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The reader, the text, the poem: the transactional theory of the literary work

The reader, the text, the poem: the transactional theory of the literary work

Rosenblatt, Louise M. (Louise Michelle), 1904-2005

Louise M. Rosenblatt’s award-winning work continues increasingly to be read in a wide range of academic fields—literary criticism, reading theory, aesthetics, composition, rhetoric, speech communication, and education. Her view of the reading transaction as a unique event involving reader and text at a particular time under particular circumstances rules out the dualistic emphasis of other theories on either the reader or the text as separate and static entities. The transactional concept accounts for the importance of factors such as gender, ethnicity, culture, and socioeconomic context. Essential reading for the specialist, this book is also well suited for courses in criticism, critical theory, rhetoric, and aesthetics. Starting from the same nonfoundationalist premises, Rosenblatt avoids the extreme relativism of postmodern theories derived mainly from Continental sources. A deep understanding of the pragmatism of Dewey, James, and Peirce and of key issues in the social sciences is the basis for a view of language and the reading process that recognizes the potentialities for alternative interpretations and at the same time provides a rationale for the responsible reading of texts. The book has been praised for its lucid explanation of the multidimensional character of the reading process—evoking, interpreting, and evaluating the work. The nonliterary (efferent) and the literary (aesthetic) are shown not to be opposites but to represent a continuum of reading behaviors. The author amply illustrates her theoretical points with interpretations of varied texts. The epilogue carries further her critique of rival contemporary theories

eBook, Electronic resource, Book. English. Electronic books. Criticism, interpretation, etc.
Pbk. ed.
Published Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1994
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Statement of responsibility: Louise M. Rosenblatt ; with a new preface and epilogue
ISBN: 0585111715, 0809318059, 9780585111711, 9780809318056
Note: Print version record.
Note: Includes bibliographical references (pages 193-202) and index.
Physical Description: 1 online resource (xv, 210 pages)
Subject: Reader-response criticism.; Literature History and criticism Theory, etc.; Literature Theory, etc.; LITERARY CRITICISM Semiotics & Theory.
Local note: EBSCO complete collection


  1. The invisible reader
  2. The poem as event
  3. Efferent and aesthetic reading
  4. Evoking a poem
  5. The text: openness and constraint
  6. The quest for "the poem itself"
  7. Interpretation, evaluation, criticism.

Author note

Louise M. Rosenblatt is a professor emerita of New York University. A graduate of Barnard College, where she taught for some years, she received a doctorate in comparative literature from the Sorbonne. Some of the awards she has received are the Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, the Great Teacher Award from New York University, the Russell Award for Distinguished Research from the National Council of Teachers of English, and Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Arizona. She is a member of the International Reading Association Reading Hall of Fame. Her other publications include Literature as Exploration, L’Idée de l’Art pour l’Art, Reading in an Age of Mass Communication (with W. S. Gray et al.), and numerous chapters and articles on literary theory.


"The Reader, the Text, the Poem is a major contribution to literary and critical theory. It should be read, reread, and reflected on by anyone involved with the activity of reading."—Alan M. Hollingsworth, College English


"This book should be studied by everybody interested in teaching, in the fate of literary works in the classroom, and in the welfare of children and young people in their school-imposed encounters with texts."Wallace Douglas, CEA Critic


"Louise M. Rosenblatt’s The Reader, the Text, the Poem is an extraordinary resource for all teachers and scholars in the humanities."—Steven Mailloux, University of California at Irvine

"Louise Rosenblatt’s work helps classroom teachers understand how children’s background experiences shape the meanings they create from books."—Bernice E. Cullinan, New York University