Playing the Reader

As early as last week I was struck by how the first few chapters of Jane Eyre are so heart wrenching, playing on the emotions of those who are compassionate towards children and orphans in particular. The trope of unfortunate orphans is common enough in British literature and includes some of my favorite works. I can’t help but thinking however, that Bronte is attempting to really manipulate me into falling for her character and sympathizing with her unequivocally. Maybe it isn’t Bronte, maybe it is Jane as she narrates.

The thought however of manipulating readers isn’t foreign to us. Already we discussed how authors and narrators may use certain techniques to achieve specific ends. We ended up concluding that considering an audience can only go so far as each reader is different and we appreciate things in different ways. For this reason, Emma was not the favorite of every reader in the class.

The differences between readers and their response are integral for the relative stature that certain works and novels attain. Good writers may intuit the way that different readers will respond. I remember exploring the concept of reader individuality in a course taught on the topic of Literature and Psychology. I was exposed to an entire area of study which includes questions such as why we read, how do we experience phenomena in reading differently (such as immersion and absorption, suspension of disbelief etc.) Victor Nell explores this area in Lost in a Book which I highly recommend, and develops the differences between Ludic reading and reading for pleasure.  What I love about his perspective is that it approaches a high level of scientific rigor as seen in this study. With regards to Bronte the reading for me has shifted from once being pleasurable to now being more academic.

The progress the novel is taking very much relates to a continued manipulation of the readers. It is not a tale of happiness, but rather is overshadowed by constant hardship and sorrow. Jane makes only one friend who then dies. She then goes to Thornfield only to be sucked into a scary mystery. She is insecure at times when comparing herself to Blanche, and as such we can relate.

In Why We Read Fiction Lisa Zunshine develops the hypothesis that through reading we come to better understand others’ perspectives and this is something that we are programmed with a hunger for. She develops seminal groundwork on the concept of Theory of Mind which is the way we understand the way others think. Excersizing Theory of Mind stimulates us in a way which we enjoy and this is why we continue to read. For some more info on different types of theory of mind you can explore this paper.

The relevance to how and why we read, on the author’s ability to manipulate readers should not be understated. Initially when I read Jane Eyre I enjoyed it more and the class was more a discussion of the story, however in this class when focusing less on the pleasure and more on the narrative techniques, I enjoy it less but am able to spot the manipulation a lot earlier on in the game. I wonder if authors take into account the experience of their readers and whether or not they are reading it for the literary value. What do you guys think?




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3 thoughts on “Playing the Reader

  1. kelsey214

    While discussing the idea of manipulation between the author and the reader, I can’t help but also think of textualization. I recently read an article by Jon Thiem called “The Textualization of the Reader in Magical Realist Fiction” and now see how easy it is to be sucked into a story. I believe it is intentional for the author to write in such a way that compels the reader. His mission is to not only give you an entertaining story, but also to have your mind get dragged into the novel and start to question things as if you yourself were a specific character. In “Jane Eyre” it’s easy to see the opinions of Jane and to acquire her same feelings and thoughts. The point Laura brings up about the telling from different perspectives is SO true. A different perspective point can and would change the entire story.

    Here’s the link to Thiem’s aritcle if anyone’s curious about it.–pJ6XNsQT2-ICICw&ved=0CCYQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=jon%20thiem%20textualization&f=false

  2. Laura Gonzaga

    There is something almost disturbing in actually thinking that writers can “control” our emotions and overall response to a text; it is as if we lose our free will. In Jane Eyre, the reader is suddenly plunged into the story and is forced to see the world from the perspective of Jane. Could we re-claim our free will by muting the narrative being forced upon us and considering the world from the perspective of other characters? One way to do this is to consider justifications for the behavior of characters we are immediately made to dislike by the author. Perhaps if I were to narrate the story from the perspective of Mrs. Reed, we would empathize with her and understand her actions because we would be seeing the world from her eyes. Would we have been made to dislike Mrs. Reed if we were originally introduced to a narrative that was about an ungrateful, trouble maker orphan who is always provoking fights with her children? Perspective is the key. The more open our perspective and awareness becomes, the less likely we will be manipulated.

  3. Jason Tougaw

    What’s your reaction to feeling manipulated by a literary text? Do you resent it? Can it be a good thing–letting the author guide your responses? If you feel manipulated, does that mean the author hasn’t done a good enough job manipulating you? Is it possible that really successful manipulation goes unnoticed–unless you look for it? I’m curious to know what you all think about these questions.

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