The Giant Wisteria in the light of reader response theory

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Reader-response criticism is a group of approaches for understanding literature .It has in common an emphasis on the reader's role in the creation of the meaning of a literary work. Reader-response surfaced as a reaction to the textual emphasis of New Criticism from 1940s to 1960s in the West and its apparent extremes. Whereas the first persist that the authority or the intention of the author, the psychology of the reader as well as his mentality are key factors in creating the meaning of the text, the latter assert that only which is within a text is part of the meaning of a text (Wikipedia, 2006).The term includes theorists which segment very little besides the attention of the reader.
Theorists of Reader- response criticism consider the reader very much and they provoke him to be an active participant in literary texts. Thus, readers’ role is much taken into account. Generally speaking, readers’ responses can be categorized into three reactions: reader’s psychology, culture, and linguistic milieu. According to Reader- response criticism, the ultimate meaning of any literary text is embedded in the reader’s mind. In other words, the reader is a ‘producteur’ rather than a ‘consommateur’ (Henderson & Brown, 1997). Some sustain that the psychological upshot of a literary event reveals the environs of a culture's ideology, so that the reactions to a literary work can be an instrument for historical analysis. This last approach, sometimes called "reception aesthetics" rather than "Reader -response," is the approach taken by some followers of Hans-Georg Gadamer, most notably Jauss.
In his book, Literature as Exploration, Louise M. Rosenblatt points out:"the student must be free to grapple with his own reaction... to be given the opportunity and the courage to approach literature personally, to let it mean something to him directly" (p. 66). In other words, Reader-response criticism states that literature should be viewed as a performing art in which each reader constructs his or her own, possibly typical, text-driven performance (Rosenblatt, 1995).For my part, I utterly agree with Rosenblatt. Reader should be given the occasion in giving his/her own interpretation, reflect his/her own experience, and loom literary texts by his/her own language, consequently the following paper would exert a grand deal of effort in attempting to construe ‘ the Giant Wisteria’ in the light of this approach, thus attaching Rosenblatt’s words.
Like many literary theories, Reader- Response theory has a group of assumptions. One assumption is that Literature exists only when it is read; meaning is an event. Moreover, the literary text holds no permanent and final meaning or value; there is no one fixed meaning. Literary meaning and value are "transactional," "dialogic," created by the interface of the reader and the text. According to Louise Rosenblatt, a poem is "what the reader lives through under the guidance of the text." (1998).
Reader- response theory involves the reader intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically in the literary work he is handling. In this sense, a large space of various interpretations, expectations and perspectives of reader are anticipated (Henderson & Brown, 1997). In fact, a lot of readers prefer this theory because of its leniency in the first place, further because it agrees that one can interpret the text from a Marxist, feminist, deconstructive, or historical route (Rhoades, 2003).
Though all reader-response adherents believe that the reader plays a major role in centralizing the text’s analysis, they argue how much this role is played by the reader. Thus, it is not bizarre to see a variety of critics with dissimilar schemes and methods in this regard. Those critics branched themselves into three groups. The first group agrees upon the large umbrella principle of the theory itself, which says that the reader shares the lion’s part in discovering the textual meaning. However, they come to individualize themselves by declaring that the text has a greater role in interpreting the meaning than the reader does (Bressler, 1994).
The second group, nevertheless, renowned as subjective critics, assumes that reader’s own beliefs, experiences, and societal standards affect more in determining the most factual meaning of the text. Hence, he realizes his/her own personality from such analysis. Such cocktail of the text’s meaning and one’s fantasies possibly will be acceptable in one’s social order. Subjective critics assert that readers’ responses could appear to be weird and private. However, their acceptance to share such personal experiences with others indicates that they are objective. And the researcher would obtain this position as a method for understanding the meaning of the short story, The Giant Wisteria.
In attempting to achieve balance, a third group comes in the midway. Its supporters perceive that the reader and the text donate evenly in the interpretive process of any literary text. Rosenblatt, being a good devotee to this slice, maintains that a sort of transactional relationship between the reader and the text itself goes on. According to him, ‘the true poem can exist only in the reader’s consciousness, not on the printed page’ (1994: P.52). By this he implies that the communicative approach between both of the reader and the text produces the sought meaning; this very meaning is embedded in the reader’s imagination (same previous source).
Historical Development
Though oodles of reviewers and critics believe that Reader- Response criticism surfaced in the period 1920 to 1970s, the radical roots of this approach can be traced out to Plato and Aristotle’s lifetime. According to Plato, people would forget that they are watching an intellectual play, for instance, and would shed tears occasionally when there is a scene that is gloomy. Aristotle too referred to the term ‘catharses- pity and fear- seeing that it could be aroused by watching, hearing, or even listening to a particular literary work, principally drama. Thus, both of the philosophers referred to reader -response criticism since the dawn of literature.
Still, both of them ignored this response of the reader and spotted light basically on the text itself. This very viewpoint continued till the Victorian age where the readers’ role was passive. In the late decades of the nineteenth century, however, this outlook shifted to drop the light on the author himself as the focal concern. Nonetheless, the birth of the school of New Criticism showed a totally different attitude. According to the founders of this school, the chief concern in the whole literary reading should be the text and they coined a number of terms to serve their purposes. One of these terms state that the text has an autonomous identity and only one meaning is there. This term, as well as many of their terms, made it difficult for the reader and the critic to discover the meaning. Therefore, a revolution against this school of literature was born. Consequently, Reader-Response movement opened its eyes and saw the light (Bressler, 1994).
Plot Summery
The Giant Wisteria is a story of two sections. The first section takes place in the past -a century before the second one. It is about a beautiful young lady who commits adultery with her cousin, and as a result she delivers an illegitimate son. Certainly this incident is fully shameful to her family; therefore her father decides to punish her. The second part takes place in the present. A set of young people-Mr. and Mrs. Jenny, their "pretty sisters" and their sisters' suitors- come to spend their Summer time in a desolate house. They begin to talk about the possibility of having a ghost inside this house. Eventually, they discover the house's appalling top secret.
"The Giant Wisteria" and Me
Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story, "The Giant Wisteria" stirred up a powerful and a depressing sentiment inside my heart. I see Gilman’s short story as an internal stiff experience that comes full circle at the end of the story. Words such a sense, ghost, creep, rickety, and fear lead me to believe that maybe her soul is going through this experience. Having got through a similar experience, my reaction towards this story is absolutely negative and I do not like it. However, I change my stance slightly by the finale of the second part.
Gilman's first part of this short story depicts a standpoint that I strongly oppose and object. The father wants to exonerate the unwelcomed baby of his daughter by killing him or whatever way; only to protect himself from people’s gossip. For him, he knows that his daughter is in love with her cousin. However, he does not want people say that his daughter is practicing her right in love. May be the traditions of that time were so restrictive so that sexual desires were to be compressed.
Evidently, some might argue and say that one has to linger before he judges others and attempt to spot things from the outlook of the people at that time. This is true. And the first part of the story being took place practically at the eighteenth century; the whole view ought to be different. I myself witnessed a similar story in my district and we are in the twenty first century. I more powerfully objected this story (the one in my district) because we are supposed to be more elastic and open-minded than the people of the nineteenth century.
I still remember an autumn ago when the father of the girl discovered the whole story, he could not be enough patient. Without hesitation, he grasped a knife and stabbed his daughter with it. It was vastly evident that he could not tolerate his daughter; who was pregnant illegitimately; therefore, he killed her with her child. In one hand, he did not want attend to people saying that he could not raise his daughter the right way.
On the other hand, he himself, started to suspect the way he raised his daughter like. Even he became extremely cacophonous and harsh in the way how he deals with his other children, especially the girls. Naturally, and as we live in a Muslim society, the occurrence of such a story affected negatively and positively on the people of the district. On one side, it had a negative effect of the family of that girl. People no longer wanted to marry from this family and her sisters were crowned spinsters forever.
On the other side, the story of this girl had a positive effect on some people. As a matter of fact, there had been some guys who were willing to swerve morally, but when they knew about it, they hindered and became the most puritan and religious guys of the whole region. As for me, I do sympathize with the girl of both stories. I know that the patriarchal culture in which they live imposed on them to do so in a way or another. The unnamed character of this tale shows a great tender to her innocent child, whom she knows from the bottom of her heart is guiltless about this and is like a blank slate. Her mother too shows this kind of emotions. Nonetheless, she says to her daughter:
"Hush! hush! thou fool-someone might be near! See--there is thy father coming, even now! Get in quickly!" (Gilman, P. 1). This sentence alone indicates the sphere of horror that father is creating in his house. Not only his sinful daughter is afraid of him but also his kind-hearted wife is afraid of him. Obviously, patriarchal culture has its own negative influence on women. I see that Gilman wrote this tale for the sake of this purpose; she wants women to be more open-minded, to cultivate themselves, and get educated. In this way, women manage to defend themselves and get their own rights.
The second section of the story, which is one hundred years after the first, is mysterious, chilling and horrifying one. However, I value it more than the first one. This part comes to reveal the secret of the first section. Without it the first story would have been left vague and incomplete. The very first lines in which Mrs. Jenny and her husband converse make me admire her brave character and scoff her husband’s crowdedness as he attempts not to live in that so-called haunted house. Steadily, I become more aficionados to the women mentality which does not have fear as men’s do.
Nonetheless, women involved in this adventure should know that this house they are willing to explore might be a source of danger for their existence. They should know that inside this house a serious crime took place. A woman of their own gender had been killed in cold blood. These women should exonerate this temporary blindness; they should declare a revolution against this patriarchal society; this society that deprives women from their rights to be in love with others.
In fact, this tale reminds me of a story mother told me three years ago. It is about a woman who betrayed her husband, still he discovered her secret and therefore he was merciless towards her. My initial response was so defensive. I myself, like her husband, did not have mercy towards her and began to say ‘what a shame is this! How ungrateful she is!’ Nevertheless, I changed my mind totally by knowing the very miserable circumstances her husband indulged her in. Thus, I learnt that one should not asses people from the first impression, and as they say’’ the first impression does not last’’.
Symbolism in the Giant Wisteria
According to (Longman Dictionary, 1978), it refers to ‘any of several kinds of climbing plant with purple or white flowers’. It is a fast growing vine that is capable of living in all environments, whether sunny, half sunny or shadowy. Its core feature is the drooping clusters of violet, blue, pink or white flowers in spring. Greenish (brown) fruits shaped like pea pods appear after the blooms and are quite attractive (Amy Calhoun, n.d).
The Giant Wisteria in this gothic story stands for women’s influence. The wisteria is clearly a symbol of female charisma and of the supremacy of women -displayed as an upsetting force of nature- to conquer that patriarchal empire. Having been nurtured as a tender slip by the young woman's mother in part one, it comes to overpower the house in part two, threatening even to bring it down. In this sense, it represents women’s existence, their rights, as well as their identity. Throughout the use of this overwhelming vine, Gilman aims at warning woman from that potential danger they are ringed with. And as what readers witnessed and imagined after reading the entire story, this vine- the wisteria- is capable of immolating the whole house, which is very frightening for most people in the masculine gender, if not all of them.

Gilman’s short story represents an alarming bill for women of all times; for women of her time in particular. The Giant Wisteria symbolizes women’s sovereignty, identity and freedom. According to Gilman, this vine is the source of salvation. As we read this gothic tale, we observed how this vine could deconstruct the whole house. Gilman seems to be sending a message to women all over the world. She says in it that women should not finite themselves in such domestic angles. Mere tenderness, passion, and kindness are no good for them. They must do their best and arm themselves with two weapons; not only one. These two weapons are tenderness as well as equality with men.
In other words, women should stop performing the role of submissiveness to men. May be if Gilman read Ibsen’s A Doll House, she might have mailed a thanking message to him for his great effort in that regard. In fact, The Giant Wisteria gave me the motif to think about, not only the circumstances that surrounded women at that time, but the ones that surround women in our time. In other words, this story pressed me to question the manner in which society deals with women. Is he really giving women their own rights? Is he confessing their own right of motherhood? Is he giving them their own right in education? Is he granting them their own sexual life as he is granting it to men?
Answering such questions was not that easy for me. Nonetheless, I noticed that Islam guaranteed such rights fourteen centuries ago. In Islam, women are given the right to be ‘suitors’- if a woman is having the desire to share a man her life, her father can go and query him to wed his daughter. Still, in the western and non-Muslim worlds women, being having that sexual desire or not, should not express this desire. Instead, they should compress it. Such societies convinced woman that they are defending their rights, but in reality they are doing no thing but breaking her heart apart

Works cited
Selden, R. (1989). Practicing theory and reading literature. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf
ÜÜÜÜÜÜÜÜÜÜÜÜÜ, (2006). Reader-response criticism. Retrieved May 8, 2006 from
ÜÜÜÜÜÜÜÜÜÜÜÜÜÜ , (1998). Reader-Response Criticism. Retrieved May 11, 2006 from
Lancashir,I. (1997). Glossary of Literary Theory: Reader-response criticism. Retrieved May 1, 2006 from
Rhoades, J.(2003). Literary Criticism: Reader-response criticism. Retrieved April 11, 2006 from
Bressler, C. (1994) literary criticism: An introduction to theory and practice. London: Prentice-Hall,Inc.
Rosenblatt M. ,L (1995). Literature as Exploration. New York: Modern Language Association of America,
Procter, P. (1978). Longman Dictionary of contemporary English. Longman Group limited.: Beirut.
Calhoun, A (n.d). Wisteria Vine. Cleveland-Massillon Rd: Norton, Ohio

Article name: The Giant Wisteria in the light of reader response theory essay, research paper, dissertation