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Reader-Oriented Criticism

Updated on July 9, 2012

In Literary Criticism, Charles Bressler highlights the Reader-Oriented Critic Louise M. Rosenblatt’s notion that a reader may find multiple interpretations for a poem based on the text but also based on the specific reader’s personal interpretations. Rosenblatt argued that these multiple interpretations are all legitimate. He also claimed that every time a reader reads a poem the poem is recreated. I think it is good that literary theory began to give authority to the reader rather than just the poem. However, I do not fully understand Rosenblatt’s idea that reading is a give-and-take relationship between the text and the reader. Perhaps this is because I have a different connotation for give-and-take which I consider to be reciprocal. I don’t see how the reader can give anything to the text, but I may be thinking about it too literally. After all, a book or text is not a sentient being.

Reader-Oriented criticism requires an active reader to assign meaning to the text. Jauss argued that a text cannot have one universal meaning, because as time passes and culture changes reader’s values change as well affecting their interpretations. Iser argued that a text does not have meaning on its own. It only has meaning when read by a conscientious reader, and all readers have their own distinct interpretations. Iser argued that readers fill in “gaps” within a story about the characters and such through expectations and readers expectations adapt as a story progresses. I wonder if Iser actually tested different readers to compare their different expectations as they read through the same text.


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