes from a reader response critical perspective, Flynn judges the readers' responses to three literary texts on how well or poorly they meet her standard of complete readings of the stories.

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In this. Flynn's methods, gathering a relatively large number of responses, selecting from them randomly, and reporting on 26 males and 26 females, is apparently more objective than Bleich's small sample experiment on male and female poets and novelists. Bleich's male and female retellings of "Barn Burning" project, however, collected the largest sample 50 males and 50 females of the three studies reported on so far.

Like Bleich, Flynn made no attempt to measure any features in the texts or responses or to collect any variables about the readers other than sex. The more recent pragmatic studies that I will consider, by Dean Keith Simonton, Teresa Snelgrove, and me, all attempt triangulation between features in the texts, reader variables, and reader responses.

Simonton correlates aesthetic judgments of Shakespeare's sonnets not only by describing the sonnets along five linguistic measures number of words, different words, unique words, primary and secondary process words and across four sonnet units three quatrains and closing couplet , but also by correlating these descriptive features with a item measure of differential popularity of the sonnets This project defines reader response not as a process, but as a product popularity that can be empirically measured.

Many would not consider this statistically-driven contrast of sonnet features with aesthetic judgment measures a reader response study. I include it exactly because it demonstrates that quantification of readers' responses can be contrasted with, and regressed against, features in the works read.

Many of the other pragmatic studies have collected responses in an objective way, but then treated the data as if they were merely more text to read and gather impressions from. Unfortunately, Simonton does not describe the item measure in any great detail, but tells readers that it contains the aesthetic judgments that can be inferred from publication records quotation books and anthologies of all kinds. My inference is that Simonton identified 27 possible places where sonnets or quotations from sonnets could have appeared in the years since the sonnets were written. Once the grid existed, it was simple to score each sonnet's popularity by registering the number of times the whole or part of that sonnet appeared.

Simonton's real-world sources reveal a convergence of opinion on both the most and least popular sonnets that is statistically robust ; from this, he argues that there is "a single dimension lurking behind all 27 separate indicators, a dimension that certainly must mirror the sonnet's differential quality" p.