Language Flag

Find Study Materials for

Create Study Materials

Select your language

reader response criticism in a sentence

Reader Response Criticism

New Criticism

Lerne mit deinen Freunden und bleibe auf dem richtigen Kurs mit deinen persönlichen Lernstatistiken

Nie wieder prokastinieren mit unseren Lernerinnerungen.

How readers respond to texts clearly matters, maybe more than the text itself; without us, books sit on shelves and collect dust.

It's likely that you've been in an English lesson that began with the teacher asking the class just for their thoughts and feelings on a particular text or chapter. For those first five minutes, all your first impressions are valid. You're allowed to hate it or explain why it resonated so strongly with you.

Reader Response Criticism, an illustrated woman with brown hair reading, StudySmarter

Reader Response Criticism seeks to redefine the reader's relationship to the text, arguing that readers are not just passive consumers of a text's meaning, rather, they create its meaning. This article should act as a toolkit to help you understand and apply this critical approach.

Content warning : The following article makes reference to sensitive topics.

Definition of Reader Response Criticism

Reader response criticism is all about changing how we see and treat the text, the reader and the creation of meaning.

An approach to literary criticism and analysis that focuses on how readers are actively engaged in the creation of meaning in a text.

The key idea of Reader Response Criticism is that readers create meaning rather than find it in a text. Works of literature are always incomplete without a reader to put in their half of the work to create meaning.

This is the starting point for all Reader Response critics. However, from this point, they often disagree on whether there are valid and invalid interpretations and the extent to which a text shapes the reader's responses to the text.

Context and History of Reader Response Criticism

Reader Response Criticism emerged in Germany and the United States in the late 1960s. Reader Response Criticism does not refer to a specific theory or to a unified critical school, but to literary criticism that takes a reader-based approach to textual analysis.

This critical movement emerged as a challenge to New Criticism , a movement that dominated American literary criticism during the 1940s-1970s period.

New Criticism is a school of thought that proposed all meaning was contained within a text's form , structure and content . External factors, such as context and the author's identity and authority played no role in a text's meaning. In this sense, texts have objective meanings.

Reader Response Criticism stood in opposition to the notion that a text's meaning was self-contained . It proposed that a text's meaning was instead created by readers' responses to the text.

Reader Response Criticism was mostly eclipsed by the Poststructuralist critical movement that emerged in the 1960s.


A school of thought that stressed the indeterminacy of the meaning of texts. Poststructuralists believe it is impossible for texts to have objective meanings because there are many ways to interpret the same text.

The Poststructuralist movement also placed a similar emphasis on the reader's active role in the creation of meaning, a principle that remains influential today.

Key Ideas of Reader Response Criticism with Examples

Reader response criticism is all about changing our perceptions of the text, the reader and the creation of meaning. Meaning is created in the interaction between reader and text.

Reader Response Criticism focuses on the reader's psychological experience of reading a text, and how the reader creates meaning from what the text has given them as they read.

While this approach sees readers as creating their own, unique meanings, that is not to say that they can come up with any random interpretation; interpretations always need to have textual support . The reader must create meaning out of what the text has given them; for example, through language, structure, etc.

The text cannot be ignored. If there is a scene or device in a text that contradicts your interpretation of it, you must still consider how this scene or element fits into your interpretation, even if this means need to reconsider the text's personal meaning to you.

Implied Reader

The term 'implied reader' was coined by the critic Wolfgang Iser.

Implied reader

The implied reader is who the author has in mind when they are writing the text, who they expect to react to, pick up on, interpret and experience aspects of the text in a certain way.

The implied reader is contrasted with the actual reader , the person who sits down to read a book, who may belong to a different social or historical context, and whose identity and opinions may mean that they read the text differently from how they are "supposed to" - the responses that the text invites .

Samuel Richardson's Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded (1740) is about a young woman who is rewarded for keeping her "virtue" by eventually marrying the man who robbed her of her innocence by assaulting and kidnapping her. This text's implied reader is someone who believes that innocence and "virtue" are good values and who wants to take a moral message from this text.

The resisting reader

The literary critic Judith Fetterley found the concept of the implied reader problematic and came up with the concept of a 'resisting reader', who refuses to fulfill the role of the implied reader - who refuses to read the text how it was "supposed to be read".

Due to the disenfranchisement of women and other marginalised groups throughout history, many classics are written from the perspective of privileged authors, whose biases about race, class, gender, etc. are sometimes felt in their texts. These texts often anticipate an educated, white, male audience.

Fetterley argues that it's important to resist a text's biases and use the text to come up with meanings that resist these biased interpretations that the text invites.

If we take the example of Pamela above, Samuel Richardson's identity as a man and the fact that he was writing in a socio-historical context where women were unequal to men means that his ideologies and biases are built into the novel . A reader may read Pamela through a feminist lens and resist the idea that it is virtuous to marry an abusive rake.

Interpretive Communities

Stanley E. Fish came up with the idea of interpretive communities to differentiate between different groups of 'actual' readers . Fish argues that individual reader responses must be seen as part of the bigger picture - in the context of the wider interpretive community that they belong to.

Interpretive Community

A way of grouping readers that share historical and cultural contexts, which shapes the way they read and interpret texts.

Fish's theory is that all meaning is dependent on the different interpretive strategies that different interpretive communities use. There is no objectively correct interpretation of a text because all interpretations are the product of different cultures .

English students in 1950s England had different interpretive strategies to English students today.

In the 50s, under the influence of New Criticism , students approached texts with the belief that texts have objective meanings and it is their duty to discover them.

We can see this focus on objective meanings as a limited interpretive strategy . Today, due to the influence of Reader Response Criticism and Poststructuralism , we are encouraged to be creative in our readings (so long as we have evidence to support our claims, of course!).

Ordinarily, when we use the term 'text', we are referring to a physical or digital copy of a work of literature.

Reader Response Criticism argues that the text is a performance; an event; an interactive process. Reader Response critics also focus on the importance of the reading experience.

Performing art, event, interaction

We often think of literature and the performing arts as very different subjects. Performance is lively and dynamic, and reading is a quiet, serious activity. Some Reader Response Critics think that the literary text can actually be viewed as a performing art, with different readers creating different performances of texts.

Reader Response Criticism also invites us to look at the text as an event , rather than a lifeless object. The text is not sheets of words bound together, the text needs you to read it for it to be a text.

Therefore, the text is an interactive event. The text is alive in the interaction between the reader and the words on the page.

If the text is an interaction or event, how do readers experience the text?

Stanley E. Fish thinks that the readers' experience of movement through a text is an important factor in the creation of meaning. As we move onwards through a text, we fill in the blanks and form expectations.

We may expect a character to meet a certain fate, anticipate a certain resolution, interpret a character as hiding a secret if they act suspiciously, etc.

Wolfgang Iser focused on how readers react differently to texts based on where they are in their reading journey. Different interpretations are produced on the first reading of a text in comparison to the interpretations that the reader makes once they have finished a text, and have a fuller picture of it. New meanings may also be produced when a text is reread.

Reader Response critics focus on different aspects of the reader experience. Such as:

Have you ever read a book where you felt that the author wanted the reading experience to be an important part of its meaning?

' Paradise Lost ' (1663)

Stanley E. Fish wrote a whole book on the experience of reading John Milton 's Paradise Lost , which tells the story of Adam and Eve. He argues that the reading experience is part of the poem's meaning. To Fish, the reading experience mirrors the fall of Adam and Eve into sin.

Jacob's Room (1922)

Virginia Woolf's Jacob's Room is about an unnamed narrator trying to chase Jacob and understand him. The reader also feels desperate to understand Jacob, and, like the narrator, the reader feels distanced from him and unable to know him. The chase-like reading experience mirrors the narrator's chase.

Key Theorists of Reader Response Criticism

Let's go over the main Reader Response theorists and their theories.

Hans Robert Jauss (1921-1997)

The work of Hans Robert Jauss takes a reader response approach that considers how society and time period influence readers' interpretations of texts. Based on the culture and time period the reader belongs to, they will have a certain kind of ' horizon of expectations '.

Readers' horizons of expectations are always changing, as the years pass and times change. It is the critic's job to consider the effects of context on how readers read, and how authors write.

Note: Jauss served the Nazi Party in the SS during World War II. As such, his contribution to academic fields is constantly debated.

Wolfgang Iser (1926-2007)

Wolfgang Iser worked alongside Hans Robert Jauss. Iser came up with the concept of the ' implied reader ' and placed importance on the reading experience of reading a written work for the first time, and then as a 'whole'.

Iser argued that a text has what he calls ' response-inviting structures ' that guide reader interpretation.

Louise Rosenblatt (1904-2005)

Louise Rosenblatt is a highly influential critic who saw reading as a transaction between reader and text, where both are equally important.

Rosenblatt is one of the Reader Response critics that thinks there are acceptable and less-acceptable interpretations of texts - not all are valid.

To Rosenblatt, the text acts as a stimulus to the reader that invites them to find personal interpretations; and as a blueprint that disciplines the reader's interpretation so that it doesn't stray too far from the contents of the text.

Stanley E. Fish (1938)

The context in which readers read texts is important to Stanley E. Fish. Fish is interested in the impact that the interpretive community to which a reader belongs influences the meanings they garner from a text. A second key focus of Fish is how readers experience texts as they progress through them, from beginning to end.

Norman Holland (1927-2017)

Norman Holland focuses on how readers' ' identity themes ' impact their readings of texts. He believes that readers' life experiences and psychologies (the impact of childhood, unresolved issues, etc.) affect how they read.

If a reader has a good or bad relationship with their parents, this is likely to influence how they read parental figures in a text.

This is what is known as a psychoanalytic approach to Reader Response Criticism.

Like other Reader Response critics, Holland disagrees with the idea of objective meanings, arguing that readers may have similar interpretations insofar as they share similar identity themes .

David Bleich (1940- Present)

David Bleich puts forward a radical reader response theory, known as S ubjective Reader Response Criticism . Bleich argued that reader responses are the text. There is no text beyond the meanings that the readers come up with. This in turn means that when critics analyse texts, what they are analysing are the readers' responses (which constitute the text).

How to apply Reader Response Criticism

Here are some questions to help you get started with a Reader Response approach to literary interpretation and analysis:

Questions about types of readers:

Questions about reader experience:

Applying a reader response approach to literary analysis will help you come up with new and exciting meanings.

The Importance of Reader Response Criticism

Many important works of recent literary criticism have taken a reader response approach. For example, Roland Barthes ' famous essay, The Death of the Author (1967), which disregards the author as the authority of a text's meaning; the author's interpretation of their own work is just as important as any readers'.

The influence of a reader-based critical approach can be felt in Literature classrooms around the world, as discussions are spurred by questions like 'How did this scene make you feel?'.

Reader Response Criticism - Key Takeaways

Frequently Asked Questions about Reader Response Criticism

--> what is the basic idea of the reader response criticism.

The basic idea of Reader Response Criticism is that the reader creates meaning in a text, rather than just finding it. This means that texts have no objective meanings, and that any reader can create their own interpretation with a good amount of textual support.

--> What is the goal of Reader Response Criticism?

Reader response criticism seeks to put the reader at the forefront of the textual analysis. Previous approaches to literary criticism assumed that texts had objective meanings and that it was the reader's job to discover the right meaning. The Reader Response approach argues that the meaning of a text is only activated when a reader reads it and responds to it.

--> What is an example of Reader Response Criticism? 

An example of reader response criticism is Stanley E. Fish's analysis of John Milton's 'Paradise Lost' (1667). Fish argues that, as the reader finds themselves preferring the devil over God in the poem, the reader falls into sin, like Adam and Eve fall into sin in the Bible and in Milton's poem.

--> How to write Reader Response Criticism?

To write good Reader Response Criticism, avoid dismissing a text on account of it having bored you or you thinking it stupid. Focus instead on exploring how your identity, the groups you belong to, and the historical moment you belong to (the present) influence how you and others read a given text. You can also focus on the reading experience, your reactions and feelings as you progressed through a text and how reader experience may be important to the text's overall meaning.

--> What are the types of reader-response approaches?  

Reader Response criticism can be divided into the different priorities of different theorists:

Final Reader Response Criticism Quiz

What is Reader Response Criticism?

Show answer

Show question

What is the context and history of Reader Response Criticism?

What are the key focuses of Reader Response Criticism?

The reader, the text and the creation of meaning.

How does Reader Response criticism view the role of the reader?

The reader creates a text's meaning.

What is the implied reader?

Why might the idea of the implied reader be viewed as problematic?

What is an interpretive community?

According to Reader Response Criticism, what is a text?

Why is the reading experience important to Reader Response Criticism?

What are the key contributions of Hans Robert Jauss to Reader Response Criticism?

What are the key contributions of Wolfgang Iser to Reader Response Criticism?

What are the key contributions of Louise Rosenblatt to Reader Response Criticism?

What are the key contributions of Stanley E. Fish to Reader Response Criticism?

What are the key contributions of Norman Holland to Reader Response Criticism?

What are the key contributions of David Bleich to Reader Response Criticism?

How can you apply Reader Response Criticism?

By looking at how different types of readers create meanings, and how reading experiences influence the creation of meaning, as well.

of the users don't pass the Reader Response Criticism quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

More explanations about Literary Criticism and Theory

Discover the right content for your subjects, business studies, combined science, environmental science, human geography, macroeconomics, microeconomics, no need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed packed into one app.

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Have all your study materials in one place.

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Join millions of people in learning anywhere, anytime - every day

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

This is still free to read, it's not a paywall.

You need to register to keep reading, get free access to all of our study material, tailor-made.

Over 10 million students from across the world are already learning smarter.


StudySmarter bietet alles, was du für deinen Lernerfolg brauchst - in einer App!

2. Reading Literature as a Critic

Reader-response criticism.

We have examined many schools of literary criticism. Here you will find an in-depth look at one of them: Reader-Response.

The Purpose of Reader-Response

Write as a Scholar

Criticize with examples.

In each of these cases, do not simply criticize, but give examples. As a beginning scholar, be cautious of criticizing any text as “confusing” or “crazy,” since readers might simply conclude that  you  are too ignorant or slow to understand and appreciate it.

The Structure of a Reader-Response Essay

Key Takeaways

Reader-Response Essay Example

To Misread or to Rebel: A Woman’s Reading of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”

At its simplest, reading is “an activity that is guided by the text; this must be processed by the reader who is then, in turn, affected by what he has processed” (Iser 63). The text is the compass and map, the reader is the explorer. However, the explorer cannot disregard those unexpected boulders in the path which he or she encounters along the journey that are not written on the map. Likewise, the woman reader does not come to the text without outside influences. She comes with her experiences as a woman—a professional woman, a divorcée, a single mother. Her reading, then, is influenced by her experiences. So when she reads a piece of literature like “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber, which paints a highly negative picture of Mitty’s wife, the woman reader is forced to either misread the story and accept Mrs. Mitty as a domineering, mothering wife, or rebel against that picture and become angry at the society which sees her that way.

Due to pre-existing sociosexual standards, women see characters, family structures, even societal structures from the bottom as an oppressed group rather than from a powerful position on the top, as men do. As Louise Rosenblatt states: a reader’s “tendency toward identification [with characters or events] will certainly be guided by our preoccupations at the time we read. Our problems and needs may lead us to focus on those characters and situations through which we may achieve the satisfactions, the balanced vision, or perhaps merely the unequivocal motives unattained in our own lives” (38). A woman reader who feels chained by her role as a housewife is more likely to identify with an individual who is oppressed or feels trapped than the reader’s executive husband is. Likewise, a woman who is unable to have children might respond to a story of a child’s death more emotionally than a woman who does not want children. However, if the perspective of a woman does not match that of the male author whose work she is reading, a woman reader who has been shaped by a male-dominated society is forced to misread the text, reacting to the “words on the page in one way rather than another because she operates according to the same set of rules that the author used to generate them” (Tompkins xvii). By accepting the author’s perspective and reading the text as he intended, the woman reader is forced to disregard her own, female perspective. This, in turn, leads to a concept called “asymmetrical contingency,” described by Iser as that which occurs “when Partner A gives up trying to implement his own behavioral plan and without resistance follows that of Partner B. He adapts himself to and is absorbed by the behavioral strategy of B” (164). Using this argument, it becomes clear that a woman reader (Partner A) when faced with a text written by a man (Partner B) will most likely succumb to the perspective of the writer and she is thus forced to misread the text. Or, she could rebel against the text and raise an angry, feminist voice in protest.

James Thurber, in the eyes of most literary critics, is one of the foremost American humorists of the 20th century, and his short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is believed to have “ushered in a major [literary] period … where the individual can maintain his self … an appropriate way of assaulting rigid forms” (Elias 432). The rigid form in Thurber’s story is Mrs. Mitty, the main character’s wife. She is portrayed by Walter Mitty as a horrible, mothering nag. As a way of escaping her constant griping, he imagines fantastic daydreams which carry him away from Mrs. Mitty’s voice. Yet she repeatedly interrupts his reveries and Mitty responds to her as though she is “grossly unfamiliar, like a strange woman who had yelled at him in the crowd” (286). Not only is his wife annoying to him, but she is also distant and removed from what he cares about, like a stranger. When she does speak to him, it seems reflective of the way a mother would speak to a child. For example, Mrs. Mitty asks, “‘Why don’t you wear your gloves? Have you lost your gloves?’ Walter Mitty reached in a pocket and brought out the gloves. He put them on, but after she had turned and gone into the building and he had driven on to a red light, he took them off again” (286). Mrs. Mitty’s care for her husband’s health is seen as nagging to Walter Mitty, and the audience is amused that he responds like a child and does the opposite of what Mrs. Mitty asked of him. Finally, the clearest way in which Mrs. Mitty is portrayed as a burdensome wife is at the end of the piece when Walter, waiting for his wife to exit the store, imagines that he is facing “the firing squad; erect and motionless, proud and disdainful, Walter Mitty the Undefeated, inscrutable to the last” (289). Not only is Mrs. Mitty portrayed as a mothering, bothersome hen, but she is ultimately described as that which will be the death of Walter Mitty.

Mrs. Mitty is a direct literary descendant of the first woman to be stereotyped as a nagging wife, Dame Van Winkle, the creation of the American writer, Washington Irving. Likewise, Walter Mitty is a reflection of his dreaming predecessor, Rip Van Winkle, who falls into a deep sleep for a hundred years and awakes to the relief of finding out that his nagging wife has died. Judith Fetterley explains in her book, The Resisting Reader, how such a portrayal of women forces a woman who reads “Rip Van Winkle” and other such stories “to find herself excluded from the experience of the story” so that she “cannot read the story without being assaulted by the negative images of women it presents” (10). The result, it seems, is for a woman reader of a story like “Rip Van Winkle” or “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” to either be excluded from the text, or accept the negative images of women the story puts forth. As Fetterley points out, “The consequence for the female reader is a divided self. She is asked to identify with Rip and against herself, to scorn the amiable sex and act just like it, to laugh at Dame Van Winkle and accept that she represents ‘woman,’ to be at once both repressor and repressed, and ultimately to realize that she is neither” (11). Thus, a woman is forced to misread the text and accept “woman as villain.” as Fetterley names it, or rebel against both the story and its message.

So how does a woman reader respond to this portrayal of Mrs. Mitty? If she were to follow Iser’s claim, she would defer to the male point of view presented by the author. She would sympathize with Mitty, as Thurber wants us to do, and see domineering women in her own life that resemble Mrs. Mitty. She may see her mother and remember all the times that she nagged her about zipping up her coat against the bitter winter wind. Or the female reader might identify Mrs. Mitty with her controlling mother-in-law and chuckle at Mitty’s attempts to escape her control, just as her husband tries to escape the criticism and control of his own mother. Iser’s ideal female reader would undoubtedly look at her own position as mother and wife and would vow to never become such a domineering person. This reader would probably also agree with a critic who says that “Mitty has a wife who embodies the authority of a society in which the husband cannot function” (Lindner 440). She could see the faults in a relationship that is too controlled by a woman and recognize that a man needs to feel important and dominant in his relationship with his wife. It could be said that the female reader would agree completely with Thurber’s portrayal of the domineering wife. The female reader could simply misread the text.

Or, the female reader could rebel against the text. She could see Mrs. Mitty as a woman who is trying to do her best to keep her husband well and cared for. She could see Walter as a man with a fleeting grip on reality who daydreams that he is a fighter pilot, a brilliant surgeon, a gun expert, or a military hero, when he actually is a poor driver with a slow reaction time to a green traffic light. The female reader could read critics of Thurber who say that by allowing his wife to dominate him, Mitty becomes a “non-hero in a civilization in which women are winning the battle of the sexes” (Hasley 533) and become angry that a woman’s fight for equality is seen merely as a battle between the sexes. She could read Walter’s daydreams as his attempt to dominate his wife, since all of his fantasies center on him in traditional roles of power. This, for most women, would cause anger at Mitty (and indirectly Thurber) for creating and promoting a society which believes that women need to stay subservient to men. From a male point of view, it becomes a battle of the sexes. In a woman’s eyes, her reading is simply a struggle for equality within the text and in the world outside that the text reflects.

It is certain that women misread “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” I did. I found myself initially wishing that Mrs. Mitty would just let Walter daydream in peace. But after reading the story again and paying attention to the portrayal of Mrs. Mitty, I realized that it is imperative that women rebel against the texts that would oppress them. By misreading a text, the woman reader understands it in a way that is conventional and acceptable to the literary world. But in so doing, she is also distancing herself from the text, not fully embracing it or its meaning in her life. By rebelling against the text, the female reader not only has to understand the point of view of the author and the male audience, but she also has to formulate her own opinions and create a sort of dialogue between the text and herself. Rebelling against the text and the stereotypes encourages an active dialogue between the woman and the text which, in turn, guarantees an active and (most likely) angry reader response. I became a resisting reader.

Works Cited

Elias, Robert H. “James Thurber: The Primitive, the Innocent, and the Individual.”  Contemporary Literary Criticism . Vol. 5. Ed. Dedria Bryfonski. Detroit: Gale Research, 1980. 431–32. Print.

Fetterley, Judith.  The Resisting Reader . Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1978. Print.

Hasley, Louis. “James Thurber: Artist in Humor.”  Contemporary Literary Criticism . Vol. 11. Ed. Dedria Bryfonski. Detroit: Gale Research, 1980. 532–34. Print.

Iser, Wolfgang.  The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response . Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1981. Print.

Lindner, Carl M. “Thurber’s Walter Mitty—The Underground American Hero.”  Contemporary Literary Criticism . Vol. 5. Ed. Dedria Bryfonski. Detroit: Gale Research, 1980. 440–41. Print.

Rosenblatt, Louise M.  Literature as Exploration . New York: MLA, 1976. Print.

Thurber, James. “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”  Literature: An Introduction to Critical Reading . Ed. William Vesterman. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace, 1993. 286–89. Print.

Tompkins, Jane P. “An Introduction to Reader-Response Criticism.”  Reader Response Criticism: From Formalism to Post-Structuralism . Ed. Jane P. Tompkins. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1980. ix-xxvi. Print.

Footer Logo Lumen Candela

Privacy Policy

We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy


Reader Response Criticism – History and Purpose

The domain of literature has a vast horizon representing a cluster of literary theories. Each of these theories has come from a different school of thoughts, forming a strict sense of the systematic study of literature. The purpose is to analyze the subtleties of literature that includes social prophecy, interdisciplinary themes, intellectual history, and moral philosophy. Hence, it considers anything that has relevance to interpret meanings to humans.

Reader response criticism, in modern academics, is another literary theory, focusing on the audiences or readers’ experience of any literary work. The theory gained popularity because of its contrastive ideology. The traditional theories primarily focused on the form or content of the literary work.

History and Role of Reader’s Response Theory

There is no denying that there are several literary theories, which paid some attention to a specific role of a reader in interpreting the meaning of a piece of literary work. However, reader-response criticism, as modern literary philosophy emerged between the 1960s and 80s, particularly in German and the US. The clearly dominated the work of  Roland Barthes , Norman Holland , Wolfgang Iser ,   Stanley Fish , and many others.

Typically, Reader-response criticism revolves around the phenomena ‘Respond to Reading’. The theory identifies the reader as a significant and active agent who is responsible to impart the real meaning of the text by interpreting it. The modern school of thought argues on the existing perception of the literature. According to it, literature is like a performing art that enables reader creates his own text-related unique performance.

It stood against the other theories of New Criticism and formalism, which totally ignored the reader’s role in re-creating the meaning. New criticism considered that only structure, form, and content, or whatever is within the text, create the meaning. There was no appeal to the author’s intention or his authority, nor did it consider the reader’s psychology. None of this single element was focused on the new critics orthodox.

What is the Reader Response Theory?

The reading theory scaffolding the whole argument of this modern school of thought gained prominence after the 1960s. Focusing on the readers as the main audience of a particular text, it was the first theory, which gave importance to the readers more than a text. Many critics connect the philosophy of this theory to poststructuralism as it has the same emphasizes on the reader’s role in actively constructing the meaning of the text. Like post-structuralism, reader response theory opposes the reader’s role as a passive consumer of the literary text. It does not ground itself on just creating objective meanings.

Reader Response theory, on the other hand, argues that a text does not have any meaning in isolation unless the reader experiences it or reads it. The modern criticism has changed the critic’s job to analyze the text’s structure. The reader-response critic examines the reader’s reaction and its scope to evaluate distinct ways in which readers or interpretive communities, deduce the meanings. The reader’s interpretation can be a personal reaction. It can be a culturally inherited way of interpreting things.

The Reader-Response theory is not impressionistic, subjective personal comments on someone’s literary work. Instead, the school of thought sets it to aim in finding the meaning in the reader’s reaction and interpretations. It further examines the individual reader or communities’ way of experiencing texts.

The theory of Reader Response questions the existence, indulgence, and participation of the reader in joining the writer and helping him creating the text meaning. Their work is to determine the specific reader’s community that literary work caters and helps to create meanings. Not only this, the modern critics examine the importance of various interpretations that reader undergoes during a reading process.

Although reader response analysts focus on the ‘Text’ and what it does when it comes constituting meanings, it does not consider the text as a self-contained entity. For reader-response critics, the word criticized meaning is different to what New critics would believe. Unlike formalists, their criticism plunges into affective fallacies, which means, ‘What does text do in the reader’s mind?    In fact, the text remains activated in the reader’s mind as it keeps on reinforcing it and interpreting it. The formalist, unlike reader-response critics, perceived literary text as spatial and not temporal phenomena.

Purpose of Modern Reading-Response Theory

Reader- Response theory exhibits an essential role of the reader when it comes to creating the meaning of the text. The theory works with an ideology of ‘Reader existence’. According to it, it is only the reading experience in which literary work comes alive.

For instance, in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, there is no monster until a reader reads it, imagines and reanimates the horrible creature to life. The whole process makes a reader a co-creator of the novel. This surfaces the purpose of this modern theory that examines, explains and defends the personal reaction of a reader.

As a reader, while critically reading something you need to explore,

The interesting fact about this approach is that it does not require you to support the right or wrong stance. There is no fixed absolute reading response. However, it is all about demonstrating an understanding of what you read by explaining and supporting your reactions. Using a standard approach by simply writing that ‘I didn’t like the text because it does not relate to my life’  or ‘I liked it because it has a cool ending that made me excited ’ does not always work.

In response writing, you can assume the reader has read the literary text so you do not need to summarize it. Instead, adopt an analytical and systematic approach to evaluate the text.

How to Write a Reader Response Journal

Writing a reader response journal is like culminating your reflection and reactions to the text. It is one of the best ways you can analyze the ideas of the text and evaluate how the text has convinced its readers or whether it is effective or not.

Working with an analytical approach is essential when writing a response journal. Try to address the text as an educated adult, who knows how to analyze important aspects of writing. As a beginner, if your opinion opposes many writers, it will create your negative impact or highlights you as an uneducated or immature writer.

Evidence-based Criticism

Anything that is presented without evidence is less likely to make a long-lasting effect on the readers. If you want to write about something you do not agree with, providing evidence ‘why it is not right’  is a key to prove your point.

To put it simply, it is not necessary to agree with the writer’s approach; however, what is important here is to criticize it by providing valid examples. Following questions may help you analyze the text,

For language convention,

These questions will not support your reading response if you criticize them without examples. Avoid criticizing any literary text as ‘ridiculous or perplexing’. Hence, this may raise questions on your ability of understanding.

 Structure of a Response Journal

Choosing the right text is the very first step of compiling your reading-response journal. To analyze it, you need to connect and converse with the text.

At the beginning of your response journal mention,

Then, respond to these questions to structure your reading response journal

Bottom Line

Overall, Reader Response theory stresses on the reader’s role in constructing and interpreting the meanings. Moreover, the theory does not separate the reader’s response, belief, and understanding from the text.

By clicking "Log In", you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy . We'll occasionally send you account related and promo emails.

Sign Up for your FREE account

Diana from A Research Guide Don't know how to start your paper? Worry no more! Get professional writing assistance from our partner. Click to learn more


Reader-Response Criticism

Foundational questions of reader-response criticism, suggest an edit to this page.

English 333

Tianna Tatum-Fisher

Reader-Response Criticism

“ How do readers feel about what they read? ” (Tyson 161).

Description of Theory:

Reader-Response theory focuses on the individual reaction and interpretation of a text by the reader as it is proposed that only the reader can give a text sufficient meaning.  Each and every reader will interpret a text differently between readings depending on their intellect or knowledge of the history of which the text describes, mood, personal experiences, ideologies, and culture.

Benefit of Theory:

The text forces the reader to look beyond its words and search for the deeper meaning.  As each reader interprets differently groups of readers form connections and understandings based on each other’s perspectives.  As well perspectives will change over time and therefore making meaning unstable.

Disadvantage of Theory:

This theory is too subjective because it focuses on the reader’s interpretation therefore reader’s bias and ignores the actual meaning of the text (if there is one), meaning the reader can misinterpret the text and if the reader knows the author’s interpretation then the reader may not believe it, find fault in it, or completely disregard it.

Questions of Reader-Response Theorists to Interpret a Text:

These questions are important because different perspectives will help enlighten different aspects of the story that would not be seen if not from a certain point of view.

Notable Theorist/s:

How to Write a Reaction Paper or Reader Response. (A Quick Introduction to Reading and Writing Critically) Analyze the text as an individual reader.  This process is as much about YOU as it is about the text you are responding to.  As a scholar you stand in judgment over the text.  Critical reading: [from the ENGL 0310 Syllabus] "A reader response asks the reader [you] to examine, explain and defend her/his personal reaction to a reading.  You will be asked to explore why you like or dislike the reading, explain whether you agree or disagree with the author, identify the reading's purpose, and critique the text.  There is no right or wrong answer to a reader response. Nonetheless, it is important that you demonstrate an understanding of the reading and clearly explain and support your reactions. "     DO NOT use the standard high school-level approach of just writing: "I liked this book (or article or document or movie) because it is so cool and the ending made me feel happy,"   or "I hated it because it was stupid, and had nothing at all to do with my life, and was too negative and boring." In writing a response you may assume the reader has already read the text. Thus, do NOT summarize the contents of the text at length .  Instead, take a systematic, analytical approach to the text.   ---First of all, be sure to mention the title of the work to which you are responding, the author , and the main thesis of the text, using correct English for the first sentence of your paper!  Then, try to answer ALL of the questions below. a. What does the text have to do with you, personally , and with your life (past, present or future)?  It is not acceptable to write that the text has NOTHING to do with you, since just about everything humans can write has to do in some way with every other human.  b. How much does the text agree or clash with your view of the world, and what you consider right and wrong? Use several quotes as examples of how it agrees with and supports what you think about the world, about right and wrong, and about what you think it is to be human.   Use quotes and examples to discuss how the text disagrees with what you think about the world and about right and wrong.  c  How did you learn, and how much were your views and opinions challenged or changed by this text, if at all?   Did the text communicate with you? Why or why not?  Give examples of how your views might have changed or been strengthened (or perhaps, of why the text failed to convince you, the way it is). Please do not write "I agree with everything the author wrote," since everybody disagrees about something, even if it is a tiny point. Use quotes to illustrate your points of challenge, or where you were persuaded, or where it left you cold.    d. How well does it address things that you, personally, care about and consider important to the world? How does it address things that are important to your family, your community, your ethnic group, to people of your economic or social class or background, or your faith tradition?   If not, who does or did the text serve? Did it pass the "Who cares?" test?  Use quotes to illustrate.     e. Critique the text. Reading and writing "critically" does not mean the same thing as "criticizing," in everyday language (complaining or griping, fault-finding, nit-picking). Your "critique" can and should be positive and praise the text if possible, as well as pointing out problems, disagreements and shortcomings.      f. How well did you enjoy the text (or not) as entertainment or as a work of art? Use quotes or examples to illustrate the quality of the text as art or entertainment. Of course, be aware that some texts are not meant to be entertainment or art--a news report or textbook, for instance, may be neither entertaining or artistic, but may still be important and successful.      g.  To sum up, what is your overall reaction to the text? Would you read something else like this, or by this author, in the future or not?  Why or why not?  To whom would you recommend this text?  An important tip from the UTEP History Tutoring Center: Your first draft is just that, and you should expect to re-write your work several times before you consider it completed.  This means you should start your writing project in advance of the due date, in order to allow yourself enough time to revise your work.  Ask someone else to read your draft(s) and write their comments and suggestions on how you might improve the work directly on your drafts.   
Tips from UTEP History Prof. I.V. Montelongo: The goal is to present a coherent essay with a clear argument. ...[Y]ou should state your general argument (your thesis) in an introductory paragraph and then use the rest of the essay to support your position, making sure that you deal carefully with each of the issues the questions raise somewhere in the paper.   1.)  You dont need to use footnotes.  When quoting or citing from the documents or your textbook, simply put author and page numbers in parenthesis.  Ex. (Gorn, 52) or (Jones, 167). There is absolutely no need to refer to other, outside sources for this assignmentthis is a critical essay, not a research paper...   2.)  Be very careful to avoid plagiarism.  Do not use words or ideas from the internet, from any publication, or from the work of another student without citing the source.  Also, if you use more than three words in a row from any source, including the document youre writing about, those words must be enclosed in quotation marks.  3.)  Please just staple your papers in the upper left hand corner.  You may use a title page if you like, but please avoid plastic covers. [ However, in English 0310 use no title page, and do not staple!  O.W .]  4.)  Your essay should be based primarily on evidence drawn from a close, careful reading of the documents.  You can also use appropriate background information from the textbook and lectures, but you should use most of your space to discuss the documents.  5.)  Writing style counts.  You need to revise your paper multiple times to be a successful writer.    <>  

OW 7/06 rev 10/11

In order to continue enjoying our site, we ask that you confirm your identity as a human. Thank you very much for your cooperation.


  1. PPT

    reader response criticism in a sentence

  2. PPT

    reader response criticism in a sentence

  3. Reader Response

    reader response criticism in a sentence

  4. reader_response_criticism.doc

    reader response criticism in a sentence

  5. Reader Response Critique Paper Example

    reader response criticism in a sentence

  6. 🎉 What is reader response theory. What is Reader Response theory. 2019-03-06

    reader response criticism in a sentence


  1. Multi-Modal Essay

  2. How to avoid writing


  1. What Is Reader-Response Theory?

    Reader-response theory is a type of theory in which the readers’ feedback or reaction to the text is vital to the interpretation of it. According to the Poetry Foundation, this theory considers the text as having no meaning until the reader...

  2. Why Is It Important to Be Responsible?

    It is important to be responsible because responsibility is a sign of having good character. Irresponsible people often break the rules, causing injury to themselves and others. Responsible people can be trusted, and this benefits both the ...

  3. What Are Examples of Responsibility?

    Some examples of responsibility include getting to work on time, taking care of children properly, paying rent or mortgage and paying taxes. Generally, a person must fully understand his responsibility in order to satisfy it.

  4. Reader-response criticism Definition & Meaning

    The meaning of READER-RESPONSE CRITICISM is a literary criticism that focuses primarily on the reader's reaction to a text.

  5. Reader Response Criticism: Definition & History

    Reader Response Criticism seeks to redefine the reader's relationship to the text, arguing that readers are not just passive consumers of a text's meaning

  6. Reader-Response Criticism

    Reader-response suggests that the role of the reader is essential to the meaning of a text, for only in the reading experience does the literary work come

  7. Reader-response criticism

    Reader-response criticism is a school of literary theory that focuses on the reader (or "audience") and their experience of a literary work, in contrast to

  8. A Brief Guide to Reader-Response Criticism

    Reader response criticism, in modern academics, is another literary theory, focusing on the audiences or readers' experience of any literary work.

  9. Reader-Response Criticism

    Reader-Response Criticism · a research method, a type of textual research, that literary critics use to interpret texts · a genre of discourse employed by

  10. Reader Response

    This form of criticism happens to be my favorite of all of them. Reader Response criticism focuses on how readers respond to text, comprehend it

  11. Reader-Response Criticism

    “How do readers feel about what they read?” (Tyson 161). Description of Theory: Reader-Response theory focuses on the individual reaction and interpretation of

  12. How to Write a Reader Response

    Critique the text. Reading and writing "critically" does not mean the same thing as "criticizing," in everyday language (complaining or griping, fault-finding

  13. Reading Response Examples & Overview

    An example of a reader's response is a paper, an essay, an analysis, or a critique about a piece of writing, such as a short story, novel, or

  14. Reader's Response Criticism

    Reader Response Criticism · What is Reader Response? · writing · How to Write a Reader Response Essay · Psychoanalytic Criticism · ENG 101 How to