Manifestations of the Reader’s Interaction with the Literary Text
Dr. Mega Afaf
Each time we read literature, we enter into a different experience, with particular thoughts and feelings and distinguished language forms; and therefore, we are delighted to read about some characters going through certain circumstances. We even draw a moral beyond it.
While in analyzing or interpreting literature, here, we illuminate its aesthetics, we get closer to its language forms and how they convey a certain meaning.
Through this paper, I aim to promote the emotional and intellectual responses of the reader by discussing how does the reader interact with the literary text, and to what extent can the teacher guide this interaction?.
In this regard, I will go through the following points:
Types of readers, manifestations of the reader’s interaction with the literary text, suggestion of some ideal aspects of a good interaction and finally ways how to achieve it.
1.Types of Readers
It happens in some cases when a literary text embodies a message that is totally different from its literal superficial meaning. To illustrate, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. At the superficial reading, there is a story of school boys stranded in an isolated Island where they found themselves forced to organize their life for the hope to be rescued one day by passing planes or ships. However, as the events unfold, the boys split into two conflicting groups, namely, the group of the elected Ralph the good hearted and wise leader and the group of Jack the insurgent. Conflicts grew between the two groups leading to the death of some boys.
Whereas at the allegorical level, the author conveys to what extent man is capable of evil when found is particular situation without rules and values; hence the importance of rules to regulating the behavior of individuals.
Related to this, Umberto Eco (2002) distinguishes between two categories of readers; the first he names the semantic reader who wants to know what happens and how the story will end. While the second reader, i.e, the semiotic or aesthetic reader wants to know how what happens has been narrated. He asks himself what a particular story asks him to become. Therefore, to become a second type reader one has to read the text several times.
In addition, Eco (2002) further extrapolates that it is at this second level of reading, the reader is able to decide whether the text has one or more levels of meaning, whether there is a possibility for an allegorical meaning, whether the text is saying something to the reader; whether the different senses are blended together harmoniously or they can float about independently of one another.
2.Manifestations of the Reader’s Interaction with the Literary Text
In Cambridge online dictionary: interaction means: “an occasion when two or more people or things communicate with or react to each other“. But I prefer another definition in merriam Webster online dictionary: “mutual or reciprocal influence“. This is because the literary text gives to the reader content and form. In his part, the reader receives it and finally gives back his output. Rosenblatt better terms this relation as a kind of transaction. Hence two worlds blend together leading to the creation of a third one.
At the onset, we have to admit that reading is considered as the most complex form of human linguistic behavior” ( Grosman, 2011).
Eagleton (2013) describes that some readers go straight to what the novel or poem says without considering the way it is said, and like this, they set aside the literariness of the text. Accordingly, he says: “the literary works are pieces of rhetoric as well as reports. They demand a peculiarly vigilant kind of reading, one which is alert to tone, mood, pace, genre syntax, texture, rhythm, narrative structure, punctuation, ambiguity. In fact, everything that comes under the heading of form” (p: 02). Therefore, to embark within a literary work is to relate its content to its form for they are inseparable (ibid).
Experiments with readers were fruitful in uncovering their mental processes while reading the literary text. For instance, Cognitive linguistics focuses on the results of the reader’s interaction with the text; while psychology focuses on ‘the mental representation of the text‘ ( Grosman, 2011).
The fist principle we agree on is that the reader is a socio-historical construct. He has his own beliefs and world view. Therefore, his reading will be shaped by his historical or cultural situation. He brings his assumptions to the work, his preconceptions of what a literary work is in the first place and what he is supposed to do with it ( Eagleton, 2013).
For Eagleton (2013), readers assumptions are very important to make a text work. Thus, while readers bring assumptions to the text, the text itself initiates attitudes to the reader, it assaults their senses, defimiliarizes their convictions and violates their senses of docorum. Within the same line, Iser argues that the reader’s pre-existing content and experience in his mind is present in the production of the textual meaning (Grosman, 2011). They are present in his mind during the production of the textual meaning (Grosman, 2011).
In his interaction with the text, the reader actualizes the text through relating different views and patterns to one another (Iser, 2023).
Furthermore, Grosman (2011) draws our attention to the fact that readers select elements in the text that struck them the most. However, in doing so, they limit the potential of what texts have to offer. In addition, studies on the reader’s interaction with the text depict his emotional involvement expressed in words as I laughed, I cried, I was frightened,….Here, according to Iser, it becomes important to consider those elements or structures in the text that trigger such responses in the reader.
In fact, the concept of the reader in literary criticism is tremendeously highlighted by many scholars. There is Michael Riffaterre’s the Superreader, Stanley Fish’s the Informed reader, Wolff’s the Intended reader, Wolfgang Iser’s the Implied reader, and Umberto Eco’s the Model reader (Iser, 2023).
In preparing this research paper, I noticed a high focus on the Reader Response Theory. This theory was thoroughly invested through experiments in literary classes to depict the reader’s reactions towards the literary text and accordingly to suggest recommendations in order to improve the process of reading the literary text.
In this vein, Takroumbalt and Boulenouar (2021), and after experimenting with The RRT, they depict the following actions in their readers while interacting with the literary text: empathy, where students identify with fictional characters; the use of their imaginative abilities; no consideration of the author’s biographical data or his distinguished stylistic features; the weak requirements of a good responsive reading.
Another experiment conducted by Garzon and Pena ( 2015) sorted out the following responses like: affective responses, queries, associative responses, reflective responses, interpretive responses and inferential responses.
Another thing I have noticed in the previous experiments with RRT is that readers are exposed to the literary text without preliminary background knowledge. They were left free in their interaction with the text. However, here come my questions: what if readers are given instructions before they interact with the text? Would these instructions be fully controlling or semi-controlling? And what is the effect of both of them on the reader?.
I think that giving the student a complete controlling instruction could obstruct his personal intellectual capacities, growth and imagination. On the other hand, the semi-controlling instructions would not guarantee the reader’s success in his reading.
Here, regarding the elusive nature of literature, and considering our students as beginners, the reading of literature would move from controlling to semi-controlling, then if possible to free reading, and all this would depend on the level and knowledge of our learners.
3.Ideal Manifestations of the Reader’s Interaction with the Literary Text
Achieving a good interaction with the text means that the reader handles the mechanics of reading the literary text which shows up in his responses and reactions. Therefore, in the following, we suggest the ideal manifestations that might occur during the reader’s interaction with the literary text:
- Understand what the story is about.
- Look for meaning beyond the literal one.
- The ability to make connections between elements of the text. For instance the connection between character and setting; or finding connections among all elements of the text particularly while reading a short story; or connections between the text and the outside world whether personal experiences, social or historical references; or connections between the literary devices used and the message conveyed.
- The ability to reflect on the text and ask questions.
- Try to find how such meaning is conveyed through textual evidence.
- The ability to depict distinguished stylistic features.
In the end, in order to achieve the ideal interaction with the literary text, the teacher’s role is very important. In addition, to the preliminary knowledge in the literary field, we suggest to consider the following:
Motivating the students to read literature; making it clear from the beginning that literature should not be taken for granted so the mind should be always active with questions; allowing classroom discussions by creating a good environment to elicit learner’s responses and to nourish perspectives of learners to further their depth of interpretation (Mart, 2023); expose learners to more literary texts; invite learners to write about literature (Probst 1994) in Mart 2023); allow the reader to make associations between his personal life and the experience he is reading in the text.
Finally, I can say that the talk about the reader is a wide subject and what I presented here are just hints for our students to make of their reading a tangible and enjoyable process.
- Cagri Tagrul Mart (2023). Reader-Response Theory and Literature Discussions: Aspringboard for Exploring Literary Texts, in: The New Educational Review.
- Eliana Garzōn and Harold Castańeda-Peńa. Applying the Reader Response Theory in EFL Pre-Service Teachers’ Initial Education. English Language Teaching: Vol.8,No8;2015. Canadian Centre of Science and Education.
- Meta Grosman (2011). Readers and Reading as Interaction with Literary Texts. Accessed in:
- Takroumbalt Mohammed Ameziane and Pr. Boulenouar Mohammed Yamin (2011). Investigating the Benefits of Adopting the Reader-Response Approach in the EFL Literature Classroom, in: Afaq Ilmia Journal. Vol:13/Number02.
- Terry Eagleton (2014). How to Read Literature. Yale University Press. New Haven and London.
- Umberto Eco (2002). On Literature. Harcourt.INC.
- Wolfgan Iser (2023). The Act of Reading. A Theory of Aesthetic Response.