What does reader response criticism mean? And how would one use it?

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that different teachers/ instructors have different terms for tasks, so ensuring that that is clarity of expectation would be critical.  This might involve asking your teacher/ instructor what them mean by a reader response criticism.  I would suggest that the standard reader response is a small writing sample that reflects how individuals feel about a particular topic in a reading.  Perhaps, the response would focus on how a particular style was used in a section of the writing, or how a certain theme was developed.  It is not a formal writing piece, but rather driven by the reader's response or reaction to a specific section of writing or an aspect of a reading.  They are subjective and can be used to generate discussion with others or to begin the process of writing larger and more comprehensive and formal samples of work.

kc4u | Student

Reader Response Criticism, as the very name suggests, refers to a school of literary theory which emphasises the reader's experience of a literary work, recognises the reader as an active agent who completes the meaning(s) of a literary text through interpretation(s).

The school originated in the 1960s and expressed itself more fully in the 1970s and 1980s in America and Germany in the works of Norman Holland, Stanley Fish, Wolfgang Iser, Ronald Barthes and others. Stanley Fish's observation that " The 'I' of the reader always colors the text" may be taken as a basic clue to the whole idea.

Reader Response Criticism thus stood in opposition to Formalism and New Criticism which did not recognise  the intention or authority of the reader/audience in the evaluation of a literary text.

Perhaps in I.A.Richards' readings of texts of poetry at Cambridge in 1929, there were the seeds of this school or approach.

lvsuey | Student


Reader response criticism explores how different individuals see the same text differently.It emphasizes how religious,cultural and social values effect the way we read and respond to work of fiction.Of course, no two individuals will necessarily read a text in the exact same way nor will they agree on its meaning.Rather than declare one interpretation correct and the other mistaken, reader response criticism recognises that different insights are inevitable.Instead of trying to ignore or reconcile the contradictions, it explores them.Reader-response criticism also overlaps with gender criticism in exploring how men and woman read the same text with different assumptions

The easiest way to explain reader response criticism is to relate to the common experience of re-reading a favourite book after many years. A book one read as a child might seem shockingly different when read as an adolscent or adult.The character once remembered favorably might seem less admirable while another character becomes more sympathetic.The book has not changed.However, our life experiences between the first reading and and subsequent re-reading can effect the way we respond to our story.