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Real Or Hypothetical?

"Although no reader-response critic gives the text the autonomy that the formal critic would give it, some do see the text as considerably restricting the range of readings they will accept. So these critics must construct some hypothetical reader whose responses will be in conformity with the text's clues, and they show consequently, little interest in the responses of actual readers. Other reader-response critics largely reverse this emphasis." (Keesey 138)

Okay, so for the reader-response critic there are two main perspectives to consider, the actual reader or the hypothetical reader. Again, I have to say that perhaps the best solution to this is a mixture of both. The hypothetical or "implied" reader is difficult for me as an authority in reading text, because this perfect or ideal reader does not exist. But, on the other hand I can also see how actual readers can have flaws. An actual reader can, for example, have preconcieved ideas of how a poem or text should be written, or they can just not be qualified to be a critic. But, then we get into the whole arguement, who or what makes one qualified? Perhaps no one is truly qualified.

So, I think that this falls right back into the discussion we have been having in class; this is another school of criticism which doesn't seem to stand well on it's own. The choices are an actual reader, who has flaws, or a hypothetical reader who doesn't exist. And how can we be sure that one persons hypothetical reader is the perfect reader for that particular text?


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Comments (5)


I didn't quite understand the whole hypothetical reader thing. First, how can they assume what a reader is going to think? And second why can't they have people read the text (I think many of these writers are professors so they could have their students read, possibly as a side thing) and report back, people do this kind of thing with surveys all the time.

Derek Tickle:

I think the ideal reader is a very limited force. In other words, an ideal reader would have to stay focused on the text and stay distant from any author intended distractions or intentional poetic styles.

I agree with you, Mara, because without additional criticism how could the ideal or implied reader benefit?

I believe that when historical or formalism is added to the "ideal" then a reader can visualize that "ideal" setting and/or reader.

james lohr:

You are right, there are no truly qualified readers, each and every one of us has had experiences in life that cause us to view things from slightly different angles. What i got about the implied reader is that this is kind of the general message the author is hoping to present in the text. As i stated above, our angles of view slightly differ, but there are certain things that most people from a group have in common. If you are writing to the poor, each person understands hardship or struggle, they may not see it exactly the same way, but nonetheless it is a common denominator in the equation. This is the only way i can see the implied reader idea working. Im probably wrong because i usually am, but if anyone has any better ideas please let me know.

Good points, all. No perfect, "ideal" circle exists in nature, but we can still usefully use perfect circles in logical and mathematical discussions about things that really do exist.

Likewise, we recognize that, even though the "ideal reader" does not mean "the one reader who is smart enough to find the 'right' reading," no single (imperfect) act of reading can possibly cover all the potential meanings of a text.

To return to our "lenses" metaphor, we're better off with two eyes because our brain assembles spatial information from the gaps, overlaps, and differences in our slightly offset views of the world.


Going off of what James stated, it is very difficult to distinguish someone as a "qualified reader"--if the species exists at all. However, the common denominators that stands true between most readers, qualified or not, help to maintain congruency between the professional scholar and the average literate individual. "Unarmed readers may believe they are responding to the surface level, but they are really being affected by the underlying patterns of archetypal symbolism."(Keesey 131) So, from what I take, although we spoke of symbols in literature having no predetermined absolute defenition, there are specific nuances that are recognizable and relatable between nearly all readers.

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