Week 5


Reader-Response Criticism

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Reader-Response Criticism

Please recall that in prior modules, we have looked at four different ways of interpreting literature: biographical criticism (how the author’s life might influence what the author writes), historical criticism (how the period of history in which the author lives might influence what the author writes), formalist criticism (looking only at the formal features of a text and how they interact), and gender criticism (considering how issues relating to gender influence both what an author writes and how it is received by its audience).

This week, we consider another school of literary criticism — reader-response criticism. Reader-response criticism proceeds from the following premises:

· one can attempt to describe what happens in the reader’s mind while the reader is interpreting a text

· reading, like writing, is a creative act

· no text provides self-contained meaning; literary texts do not exist independently of readers’ interpretations

· a text is not finished until it is read and interpreted

· because no two individuals read a text in exactly the same way, a plurality of readings is inevitable

· the critic should try to explore the contradictions inherent in different people’s readings of a text, rather than trying to ignore or reconcile those contradictions

· one can examine how different individuals (or classes of individuals) see the same text differently, because of such factors as religion, culture, gender, or social values

A reader-response critic, focusing thus on how different readers are bound to read a text differently, might ask some of these sorts of questions regarding the literature that we have read so far:

· How might a younger reader and an older reader experience Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”? In what ways might these two readers focus primarily on the perspective of one or another character in the story?

· Robert Frost’s poetry has been described as “quintessentially American.” How might this poetry be read differently by a reader from outside the United States?

· Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” like other works by the same author, is deeply infused with the author’s Roman Catholic sensibilities. How might this story be read differently by a reader from a different religious tradition, or by a reader with no religious beliefs at all?

· Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use,” like other works by the same author such as The Color Purple, focuses on the situation of African-American women facing two forms of prejudice — one based upon race, the other predicated upon gender. How might this story be read differently by a reader from a different gender or cultural background?

· How might the poetry of Langston Hughes, or the fiction of James Baldwin, be read differently by a reader from the time in which those texts were written, and by a reader of today?

Reader-response criticism can be a helpful way of expanding one’s view of literature by emphasizing the idea that there are bound to be different views, and different readings, from one’s own.


The Life and Poetry of Langston Hughes

The Life and Poetry of Langston Hughes

The life of Langston Hughes, as set forth in the biographical passage on page 1006 in your textbook, provides many parallels to specifics in his poetry, and in his other writings.

The poems of Langston Hughes that you will be reading this week include the following:

· “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” (1921), p. 1006

· “I, Too” (1926), p. 1009

· “Song for a Dark Girl” (1927), p. 1010

· “Theme for English B” (1951), pp. 1010-11

· “Harlem” (1951), p. 1012

This short biographical clip about Langston Hughes may provide you with additional insights regarding the life and work of this great author.

The Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance

As you read the work of Langston Hughes and James Baldwin this week, you should be aware that the work of both authors reflects the influence of the Harlem Renaissance, one of the most important literary and cultural movements in American history.

Some of the most important aspects of the Harlem Renaissance would include the following:

· centered in Harlem N.Y.C., in the 1920’s

· African-American writers, artists, and musicians from all over the United States, as well as people of color from the West Indies and Africa, gathered in Harlem

· discovery by educated African-American intellectuals of the beauty, energy, and honesty of life in Harlem

· emphasis on beauty and dignity of black culture, celebration of blackness

· repudiation of earlier African-American writers whose work, it was felt, conformed to white literary standards

· promotion of the art and culture of black America

· collective consciousness of a black identity

· search for inspiration in earlier African-American cultural forms, such as jazz and the blues

· movement attracted whites who had money and/or access to publishing opportunities

· sometimes, a sense of distance between Harlem Renaissance artists and “ordinary” African Americans, coupled with a sense of alienation from mainstream America

While you are reading the work of Hughes and Baldwin, I encourage you to consider how the Harlem Renaissance as a movement may have influenced the literary work that both of these great artists produced.


Langston Hughes on Writing

Langston Hughes on Writing

Your textbook includes two examples of Langston Hughes discussing writing:

· “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” (1926), pp. 1013-14

· “The Harlem Renaissance” (1940), pp. 1014-18

Please read both of these examples of Langston Hughes commenting on writing in general, and on his own literary work in particular. Doing so could help to nourish your journal on Hughes’s work, as well as possible future writing and reflection on the work of this important poet.


Critics on the Work of Langston Hughes

Critics on the Work of Langston Hughes

Your textbook includes several critics commentary on the work of Langston Hughes:

· DarrylPinckney, “Black Identity in Langston Hughes” (1989), pp. 1019-20

· Arnold Rampersad, “Hughes as an Experimentalist” (1991), p. 1016

· Rita Dove and Marilyn Nelson, “The Voices in Langston Hughes” (1998), pp. 1017-19

· Peter Townsend, “Langston Hughes and Jazz” (2000), pp. 1020-22

Please read the work of these critics. Like Hughes’s own insights regarding his writing, these critics’ insights could make an important contribution to your understanding of Hughes’s work, to the journal entry that you will write, and to any possible future reconsideration of Hughes’s poetry.


James Baldwin and “Sonny’s Blues”

James Baldwin and “Sonny’s Blues”

While James Baldwin lived and wrote somewhat later than Langston Hughes, he too was influenced by the literary and cultural phenomenon of the Harlem Renaissance. Please read the biography of Baldwin on page 48 before reading Baldwin’s story “Sonny’s Blues” (1957), on pp. 48-70.

I would also encourage you to read Baldwin’s “Race and the African American Writer” (1955), on page 69. Doing so may be helpful to you in terms of crafting your journal response to “Sonny’s Blues.”

This short biographical video may enhance your understanding of Baldwin and his work.

Journal on Langston Hughes’s Poetry Due to Journal Portal by Thursday, February 25, 11:59 pm

Journal on Langston Hughes’s Poetry Due to Journal Portal by Thursday, February 25, 11:59 pm

Please submit your journal on Langston Hughes’s poetry to the appropriate journal portal by Thursday, February 25, at 11:59 pm. You may write on one of Hughes’s poems, or about themes or elements that you see at work in two or more of Hughes’s poems.


Journal on James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” (1957) Due to Journal Portal by Sunday, February 28, 11:59 pm

Journal on James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” (1957) Due to Journal Portal by Sunday, February 28, 11:59 pm

Your journal response to James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” will be due to the appropriate journal portal by Sunday, February 28, at 11:59 pm.


Blog Post (An Inspiring Work by a Culturally Diverse Author) Due Sunday, February 28, by 11:59 pm

Blog Post (An Inspiring Work by a Culturally Diverse Author) Due Sunday, February 28, by 11:59 pm

For your course blog post this week, please write about a time when you were inspired or influenced by a literary or other artistic work (e.g., music, cinema, art) by an author or artist from a cultural background different from your own. How did the work cause you to see life differently, or change your point of view?

Your 250-word blog post will be due for submission to the Course Blog by Sunday, February 28, at 11:59 pm.


Library Module 1: Developing a Research Question

Library Module 1: Developing a Research Question

After completing this module, you will be able to:

· locate key library resources on the University Libraries’ website

· ​execute a keyword search​

· articulate a search strategy for your research needs


Library Module 1 (Developing a Research Question) Due by Sunday, February 28, 11:59 pm

Library Module 1 (Developing a Research Question) Due by Sunday, February 28, 11:59 pm

Please complete Library Module 1 on “Developing a Research Question” by Sunday, February 28, at 11:59 pm. The link appears in the item at the top of the page.

Please remember that the information and exercises contained in these library modules will be of particular importance and help to you later this semester, when you are working on your Literary Research Essay.

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