Contribution of Reader Response Theory in the Study of Literature

Topics: Literary criticism, Literary theory, New Criticism Pages: 22 (8162 words) Published: September 24, 2012


Feeling dissatisfied from the traditional approaches, I found shelter in Reader Response theory, which acknowledged not only my role as a reader in giving meaning to the text but also considered me a scholar who had the right and duty to stand in judgement on the text. In the first chapter the rise of English is traced, in order to approach the methods in the teaching of English which were employed when English was established as an academic subject in the universities of England, which further leads us in the direction of New Criticism. New Criticism emerged as a response to the traditional approaches which believed that the function of criticism is not to find meanings but to discover the historical context of the text. It was widely felt that New Criticism put the literary criticism on the right track, which maintained that the chief function of criticism is to specify meanings. New Critics located meanings in the text. Reader Response theory emerged mostly as a reaction against the New Criticism after 1968. It opposed the idea of locating meaning in the text and challenged the autonomous status of the text. Reader Response critics claimed that meanings reside in the reader rather in the text. Similarities and differences between New Criticism and Reader Response theory have been identified to know the aims of both theories. Both New Critics and Reader Response Critics agree that the chief aim of criticism is to locate meanings but they differ on the locus of meaning. Reader Response critics started locating meanings in the reader rather in the text. I shall be employing the Aristotelian method of cause and effect in exploring the factors which were responsible for this shift of locus of meaning from the text to the reader. The factors responsible for the rise of Reader Response theory were at the same time responsible for the decline of New Criticism. The factors responsible for the birth of Reader Response theory were: Phenomenology, Hermeneutic, Reception theory, Structuralism, Post-structuralism and the writings of Nietzsche, and Rosenblatt. I shall be exploring how one factor became the cause for the birth of other factor. All these factors contributed to the birth of the reader. In the last chapter i have assumed the role of critic but before setting down my own response I shall be discussing Reader Response theory itself. My critical stance is in opposition of Achebe’s response on the novel “Heart of Darkness”. Achebe called Conrad “a bloody racist”, who dehumanised Africans in the novel “Heart of Darkness”. I have chosen this novel for my response in order to show the manner in which the reader’s role assumes significance in discovering the emotional and moral centre of Conrad’s art. I will attempt to show how the reader becomes the ultimate judge of values. Daniel Malnnick,s views n this regard and quite relevant as cited here: There is no morality, no knowledge and no hope; there is only the consciousness of ourselves which drives us about a world that is always but a vain and floating appearance. Believing in D.H Lawrence’s dictum “never trust the artist, trust the tale” I beg to discuss Achebe’s view that Conrad is a racist and has dehumanised the Africans. I believe that there are no facts in the world but opinions. In this case Achebe has as much a right to his opinions as I have to mine. I will bring up the fact that how any novel, and particularly this one is a multi layered text and its polysemous potential should not be curtailed in the name of political ideology.



It is difficult to understand the contribution of Reader Response theory to English studies without knowing something about how English developed as an academic...
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