William Faulkners “A Rose for Emily” can have many different reader-responses, as any story can, however it is the responsibility of reader-response critics, like Robert Crosman, to determine if they are valid and helpful in understanding the story. “How Readers Make Meaning” is a failed attempt by Crosman to show that any reader response, no matter how far fetched, can be helpful in the interpretation of a story.
Reader-response critics claim that there is no one correct response to a story but all responses are correct, as long as the basics of the story are grasped. Reader-response critics do not have a set way to interpret themes of stories like new critics but instead they concentrate on how and why readers interpret themes differently. The idea of reader-responses can be traced back to the Western culture of ancient Greeks and Romans but it hit the main stream in the seventies with Stanley Fishs theory stating that literature exists and signifies when it is read. Another reader-response critic, Wolfgang Iser, is known for his Gaps that are in the text. Iser suggests that texts contain gaps that the reader must fill in (explain) in their mind what the text is inciting.
To show that readers make the meaning of literary texts, Crosman and one of his students (Stacy) read “A Rose for Emily” for the first time to compare each others reader response. Crosmans response, although tainted by knowledge of the story, was that Emily was an old, hateful woman that murdered and slept with a dead body. Crosman went on to say that he had viewed this story through sexist eyes in that all women are mean, menacing, and inferior to men. With a totally different look on the story Stacy missed the main points of the story but came up with some rather kind remarks about Miss Emily. Stacy compared her grandmothers life to that of Emilys which, in her eyes, was one of endurance, faith, and love. Although Stacy missed the main point of the story, Crosman believed that her response was helpful and was just as valid as his response. Crosman claimed that Stacys response helped him realize that he was wrong to be sexist in his reading and he had missed some of the good qualities in Emily.
Unfortunately for Crosman, using Stacys response to prove that different reader interpretations can be valid and helpful failed. Reader response theory is based on the idea that the reader can comprehend the basics of a text. In Stacys case she didnt get the basics of the text, in fact she didnt even realize that Emily had killed Homer Barron and slept with a his dead body for years. It is impossible to have a valid comparison of responses when the fundamentals of a text are not grasped and there lies the problem with Crosmans argument.