How can we understand and explain the effect on the reader for any novel?I'm currently having difficulty explaining the effect on the reader of a particular literature novel. I would like to know...

How can we understand and explain the effect on the reader for any novel?

I'm currently having difficulty explaining the effect on the reader of a particular literature novel. I would like to know if there are any suggestions where I'm able to analyse the effect on the reader for any book. I've tried putting my shoes in the reader's, but that doesn't seem to help. 

Expert Answers
litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

How a reader is affected by a book will vary depending on the book and the reader.  People are a combination of circumstances and experiences.  They do not necessarily see things the same way.  When an author writes a book, he or she releases it to the reader to make meaning of.  Although the author guides you to certain meanings, different meanings will affect a reader differently.

I will give you an example from my classroom.  Every year my sixth grade class reads a book called The Giver.  This book is a dystopian book written for young adults.  It depicts a society where everything is tightly controlled.  There are no choices.  In fact, there is no emotion at all.  Everything is very utilitarian.

I enjoy teaching this book because of my students’ reactions to it.  They are always drawn in by the fact that things seem pretty normal in the beginning.  As they read on, they begin to realize what it would be like to live in a world with no choice.

"Well..."Jonas had to stop and think it through. "If everything's the same, then there aren't any choices! I want to wake up in the morning and decide things! A blue tunic, or a red one?" (ch 13)

Kids always have reactions to this stifling society, of course.  The reaction changes based on their perception.  One year I taught the book to 8th graders after reading The Diary of Anne Frank and studying Hitler’s Final Solution.  Then we looked at The Giver as what the world would have been like if Hitler succeeded.  The book took on a darker tone from the beginning, based on that perception.

The idea that different readers have different experiences and different approaches to a book really hit home three years ago when I taught a class that had a set of twins.  I had never taught the book with twins.  That year I also had a German girl and a Jewish boy in a class where we read Night, a memoir of the Holocaust.  I was aware that background influences reaction, and how a reader is affected.  I was not as aware as I thought.

I admit I did not really make the twin connection right away.  The climax of The Giver is a scene where a set of newborn twins have been born and they have to weigh them and decide who to “release” because they can’t have two identical people.  (It would be confusing.)

I had taught this book about half a dozen times, if not more.  The kids are always shocked when they find out what release means.

He pushed the plunger very slowly, injecting the liquid into the [newborn’s] scalp vein until the syringe was empty. (ch 19)

I’ve seen grown adults react with horror, but when I saw the look on one of my student’s faces I realized the effect it was having.  She turned completely pale.  It had hit her, at that moment, that they were killing twins that were identical.  She was an identical twin.  Either this girl or her sister would not be alive if this were true in our society.  At eleven years old, that kind of thing makes an impression.  This year that same class learned about Dr. Mengele’s experiments with twins and I saw a similar reaction.

This year I have two sets of twins in the sixth grade.  I wonder how they will react.  I don’t exactly know, because a book’s effect on a reader is different depending on the reader.

If you want to understand the effect a book has on a reader, keep a journal of your reactions as you read one of these books, or any book.  You might be surprised.