The reader reaction emphasizes the importance of the reader's contribution in text interpretation. This theory, which rejects the assumption that every literary work has a single, set meaning, maintains that the individual generates his or her own meaning through a "transaction" with the text based on personal connections. Thus, reader response criticism seeks to understand what readers think about texts and how they interpret them.
Other important factors are the context in which the text is read and the audience for whom it is written. A text can have many different meanings for many different people, but these differences in interpretation do not mean that there is no common ground between them. Readers tend to focus on similar things when reading, such as themes, characters, and language usage. By analyzing these similarities and differences, we can learn more about how readers react to texts.
Another factor is the time since the text was published. As readers gain experience with a text, they make judgments about its content that may not have been apparent at first glance. For example, some readers will only now realize that Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is a satire aimed at the United States government's treatment of women.
Finally, reader response criticism looks at how readers have reacted to other texts. We can see what features of other works readers find appealing or detestable, what effects they have on readers, and so forth.
The Fundamental Principles of Reader-Response Theory The reader, not the text, is the most crucial component in literary interpretation. In truth, there is no text unless there is a reader, and only the reader knows what the text is. The reader contributes to the creation of the text in the same way as the author does. Like the author, he or she interprets the text but also adds certain aspects of his or her own personality to the reading experience.
The key idea behind reader-response theory is that each individual reader brings something different to the reading process which can change how they interpret certain texts. This is because every person has their own background knowledge, experiences, and beliefs which all play a role in how they read and what meanings they find in the text.
Every reader creates a response to the text based on these factors plus others such as mood, time pressure, etc. Thus, the response readers give to a text is always subjective even though it may seem like a simple "yes" or "no" answer.
Reader-response theory focuses on the interaction between reader and text instead of just looking at one aspect of this relationship. Traditional theories look at the text alone and try to determine what messages it was trying to get across while reader-response theories consider everything that goes into interpreting a piece of literature.
Reader-response theorists hold two beliefs: 1 that the reader's part cannot be ignored in our understanding of literature; and 2 that readers do not passively absorb the meaning supplied to them by an objective literary text; rather, they actively create the meaning they discover in literature" (154).
For example, Richard Rorty believes that we create our own meaning when reading a book. He says, "a work of art doesn't mean what it seems to mean, or perhaps even what its author meant it to mean. The poet didn't mean his poem to be ironic. He meant it to be believed by some people and disbelieved by others" (Rorty 1991). Rorty's view on reading is called anti-interpretative. That is, he does not believe that the reader should try to find hidden meanings within the text.
John Crocker also argues that we create our own meaning when reading a book. He claims that there are three different ways in which readers respond to texts: interpretation, imagination, and enjoyment. According to him, most readers start with an attempt at interpretation. They try to understand what the text is saying by looking for clues within the words on the page. If they fail, they may guess at the author's intention from context or even make up their own meaning. Some readers then use their imagination instead.