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“A Rose for Emily” Reader Response Criticism What is reader-response criticism? • Moves the focus from the text of a work of literature to the reader’s reaction to that text. • Asserts that the reader participates in the production of the meaning in a work. (As opposed to Formalists, remember, who think that the work produces its own meaning, independent of author or reader.) Different readers coming from different cultural contexts or time periods will produce different (but not mutually exclusive) readings of a text, and reader response critics are interested in tracing how this process of the construction of meaning happens. • Is interested in how a reader who is familiar with the language and literary conventions used in a work of literature interacts with the text. What are questions that readerresponse critics might ask? • Does the text seem to display an awareness of its reader? What assumptions does the text make about that reader? (There is a concept that says that a text assumes an “ideal reader,” and reader response critics are interested in how a work tries to influence that “ideal” reader, as well as how readers who do not fit that ideal respond to the work.) • Does the text make an effort to produce certain responses in the reader? How? Are these efforts successful? • Imagine several different possible readers for a text. How might each of these readers interpret the text differently? Why? • In describing your own reaction to a text, consider how you are similar to, or different from, the original audience in terms of values and cultural assumptions. • How might a reader’s reaction to a particular text change during a second reading? “A Rose for Emily” • The narrator in this story is never given a name, but he (or she…) functions as a character in this story, acting as the “voice” of the entire community of Jefferson who watched Emily Grierson’s story unfold. How does the narrator’s (and by extension, the community’s) attitude toward Miss Emily change over the course of the story? Did your attitude toward her change as well? Where? “A Rose for Emily” • This story is not told in a “linear” fashion. It skips around in time a great deal. How did this meandering, fragmented approach to time affect your response to this story? (Remember, the story starts and ends with the day Emily Grierson died, and everything else we find out about her is sandwiched in between these two “bookends.) • In what other ways is the theme of time important to this story? What characters and items symbolically represent this theme? How? What do you think Faulkner is trying to say about time and history? “A Rose for Emily” • Family and community are both very important to this story. The narrator is continually drawing our attention to how the community reacted to Miss Emily’s actions, and the importance of relatives and kin is stressed time and time again. What do you think this story is saying about how individuals live and interact as part of a larger group with common expectations and values? “A Rose for Emily”: The Creepy Stuff • This is a decidedly macabre little story. How does Faulkner foreshadow the discovery the town fathers make at the end of the story? • Putting on our “Psychoanalytic” hats for a moment, why do you think Emily Grierson did what she did? Do you feel sympathy for her? “A Rose for Emily” and Reader Response • What might a reader response critic make of this story? • Things to consider: – The narrator’s “relationship” with the reader – Different reactions the reader might have to Emily depending upon the reader’s experiences and cultural context – The reaction you think the author intends to create in the reader, and how successful the story is at creating those reactions. – Different ways a reader might react to a story on a second reading.