Blair Saxon-Hill

Prof. Laura Arnold

English 341

Final Project Proposal


Literature Is My Life: Look At Items on Nearby Shelf - Women Narratives In American Literature

As a reader I am concerned with how any piece of information fits into a larger context of a culture, society, or individual. The academic no-no's of personal bias, emotionality and subjectivity become apparent interpretative difficulties when the "whole picture" approach is used to read a text. The awareness of the readers "issues" and perspective shape the way one read's a text is what the readers response criticism theory is concerned with. It is exciting to me to find an acedemic criticism that sees reading as an act of interpretation that becomes a participatory event with several players; the text, the writers personal and cultural experience as well as my own.

The readers response criticism acknowledges a multiplicity of meanings within a text that are a result of the readers "lived experience". Critics of this theory look at the activity of reading a text as an initial stage to interpretation. The existence of the text is in the reader, all of whom are subjective each having their own real life context which they evaluate what is said. Readers Response Criticism encourages the reader to become part of the text, seeing that the way the reader reads affects what is read. Literary elements such as "gaps" in the texts' explanation or time, are what make the text interesting to the readers response critic for they are allowed to participate. The reader is never passive in the act of making sense of a piece of literature. The continual redefining of a text through analogous life experiences makes any single reader-response into a new personalized text.

The goal of "Literature Is My Life: Look At Items On Nearby Shelf - Women Narratives In American Literature," is to examine female personal narrative as a period reader might have done. The phrase "Look At Items on Nearby Shelf" refers to the act of researching around the text examining not only what is but what isn't in an active method. In order to successfully approach a female narrative through a readers response criticism I must recreate for the reader/viewer a community and the personal experiences of the women I intend to interpret. The inclusion of actual images of Nancy Emerson and Alice Williamson diaries (the primary source) is an effort to give the reader part of the aesthetic act of the real life experience of reading the text. Other important contextual aspects of the period in the text/web page include; art of the period, historical and current events, pictures of the authors, and period music.


Annotated Resources:

Moi, Toril. Chapter Two, Sexual/Textual Politics. London: Routledge, 1985. A discussion of Images of Women criticism through one founding collection of essays titled Images of Women in Fiction: Feminist Perspectives . This narrow and negative view of other wise termed Reader Response Criticism questions authenticity and truthful depictions of the "real world."

Murfin, Ross, ed. "What is Reader-Response Criticism?" The Scarlet Letter. Boston: Bedford, 1991. A overview of Reader Response Criticism including information on primary theorists in the field and their approaches to the theory.

Cornillon, Susan, ed. Images of Women in Fiction: Feminist Perspectives. Bowling Green State University Press: Fredericksburg, 1972. A collection of essays by men and women that examine types of writing and depiction of images and characters using a feminist approach to Reader Response Criticism. This text is essential for background on Reader Response history, a movement catalyzed by this author.