Tag Archives: reader’s response

Thoughts on Literary Criticism


As an undergraduate student, my major was English. In many of my upper-level English classes we would explore different forms of literary criticism and literary theory. Some of my professors even favored one or two of these theories and so taught their classes in such a way as to promote those theories. But despite having favorites, many English professors I have come in contact with often try to analyze the literature they’ve assigned from as many different points of view as possible. Now that I am a library science student, I’ve quickly come to realize that this field also has a favored literary theory (though I’m sure there are plenty people who have differing views…we’re librarians after all, and all have our own opinions). Much of what I’ve read so far very much tends to favor Reader’s Response criticism. To some degree, this doesn’t surprise me, since this is a popular methodology for teaching literature in education. Louise M. Rosenblatt’s transactional experience (where the text causes the student to bring to the surface of their mind ideas, interactions from their life, and other personal experiences) is one that seems very familiar to the classroom, probing students to question not just “What does this mean?” but also, “What does this mean to me?”

While I am not anti-Reader’s Response theory (nor am I anti-any other literary theory; though I do often tend to say humbug to a lot of New Criticism theory), I know that I most likely will never approach any of the literature I come in contact with as a librarian solely from this point of view. At heart I am a New Historicist (New Historicism is also sometimes called Cultural Poetics or Cultural Materialism). The historical background of any work of art provides a much richer context for understanding the work. I will never be able to divorce a text from its author (at least not in my head) or its time period. Perhaps this is because I want to be a writer myself. I realize that this theory, just like any other, can have its own limitations and challenges. All this being said, I find it very interesting that so many librarians champion Reader’s Response theory. It makes sense in many ways, mostly for the fact that Reader’s Response is perhaps one of the most accepting, encompassing forms of literary criticism. Or perhaps THE most accepting. With the ethics and agenda of libraries and librarians in mind, the shoe does entirely fit.

A great read for any and all information about different forms of literary theories would be Literary Criticism by Charles E. Bressler.


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