Reader response is a type of essay used to express a thoughtful reaction to what (poem, short story, novel essay, or other forms of text) someone has read. It is based on the theory that the individual creates her or his own meaning through a “transaction” with the text based on personal associations. Reader response is therefore more than just a summary. It expresses an individual reader’s own view on a text and how s/he sees her/his role as a reader. To produce a reader response essay, rather than relying on other person (a teacher or critic) to give her/him a single, standard interpretation of a text, the reader learns to construct her/his own meaning by connecting the textual material to issues in her/his lives and describing what s/he experiences as s/he reads.
Since a reader response stresses the importance of the reader’s role in interpreting texts and all readers bring their own emotions, concerns, life experiences, and knowledge to their reading, no reader response essay will emerge identical with another. Twenty students assigned to respond to a single text will produce twenty subjective and unique reader response essays. Although these essays are varied in ideas, as far as they are written in the correct format, all of them could be accepted as adequate interpretation.
The length of a reader response essay is quite relative. It could be some hundreds to some thousands words long, depending on the complexity of the text responded and the depth of the expected response. Despite that, it generally consists of three basic components, but each section can consist of more than one paragraph.
Section one is used as an introductory part in which necessary information about the text and its author is identified. This section generally starts with a brief summary of the text, which covers the title, author’s name, and his/her main point—i.e. theme, main message, or central idea of the work. The summary should therefore not retell everything that happened in the work. It should express what the reader thinks the author is trying to get across.
Section two is the core of a reader response essay for it shows its writer’s reading thinking. This section comprises a good part of the reader’s response. The reader may need to return to the work s/he read and notes the points s/he marked as significant. She/he should pick one that s/he “connected” with and write a response to it/them. S/he can copy part of the passage into her/his essay (using quotes when needed) or just paraphrase the idea s/he thought was the most engaging. S/he should respond to the idea of the passage, but does not simply summarize the reading. S/he should think about how the passage s/he chose relates to the author’s main point (from section one). It is best to try to stick to one specific point instead of trying to include everything the author addresses. That point, however, should be completely developed.
Section three reflects the writer’s goal as a reader. This is the place where s/he reacts to the point(s) analyzed in section two. S/he does this by answering some of the following questions. Is it a point I agree with? Did it remind me of something else I have read or heard? Does it remind me of any current issues or problems? Does it motivate me to read other works by this author, or not? Why or why not? To whom would you recommend this text?
To see how these concepts work in a reader response essay, look at the following example. It is written after I finished reading Jason Bocarro’s short story entitled A Long Walk Home.
Reader Response to Jason Bocarro’s A Long Walk Home
On the surface level, Bocarro’s A Long Walk Home is about teen’s tendency to rebel against their parents. But there is something special A Long Walk Home since it reveals that the one to blame for teen’s dishonesty is not the teen but the parent. In the story, Jason tries to hide his dereliction from his father by telling a lie. His father discovers Jason’s dishonesty and is very disappointed. However, instead of being angry to Jason, he punishes himself for realizing that he has failed bringing Jason up. This becomes “one of the most painful lessons” in Jason’s life. It is also the most successful on: he never lied to his father since.
A Long Walk Home is probably the short story that touched me the most. It reminds me the experiences while I passed through this stage of rebellion against my parents. I remember, for instance, I ever told my parents I had to do a project at a classmate’s house when we were actually just hanging out. I also sometimes told them I was busy doing many home works in my bedroom in order to avoid helping my mother do house works. These little snippets of dishonesty all accumulate to guilt. It seemed to me that my parents never discovered the truth. However, any time I realized how my father worked hard to suffice our needs, or when I realized how my mother still try her best to cheer each of her children, I felt that guilt became more and more irritating. Sometimes I wanted to tell them the truth, but I felt ashamed to do so. I just compensated this urge by becoming honest to them.
The point that “shocked” me in A Long Walk Home is the scene when Jason’s father punishes himself for believing that Jason’s dishonesty is due to his failure to educate him. I cannot imagine how I should have responded if my parents blamed and punished themselves for my dishonesty. Although I managed to be as honest as possible to my parents until I live my “nest”, this scene leaves me with the feeling that I wished I could tell them that I was very sorry.
I think this story will affect other people in the way it ‘touched’ me. So I recommend every teenager to read and learn from it.