argument top image

How should we think about interpreting literature? Show more Show less
Back to question

In the world of literary criticism, there are many theories about the correct way to interpret literature. Some critics argue that the text alone determines a work's meaning, while others pay more attention to factors like historical context or the reader's experience. Scholars also practice other methods of literary criticism influenced by feminist, Marxist, or psychoanalytic theories, to name a few. So, what are the various theories about interpreting literature?

Reader-Response Criticism Show more Show less

Reader-Response critics argue that readers play a significant role in determining a text's meaning. They disagree about the extent of this. Some argue that meaning inheres completely in the reader, while others insist that it resides in both text and reader.
< (2 of 4) Next position >

A text's meaning depends solely on the reader's experience.

Subjective reader-response critics argue that a reader's beliefs about and experience of a text determines meaning.

The Argument

According to subjective reader-response criticism, the reader's reaction to a text determines its meaning. () Although the text holds important themes of its own, each reader will arrive at slightly different interpretations of these themes because of their unique identities and experiences. A common critique of subjective criticism is its "denial" of objective meaning. In this framework, critics argue that no one can make claims about a work's ultimate meaning. Norman Holland embraced this, arguing that all interpretations are subjective because they lie in the reader. () Stanley Fish makes a similar argument but claims that meaning resides in the reader's "interpretative community," not the reader alone. David Bleich, the founder of subjective criticism, argues that readers can still arrive at an agreement concerning a text's objective meaning. They can discern the text's meaning by comparing interpretations with others in the reading community.

Counter arguments



Rejecting the premises


This page was last edited on Monday, 3 Aug 2020 at 17:51 UTC

Explore related arguments