Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Legacy Department


Committee Chair/Advisor

Dr. Gabriel Hankins

Committee Member

Dr. Cynthia Haynes

Committee Member

Dr. David Coombs


Based on Reader Response Theory, without an audience and interpretation a piece of literature does not have value and does not elicit a truth. It has to communicate. Further, Henry James in his work is not only saying that interpretation by a reader is of vital importance in creating value and truth, he implies that there are different types of readers and he specifically, in the works cited, seems to differentiate between the role of a literary critic and a casual reader. He creates narrators at varied levels of education and knowledge on purpose to elicit from the reader different points-of-view. But, he does not tell the reader what to believe about his narrator. He purposefully leaves a sense of ambiguity about the reliability of the narrator to be interpreted by the reader. This creates layers of possible interpretations that change with different approaches to the reading.

This is in line with Reader Response Theory in that it considers interpretation of text by the reader as something dynamic and oscillating. James is concerned as Stanley Fish is with the reliability of the reader, and because he often wrote about a part of society that was in great flux, the Fish proposal of a community of readers would have appealed to James. The conclusion drawn is that human truths cannot be labelled nor categorized. Henry James knew this. He calls this truth 'it' and equates 'it' to heart and the artistic muse. So, the base of the argument is that the literary critic alone cannot determine both value and truth in a text. To get to the heart, the 'it,' it takes the emotionally invested reader and it changes and mutates with each reading. If we are still reading a piece hundreds of years later it is because it imparts a human truism. Value has been determined by the system of literary interpretation; however, due to the fluctuating ambiguity of interpretation no definitive 'truth' can be determined. Truth cannot be pigeon-holed. Truth is a dynamic process of interaction of opposing elements in constant flux as both Henry James and Reader Response Theory concludes.



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