A Web Case Book on
Toni Morrison

Reader Response Approaches
slave princess
Title Page || Critical Approaches || Essays || Historical Context || Toni Morrison || Case Book Teams

Review Team for Reader Response Approaches

Aubrie Cox

Shelby Larrick

Sample Essays:

A Response to Beloved by Giuliana Selvaggio

Giuliana Selvaggio

Nommo Barriers: Finding Bonds in the Chaos by Gordon Gilmore

Gordon Gilmore

Reader-Response Approaches

“Reader-Response Criticism—by bringing the personal, the individual, even the eccentric responses to our attention—can revitalize texts that we think we have already learned to read” (Lynn, 81).  Reader-Response Criticism in the most literal sense is the reader’s response to a piece of literature. It is a way for every reader, and critic, to gain a deeper understanding and connection with the work he or she is reading. This particular criticism originated in response to New Criticism—which focuses only on the text—and values the reader’s reactions and feelings more than the written words or the author’s intentions. The concept is that if no reader exists to read the text, then the text is worthless; literature is brought to life by readers and their reactions. Because the focus is on the reader, Reader-Response Criticism allows for wide range of analysis and interpretation.

The purest form of Reader-Response is “subjective criticism.” It relies on the reader, as well as the community. When one reads a text, he or she forms a unique opinion, which may vary from the opinions others have formed when reading the same text. The reader reads the text, responds, then shares his or her response as well as listens to and/or reads other responses. After that, the reader must consider the text once again and may reform or modify his or her interpretation based on new information from other responses he or she heard and/or read. As Steven Lynn notes, even the most wild ideas can shed new light on a piece of literature (63-64). Another form of Reader-Response Criticism follows the concept of the “ideal reader,” in which the text controls the reader’s experience, and the reader’s task is to then describe what he or she experienced. Yet another theory of Reader-Response Criticism is that the reader creates the experience with the various strategies he or she uses.

Reader-Response Criticism responds to, but is not limited by, three questions: How do I respond to this work? How does the text shape my response? How might other readers respond? To answer these questions thoroughly, one must practice close reading and speculate about the meaning of the text. A “subjective response” takes whatever comes to mind and implements ideas with high textual support to the final interpretation, while a “receptive response” is similar to New Criticism in that it requires close examination of the individual parts and relation to the whole. What separates this type of response from New Criticism is that it requires only the reader’s opinion. Reader-Response recognizes the significance of the reader in literature and, like New Criticism, has opened the door to other forms of literary analysis

Works Cited

Lynn, Steven. Texts and Contexts. 4th ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2005.


Title Page || Critical Approaches || Essays || Historical Context || Toni Morrison || Case Book Teams

© 2007 English Department, Millikin University