Front Cover
 Title Page
 Table of Contents
 The question: Who reads what...
 What? "A rose for Emily,"...
 How? The "experiment"
 Who? The five readers
 The answer: Four principles of...
 The evidence: Sam, Saul, Shep,...
 The terms of subjectivity
 From subjectivity to collectiv...
 Appendix A: The question of...
 Appendix B: Further evidence: Sam,...

Title: 5 readers reading
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00002629/00001
 Material Information
Title: 5 readers reading
Physical Description: xvi, 418 p. : illus., diagr. ; 25cm.
Language: English
Creator: Holland, Norman Norwood, 1927-
Publisher: Yale University Press
Place of Publication: New Haven
Publication Date: 1975
Subject: Literature -- Psychology   ( lcsh )
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references and index.
Statement of Responsibility: by Norman N. Holland.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00002629
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: aleph - 000110958
oclc - 01306242
notis - AAM6619
lccn - 74026004
isbn - 0300018541
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Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Page i
        Page ii
    Title Page
        Page iii
        Page iv
        Page v
        Page vi
    Table of Contents
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    The question: Who reads what how?
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    What? "A rose for Emily," for example
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    How? The "experiment"
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    Who? The five readers
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    The answer: Four principles of literary experience
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    The evidence: Sam, Saul, Shep, Sebastian, and Sandra read Faulkner's "A rose for Emily"
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    The terms of subjectivity
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    From subjectivity to collectivity
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    Appendix A: The question of affect
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    Appendix B: Further evidence: Sam, Saul, Shep, Sebastian, and Sandra read Fitzgerald's "Winter dreams" and Hemingway's "The battler"
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Full Text

5 Readers Reading

Books by Norman N. Holland

The First Modern Comedies

The Shakespearean Imagination

Psychoanalysis and Shakespeare

The Dynamics of Literary Response

Poems in Persons

5 Readers Reading



** 4

I I *

5 Readers

Norman N







Published with assistance from the' foundation established
in memory of Oliver Baty Cunningham of the Class of
1917, Yale College.

Copyright 1975 by Yale University.
All rights reserved. This book may not be
reproduced, in whole or in part, in any form
(except by reviewers for the public press),
without written permission from the publishers.
Library of Congress catalog card number: 74-26004
International standard book number: 0-300-01854-1
Designed by Sally Sullivan
and set in Times Roman type.
Printed in the United States of America by
Alpine Press Inc., South Braintree, Mass.
- Published in Great Britain, Europe, and Africa by---- ----- -
Yale University Press, Ltd., London.
Distributed in Latin America by Kaiman & Polon,
Inc., New York City; in Australasia and Southeast
Asia by John Wiley & Sons Australasia Pty. Ltd.,
Sydney; in India by UBS Publishers' Distributors Pvt.,
Ltd., Delhi; in Japan by John Weatherhill, Inc., Tokyo.

To Jane
Who koude tell, but he hadde wedded

:Theijoye, the ese

and the



is bitwixe an

housbonde. and his wyf?



1. The Question: Who Reads What How?
2. What? "A Rose For Emily," For Example
3. How? The "Experiment"
4. Who? The Five Readers
5. The Answer: Four Principles of Literary Experience
6. The Evidence: Sam, Saul, Shep, Sebastian, and
Sandra Read Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily"
7. The Terms of Subjectivity
8. From Subjectivity to Collectivity
9. Knowing
Appendix A. The Question of Affect
Appendix B. Further Evidence: Sam, Saul, Shep,
Sebastian, and Sandra Read Fitzgerald's
"Winter Dreams" and Hemingway's
"The Battler"






Blake has stated the problem this book addresses as succinctly
as anyone.
Both read the Bible day & night,
But thou read'st black where I read white.
The question I would like to answer is: Why is this so? To be
sure, Blake had in mind religious controversy as much as
people's different readings of a text-
The Vision of Christ that thou dost see
Is my Vision's Greatest Enemy.
Thine has a great hook nose like thine;
Mine has a snub nose like to mine.
As it turns out, however, people read the same text differently
for the same reason they have different preferences in religions
or in noses: themselves. Answering the specifically literary
question involves answers-or attempts at answers-to some
basic issues in human psychology. How do people react to
noses or, more generally, things, beliefs, other people (like
Christ), or literary texts (like the Bible)? How does personality
or society, filtered through personality, affect our interpretation
of events?
I did not wish so large a problem. I began this book inno-
cently enough, only to investigate literary response and
specifically to confirm or change the "transformation" model
of literary response I published in 1968.1 I sat down with my
colleague Joseph Masling, who had generously offered to help
as a psychological consultant; we began to design experiments
-and quickly ran into trouble. There seemed to me to be very
little that would be "reliably reproducible" in the reading
transaction. True, the literary text remained the same, but
there seemed to be no meaningful way of relating one literary
text to another as comparable stimuli. (The same genre? The

x Preface

same length? Two poems about seashells? Two oedipall"
dramas?) And I knew from my experience as a critic and
teacher that the most skilled readers can diverge markedly in
their interpretations even of widely accepted classics. (Think,
for example, of the controversies and sharply differing rein-
terpretations of Marvell's "Horatian Ode," the Fourth Book of
Gulliver's Travels, or The Turn of the Screw.) Of the usual
methods of psychological testing-questionnaires, confirmatory
judgments, the grids of personal construct theory, Delphi
methods-none seemed really applicable to a situation in which
each responder was as importantly unique as each stimulus and
as each response.
I decided simply to fish for a method by seeing what issues
emerged when I conducted more or less undirected interviews
with a few readers who had taken standard personality tests. I
still could not arrive at clearly testable hypotheses, mostly
because I could not find fixed categories either for the reader or
the work read or for what the reader said about his reading.
Finally, then, this lack of method became itself the method,
-- and I proceeded from the first exploratory group of graduate
student readers to testing and interviewing a larger group of
undergraduates from whom the "5 Readers" of my title come.
The major problem proved to be, not the interviewing, but
analyzing the results. A simple procedure led to an extremely
complicated problem of interpretation. Finally, however, this
complexity subsided into a basic principle of personal interac-
tion whose very simplicity adds elegance to its other claims on
your belief.
Although this book concludes with a general psychological
principle, its evidence comes from people's responses to
literature-an early concern of mine that goes back past my
adult and professional interests to childhood and no doubt
stems from my own efforts then and now to cope with the
interactions of people around me by finding generalizations
from a safe distance. Professionally, I became interested in
comedy and questions about why, when, and how people
laugh. I was led, naturally enough, to Freud's theory of jokes,
which impressed me for two reasons: first, it dealt with these
miniworks of literature both in detail and totally, as aestheti-

Preface xi

cally formed and unified texts; second, it showed how the
purely literary (or quasi-literary) experience worked in terms of
larger explanatory principles that applied to other areas of
human behavior as well (dreams, slips of the tongue, or symp-
If psychoanalysis worked so well for jokes, it should be
possible to apply it to literature in general. When I turned to
psychoanalytic criticism, however, I found it very mixed in
quality. On the one hand, there were some truly exciting
insights and startling correspondences between psychoanalytic
experience and literary works. On the other, only a small part
of psychoanalytic theory was being applied, and that within a
very limited literary framework. Often, for example, literary
characters were studied like photographic copies of case his-
tories, a naive view of realism few literary critics would accept.
Within psychoanalysis, little beyond symbolic decoding was
being applied: the literary work was treated as a congress of
phalluses, vaginas, and anuses, with token reverence to aesthe-
tic mysteries, but no real attempt to analyze them or intellec-
tual themes. Of the developmental stages, only the oedipal was
applied to literature. As a result, the psychoanalytic critic could
only talk about narratives or dramatic works that had father- or
mother-figures, not poetry or prose as such. These procedures
gave psychoanalytic criticism a very bad reputation in literary
circles, which, I fear, it has not overcome even today.
Nevertheless, there were enough good insights from this
school so that I wanted to explore it further, and I was very
lucky at this juncture to be able to train at the Boston
Psychoanalytic Institute. There I learned of other aspects of
psychoanalytic theory and experience that were, by and large,
not being applied to literature, notably those strategies for
warding off anxiety and coping with inner and outer reality that
I term, for brevity, defenses (instead of "defense mechan-
isms" or "defensive and adaptive strategies"). They emerge
in literature as what literary critics usually call form, both in
the larger sense of the selection and structuring of parts, and
more specifically as rhymes, alliteration, stanza patterns,
and the like. I thus found that one could use psychoanalytic
psychology to talk about lyric poems and even nonfiction

xii Preface

prose, not just dramatic or narrative versions of the oedipus
complex. I also learned more about the pre-oedipal stages,
those desires and fantasies that have to do, not with oedipal
triangles, but one-to-one relationships or just one's own body.
These, it turned out, played the key role in lyric poetry and
other literature that did not tell a potentially oedipal story.
Even in narrative and dramatic works rich with father- and
mother-figures, these preoedipal fantasies served as deeper,
more pervasive versions of oedipal material, as they do with
real people.
Thus, I learned that people's responses to literature involved
a transformation by means of forms acting like defenses, of
drives, impulses, and fantasies back and forth from the most
primitive strata of psychic life to the highest. Given such a
model, one could understand the social, intellectual, or moral
themes people found in literature as the highest level of this
dynamic and continuing process of transformation. One could
explain the way readers respond to literary characters as
though they were real people, when they are patently not real
and often not even realistic. One could interpret the feeling
people have of being "absorbed" or "taken out of themselves"
when engrossed in literature: their processes of transformation
meld with the exterior work so that they no longer perceive a
difference between "in here" and "out there." In short, draw-
ing on, other psychoanalytic concepts besides symbolism and
the oedipus complex, notably defenses and the preoedipal
stages, led to a complex model of literature-as-transformation,
which in turn made it possible to explain a number of literary
phenomena such as meaning, realism, the relation of the
author's personality to his work, the role of embedded myths,
the criteria behind evaluation, and so on. This model and some
of its applications I set out as The Dynamics of Literary
Response in 1968.
At that point, I was again lucky: a substantial grant from the
Research Foundation of the State University of New York
made it possible to test this model, which I had derived
fundamentally from a combination of psychoanalytic experi-
ence with introspection, and this book is the result of those
tests. Essentially, Dynamics has stood up rather well, requir-

Preface xiii

ing only the modification--or reminder, really-that psycholog-
ical processes like fantasies or defenses do not happen in books
but in people. Within that framework, one can see five readers
who are the subjects of this book re-create the original literary
creation in terms of their own personalities, themselves under-
stood as continuing processes of transformation. Specifically,
this book develops four principles governing the interaction of
the reader with what he reads, but these four separate princi-
ples are themselves simply four different ways of accenting one
more general and basic principle. This, it turns out, applies not
only to reading, but to a person's interaction with any external
reality, human or nonhuman. For example, in Poems in
Persons, a shorter and more literary book I was able to write
during the long gestation of this psychological and theoretical
one,3 I showed how this one basic principle informed teaching,
criticism, theater-going, and the very act of literary creation
itself. Conversely, the same large principle seems to apply not
only to interactions of people but to interactions by anything
that can be said to have a style the way a person does: an
institution, for example, or a culture or a nation.
Thus, the study of this one phenomenon, reading, may pay
back to psychoanalysis the insight literary criticism has bor-
rowed, giving as interest that long-sought passage that would
open up the intrapsychic model of classical psychoanalysis to
an interpsychic psychology. The psychohistorian, the object-
relations theorist, the social psychologist, anyone concerned
with the interactions of groups and individuals, may find in the
act of reading the basic principles that govern the human
activities he studies; for reading ever so curiously mingles
person and thing and person and person.

A project as long as this makes one conscious of a great
many debts and gratitudes of both a personal and an institu-
tional kind. The Research Foundation of the State University
of New York has supported this research most generously.
Their three grants have not only made it possible for me to
complete this work, but they created the fertile ground from
which a major center for the psychoanalytic study of literature
could grow. Throughout, my department has created, by its

xiv Preface

tradition of openness to new approaches and methods, an
atmosphere in which discovery could and did flourish, making
us all something more than an "Eng. Lit." department.
Among the many people who have helped, I am most im-
mediately obliged to the "Ss," as they would be called in the
regular psychological literature. I wish I could thank them by
name, for they gave of themselves in the most generous sense.
I can only hope this book will give them something in return as
constructive as what they gave me. Dr. Allen Zechowy, then of
the Meyer Memorial Hospital, now of the Department of Men-
tal Health, Prince George County, Cheverly, Maryland,
worked with the preliminary group of graduate students. Dr.
Andrew Corvus of Children's Hospital (Buffalo) worked with a
larger group of undergraduates from whom these five readers
were selected. I am grateful to them both for their adroit
adaptation of established testing techniques to this new prob-
lem and for the skill with which they were able to convey their
results and conclusions to me.
During the four-year germination of this book, many people
have contributed to it. I am especially obliged to Mrs. Virginia
White, Mrs. Helen Walter, Mme. M.-J. Truelle, and Mrs. Joan
Cipperman, who stepped in at particularly critical moments to
prepare large chunks of the manuscript. In this book (as in
Dynamics) I am indebted to Sterling Lord who negotiated its
publication. Whitney Blake and Jane Isay gave fine editorial
guidance and encouragement. I am much obliged to Michael
Brill for the astonishing diagram in Appendix A. Ms. Mary
Z. Bartlett and Mr. Stephen Gormey helped create an immense
bibliography of psychological studies of aesthetic responses. I
am grateful to them and to Ms. Betty Jane Saik, who both by
research and administration expertly steered the project over
the greatest part of its course and set in motion the symposia
and the research center that have developed from it. To her,
not only I, but everyone working in the field, owes a debt.
Those who know this field will recognize how deep my
intellectual obligations are to Robert Waelder, Erik Erikson,
and Heinz Lichtenstein. In a more personal but no less incisive
way, I learn something new about psychoanalysis each day I
work with my colleague Murray Schwartz. I am grateful to my

Preface xv

colleagues in the Group for Applied Psychoanalysis (Boston),
who heard an early version of these ideas, and the similar
G.A.P. in Buffalo and its parent organization, the Center for
the Psychological Study of the Arts, who have heard them
many times. I am thinking of Barry Chabot, Paul Diesing,
Murray Levine, Richard Papenhausen, Lucian Pye, Robert
Rogers, Stuart Schneiderman, Mark Shechner, Arthur Valen-
stein, Howard R. Wolf, and especially Leonard Manheim,
Bruce Mazlish and Abraham Zaleznik, with whom I have
shared the excitement of psychoanalytic discovery for lo these
many years. Their many helpful comments have guided me
through a highly complex process of re-examination and revi-
sion both of my thoughts and this book.
David Bleich has done outstanding work in this field on
which I have drawn, but I am particularly indebted to him for
his long and careful commentary on an earlier version of this
book. He enabled me to make a transition I found extremely
difficult: from a concept of reading as the reader's partaking
partially of a process completely but potentially embodied in a
text to reading as the reader's active re-creation of the text
based on the materials he finds in it (as described below in
Chapter 5).
It was after having written Chapter 8 that I came upon my
colleague, Paul Diesing's radical sorting-out, Patterns of Dis-
covery in the Social Sciences (1971),4 which includes a search-
ing and sympathetic understanding of the scientific status and
the deep assumptions and aspirations within holistic, nonex-
perimental, case-study methods like those of psychoanalysis,
literary criticism, and this book. I have added some references
to his work, but footnotes alone do justice neither to the
philosophical rigor and wisdom of his analysis nor to the
encouragement he gave me for my own.
From the very first day of this project, Joseph Masling has
magnanimously served as my psychological adviser. As it
turned out, the book departs from his rigorous criteria for
control and correlation, but it is a tribute to his educative
mixture of firmness and tolerance that I understand the losses I
am incurring by giving up experimental canons as fully as I feel
the need to do so.

xvi Preface

'That's all very hard to believe,' she said at length, 'but I
do believe you, Buck Rogers.' The words are Wilma
Deering's, but they express admirably Jane Holland's amused
patience, skepticism, and final confidence toward the "mad
scientist" who sometimes emerged from my study. Dedication
cannot express my appreciation deeply or complexly enough.
Suffice it to say, I take joy in finding that this study of relations
between people could not have gone on at all without our own.

Buffalo, N. Y.
September 1974

-* -

1 The Question: Who Reads What How?

The story was William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," and its
one description of Miss Emily as a young girl was as clear as
a description could be. The narrator, apparently one of the
townspeople, says: "We had long thought of them as a tableau,
Miss Emily a slender figure in white in the background, her
father a spraddled silhouette in the foreground, his back to her
and clutching a horsewhip, the. two of them framed by the
back-flung front door." Faulkner has pictured the Griersons as
exactly as a photographer would, but that precision quite
disappears when the description passes over into the mind
of a reader. It disappears even if the reader is as well trained
and fairly experienced as the five students of English litera-
ture who are the subjects of this book. Sam, Saul, Shep, Se-
bastian, and Sandra (as I shall call them) all spoke about this
Good-natured, easygoing, dapper Sam singled it out as virtu-
ally the first thing he wanted to talk about in the story: "The
father was very domineering. One of the most striking [sic]
images in the book is that of the townsfolk looking through the
door as her father stands there with a horsewhip in his hands,
feet spread apart and between or through him you see a picture
of Emily standing in the background, and that pretty much
sums up exactly the kind of relationship they had." Sam was
stressing the father's dominance and, in doing so, was position-
ing the townspeople so that they could see Emily between her
father's legs.
This was part of what he found highly romantic in the story.
'.'The frailty and femininity that that evokes!" he sighed. "Just
that one frail, 'slender figure in white,' just those words there
really show us the Emily that was and the Emily that might
have been." Yet, almost at the same moment he was respond-
ing to this lacy, feminine Emily, he could say, "The word
'tableau' is important. While they [the townspeople] may be

2 5 Readers Reading

envious and while they may be angry at the way that these
people act, they yet need it, it seems, they in a way like to have
it, much as one is terrified at the power of a god and yet
needing him so much and, you know, sidling up to him and
paying homage to him and in the same way I think Emily
comes to function as this god symbol." A curious turnabout
from frailty and femininity.
By contrast, Saul, a scholarly type, was circumspect. Sam,
in his expansive way, trusted his memory, but Saul, when I
asked him about that image, took out his copy of the story and
read it over carefully to himself. "Ummm. I had remembered
the word 'tableau,' and I had forgotten the rest of it. 'Horse-
whip' there- rings- 'spraddled silhouette.' That seems right
to me. That summarizes the relationship, I think. She's in the
back in white, of course. I think of these white gowns in the
plantation balls. The father a 'spraddled silhouette.' He's no
longer stern and erect. He's spraddled across the door." Saul
was seeing Emily's father exactly the opposite way from Sam,
as a weakened, sprawled figure, at least until he read over to
himself the sentence with the horsewhip in it again. "A horse-
whip suggesting all sorts of nasty, sexual, sadistic overtones,"
but then he blurred that image. "Do they mean the horsewhip
rather than his own stern demeanor? Or just the normal embod-
iment of his traditions suggests the decline like 'spraddled'
does? And then 'framed by the back-flung front door' just
completes the tableau. It's a nice device. Faulkner makes that
one work, too. That's a nice emblem." Well, maybe so, but
Saul had so divided it up and dissolved it into questions and
alternatives as to leave me quite puzzled about what he
thought the thrust of the image finally was.
Shep presented himself as a rebel and radical, but his reading
of the tableau seemed to me no more original or idiosyncratic
than Saul's or Sam's. I read the passage to him, and he
commented simply, "O.K. Protective image. That he's defend-
ing Southern womanhood, perhaps, and defending it in that
same sort of mindless way that says, 'Well, now, we've got to
defend it.' He went on to decide that Southern womanhood
might well have defended itself and then to make a suggestion
quite opposite to "protective image." "You could, I suppose,

The Question: Who Reads What How? 3

as an alternative interpretation say that the horsewhip is some-
thing which he's also adept with indoors as well as outdoors,
but I don't think so. Maybe there's overtones that Daddy is
sadistic enough--horsewhips being pretty sadistic things to
carry around when you're greeting people, you know-that
Daddy is sadistic enough where he wouldn't mind taking a belt
at Emily once in a while, but I don't think they're much more
than overtones." In talking about the tableau as such, he talked
only about Emily's father, and in this curiously alternative or
opposed way. Earlier he had recalled Emily as a young woman
(and the tableau is the only place she is so described): "I can
see her as a very good-looking, dark-haired girl who had a
penchant for wearing dark clothes." Again, I sense in his
substituting dark for white a will opposing the text, although at
the same time, Shep said he liked this story very much.
Sophisticated, sardonic, somewhat cynical, a lapsed Catholic
with aspirations toward aristocracy, Sebastian did not discuss
the tableau as such, although he clearly remembered it in
typing Emily as "the aristocrat of the Southern town, whose
father is the original superego with a horsewhip, beating off
suitors." "He's denying her access to suitable sexual part-
ners." Often, Sebastian tended to distance and type the charac-
ters this way and to flirt with the actual, physical details. Here
he saw Miss Emily as "the aristocrat," her father as "the
original superego," but converted the "suitors" to "sexual
Sandra, the fifth reader, was a tall, very attractive woman,
gentle and subdued in her manner. She liked the story in-
tensely, had read it several times, and had even, in her fresh-
man year, written a term paper on it. Yet she recalled the
tableau oddly: "They said they always had this picture of him
standing, you know, sitting in the door with a whip in his
hand." As for Emily, "I see her as very young and dressed in
white and standing up, I guess she's supposed to be standing up
behind her father, who would probably be looking very cross,
say, if someone had come to call on her. No doubt, she would
have a certain amount-- Possibly fearful, but probably more
regretful because she's being, they even say, robbed of some-
thing at that point. There would be a great amount of strain

4 5 Readers Reading

on her face because of her inability to do anything except just
watch." Sandra saw the emotional overtones in the tableau in a
more subtle, empathic way than the four male readers did, so
that she, too, had her own version of the image.
Indeed, one can say that each of the readers had a different
version of Emily and her father. He was standing, sitting; erect,
sprawled; domineering, weakened; sadistic, protective, and so
on-sometimes even to the same reader. Emily was dressed in
white, as for a plantation ball, or black; frail, but godlike;
fearful, but "the aristocrat." Some of these differences involve
outright misreadings, but most do not. Conceivably, one could
"teach" or coerce these five readers into consensus, but even
so, whatever in each person's character originally colored his
perception of the tableau would go on coloring his perception
of every other element in the story. What is that something,
that ineffable effect of personality on perception? That is the
issue this book explores.
As the late Stanley Edgar Hyman once said, "Each reader
poems his own poem." Yet we know very little-practically
nothing--about such "poeming," about the way a reader re-
creates the literary experience in himself. Today's literary
critics are expert in pointing out an essence for any literary
work. Today's psychologists-particularly the psychoanalytic
psychologists-are equally adept at conceptualizing the essen-
tial dynamics of individuals. Yet we do not know how literature
and readers interact.
We can find out, if you and I apply to what Sam and the
other readers said, a combination of the close reading literary
critics have so skillfully developed in the last decades and
psychological methods of reading from language to personality.
We shall move slowly-sometimes we shall seem to go word by
word-but once we have put psychoanalytic interpretation
together with the literary critic's, we shall have established four
principles that account for the way readers read to fit their
As of now, however, in the words of a recent book on the
problem of literary response, "We know almost nothing about
the process of reading and the interaction of man and book."1
In a manner all too common in the world of belles-lettres,

The Question: Who Reads What How? 5

however, the "almost nothing" we know tends to become
complexity piled upon complexity, language explained by more
language, authorities resting on other authorities-a splendid
disguise of abstractions much like the emperor's new clothes.
"Scholars and critics," Walter Slatoff writes, "who would
distinguish carefully between various sorts of Neo-Platonism,
or examine in minute detail the structure of a chapter or the
transmutations of a prevailing metaphor, or trace the full
nuances of a topical allusion, will settle happily for mere labels
like distance, involvement, identification,"2 labels that not only
suffer from vagueness but deceive, creating the illusion that
they refer to some real reaction people in fact shared and the
critic in fact observed.
This tradition--assuming a uniform response on the part of
readers and audiences that the critic somehow knows and
understands--goes back to Aristotle's concept of catharsis, and
his notions about people's apparently fixed responses to details
of wording. Or this tradition might even have originated in
Plato's assertion that poetry debilitates. Although the Greeks
observed the phenomena that they ascribed to audiences better
than later theorists, the tradition flourished after them, reaching
a peak with the "rules" of the lesser neoclassical critics. Early
psychoanalytic writers on literature followed, rather uncriti-
cally, this collectivist view from the litterateurs. Thus we find
Otto Rank defending his oedipal interpretations of myths be-
cause, "The people imagine the hero in this manner, investing
him with their own infantile fantasies."3 Freud himself as-
sumed a collective response to Oedipus Rex in the letter of
October 15, 1897, in which he reported to his confidant Fliess,
"I have found love of the mother and jealousy of the father in
my own case too, and now believe it to be a general phenome-
non of early childhood." "If that is the case, the gripping
power of Oedipus Rex, in spite of all the rational objections
to the inexorable fate that the story presupposes, becomes in-
telligible." "Every member of the audience was once a bud-
ding Oedipus in phantasy, and this dream-fulfillment played out
in reality causes everyone to recoil in horror, with the full
measure of repression which separates his infantile from his
present state."''4

6 5 Readers Reading

Everyone recoils? Freud himself avoided this fallacy when he
studied jokes as a kind of miniliterature; they have a "frame"
and a text with especially sensitive formal balances and a
response. What would one think of a theory of jokes that
always concluded, "and so you laugh" or "and so you don't
laugh," regardless of whether you did or didn't in fact laugh?
After all, someone might have heard the joke before; someone
else might be depressed; a third person might have no sense of
humor, and so on. Indeed, responses to jokes are so various
that, for a time, researchers (at Yale) were exploring a "mirth
response test," trying to sort personality types by observing
which cartoons they found funny.5 Should we then postulate
that responses to tragedy, something so infinitely more subtle
than a cartoon, are fixed? No, and for some decades now we
have, in fact, known the contrary.
It was in the 1920s that I. A. Richards asked his Cambridge
undergraduates for the protocols that led to his ground-
breaking Practical Criticism.6 He asked his students "to com-
ment freely in writing on" a series of poems, their authorship
undisclosed. Richards found that these supposedly well-
educated young Englishmen were evaluating very strangely
indeed, misreading the plain sense of the poems, imposing
cranky sets of preconceptions, responding in terms of stock
sentimentalities, cynicisms, and other doctrines, as well as
(perhaps) irrelevant memories. Richards, let us notice, was
exploring his reader's conscious, verbalized responses to litera-
ture. Interested in education, he tended to concentrate on those
parts of literary response that could be taught, and,.indeed, his
analysis of misreadings helped to reform, root and branch, the
teaching of literature over the next four decades. Today, even
among schoolchildren, one finds more sophisticated reading
than Richards found among his jazz-age Cantabrigians.7
One would expect the giant entertainment corporations, with
millions riding on each reel of celluloid, to have studied re-
sponse far more carefully than impoverished English teachers
could. But the published research in this field remains rather
elementary.8 There are many studies of effect, but they move
casually back and forth between the transfer of information, the
fulfillment of individuals' needs (for example, to escape), the

The Question: Who Reads What How? 7

impact on morality (typically delinquency), and immediate re-
actions of "like" and "dislike." Indeed, the industry has de-
veloped machines-the Lazarsfeld-Stanton program analyzer,
the Cirlin Reactograph-with which an audience can indicate
its fluctuating likes, dislikes, and indifferences. Of course,
such a device cannot sort out variables-one cannot tell, for
example, whether a member of the audience is disliking the
whole movie or just the "bad guy" in it. In general, this one-
dimensional quality carries over to the analysis of the content
of films. The most sophisticated scheme I have seen only gets
to issues like "Main story type," that is, "Is it a Western or
a gangster movie?", "Marital status and changes of leads A,
B, and C," "Sports (type and prominence)," or "Importance
of part and characterization of unskilled labor." I understand
that much research in this field is kept secret because of its
commercial value. If what has been published is an accurate
sample, there would seem to be little reason to do so.
Such simple categories show that a study of audience re-
sponse demands at least one thing: some sensibly subtle way of
analyzing the texts, both the text the artist creates and the text
of what the audience says. I. A. Richards had that, with his
marvelous sense of language, but his experience showed a
second tool one must have to understand audiences. Without a
psychology adequate to explain individual responses, one does
not know what to do with them except pass judgment on them.
"We rarely concern ourselves, for example," says Walter
Slatoff, surveying the post-Richards critical scene, "with the
problem of individual differences among readers. ... On the
few occasions we do entertain such questions we speak as
though they were settled by reducing response to two
categories-appropriate and inappropriate."9 Thus, although
Richards avowed a concern to maintain differences of opinion,
he shifted the problem of evaluating poems to a much harsher
dogmatism: passing judgment on "the relative values of differ-
ent states of mind, about varying forms, and degrees, of order
in the personality."10
Had Richards had a usable psychology of individuals, he
would have been able, presumably, to see how his protocols
were reflecting personality at all levels, not just the teachable

8 5 Readers Reading

surface of consciousness. Indeed, David Bleich has recently
done just that: shown how some of Richards's protocols reveal
the unconscious themes his Cantabrigians were projecting into
the texts as part of their response.11 "It has become a matter of
course that any item of human behavior shows a continuum of
dynamic meaning, reaching from the surface through many
layers of crust to the 'core' "-thus, Erik Erikson," articulat-
ing with his customary eloquence one of the most basic and
widely confirmed of psychoanalytic discoveries. Freud's ear-
liest case histories showed it and so did this morning's experi-
ence in hundreds of clinics and consulting-rooms. I know, for
example, how the style and subject and method of this book
stem from very early experiences of my own and my whole
present character, including various half-conscious wishes and
fears. Although these unconscious and infantile sources are by
no means the only ones, if so conscious an act as writing an
experimental and theoretical book has strong buried compo-
nents, I find it hard to believe that responding to a play, a
movie, or a poem does not. And, of course, it does.
As the remainder of this book will show, readers respond to
literature in terms of their own "lifestyle" (or "character" or
"personality". or "identity"). By such terms, psychoanalytic
writers mean an individual's characteristic way of dealing with
the demands of outer and inner reality. Such a style will have
grown through time from earliest infancy. It will also be what
the individual brings with him to any new experience, including
the experience of literature. Each new experience develops the
style, while the pre-existing style shapes each new experience.
And this style can be described quite accurately (but not, of
course, impersonally).
In short, psychoanalysis offers a powerful theory of indi-
vidual responses to literature, and it has done so ever since
Freud's 1905 study of jokes. (Interestingly, in that very early
study, he also showed how social and economic factors would
affect the pattern of inhibitions an individual brought to a joke
and so affect his responses, but indirectly, as they filtered
through his personality.) Other writers have extended this first
psychoanalytic aesthetics, Freud's theory of jokes, to other
genres and to literature generally.'"

The Question: Who Reads What How? 9

For the most part, however, psychoanalytic students of
literature, like conventional literary critics, have looked not at
the actual individual reading but at the text, the words-on-the-
page. Then they have posited a response on the basis of the
text. Thus, paradoxically, the psychology that more than any
other deals closely and intensely with individuals-psycho-
analytic psychology-has in this instance retreated from the
living human being, the spirit, if you will, to the letter.
By contras*, conventional psychological literature offers
hundreds of studies that deal with actual readers but that suffer
from a lack of theory."4 For example, physiological studies tell
how heart rate, the electrical resistance of the palm of the
hand, or its sweat pattern, vary as subjects watch a movie.
Indeed, an Italian experiment even investigated the differing
ways identical and fraternal twins fidgeted!" But I find it hard
to believe a single variable such as pulse rate or fidget fre-
quency could represent a complex, multivariant transaction like
a response to a film.
Other studies resort to personality tests, but I think it is not
much of an improvement over the physiological approach to be
able to say that reading gruesome passages from Edgar Allan
Poe increases the anxious and aggressive responses to inkblots.
Much closer to the method of this book is the study in which
judges were able to match viewers' open-ended comments on a
movie to their Rorschach responses. Again, however, the ex-
periment merely shows the correlation; it does not suggest an
underlying mechanism, only that "individual differences in the
perception of a motion picture are a function of global aspects
of personality as elicited by the Rorschach."'" Different per-
sonality tests lead to similarly vague conclusions: "Movie
attendance is related in some instances to the central aspects of
personality." A child's choices among stories "cohere with
other observable characteristics of his personality."'' Other
studies claim to have. shown that men watch the men in movies
more than women do; that boys prefer adventure stories, while
girls prefer stories about love, private life, and glamor; that
children who are already pretty aggressive identify with differ-
ent characters in a Western according to the degree of their
pre-existing aggression, their sex, and the ending of the film.'8

10 5 Readers Reading

No doubt, these studies (and hundreds more like them) follow
out admirably the canons of experimental rigor. As a continu-
ing line of research, however, they end most inconclusively, to
judge, if nothing else, by the number of experimenters who turn
to the same old issues over and over again. Instead of coherent
research, one finds random observations. What these studies
may have gained in rigor they certainly lack in theory.
One returns then to literary and psychoanalytic studies, weak
in experiment but strong on theory. Not always, of course. I do
not feel that my understanding of the differences in readers'
responses is advanced by a literary critic's introducing an
"informed reader" with (also italicized) "literary competence"
or even a more generalized "reading self," who (or that) is
roughly the critic's age, shares his ethnic background, "has
experienced war, marriage, and the responsibility of children,"
and so on.1' Some statements about response by literary and
psychoanalytic folk do add more rigor and theory than these;
some do suggest pervasive links between, on the one hand, the
reader's personality (in depth) and his conscious reading skill
and, on the other, his response.- I am thinking of Morse
Peckham's explanation of the effect of one's past aesthetic
experiences on response, a theory supported by very detailed
analyses from a variety of arts and corresponding to
psychoanalytic notions of the role of the ego in art.20 Similarly,
child therapists like Lilli Peller and Kate Friedlaender have
shown how children's stories reflect at a conscious level the
child's unconscious fantasies, and therefore how the age ap-
propriate to the fantasy determines the age at which a child will

like the story. They, too, are showing
combining the detailed analysis of a
analysis of the response.'1
Such studies, in effect, deal witl
Psychoanalysis, however, is par exc<
human individuality (if there can be a
ness), and we would expect it to be

literary response when i
must then necessarily
example, a group of
hospitalized psychiatric

it speaks
give up

a theoretical basis for
story with the depth

h classes of readers.
ellence the science of
" 'science" of unique-
most interesting about

about individuals. However, it
repeatable experiments. For
nters, in projecting films for
, found that the viewers inter-

The Question: Who Reads What How? 11

posed their individual defensive patterns between themselves
and the film to keep the affect something they could tolerate.
Hence, one could not assume that any given film would neces-
sarily arouse certain feelings. Similarly, in an example of
"poetry therapy," David V. Forrest showed how disturbed
patients responded to the well-known lyric, "Western wind,
when wilt thou blow," in terms of their several personality
types, paranoid, schizoid, hysteric, and so on.22 These papers
suggest structures relating personality to response (through
defense mechanisms or diagnostic categories that combine de-
fense and level of fixation). They do not, however, take the
further step: going beyond types and categories to examine the
work of art, the response, and the responder in detail.
One often finds analyses of the individual (but not the work)
in case histories. Avery Weisman, for example, describes a
rigid, obsessional man who could not face a sea captain's loss
of authority in a movie and left the theater before the film's
end. The whole setting--other patrons, streets, bodily
sensations-seemed unreal to him: he had dealt with his guilt
and anxiety by separating his intellectual processes of reality-
testing from his conventional, pleasurable attachment to the
dream world of the film. Edith Buxbaum, in a famous case,
tells of a boy compulsively driven to read detective stories
almost to the exclusion of any other activity. He was satisfying
his aggressive wishes toward his mother by allying himself with
the murderer. At the same time, he assuaged his guilt by feeling
like the victim and also the detective. Thus his symptom served
both defense and the gratification of instincts, and he became
locked into it. Still more tragic was the patient of Gilbert J.
Rose who committed suicide after witnessing a performance of
Duerrenmatt's The Visit: he, like the hero of the play, felt
himself the victim of a fantastically powerful bitch-goddess.23
Caroline Shrodes, however, has studied individual students'
responses to particular literary works on the assumption that
literary experience matches the therapeutic process: from
identification and interaction with the work, to emotional
catharsis, to insight into one's particular conflicts and rela-
tionships.24 Less clinically, David Bleich in a growing series
of moving and perceptive essays has analyzed the responses

12 5 Readers Reading

of ordinary readers, students usually, in order to elicit the
unconscious themes of the text. In other words, he reverses the
usual assumption of critics, that by analyzing the text one can
understand the response; rather, he argues, by analyzing what
readers find in it, one comes to understand the text." And he is
right to do so. To analyze the text in formal isolation as so
many "words-on-a-page" (in the old formula of the New Criti-
cism) is a highly artificial procedure. A literary text, after all, in
an objective sense consists only of a certain configuration of
specks of carbon black on dried wood pulp. When these marks
become words, when those words become images or metaphors
or characters or events, they do so because the reader plays the
part of a prince to the sleeping beauty. He gives them life out of
his own desires. When he does so, he brings his lifestyle to
bear on the work. He mingles his unconscious loves and fears
and adaptations with the words and images he synthesizes at a
conscious level.
It is, therefore, quite impossible to say from a text alone how
people will respond to it. Only after we have understood how
Some specific individual responds, how the different parts of his
individual personality re-create the different details of the text,
can we begin to formulate general hypotheses about the way
many or all readers respond. Only then-if then.
At the same time, however, the reader is surely responding
to something. The literary text may be only so many marks on
a page-at most a matrix of psychological possibilities for its
readers. Nevertheless only some possibilities, we would say,
truly fit the matrix. One would not say, for example, that a
reader of that sentence from "A Rose for Emily" who thought
the "tableau" described an Eskimo was really responding to
the story at all-only pursuing some mysterious inner explora-
tion. In the basic question of this book, "Who reads what
how?", there must be a "what," and our next task is to find
out what it is.

2 What? "A Rose for Emily," For Example

The Model of a Literary Work

In "Who reads what how?", the "what" has so far seemed
little more than a shimmering of possibilities, a pre-text for the
reader's creativity. The work begins in the psychological
dynamics of its author, and the act of creating it fulfills those
processes--for him. The work finds its fulfillment, so to speak,
when a reader gives it life by re-creating the work in his own
mind. The text as such almost vanishes in the astonishing
variability of different readers' re-creation of it.
Typically, the dynamics in any given reader's mind will not
coincide with the author's processes, nor will one reader's
experience match another's, and even the same reader, we
shall see, will respond differently at different times in his life.
To be sure, professional critics often write as though they were
establishing a "correct" reading, but the fact is that critics
themselves disagree more than they agree. Evidently, there-
fore, one cannot posit even for highly trained readers a "cor-
rect" response in any given reader's mind to something
definitively "in" the text. We can only understand what a
particular reader has experienced after he has experienced it
and put forth his re-creation and synthesis beyond his own
private mind.
We can, however, set out what readers do in general and we
can specify that with some certitude. More than two millennia
ago, Aristotle pointed out that one thing audiences do is try to
find a unity in what they see, a central theme or meaning or
idea around which the various details of the play or story come
to a focus. It is a time-proven idea of literary unity or expli-
cation that says, if such a formulation is correct, one can in-
terrelate through it each episode, each trait, even each detail
of phrasing in a literary work. As a standard handbook of cri-
tical methods puts it, once one has "identified the [central]

5 Readers Reading


"the structural principle" of the literary work, one

can "see the whole design of the work as a unity," as "a
simultaneous pattern radiating out from a center."1
Stories, of course, do not present unities-only so many
marks on a page. It is readers who provide the unity, and
apparently for two reasons. There seems to be built into the
mind a press toward unity. Freud, for example, remarks that
"many experiences" lead him "to assert that the dream-work
is under some kind of necessity to combine all the sources
which have acted as stimuli for the dream into a single unity in
the dream itself."''2
Further, readers seem to need such a centering, although
they vary, of course, in the degree to which they feel such a
need. I happen to be the kind of person who wants a sense of
unity very intensely, while others are content with much more
easy-going explications. But all readers need to "make sense"
of a text to some extent. Otherwise they complain of obscurity
and express varying degrees of discomfort and anxiety. Evi-

dently, then, the organic unity in literary works, which
a unity people create for the work in their own min
some kind of defensive purpose for the reader. "1
that is, the act of making sense of a text, works as
against some source of anxiety.3
Each reader, therefore, will search out a unifying
matches his particular needs for sense and logic.
reader might see Hamlet as centering on the idea
imperfection or failure, another as "about" the (
between symbolic and real actions, still another
around an act of sacramental violence, and so on. Re
press into service a great variety of ideas-moral,
ligious, or philosophical-to yield the classes and

h is really
ds, serves
a defense

;idea that
Thus, one
of human
as unified
:aders will
social, re-

into which they feel comfortable grouping the separate details
of the work. And, of course, some readers have used psy-
chological and psychoanalytic ideas-it is no accident that I
mentioned Hamlet, the ur-example of psychoanalytic literary
Freud found love of the mother and jealousy of the father
first in his patients, then in himself, and then he was struck to
find them in Hamlet and Oedipus Rex. Seventy-five years later,

What? "A Rose for Emily" 15

we are no longer surprised. We have by this time inferred
psychoanalytic ideas from hundreds upon hundreds of works.
Only the most naive of psychoanalytic readers of literature,
however, would claim that oedipal fantasies have the same
status as "meaning" that more conventional interpretations
have. It is one thing to say Hamlet illustrates Goethe's dark
maxim that to act is to sin or the great Aeschylean theme of
learning through suffering. It is quite another to say Hamlet
is "about" the parting and coming together of father, son, and
mother. Our feelings toward mothers and fathers come deeper
than and prior to the ideas of Goethe or Aeschylus. They are
prior because they come earlier in life. In adults one sees
mostly derivatives of such early imaginings, rarely the fan-
tasies themselves. They are deeper in the sense that, in most
adults, such fantasies tend to be unconscious, closer to the
roots of personality in the body than to more consciously in-
tellectual ideas.
Stories usually do not present infantile fantasies as such.
Rather we infer fantasies from stories on the basis of what we
know from clinical experience. For example, we can infer from
almost any Hemingway story its author's painful imaginings
about threats to the visible, physical sign of a man's virility,
fantasies all too familiar in American psychoanalytic experi-
ence. We can deduce from almost any Fitzgerald story his
equally common and vexing fears about unappeasable hungers
that can only be satisfied by unreachable women or unattain-
able sources of .riches. Hemingway did not write about penises
as such (at least not often), but he did write about risking one's
manliness, and his fiction abounds in such visibly virile ac-
tivities as hunting, fishing, bullfighting, and soldiering. Simi-
larly, Fitzgerald rarely talked explicitly about mothers who
frustrate, but he wrote story after story about immensely
powerful sources of riches, success, love, or admiration that
eventually let you down. What we know about human psychol-
ogy tells us that these fantasies about one's body and one's
parents are likely to be unconscious and primitive, while ideas
about wealth or manliness are likely to be the adult, conscious
transforms of those early fantasies.
Thus-and this is surely a commonplace after seventy-five

16 5 Readers Reading

years of psychoanalytic studies in the field-writers create by
transforming unconscious wishes from childhood. Most people
who are not creative writers know this transformational pro-
cess best through dreams. Freud notes:
Dreams frequently seem to have more than one meaning.
Not only, as our examples have shown, may they include
several wish-fulfillments one alongside the other; but a suc-
cession of meanings or wish-fulfillments may be superim-
posed on one another, the bottom one being the fulfillment of
a wish dating from earliest childhood. And here again the
question arises whether it might not be more correct to assert
that this occurs "invariably" rather than "frequently."4
Just as all people (not just writers or readers) have a press or
tendency to form unities, they also have a tendency to trans-
form primitive, infantile fantasies toward adult themes. And
both writers and readers use stories to do this.
The reader uses the literary work to create in himself a
dynamic psychological process that transforms raw fantasy
materials to conscious significance. In this process, he makes
use of two basic agents of transformation. One is the press
toward theme and meaning, a transformation analogous to
sublimation or symbolization in everyday life. Thus getting rich
may come to symbolize for him getting the power to win the
unattainable Fitzgerald heroine. He may represent in his mind
achievements with the visible, physical emblem of manliness
by fishing, hunting, bullfighting, soldiering, and the other virile
activities that permeate Hemingway's fiction.
The other agent of transformation (besides the process of
meaning) is that catchall of aesthetic notions, form. Critics
define form in its broadest sense as "all devices that structure
content," but, of course, texts do not structure content-
people do. Formal devices become part of the reading experi-
ence only as they become part of the reader's devices. If the
process of meaning resembles a reader's sublimating, in using
forms he looks as though he were using strategies from a
more general set of defense mechanisms: putting dangers
from inside outside or from outside inside, refusing to ac-
knowledge them, trying to undo them magically, and so on.

What? "A Rose for Emily" 17

In Hamlet, for example, I discover an elaborate set of dou-
blings and splitting that divide my various feelings toward a
father among several father-figures: Hamlet's dead father,
Hamlet's remembered father, Hamlet's father as ghost, Ham-
let's stepfather, Polonius, Old Fortinbras, or the Player King.
My feelings toward women divide between earthy Gertrude
and virginal Ophelia. I find Hamlet's attitudes toward fathers
mirrored by the subplot around Laertes. In short, when I ex-
perience Hamlet, I feel the unified cluster of my ideas about
parents and rivals transformed by being split up: I have purer,
stronger feelings because they are isolated toward different
characters and events.
In its most general terms, then, this model of literature as
transformation suggests that the inanimate literary work is not
that, not a work in itself, but the occasion for some person's
work (in the sense we give the word when we speak of the
"dream-work" or creative "work"). That is, a reader, as he
synthesizes and re-creates a piece of literature, works; he
transforms his own fantasies (of a kind that would ordinarily be
unconscious) into the conscious social, moral, and intellectual
meanings he finds by "interpreting" the work. When I experi-
ence Hamlet, for example, splitting familiar fantasies of love
and hate toward fathers and mothers, I also find in the play
generalized intellectual themes about the way thought and
action split and work against each other. In almost any
Hemingway story, I find my fantasies about the dangers of
being helpless and unmanned transformed into a manly ethic of
playing the game bravely and fairly in the face of inevitable
loss--a loss I also feel in Hemingway's depressing plots and the
way his reticent language withholds from me. In Fitzgerald's
works, I sense another kind of loss, breathless, over-romantic
exaggerations of language (as well as his depleting finales) from
which I get a feeling of utopias undone, riches made unbelieva-
ble, feelings derived, in my mind anyway, from longings toward
a parental source of well-being.
Once we have recognized that literary works provide the
opportunity for psychological processes in the reader analogous
both to the writer's original act of creation and to sublimations
and other defenses familiar from couch or clinic or, for that

18 5 Readers Reading

matter, everyday life in and around us, we are in a position to
investigate response. We can begin to see how each reader
creates from the literary work a psychological process in him-
self. We say we get absorbed in the act of reading or watching a
film or play, but to speak of being "absorbed" by a book puts
the metaphor the wrong way round. It is not the book that
absorbs us; it is we who absorb the book. It is we who
"devour" novels, who have a "taste" for science fiction, who
are "insatiable" or "voracious" readers, who "take in"
movies, who are "addicted" to murder mysteries or "sated"
with academic novels, who find some writers a "treat" but end
up being "fed pap" by "the tube."
As these figures of speech suggest, we enjoy literary works
in a mode derived from our most primitive experience of grat-
ified desire, that stage in earliest infancy when we feel at one
with the nurturing mother who satisfies our hunger. We also
speak of "losing oneself" in a book or becoming "at one with
the work of art" or being taken "out of oneself." These fa-
miliar metaphors suggest a loss of self-consciousness or of a
sense of one's own identity that also derives, ultimately, from
that same at-oneness and merger with the earliest source of
"The work lives its own life within me," says Georges
Poulet; "in a certain sense, it thinks itself, and it even gives
itself a meaning within me." "Everything happens as
though from the moment I become a prey [sic] to what I read,
I begin to share the use of my consciousness with this being
. who is the conscious subject ensconced at the heart of
the work. He and I, we start having a common conscious-
ness." "When a man is 'absorbed' or 'immersed' in a story,"
writes Robert Gorham Davis, "the work... is thinking him.
His ego has become object, not subject." "Let us observe
ourselves," says Ortega y Gasset, "at the moment we finish
reading a great novel." "An instant ago we found ourselves
in [its place] with [its people], we were living with them, im-
mersed in their air, their space, their time. Now suddenly
without any intermission we find ourselves in our chamber,
in our city, in our date."5
Probably the most exact adult analogy to this state of mind

What? "A Rose for Emily" 19

derives from hypnosis. The hypnotist's subject sets up a sub-
system within his ego answering to the hypnotist much the way
a reader uses a literary work to set up a process of transforma-
tion from it in his own mind. One can think of a kind of "core"
in the reader's ego that is regressed to primitive, magical
thinking (primary process, in technical terms) based on the
fusions of infant feeding. Surrounding this "core" is a "rind"
of unregressed ego. The "core" contains the process of trans-
formation that is the literary "work" as performed by the
reader. Meanwhile, the "rind" sustains that work by such
"higher" ego-activities as putting letters together to form
words, remembering what has gone before and anticipating
what will come next, synthesizing characters and events, and,
most importantly, analogizing from the reader's own experi-
ence to the people and episodes of the literary work.
This model-the reader experiencing the work as a transfor-
mation within himself of unconscious fantasy materials through
form and meaning-comes from The Dynamics of Literary
Response. It appears here much as it did in my earlier book,
but with an important change in emphasis, something I have
slowly learned from listening to what real readers say about
their reading. I often spoke in Dynamics as though these
fantasies and their transformations were embodied in the liter-
ary work, as though the work itself acted like a mind. This, of
course, is no more than a useful fiction and maybe less. A
fiction certainly. Useful? I now think not.
Processes like the transformation of fantasy materials
through defenses and adaptations take place in people, not in
texts. They require a mind, either the writer's or the reader's.
As Proust wisely said,
In reality, each reader reads only what is already within
himself. The book is only a sort of optical instrument which
the writer offers to the reader to enable the latter to discover
in himself what he would not have found but for the aid of
the book.6
Proust's mot, like this whole model, tries to be universal and
succeeds in being abstract. To make the model more tangible,
to discover the "what" in "Who reads what how?," we can

20 5 Readers Reading

turn to a specific story, one that these five readers read. You
have already seen one tiny part of their response, their com-
ments on the "tableau" of Miss Emily and her father. Later, in
Chapter 6, we shall see much more. At this point, however, I
would like simply to show what a story looks like when
understood by means of this transformational model. To do
that, let us take Proust's counsel and look at what the story
becomes in the mind of a sixth reader-me.

The Story: Themes

Evidently, a good many readers like what I like in "A Rose for
Emily"-Faulkner' s 1931 gothic vignette may be the single
most popular short story in America. Anthologies by the doz-
ens include it, as do textbooks and literature courses, while
among the hundreds of teachers who must have taught this
very short short story, at least twenty have published formal
explications, developing social, moral, and intellectual themes
from its details. Yet such conscious themes make up just the tip
of the iceberg. Critics and teachers can use the story to achieve
adult themes only because they also can use it to match
defenses and adaptations and fantasies in themselves that reach
back to the most primitive layers of their minds.
For me, the story's appeal comes from watching the artful
way Faulkner "leaks" the final dreadful secret bit by intriguing
bit. He begins with Miss Emily's death and the innocent
narrator's recalling how the whole town went to the funeral of
the old recluse who had shut herself away for many years in a
decaying house on a deteriorating street. The teller of the tale
goes on to a series of reminiscences: old Colonel Sartoris had
remitted her taxes in 1894, and when the next generation tried
to collect them, she faced them down. There had been a
mysterious smell about her house that the town fathers had
been too courteous to mention to her. Her father had chased
suitors away with a horsewhip (in the "tableau" our five
readers responded to so varyingly). Then, when he died, she
had refused for three days to admit he was dead or to let the
body be removed. She took up with Homer Barron, a North-
erner and a day laborer, while the town speculated and gos-

What? "A Rose for Emily" 21

siped about their affair or engagement. Miss Emily stared the
druggist down when he tried to get her to comply with the law
requiring her to say why she wanted arsenic. She bought a
toilet set for a bridal present, but then Homer Barron disap-
peared and Miss Emily became a gray-haired recluse, living by
teaching china-painting to the children of the town aristocracy,
never leaving her house, tended only by an old Negro cook and
gardener. Finally, she died and, once she was buried, the men
of the town found a sealed upstairs room all decked out in rose,
as if for a wedding-night, then, on the bed, the rotted corpse of
the poisoned lover, finally in an indentation on the pillow
beside him, "a long strand of iron-gray hair." And even know-
ing it is coming, I gasp at the appalling rightness of that final
Except for a few quibbles about the final clue as to when or
how long Emily slept with the corpse of her lover,7 a question
that I think cannot be finally settled, one can safely say there is
considerable consensus about the basic contrast in the story.8
To be sure, different critics accent different forms of that
contrast-I see three alternative ways of stating it: social,
philosophical, and (less clearly) mythic.
Most critics speak of the tension in the story as social,
between the South and the North, the old and the new, the
traditional and the traditionless, and the gentility as against the
middle or lower classes.9 As Irving Howe says, however, to
take the story as dealing just with the decadent South (rep-
resented by Miss Emily) and the uncultured North (Homer
Barron) is to make it trivial. He finds instead a larger parable
about the decay of human sensibility from false gentility to
genteel perversion.10
If so, I would generalize the story still further as a break-
down of controls. Repressive rules give rise to violence," and
society itself becomes so weak it cannot enforce its laws and
principles. Emily can withhold taxes, refuse to give the druggist
her reasons for buying poison, or keep a public nuisance (the
smell). Finally, she can commit and get away with murder--her
final attack on society's laws and taboos, which society ac-
cepts. Yet, as Austin Wright points out, Emily does not simply
reject society: the bridal decorations and the murder itself

22 5 Readers Reading

reveal a deep and lonely longing for marriage, which is a social
institution.'2 Such a view matches Faulkner's own statement
that it is a story "of a poor tragic human being struggling with
its own heart, with others, with its environment, for the simple
things which all human beings want."13
Other critics press these social readings of the story toward
more philosophical issues. Ray B. West14 sees the subject of
the story as a man's relation to time, the past as represented by
Miss Emily and her father and the present depicted through the
unnamed narrator and "the next generation with its more
modern ideas." Emily attempts, he says, "almost by force of
will alone, to halt the natural process of decay and death."
Thus, West finds (as I do) the center of the story in its
statement: "With nothing left, she would have to cling to that
which had robbed her, as people will."
West supplies an essentially psychological concept to unify
Miss Emily's actions: denial, the defense mechanism that con-
sists of the ego's refusing to perceive what it cannot tolerate.
By clinging to the old (the very thing that had robbed her), Miss
Emily denies the existence of what is new and painful: the
deaths of her father and Colonel Sartoris, the authority of the
new town officers--ultimately, "she denies Time, even to the
point of ignoring .. Death." "Emily pretends that it, like the
sheriff's tax bill, does not exist." Similarly, she refuses to
comply "with the requirements of the law, because for her they
did not exist."
Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren in their justly
famous textbook take the idea of denial even further: "Miss
Emily is one of those persons for whom the distinction
between reality and illusion has blurred out." The dead lover
seems still alive to her because she has lost "the distinction
between illusion and reality, between life and death."'5 A
denial of normal emotions, notes William Van O'Connor, in-
vites a retreat into fantasy. Thus, one can see change or, more
exactly, the denial of change as the story's central issue. As C.
W. M. Johnson states the theme: "If one resists change, he
must love and live with death."16
With that remark, I can put together the social ways critics
have accented the story with the philosophical (or psycholog-

What? "A Rose for Emily" 23

ical) interpretations to make a transition to a third kind
of reading. Miss Emily, by acting out social, moral, and
metaphysical denials, comes to symbolize the entire social
context of conservatism in the South; she becomes, in short,
the mythic emblem for the whole community and perhaps all
mankind. From this point of view, the descriptions of Emily as
an "idol," a church angel, and a "monument" take on special
force, and Emily, in O'Connor's phrase, becomes "the mystery
itself." Brooks and Warren call her "a combination of idol and
scapegoat for the community," and they suggest that the
story's comparison of her strained face to that of a lighthouse-
keeper shows that the light she sheds on the darkness of human
experience serves the same kind of public function mythic or
religious figures do.
This view of her, at any rate, would accord with Faulkner's
own: in rejecting a purely North-and-South reading, he said the
story dealt with "the conflict of conscience with glands, with
the Old Adam. It was a conflict not between the North and the
South so much as between, well you might say God and Satan.
. The conflict was in Miss Emily. ." Miss Emily, he is
saying, comes to symbolize "man trying to do the best he
can with his desires and impulses against his own moral con-
science, and the conscience of, the social conscience of his
time and his place-the little town he must live in, the family
he's part of."'7
I also think Miss Emily is a symbol that, like the narrator,
sheds a dark light into the polarities of the community around
her. For example, the separation of the sexes. From its opening
sentence, the story sharply differentiates the roles of men and
women in the town: "When Miss Emily Grierson died, our
whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of
respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly
out of curiosity. ." Miss Emily separates the sexes, as does
the narrator, yet one cannot tell whether the narrator is male or
female, old or young. The narrator uses the first person forty-
eight times, but always as "we," never as "I."'8
Thus I feel the narrator, in some ways the most peripheral
person in the story, comes to parallel Miss Emily at its center,
for she, too, seems to me to be curiously androgynous. At first,

5 Readers Reading

she is "a slender figure in white," looking, even at thirty, "like
a girl, with a vague resemblance to those angels in colored
church windows." When we last see her, it is with gray hair:
"Up to the day of her death at seventy-four it was still that
vigorous iron-gray, like the hair of an active man." Brooks and
Warren speak of her "tremendous firmness of will."
She may even be one of those striking Persephonic figures
that occur among Faulkner's women, holding in themselves
mysterious forces of creation and destruction.19 If so, then
someone might see the final strand of hair as analogous to the
Greek ritual of cutting off and leaving a lock of hair at the grave
of a beloved person, especially since this beloved dead person
is named Homer.20 I would note, too, that the colors associated
with Emily are those of the dread triple goddess (the colors
Apuleius explains as being derived from the moon): black,
yellow or gold, and red (here, "rose"). As a goddess of growth
and decay, or the inconstant moon, Emily comes to "stand
for" and ritualize for me larger entities: the American South or,
ironically, all of us, as we reveal but fail to ward off the painful
realities of time and change, all too horribly embodied in the
final image.

The Story: Fantasies

When I stop interpreting so intellectually, however, and try to
get at my "gut" experience of the story, I find I have a special
feeling toward Miss Emily. She seems to me a sealed, opaque
being, flat as a marble wall, but hiding within her something
bizarre, wild, grotesque-and I want that something out in the
open. No sooner do I say that, however, than I find myself
associating phrases I picked out from various critics as well as
background information from clinical psychoanalysis. Here, I
have in mind a familiar and well-known symbolism-even so,
the story spells it out. In "what had once been our most select
street, only Miss Emily's house was left, lifting its stub-
born and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and the
gasoline pumps." The adjectives make the house into what
Miss Emily has herself become: "stubborn" and "coquettish."
Both Emily and the 'house are "monuments of the past" that

What? "A Rose for Emily" 25

have persisted into the present.21 Twice the story calls Miss
Emily "impervious," an adjective that could apply equally
to a house that no white person has entered for years, that
has not even a mailbox or a number. Judge Stevens also
makes the equation quite explicit: When the younger gen-
eration complains about the smell around the house, 'Dam-
mit, sir,' Judge Stevens said, 'will you accuse a lady to her
face of smelling bad?' "
Another symbolism seems relevant to me here: the "rose" of
the title.22 William T. Going wittily suggests that, given
Faulkner's "subtle and gruesome treatment of odors in the
story and the importance of the Grierson name, the title may
well refer to Shakespeare's familiar lines from another tragedy
of lovers:
What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.23
The symbolism both of the house and of the rose makes me
feel as though the story were talking distantly and obliquely
about the externals of a body that, later we learn, has a nasty
secret inside it, dust and darkness and, most strongly, smells:
"a close, dank smell," "a thin, acrid pall," a "dust dry
and acrid in the nostrils." Again, "It smelled of dust and
disuse." The smell "was another link between the gross, teem-
ing world and the high and mighty Griersons," and I'll even
suggest that the adjective "high" conceals a particularly sar-
donic pun.
As I recite this litany of dirt, dust, and smell, I feel I am
responding to the story, half-unconsciously, with a mixture of
attraction and revulsion toward "dirty" body products. In any
case, at an intellectual level, I recall that Freud identified a
famous triad of traits: orderliness, parsimony, and obstinacy.
All, he said, derive from holding on or letting go inner body
"dirt" in response to outer demands, and I find all three traits
in this story; although the orderliness is reversed with Miss
Emily, not cleanliness but uncleanliness: smells, dirt, and dust.
Emily is nothing if not retentive.24 Faulkner himself said sim-
ply, "She had had something and she wanted to keep it." This
theme of retention made sense for me out of one of the story's

26 5 Readers Reading

more startling images, a description of the aged Miss Emily:
"She looked bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless
water." "Motionless," West points out, links her to the ab-
sence of change, but more specifically to the kind of stasis that
swells a body up. This is a story-at one level and for one
reader-about the difficulty one has in giving up prized things
from a certain house (or body).25
Given the familiar psychological association of the precious
and the "dirty," I felt it fitting that some of what goes in and
out is money: "the old thrill and the old despair of a penny
more or less." Miss Emily does not pay money out in taxes.
Instead, she defies the authorities who demand that she do so.
"She gave lessons in china-painting"--one could hardly find a
more obsessional pastime. Further, to learn this art, "the
daughters and granddaughters of Colonel Sartoris' contem-
poraries were sent to her with the same regularity and in the
same spirit that they were sent to church en Sundays with a
twenty-five-cent piece for the collection plate." As early as
1907, Freud had pointed out the similarity between religious
practices and bodily "duties." This was even before he had
brought out the special connection between parental control of
inner physical products and obsessional controls of inner men-
tal products and, indeed, of painting as a possible gratification
of impulses to play with body products in an only partially
controlled way.26 Thus, the religious images we considered
earlier play a part in establishing in my interpretation one level
of unconscious fantasy on which the story builds: Miss Emily
as "a tradition, a duty, and a care," resembling "those angels
in colored church windows," "an idol," "an idol in a niche,"
and after her death "a fallen monument."
I do not, however, wish to give the impression that the only
fantasy I find is at the level of controlling what is inside one's
body-certainly not with a father like Miss Emily's. He is
shown as penniless, violent, angry, having fallen out with the
Griersons' only relatives. "We had long thought of them as a
tableau, Miss Emily a slender figure in white in the back-
ground, her father a spraddled silhouette in the foreground,
his back to her and clutching a horsewhip." Obviously,
such a father evokes a child's feelings of fear and desire

What? "A Rose for Emily" 27

for him in Miss Emily-and in me. He dominates Emily,
driving her suitors away with his horsewhip, and he continues
his power, somehow, after his death. Even after her death,
there was "the crayon face of her father musing profoundly
above the bier."
From this point of view, the father controlling and dominat-
ing what goes into and out of his daughter, the very center of
the story again becomes for me the narrator's remark: "We
knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that
which had robbed her, as people will." But Emily does more
than cling to her father's body. After Homer Barron has
apparently deserted her, she isolates herself, "as if," the
narrator comments, "that quality of her father which had
thwarted her woman's life so many times had been too virulent
and too furious to die." He goes on to describe her hair as a
"vigorous iron-gray, like the hair of an active man." She is
described as a "lighthouse-keeper," as having "vanquished
them [the town government], horse and foot, just as she had
vanquished their fathers thirty years before." Maybe Irving
Malin is correct when he says, "Her passionate, almost sexual
relationship with her dead father forces her to distrust the liv-
ing body of Homer and to kill him so that he will resemble the
dead father she can never forget."'7 But, for me, it suffices
to say Miss Emily identifies with her father, taking on his iron
will, his strength, and his brutality, regressing from the little
girl's wish to have her father to the more primitive wish to be
her father.
In this context, despite the scandalized townsfolk (" 'A
Grierson would not think seriously of a Northerner, a day
laborer' "), her faintly "dirty" and sordid choice of Homer
Barron seems surprising but right to me. Because he is ta-
booed, he can be a substitute for her father, the original for-
bidden lover. The very disapproval of the townspeople be-
comes tempting because it re-enacts that first, disapproved
love, even as it guarantees the lover is in fact not the equiva-
lent of a Grierson. As Freud says, "The condition for forbid-
denness in the erotic life of women is, I think, comparable to
the need on the part of men to debase their sexual object,"
both being ways of seeking "only objects which do not recall

28 5 Readers Reading

the incestuous figures forbidden" in childhood; however,
"these new objects will still be chosen on the model of
the infantile ones."3"
Thus, Emily keeps Homer's body as she tried to keep her
father's. At the same time, her vengeful murder of Homer
seems just the kind of thing her father would do; I feel she has
incorporated much of her father's brutality in herself. There is,
in effect, a man in Emily's house--or body--or mind. Even
Faulkner tended to masculinize Emily in his description of the
story to the students at Virginia: "the conflict of conscience
with glands, with the Old Adam." "The conflict was in Miss
Emily," including, apparently, Old Adam's glands.
By contrast, I feel, the town outside Emily's house sharply
distinguishes men from women. The long opening sentence
establishes just that: sexes are markedly different in this town,
but Emily's house involves a peculiar combination of man and
woman. "When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town
went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful
affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of
curiosity to see the inside of her house, which no one save an
old man-servant--a combined gardener and cook-had seen in
at least ten years." Similarly, in the remission of Miss Emily's
taxes, "Only a man of Colonel Sartoris' generation and thought
could have invented [the story], and only a woman could have
believed it." Colonel Sartoris was the one who "fathered the
edict that no Negro woman should appear on the streets
without an apron," but in Miss Emily's house the servant is a
male cook. The narrator repeatedly insists on calling her super-
vising relatives, "the two female cousins," and, in general, it
falls to the ladies to keep up standards in the town. 'Just as if
a man-any man-could keep a kitchen properly,' the ladies
said; so they were not surprised when the smell developed." It
is the ladies who get the Baptist minister to remonstrate with
Emily about her relationship with Homer. The day after the
father's death, "all the ladies prepared to call at the house and
offer condolence and aid, as is our custom."
To my mind, the town, by sharply differentiating the sexes,
recapitulates the kind of outside control Miss Emily had when
her father was alive and before she had incorporated his

What? "A Rose for Emily" 29

masculinity into herself. Although Faulkner himself, as well as
many readers, retained a vivid image of the delicately feminine
Miss Emily, she actually appears in only one phrase, "a
slender figure in white." Most of the time, we see Emily as she
appears to the druggist, "cold, haughty black eyes in a face the
flesh of which was strained across the temples and about the
eyesockets as you imagine a lighthouse-keeper's face ought to
look." "She carried her head high enough," driving with
Homer Barron, and the word is applied at least two more times
to the Griersons as a family. "Miss Emily with her head
high"-her body, again, matches the house itself, "lifting its
stubborn and coquettish decay above" its sordid surroundings.
This kind of character, fixed on body products, Karl Abra-
ham notes,
sometimes seems to stamp itself on the physiognomy of its
possessor. It seems particularly to show itself in a morose
expression. [Such persons] tend to surliness as a rule. A
constant tension of the line of the nostril together with a
slight lifting of the upper lip seem to me significant facial
characteristics of such people. In some cases this gives the
impression that they are constantly sniffing at something.
Probably this feature is traceable to their coprophilic pleas-
ure in smell.29
One could also, I think, trace it simply to controlling, "keeping
a grip on," oneself.
Certainly control seems to me a basic issue of the story, not
only for Miss Emily, but also in the town from whose point of
view we see her.'Repeatedly, we hear about the forces of law
in the town, and such writers as Erik Erikson have shown the
close link between law as that which "apportions to each his
privileges and his limitations, his obligations and his rights"
and the "sense of rightfully delimited autonomy in the parents"
at that stage of development so involved with retention and
elimination, with holding on and letting go, with shame and
autonomy, control and will. All these things are important in
"A Rose for Emily," particularly in view of what Ray B. West
calls the "conflicting demands" of past and present.30
In the more modern period of the story, law takes the form of

30 5 Readers Reading

institutions or groups: "the post office," "them," "the
sheriff's office," "the city authorities," "the town." It is a
government of laws, not men. If there are men, they act on
behalf of the law, as the mayor and the aldermen and the
druggist do. In the older period of the story, it is a government
of men, not laws, as government must appear to a child. It is
Judge Stevens or Colonel Sartoris who controls, and this style
of government is closely associated with Miss Emily's father.
Thus, in describing the remission of her taxes, Faulkner uses
the key word three times: "Colonel Sartoris, the mayor-he
who fathered the edict that no Negro woman should appear on
the streets without an apron-remitted her taxes, the dispensa-
tion dating from the death of her father.. .[and] invented an
involved tale to the effect that Miss Emily's father had loaned
money to the town."
In many ways, like that "edict," this kind of law seems to
me more like a frightening unlawfulness, like her father's
horsewhip or like justice in the Amerikan parts of America
even today. Thus, the story shows a peculiar combination of
violence with the weakness of the society in enforcing its
principles against Emily. When Judge Stevens gets the Board
of Aldermen to take the law into their own hands, "the next
night, after midnight, four men .. slunk about the house like
burglars." Similarly, her father is described as "that which had
robbed her." Then, if I think of the tenacity with which the
South has clung to the "peculiar institution" that has cost her
so much, I can find still another, regional dimension to the
story's key clause: "With nothing left, she would have to cling
to that which had robbed her, as people will."
Predictably, Miss Emily adopts this being "above the law"
as her own lifestyle once her father has died. She puts
the person in place of the law, as her father did, refusing
to recognize the sheriffs authority-" 'Perhaps he considers
himself the sheriff "-or the Board of Aldermen's. Instead,
" 'See Colonel Sartoris. I have no taxes in Jefferson.' "
"Colonel Sartoris had been dead almost ten years"-like her
Such a government counts on the pride and dignity of its
Sartorises, Griersons, and Stevenses. It punishes by the oppo-

What? "A Rose for Emily" 31

site of pride and dignity-like the aprons the Negro women
must wear as a badge of servitude. Shame is a visual thing.
Again, in discussing this phase of development, Erikson says,
"Shame supposes that one is completely exposed and con-
scious of being looked at." "One is visible and not ready to be
visible; which is why we dream of shame as a situation in
which we are stared at in a condition of incomplete dress, in
night attire, 'with one's pants down.' In my reading, the
control through shame occasions the many, many references to
watching in the story, mostly references to the peeping, whis-
pering, gossiping townspeople as they comment on Emily's
This darkness and watching and shaming makes me nervous,
but Emily seems unaffected. Indeed, she takes on a symbolic
role as a result: "As they recrossed the lawn, a window that
had been dark was lighted and Miss Emily sat in it, the light

behind her, and
Now and then
house-like the
not looking at
the visible sym

her upright torso motionless as
we would see her in one of
had evidently shut up the tc
carven torso of an idol in a n
us, we could never tell w
er, watching and watched, she 1
bol of an old "tradition" that

; that of an idol.
the downstairs
,p floor of the
iche, looking or
rhich." As the
becomes for me
based its hard

training heavily on shame, like the educational systems of
certain primitive peoples.
As Erikson notes, "Visual shame precedes auditory guilt,"
has more of the primitive about it, just as the Sartorises' and
Stevenses' system of government does. Emily, ultimately, is
not a well-governed person. "Too much shaming," says Erik-
son, "does not lead to genuine propriety but to a secret
determination to try to get away with things, unseen-if, in-
deed, it does not result in defiant shamelessness."3' Emily is
both, shameless with Homer alive, secret with him dead.
"Already we knew that there was one room in that region
above stairs that no one had seen in forty years," and the


I have underlined strikes me


particularly control based on shaming, plays an
part in the stage of development in which the

32 5 Readers Reading

child learns to control his body products. It is important, too,
to adults with characters fixated to that phase. And it is
important to this story. Yet, as in Freud's original formulation,
the most central issue of all is possessing or, in Erikson's
phrase, "holding on and letting go." In this story, I feel that to
love is to possess someone the way one would possess a thing.
Emily holds on to Homer's body as, earlier, she had held on to
her father's body. By contrast, I feel Homer's careless love is
foreshadowed in the way he doesn't even own his horses but
has to rent them from the livery stable. Emily takes possession
of him by gifts: a nightshirt, a toilet set, and evidently at least
the promise of herself. Conversely, it seems to me, to be loved
is to be possessed like an object. Thus, the language of the
story links love and death in "the tomb decked and
furnished as for a bridal," in "the long sleep that outlasts love
. [that] had cuckolded him."
Always, however, in experiencing this story, I found I had in
mind a parental figure (Emily's father, the narrator, or the
town) who presides over what goes into and out of Miss
Emily's house-or body. Erikson calls it the "battle for au-
If outer control by too rigid or too early training persists in
robbing the child of his attempt gradually to control his
bowels and other functions willingly and by his free choice
[among other outcomes, he may] pretend an autonomy
and an ability to do without anybody's help which he has by
no means really gained.
This stage, therefore, becomes decisive for the ratio be-
tween loving good will and hateful self-insistence, between
cooperation and willingness, and between self-expression
and compulsive self-restraint or meek compliance.2s
Miss Emily, like a child being trained, vacillates between
shameless defiance of that authority (when it is the town) or
totally introjecting its demands and complying with them (when
it is her father). Against the parent trying to regulate a child's
feces, Dr. Spock notes, the child is "apt to fight in rage and
terror, as if he thought he was going to remove a very part of
his body," or at least he will become "worried to see this

What? "A Rose for Emily" 33

object, which he considers part of himself, snatched away."33
This is another sense in which I find central this statement:
"With nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had
robbed her, as people will." It is more than just a bad pun to
say Miss Emily is a possessive woman. Miss Emily had "in-
corporated" or "introjected" the harsh controls based on pride
and shame that her father embodied. Holding his body and
Homer's, retaining them inside her house or body, is the
outward sign of an inward adaptation. So also, I would guess,
is her having become obese--a sign of incorporation at the
beginning as well as retention at the end of her digestive mind
and body.
To this highly specialized reading of the story, I associate an
odd detail-Faulkner's handling of the voices. Fenichel sums
up one psychoanalytic theory about speech: "The function of
speech is frequently connected unconsciously with the genital
function, particularly with the male genital function. To speak
means to be potent; inability to speak means castration." Thus,
virile Homer is associated with "a lot of laughing"; he was "a
big, dark, ready man, with a big voice." "The little boys would
follow in groups to hear him cuss the niggers."
By contrast, Emily's "voice was dry and cold," and, as for
the Negro manservant, "He talked to no one, probably not
even to her, for his voice had grown harsh and rusty, as if from
disuse." Fenichel suggests that some of the feelings associated
with putting excrement forth may become attached to the
putting forth of words. Thus Miss Emily's taciturnity may be
still another of her retentions; the Negro's, part of his utter
subservience. The story shows still another significance
Fenichel gives for speech: "In dreams, to speak is the symbol
of life, and to be mute the symbol of death."'4 Thus, in a
marvelously chosen adjective, we see Homer's "two mute
shoes" in the sealed bedroom.
These references to speech and the voice-though only a
small series of images in the story-nevertheless trace out the
central psychological pattern I create from it. I find myself
imagining the story in terms of going in or coming out, in
several senses. That is, Miss Emily's father restricts the suitors
who can enter her house (and thus her body). When she is

5 Readers Reading

deprived of sexuality, Miss Emily, and the story as a whole,
seem to me to regress to a stage prior to male-female compari-
sons. She will hold on to what she has: first her father; then her
father's tradition and style; finally, Homer Barron, the man
who would have robbed her. (There may even be a play on
"robber baron.") In contrast, then, to big-voiced Homer, who
puts out sound freely, Miss Emily's silent house signifies the
attempt to hold things in. He represents to me the new freedom
from the North; she, the attempt to keep things as they are in
the South, to stop process and change-a kind of social consti-

The Story: Transformations

Intimately related to the fantasies I find in the story about
controlling what a body has inside it are the defenses that I see
developing and transforming those fantasies. As I look at my
interpretation of the story, I find I have ordered it by forms that
resemble two well-known defenses: denial and incorporation,
refusing to perceive painful things (here, pressures to change)
or keeping something precious by holding it within one's body.
In more literary terms, a major agent of transformation for me
is the narrator. He helps me to deny in that he controls what I
know about the plot, and he incorporates materials in that he
holds back the ghastly secret in dear Miss Emily's house until
the end. He controls not only what I perceive but when I
perceive it. As for me, however, I feel these defenses at work
still more strongly in the character of Miss Emily.
Many of the regular explicators of the story called her

resistance to
change in the
larger, more
think they ar
even death.
blurred out.'
exist. She liv
She writes oi

change the central theme, whether one regards
e specific context of the American South or in a
philosophical way. In psychoanalytic terms, I
*e discovering Miss Emily's adaptive strategy (or
really) of denial. She denies time, the law, and
"The distinction between reality and illusion has
'5" Miss Emily simply acts as though the "next
"newer generation," "rising generation," did not
es where she does despite the change in the street.
n "paper of an archaic shape." She becomes fixed

What? "A Rose for Emily" 35

like "the carven torso of an idol," and "thus she passed from
generation to generation." She becomes "a tradition, a duty,
and a care."
As I read its acceptance of her, the town incorporates this
idol in a miniature version of Miss Emily's more drastic in-
corporation-one way the story generalizes into "Southern-
ness."36 The town copies Miss Emily. She keeps in her house
the crayon portrait of her father, while the townspeople "had
long thought of [both Miss Emily and her father] as a tab-
leau." Miss Emily has for me a mythic dimension: the god-
dess slaying the year king, Homer, or her father, whose body
she retains for the canonical three days. These Persephonic
images become the feebly feminine religion of the "ladies" in
the town.
In the same way, I feel the town goes along-up to a
point-with Miss Emily's denial of her father's death. "We did
not say she was crazy then. We believed she had to do that."
Similarly, the townsfolk accept her becoming a recluse "as if
that quality of her father which had thwarted her woman's life
so many times had been too virulent and too furious to die"-a
miniature version of Miss Emily's denial of his death. The
townsfolk believe, they are married,' then become curi-
ously silent on the subject when Homer disappears-again,
they use a less mad version of her own denial. Ruth Sullivan
has found a great many ways in which the narrator in particular
parallels Miss Emily, as the watcher parallels the watched: for
example, his opening sentence about entering the house cor-
responds to the final breaking into the sealed bedroom.37 In
general, he shares much of her pathology-as indeed one would
expect (because the same fantasies and defenses permeate all
parts of the story in any given reader's reading).
In all this doubling of Miss Emily's adaptations I am seeing
what Ludwig Jekels long ago called "the duplicated expression
of psychic themes." In my reading, both the town-narrator and
Emily act out a combination of two defense mechanisms: denial
and incorporation. The problem they must deal with is change.
In external reality, the old is passing and being replaced by the
new. Emily (and, in a more muted way, the town) deal with it
in one of two ways.

36 5 Readers Reading

The first is denial: she will say there is no new thing in
external reality, as with the taxes, the mailbox, or the druggist.
The second is incorporation: I still have the old thing inside me
(in my mind or in my house or in my body). This defense takes
its most drastic form in Miss Emily's keeping her father or
Homer in her house, less drastically in her treating marriage as
a possession or keeping the crayon portrait of her father. The
townsfolk share this defense by their interest in what they take
to be something precious or secret in the house, to be watched
or approached "like burglars."
These two defensive strategies correspond quite neatly to the
developmental sequence of the fantasies I found. Consider
incorporation. At the level of sexual longings toward a tabooed
or parental figure, Miss Emily holds onto her father and her
tabooed lover. At the level concerned with differentiating male
from female, Miss Emily acquires manly force. She succeeds,
at the next level, in holding something precious inside herself
against outside and inside pressures to let it go. Finally, at the
deepest level of taking the things you want into yourself, Miss
Emily takes Homer, the South takes Miss Emily, and so on.
Clearly, all these are forms of incorporation, and all involve
loving something.
I have, however, also found equivalent levels of aggressive
fantasy. She defeats the taboo on a forbidden lover, having and
destroying him. At the level of sexual difference and the battle
of the sexes, this woman not only avoids being overcome by a
strong male, she overcomes him. She defies (by withholding
from them) outer authorities and controls that demand she give
up the precious thing within her. At the most primitive level,
she consumes and eviscerates a loved person. These are all
forms of aggressive attack on outside forces felt as coercive or
controlling. In effect, Emily gets rid of the parts of external
reality she doesn't like-as denial does. By denying the re-
quirements of the law, she destroys the law.
My reading, then, comes to two defensive strategies, several
levels of unconscious fantasy, both loving and aggressive, and
four ways of stating the conscious theme of the story. Such
variety calls for as clear an exposition as I can give, and with
appropriate reservations I think a chart would help:

What? "A Rose for Emily" 37

A Transformational Core
for "A Rose for Emily"

Putting within yourself
and so controlling...

something that is outside where
it cannot be controlled but
seeks to control you.

Conscious themes:

"She would have to cling ..
as people will."
Denial of change
The South and fixed traditions
The Persephonic idol

"to that which had robbed her"

Inevitability of change

The North and change

Forces of change

Defensive modes:

I will take and keep the
old thing inside me.
Fantasy modes:
Identification with the
A woman being a strong
Keeping the precious-dirty
thing inside

The reader-townsfolk imagine
the violent sexual scene
Being looked at
Being in the matrix of
Obesity (inviscerating)

There is no new thing in
external reality.

Destroying the tabooed lover

A woman overcoming a
strong male

Defiance of outer authority
and control; refusing the
inner inexorability of

Stillness, quiet

Staring someone down

Being outside the matrix
of tradition, aristocracy
The skeleton (eviscerated)

38 5 Readers Reading

In effect, the chart sets out the spine of "centers" that I am
using to organize my experience of the story as a whole at
every level. For me, as for many other critics, "A Rose for
Emily" pivots on the issue of change and resistance to change,
or (if we take into account the rich variety of unconscious
themes) perceiving change as robbery and resisting that rob-
bery by taking into oneself the outer being that seeks to force
you to change. One conscious component of such a theme is
the historical issue of South and North. Another is Miss Emily
as the Persephonic goddess, traditionally both creator and
destroyer, but in this story a lifeless and motionless monument
pitted against social and industrial forces of progress.
Just as central, I think, is the story's own statement that
"with nothing left," that is, with realities denied, people will
"cling to"-incorporate-' "that which had robbed" them, that
is, the outer forces seeking to control and force them. I will
cling in fantasy to that which has robbed me of reality-almost
a direct statement of the way the defenses I find of incorpora-
tion and denial match the various levels of fantasy. To me,
Emily becomes like her father. Then she destroys the tabooed
lover's external reality and incorporates him in the house of her
body. She becomes strong and masculine enough to conquer
the father-lover who seeks to overcome her. She retains, inside
her, the dirty but precious contents of her life despite external
pressures to let them go. In terms of feeding, her body grows
fat as she incorporates, while Homer's body is thinned into a
skeleton. The sealed bedroom is depleted. It holds a secret
stillness and quiet, while I feel I am left to create in myself the
sights and sounds of the sex and the death-agony on the fatal
night. Finally, the story withholds its secret from me, and I
have to project my imaginings into the last scene.
In this last way, then, the story seems to me again to ask for
an interpretation in terms of going in and coming out, but again
(I hasten to add) this is my re-creation of the story. We come
back to the question from which this chapter began.
What: Subjectivity and Objectivity
The pages above are my reading of "A Rose for Emily." The
fantasies and themes, defenses and transformations I have

What? "A Rose for Emily" 39

described come from the ways my character structure absorbed
the story. I re-created "A Rose for Emily" by means of a
personality that combines a passionate desire to know about
the insides of things with an equally strong feeling that one is,
finally, safer on the outside. I have read Faulkner's story with
the same mind that delights in photography and movies because
they are surfaces that come out of the dark to reveal a reality
behind them-yet never cease being surfaces. I read "A Rose
for Emily" with a mind still heavily committed to the not-so-
new New Criticism (because it explores depths by confining
itself to the surface verbal texture), with the same mind that
analyzed Restoration comedies (in my first book) as demanding
that surface appearances fulfill and complete inner nature
rather than mask it, or with the mind that (in this book) probes
the depths of literary response but from a position neither "in"
psychoanalysis nor "in" literary criticism. In short, interpret-
ing "A Rose for Emily" by a theme of going in and coming out
expresses my character just as any of my other activities does.
Naturally, I have supplied evidence for my reading, but as
we shall see when we consider the other five readers reading
this story, evidence or no evidence, the way one puts a story
together derives from the patterns and structures in the mind
one brings to the story. Someone else reading it, even from a
psychoanalytic point of view very like my own, can arrive at
conclusions rather different even though they draw on just as
much evidence from the text. Indeed someone, Ruth Sullivan,
has done just that.38 The problem is not to decide which of us is
right or wrong. Obviously, I am right for me and Ms. Sullivan
for her, and either of us-or neither of us--might be right for

someone else. The point is to recognize tl
dences from stories) do not "mean," in a
They do not fantasy or defend or adapt or tr
these things, using stories as the occasion (
justification) for a certain theme, fantasy,
The problem then becomes understanding

hat stories (or evi-
mnd of themselves.
ansform. People do
with more and less
or transformation.
, not the story in

formal isolation, but the story in relation to somebody's mind.
Not a mind hypothesized, hypostatized, assumed, posited, or
simply guessed at-as we shall see, we can only work with real
minds in real people.

40 5 Readers Reading

All readings originate in the reader's personality-all are
"subjective" in that sense. Some readings take close account
of the words-on-the-page and some do not, but no matter how
much textual, "objective" evidence a reader brings into his
reading, he structures and adapts it according to his own inner
needs. (Otherwise, if interpretation flowed structurally or
necessarily from the text, why would critics sign their work?)39
It is, as we shall see, impossible to subtract the subjective
elements in a reading from the objective, for each helps create
the other. Or, more precisely, a reader responds to a literary
work by using it to re-create his own characteristic psychologi-
cal processes.
Knowing this, however, I feel lost in a paradox that, charac-
teristically, I find discomforting. New Criticism turns out to
have been Old Subjectivity. A reader reads something, cer-
tainly, but if one cannot separate his "subjective" response
from its "objective" basis, there seems no way to find out what
that "something" is in any impersonal sense. It is visible only
in the psychological process the reader creates in himself by
means of the literary work.
We are not without a general principle, however. No matter
who the reader is or how he reads, what he reads will take the
general form revealed by this model: a fantasy transformed by
defenses and adaptations to give pleasure and unity and mean-
ing. But what fantasies and which defenses and adaptations he
can use to achieve pleasure, unity, and meaning depend on his
pre-existing personality, the fatality of defense and adaptation
he brought to the literary experience. "What" the reader reads
is finally, "what the reader reads." One can only find out in
detail what the "what" is in "Who reads what how?," by
analyzing the other parts of that question: "how?" and
"who?" And so we shall.

3 How? The "Experiment"

There are two senses, one general, one special, to the "how"
in our basic question, "Who reads what how?" In a general
sense, "how" refers to the principles that inform all people's
reading, and that "how" is the big question this book ad-
dresses. "How" in its more special sense refers to the condi-
tions under which five particular readers did in fact read some
short stories, and it is much easier to answer.

The "Experiment"

I simply brought a certain number of readers together with
some literary materials, mostly short stories, to see what they
would say about them. I began in an exploratory way with a
small group of graduate students in English from my own
university and finished with a somewhat larger group of under-
graduate English majors from a neighboring college. (The "five
readers" reported here came from this younger group.)
All my readers had volunteered. I circulated a questionnaire
asking those interested in participating (for a modest wage) to
fill in their name, address, and age, and also the names of some
writers they liked. I chose those volunteers who mentioned
writers whose works went beyond the ordinary reading lists of
a literature curriculum but did not seem to be faddish or outr6.
I was hoping for sincerity and frankness. For this reason I
preferred literature majors because they were used to voicing
their reactions freely to literary works-whether those reac-
tions were favorable or unfavorable, conventional or unconven-
tional. Nonstudents or students from other disciplines often
feel challenged to prove their cultural mettle and try to come up
with the "right" answer. At least in the preliminary stages,
since I was not working statistically, I decided there was no
need to average across a spectrum of ages, genders, occupa-
tions, and so on. If I could discover the dynamics of response

42 5 Readers Reading

for this group, the same principles should hold, mutatis
mutandis, for anyone. I have since found no reason to change
this decision.
Although we occasionally talked about poems, plays, or
films, I felt short stories would be most likely to elicit frank,
uncomplicated comments. I tried, too, to pick stories that were
not too difficult to interpret-you can see all too clearly in the
readings of the Hemingway story in Appendix B what obscurity
of theme does to readers. Trying also to avoid "stock re-
sponses," I chose stories that were neither respectably old nor
fashionably new. Thus, although these readers would some-
times talk about classics like Dickens or Defoe or moderns like
Cohen or Kesey, I focused the interviews on ten rather familiar
stories of a few decades ago: Joyce's "The Dead," for exam-
ple, or Mann's "Mario and the Magician," from a well-known
anthology.1 Here, I will report readings just of William
Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Winter
Dreams," and Ernest Hemingway's "The Battler." I first
chose these to write about because I thought they represented
three distinct categories of fantasy (in a psychoanalytic sense),
and the responses to them should have differed accordingly.
I began, in other words, hoping to do an "experiment" in
stimulus and response, complete with rigorous hypotheses,
predictions to be confirmed or not, measurement, repeatable
data, isolation of the experimenter from his material, and so on.
I thought I could work with objective tests like questionnaires
that could be analyzed statistically. Abruptly, and rather pain-
fully, I realized that none of this fit the problem.
It has been hard for me to get beyond the simple stimulus-
response model that some psychological systems offer. As a
rather positivistic person, I find it an attractive simplification,
and it is the model that I, like most literary critics, almost auto-
matically assume. Literature "does something" to its reader.
From this point of view, a story is a stimulus that elicits a cer-
tain response. Within the story, any given element, a charac-
ter, an episode, a theme, a sequence of images, even particular
words or rhythms, cause certain reactions in the reader.
Again, from this point of view, if a story is a "stimulus,"
one's first impulse is to say the "response" is what the reader

How? The "Experiment" 43

feels at the time he reads the story. We have already glanced at
a number of studies that try to measure feelings by hormone
concentrations, heart rate, fidget frequency, and the like. As a
practical matter, however, I did not regard galvanic skin reac-
tions or palmar sweat patterns as useful indicators of response,
and therefore I concentrated on the words my readers spoke.
"Feelings" should be expanded to include "thoughts" as well,
and one could also wonder whether one must limit responses to
those "at the time." After all, sometimes a reader changes his
mind in retrospect. Certainly the teaching of literature aims at
sophisticating responses beyond that first impulse. It seemed,I
had to be interested generally in the interaction of a person
with a story, and anything that was part of their relationship
had to be counted as part of "response."
The very notion of a "response" presupposes a fixed
stimulus, the "words-on-the-page" that formalist critics have
examined so rewardingly these last few decades. The more I
worked with real readers, however, the more I was reminded
that a literary work is not a fixed stimulus. Rather, each reader
must give the words meaning, and he can only give them the
meanings they have for him. It is he who fills in the outlines to
give characters appearances, ages, manners, or personalities.
In our "tableau," for example, despite the particularity of
Faulkner's description, it is left to each reader to assign Miss
Emily and her father relative positions in the picture-her an
expression, for example, or him a posture. In all stories, it is
the reader who fills in motivations, themes, and plot con-
tinuities in order to bring the parts he has already experienced
to bear on each new experience. To be sure, critics often make
"objective" statements about works: "In 'A Rose for Emily,'
we only see the young Emily once." "Emily does not want to
obey the law and tell the druggist why she wants poison."
"The narrator always talks as 'we.' But a critic or reader
says these things because he thinks they are important to his
personal synthesis of the story. Another critic would single out
other features.
We come back again, then, not to a "response" one can
easily experiment with, but to what the reader said about his
reading as a clue to a complete transaction. Accordingly, I gave

44 5 Readers Reading

up attempts at questionnaires and group experiments with
statistical possibilities. I settled down to work in an informal
way with a few subjects. I have given them names here that are
recognizably human, although not their own: Sam, Saul, Shep,
Sebastian, and Sandra. The alliteration testifies to an
ex-engineer's lingering nostalgia for the rigor of statistical work
with objective Ss that so sternly commands attention in the
psychological journals. But, in fact, I tried not so much to
experiment as to empathize with and understand these readers'
personal re-creations of the literary work.
I met weekly with each reader for a tape recorded interview
of an hour or so on a story that we had agreed the previous
week he would read. Each subject, of course, knew the inter-
view was being recorded, watched me turn the machine on and
off, and each also knew I was having the tapes transcribed. I
tried to get each reader to say as much as he could or would
about the story, either in statements he volunteered or in
answers to my questions. Over and over again, I would ask,
"How do you feel about" characters, events, situations, or
phrasings, but I also had certain fixed questions for each of the
stories. For example, in "A Rose for Emily," I would ask,
"What do you think happened on the fatal night?" or, "Do you
feel that Miss Emily took on some of her father's characteris-
tics as she grew older?" I tried to predict my readers' answers
to these fixed questions before our meetings. I would ask
impromptu questions to draw out more material on a given
point. Usually, I asked each reader to retell the story in his
own words, although I had to give up that procedure for the
more talkative subjects like Sam. Sometimes I would ask them
about a specific passage that I read from the anthology. Some-
times they would ask me to read something to them or they
would reach over and take the book from me in order to refresh
their recollection. And some readers (like Saul) habitually
brought the book with them to make sure what they were
saying corresponded exactly to the "words-on-the-page."
By so informal a procedure I was hoping to get out free
associations to the stories. I tried very hard never to express
shock or surprise or annoyance or any sense that there was a
"right" reading. I did try-always-to get the readers to say as

How? The "Experiment" 45

much as they would about a given feeling or point or story until
it seemed exhausted. And I did assume that, by and large, what
my readers said about their feelings at the time they read the
story was true, but this was not essential. Free associations are
like the retelling of a dream-an invented dream will express its
teller's mind just as a real dream will. So long as a reader was
talking fully and easily, it did not matter whether he was
recalling his emotions correctly or even if he was disguising
them or making them up to suit my professorial mien-free
associations reveal the act of synthesis and creation behind
them. The reader's words held what I was looking for.
Thus, it was not necessary to compensate for what was, to
me, a most startling process of filtration, the shift of face-to-
face interview into written transcription. On hearing a tape for
the first time, I never failed to be shocked at what had been lost
by way of facial expression, gesture, stance, manner, and the
like. Further, as the tape was transcribed, still more disap-
peared: the expression and tone of the voice, clues to sarcasm
and irony, the length of pauses, and so on. I did, however, take
care to note on the transcriptions any changes of meaning that
the actual sound introduced (sarcasm, for example). Finally,
what was left was what counted: the texture of significant
The words, all by themselves (with only my marginal notes
on intonation), provided ample evidence of the way the reader
had composed the story for himself. As psychoanalysis has
been showing for three-quarters of a century now, the particu-
lar phrasings of dreams, jokes, free associations, metaphors,
cliches, "Freudian slips," misreadings, and forgetting reveal
the dynamics of the ego behind them. A transcription of infor-
mal, spoken comments will do the same, even if the gestures of
body and voice have been filtered out, indeed, even if some of
the verbal "filler" of spoken English be removed.
Although those of us working on the project transcribed the
tapes absolutely literally, recording even um's and uh's and
pauses, I soon found that quotations from such transcriptions
made wretched reading. This, for example, is an exact tran-
scription of the sentence from which Sam's first comment on
the "tableau" in "A Rose for Emily" was taken:

46 5 Readers Reading

Emily is, uh, the daughter of a very prominent resident of a
small-is it Mississippi? Probably--town-small Southern
town, and, uh, the father was very domineering. Uh. One of
the most striking images in the book is that of, is that of, is
that of the townsfolk looking through the door as her father
stands there with a horsewhip in his hands, kind of, feet
spread apart and between or through him you see a picture of
Emily standing in the background, and, uh, and that pretty
Much sums up exactly the kind of relationship they had, uh.
In quoting such materials for you, I have quite freely begun and
ended sentences within the flow of speech; I have silently
deleted uh, um, kind of, I mean, sort of, you know, like (as in
like, man), and other filler phrases without indicating their
departure. I have, by and large, deleted false starts and repeti-
tions. (But this is in reporting to you what the readers said-in
my own thinking through each commentary I used the original
transcript.) I can say with confidence I have not altered the
meaning of any statement, nor have I deleted any substantive
word within a quotation without indicating the deletion by
ellipsis. To see the. changes that did take place, you can
compare this exact transcription with Sam's comment on the
"tableau" as reported on page 1.

Interpreting What the Readers Said

The crucial data from the "experiment" were the words the
readers used about what they had read. These phrasings evi-
denced each reader's synthesis and achievement of the story,
his creation of it for and in himself. The nub of the problem
then became interpreting what he said.
For me, the first and most obvious assumption to make is the
ever-tempting one of the text as stimulus. One looks in what
the reader says for wordings evoked by the text. For example,
I find in "A Rose for Emily" a fantasy about holding on against
inner and outer coercions to let go something precious and
loved but also repellent and disgusting: dirty, for example, or
smelly. That something is within or behind oneself, like a
revered but cruel past or a lifestyle set by a harsh father or a

How? The "Experiment" 47

scandalous love affair with someone admired but also "beneath
one." Evidently, other critics, too, find a similar fantasy.
"Perversion and decadence are a subtle effluvium from the
story," says one. "Social pressure had been too great," says
another about Emily's efforts to keep her father's corpse, "but
she learned from that incident the necessity for concealment.
The story is a success story-of success in maintaining an
untenable position." I hear in other critics' phrasings the same
unconscious meaning of Miss Emily's obstinacy, her "attempt-
ing, almost by force of will alone, to halt the natural process of
decay," or her "obstinate refusal to submit to, or even to
concede, the inevitability of change." All these phrasings re-
veal the body significance of "holding on" against external
"social pressure" or internal "natural process" that demands
one "let go." Brooks and Warren's summary statement con-
tinues the covert body imagery: "She is obviously a woman of
tremendous firmness of will."2
Other critics, equally skilled, arrive at words that suggest
they are responding to quite a different fantasy. Apparently,
they see Homer less as something precious held inside, more as
the lover implied and denied by the scene with which the
story ends. Sometimes the critic's analysis holds that fantasy
back from consummation, as when Irving Howe calls the story
"one of those chill fables in which" authors "do not let quite
enough 'life' break through the surface of their prose." Other
analyses carry the fantasy out: "At the center of the story is
the indomitableness of the decadent Southern aristocrat, and
the enclosing parts reveal the invasion of the aristocracy by the
changing order." Another reader speaks of "reverential conno-
tations [that] cluster about romantic love, the bridal night, and
Southern womanhood," but in the final image of that night,
"these hallowed clusters are brutally violated." Themes of the
sacred and profane, masculine and feminine mother flesh out
another critic's fantasy of sexual intercourse: "We have, on the
one hand, a rose offered in admiration to a woman of indomita-
ble spirit who clung, in the very process of dissolution, to the
vision of an ideal; and at the same time, we have the revolting
spectacle of an aging and impotent culture couching with a cor-
rupt materialism which its nobler components had rejected."3

48 5 Readers Reading

Evidently, critics, no less than other folk, have their person-
ality structures and unconscious fantasies; and even their
highly sublimated insights express them. Not only do equally
skilled readers show the usual variations in interpreting con-
scious themes and meaning; they also reveal in their wordings
that they are creating the story and its meanings for themselves
out of different unconscious materials: breakingn] through" a
"cluster" of "enclosing parts" as against obstinately stopping
a "natural process." There would seem little point, then, in
treating a story as a fixed stimulus embodying some specific
unconscious fantasy of phallic mother, castrating father, inter-
locking genitals, or any of the bestiary developed by those
psychoanalytic critics who simply decode literary works ac-
cording to a "Freudian" dreambook.
One could arrive, however, at a more subtle version of the
literary work as stimulus. It would be more in the spirit of ego
psychology to treat the story as offering its reader certain
formal, defensive, or adaptive maneuvers corresponding to ego
strategies in people. One might then be able to correlate differ-
ent readers' responses to a collection of comparable short
stories with the different readers' characteristic patterns of
adaptation, discovered by interview or projective test.4 Very
soon, however, one meets the kind of unexpected response I
got from a reader in the preliminary group-call him Sheldon.
Before one of the exploratory interviews, I had predicted (to
myself) Sheldon would dislike Mann's "Mario and the Magi-
cian" because he did not like excessive control from others.
This is what he actually said: "Great story! What atmosphere!
The real reason I enjoyed it was because there was so much
Italian in it. ... I spent a little while at Acapulco once ... "
and he was off on a comparison of Latin types--Italian,
Spanish, and Mexican-concentrating wholly on the beach
scenes of the first half of the story and quite neglecting the
overpowering hypnotist in the second.
Inevitably, one has to regard what the reader brings to the
story (his personality, life experience, and so on) as prior to the
stimulus of the story itself. Evidently, readers who differ about
"A Rose for Emily" do so because they are themselves differ-
ent. Therefore, one cannot predict what they will say about a

How? The "Experiment" 49

story from the story-another kind of prediction is required,
one based on the reader's personality or background. "A richly
experienced reader will prefer Hemingway's 'The Battler' to
Faulkner's 'A Rose for Emily.' "If a particular reader of 'A
Rose for Emily' has an unresolved oedipal problem (as deter-

mined independ<
of passivity and
character, he s
money." I did
interview, and
ticipating what

gently of the story),
fatherhood." "If a
should single out
make predictions
sometimes I was
my readers would

he should emphasize themes
particular reader is an 'anal'
images of dirt, smell, and
of this kind before every
startlingly successful at an-
say about the story and my

specific questions. More often, however, I got .responses as
unpredictable as Sheldon's excursion to Acapulco. More
troubling than these errors was the fact I could not tell why I
succeeded in some predictions and erred in others, even for the
same reader on the same story.
I had to learn for myself what Freud had recognized and
accepted a half-century before, that one cannot, in a truly
psychoanalytic framework, predict:
So long as we trace the development from its final outcome
backwards, the chain of events appears continuous, and we
feel we have gained an insight which is completely satisfac-
tory or even exhaustive. But if we proceed the reverse way,
if we start from the premises inferred from the analysis and
try to follow these up to the final result, then we no longer
get the impression of an inevitable sequence of events which
could not have been otherwise determined. We notice at
once that there might have been another result, and that we
might have been just as well able to understand and explain
the latter. The synthesis is thus not so satisfactory as the
analysis; in other words, from a knowledge of the premises
we could not have foretold the nature of the results. we
never know beforehand which of the determining factors will
prove the weaker or the stronger. We only say at the end that
those which succeeded must have been the stronger. Hence
the chain of causation can always be recognized with cer-
tainty if we follow the line of analysis, whereas to predict it
along the line of synthesis is impossible.5

50 5 Readers Reading

Nevertheless, even after I realized there was no use in them, I
continued to commit myself to written predictions before each
interview, simply for my own self-discipline.
These predictions then drove home another point: to be
applied ahead of time, the categories (both those to type
readers and those to class comments) must be crude and
limited compared to the actual words a reader would say.
Categories like "anal" or oedipall" or "experienced" or
"emphasize" or "prefer" or "single out" (as in the predictions
above) simply threw away most of what the reader said, often
the very parts of his discourse that seemed most individual. It
is when the critics of "A Rose for Emily" speak of "a subtle
effluvium from the story" or "social pressure" or "the revolt-
ing spectacle of an aging and impotent culture couching with a
corrupt materialism," that we glimpse the inner dynamics of
their personal synthesis and achievement of the story.
Categories like "anal" or "phallic" help a little to grasp those
dynamics-but only a little.
The same need to listen to a reader's actual words applies to
general literary processes as well as to the inner experience of
particular stories. Consider, for example, the familiar feeling of
"losing oneself" in a book or being "absorbed" in a work of
art. These, we saw above, derive ultimately from feelings of
being completely mixed into one's earliest, gratifying environ-
ment, sensations closely associated with nursing, and with
mothering. Therefore, one might try to correlate the degree
someone gets "taken out of oneself" by works of art with that
person's degree of "oral fixation." Finally, however, predic-
tion is impossible. Someone with a lot of "orality" could go
either way: he might easily become absorbed in all kinds of
experiences (not just literature), he might refuse to become
absorbed, or he might work out a complex mixture of absorp-
tion and escape (as we shall see one of our readers, Shep,
Further, the general category obscures the individuality of
the response. Just the three critics we have already heard on
this theme of being "absorbed" show considerable variation.*

* See above, p. 18.

How? The "Experiment" _l

Georges Poulet spoke of the way the work of art "lives its own

life within me,'
[the author] ens
Poulet feels as
himself or as th
mother and fet
taken over, eng
Ortega y Gass
immersed in th
three images of
out any interim
Poulet did, but
"prey." Robert
and "immersed
the experience:
become object,

' and his becoming the "prey" of "this being
iconced at the heart of the work." I sense that
though the work of art were a being inside
ough it had a being inside itself-some form of
us perhaps. Either way, Poulet himself feels
vulfed, or devoured like "prey." By contrast,
et talked about "living with [the characters],
eir air, their space, their time," and he used
a timeless time, "moment," "instant," "with-
ission." I feel he is experiencing merger as
more in terms of fusion and union than being a
Gorham Davis also spoke of being "absorbed"
," but he accented the element of passivity in
"The work is thinking him. His ego has
not subject." Again, it is the exact words these

writers use that tell us their experience, not the category
"orality," although it is correct as far as it goes.
Evidently, the words that even a professional reader uses
about what he reads reflect his personality, that "one myth for
every man," in Yeats's phrase, "which, if we but knew it,
would make us understand all he did and thought."6 Congreve
said it at greater length in terms of the metaphysical issues and
the humours psychology of his era:
Our Humour has relation to us and to what proceeds from
us, as the Accidents have to a Substance; it is a Colour,
Taste, and Smell, Diffused through all; th6 our Actions are
never so many and different in Form, they are all Splinters of
the same Wood, and have Naturally one Complexion, which
th6 it may be disguised by Art, yet cannot be wholly
changed: We may Paint it with other Colours, but we cannot
change the Grain. So the Natural sound of an instrument will
be distinguished, th6 the Notes expressed by it are never so
various, and the Divisions never so many.7
Fond as I am of Congreve, I did not use humours psychology
to interpret my readers' personalities and their comments.
Rather, I count myself most fortunate to have had the help of
two experienced psychological testers, Dr. Allan Zechowy,

52 5 Readers Reading

who worked with the first preliminary group of readers, and Dr.
Andrew Corvus, who tested the larger, younger group from
whom these five readers are taken. To each reader, they
administered at least a ten-card Rorschach and a five-card
Thematic Apperception Test (TAT). Later, on my own initia-
tive, I myself gave the COPE questionnaire (designed to elicit
defense mechanisms).8 I had hoped to predict Rorschach and
TAT outcomes from the readers' comments on stories; thus,
some readers were tested after the interviews (here, Sam,
Shep, and Sebastian). Later, I tried predicting readers' com-
ments on stories from the tests; hence other readers were
tested before the interviews (here, Saul and Sandra).
I could not make either set of predictions precise enough to
be meaningful, and I slowly realized that with ten or so inter-
views with each subject, each interview running from twenty to
forty pages, I had more than two hundred pages of free associa-
tions for each reader. I had, in other words, much more data
from which to infer their personalities than even these skilled
and efficient testers did because they had only worked with the
readers a few hours. I decided the real service the tests
rendered was to check my analyses of the readers' per-
sonalities, supplement my blind spots, point out themes I had
missed, or make me re-examine conclusions I had come to too
hastily. For the readers here reported, then, I have taken the
interviews as the primary source of data on personality, the
tests as only supplementary and to be overruled on the rare
occasions where the interviews and the testers pointed to
different conclusions.
To perceive the core of personality in someone, as I have
tried to do with these five students, one listens with the
proverbial "third ear." That is, one listens to what the other
person says about himself or love or politics or friends or ideas
or, to be experimental, to what he says about inkblots or cards
with pictures on them--but above all to what he says. The
"third ear" does not come to such words empty, however. One
listens with an open, free-floating attention to the kinds of
things people are likely to say or think about parents, their own
bodies, authorities, desires, or fears. One listens, in short, with
some knowledge of the issues clinical experience has found

How? The "Experiment" 53

important. You have had brief samples of this kind of listening
for resonances in phrases we considered from the critics about
"A Rose for Emily" or the remarks of Poulet, Davis, and
Ortega on literary absorption.
I wanted more, however. I wanted to bring together the
overtones and resonances I heard from my readers, whose
personalities I knew in a way I would probably never know my
fellow professionals'. To interrelate their comments, I found I
needed still another structure, one now overworked but still
powerful and true.

The Concept of Identity

I brought to the interviews themselves my belief that, for all the
infinite variations in his behavior, any individual also shows a
deep and essential unity in his personality. I had, in other
words, a concept of human character rather like Yeats'
"myth" or Congreve's "humour." Later, I learned that the
French critic, Charles Mauron, had applied the same assump-
tion to the personalities of various authors, seeking a mythe
personnel which would comprehend "both... the troubles of
the living man and the obsessive metaphors of the author."'
In my own search for the unity in personality, I began with
the first psychoanalytic characterology, which typed people
according to their dominant drives as these developed from
body zones. Despite its crudity, this rather simple system
enabled psychologists to group a great many character traits in
meaningful ways. It was partly because of this firmly estab-
lished typology that I chose these five readers out of the whole
group, because they give a range of such types. Sam's and
Sandra's drives concern themes of strength and power, particu-
larly as they relate to maleness and femaleness. Saul and
Sebastian took pleasure in controlling their own inner crea-
tions, mental and physical, as against external authorities,
while Shep showed strong aggressive drives associated with
situations of food, talk, or dependency. You will see over and
over again in their interviews traces of these phallic, anal, and
oral modalities, but you will also see that these body-derived
drives are far from fine enough to account for more than a small

54 5 Readers Reading

part of what they said about the stories they read.
Classing people only according to drives neglects the adapta-
tions and defenses that give rise to the more complex traits we
associate with character or personality. The classic psycho-
analytic definition of character is Fenichel's: "the habitual
mode of bringing into harmony the tasks presented by internal
demands and by the external world." The word "habitual"
stresses the way we sense ourselves and others as creatures
with a sameness: "Character means that a certain constancy
prevails in the ways the ego chooses for solving its tasks."
The remainder of the psychoanalytic concept of character
rests on an idea put forward in 1930 by Robert Waelder, which
has become one of the cornerstones 'of ego psychology.
Fenichel describes it this way:
Under the name of "the principle of multiple function"
Waelder has described a phenomenon of cardinal importance
in ego psychology. This principle expresses the tendency of
the organism toward inertia, that is, the tendency to achieve
a maximum of effect with a minimum of effort. Among
various possible actions that one is chosen which best lends
itself to the simultaneous satisfaction of demands from sev-

eral sources. An action fulfilling
world may at the same time resul
and in satisfying the superego.
various tasks to one another is
personality. Thus the ego's habit
the external world, the id, and the
teristic types of combining these
constitute character.10

a demand of the external
t in instinctual gratification
The mode of reconciling
characteristic for a given
lal modes of adjustment to
. superego, and the charac-
modes with one another,

From this point of view, character equals specific methods of
solution to inner and outer demands. Each person arrives at his
own individual methods of solution, and they remain constant
over long periods in his life.
Since they persist, these solutions must also give some
pleasure-otherwise, he would seek out an adaptation that
yielded more pleasure. It follows, therefore, that people choose
methods of solution that also gratify their dominant body drives
(oral, anal, phallic, and the like--in the older scheme). Thus

How? The "Experiment" 55

people whose desires take the form of absorbing things into
themselves might deal with the world primarily on the basis of
identification. Others, whose pleasures come from the creation
and control of inner products, might seek adaptations based on
getting right down to the "nitty-gritty," dealing with what's
"behind" the facade, "getting it right out in the open," and so
on. Thus, the new characterology includes the old, because
certain modes of adaptation tend to gratify certain drives, and
thus these adaptations become permanent.
New "or old, complex or simple, all characterologies must
account for the continuity we see in ourselves and others, the
sameness that Freud saw and mentioned as a clinician in 1908,
years before he had theory enough to account for what he
The sexual behaviour of a human being often lays down the
pattern for all his other modes of reacting to life. If a man is
energetic in winning the object of his love, we are confident
that he will pursue his other aims with an equally unswerving
energy; but if, for all sorts of reasons, he refrains from
satisfying his strong sexual instincts, his behaviour will be
conciliatory and resigned rather than vigorous in other
spheres of life as well.11
Today, psychoanalysis explains this sameness by Freud's con-
cept of the ego's defenses (developed and expanded after 1926)
and the concept of adaptation (largely developed after Freud's
death). Defenses and adaptations become habitual to the extent
that they consolidate satisfactions and reduce suffering.
From this point of view, we consciously and unconsciously
adopt strategies for minimizing the anxieties caused by conflicts
like those between desires and reality, desires and guilt, or
morality and reality. We also choose our strategies to achieve
as much pleasure with as little effort as possible. In the familiar
image of the donkey, we try to maximize the carrot and
minimize the stick, all the while doing as little work as we can.
The individual may arrive at a balance that suits him through
pathology: he may acquire a symptom, an inhibition, or a
neurosis. Or he may adapt positively and creatively, finding a
successful balance of pleasure and unpleasure, defense and

56 5 Readers Reading

relaxation, through love or work (to mention the two great
regions for healthy living). Whatever the solution for a particu-
lar sphere of his life, once someone has achieved it, he tends to
adhere to it. And beneath any one solution lies the deeper,
more tenacious, general structure of drives and adaptations that
changes little, if at all, even under the greatest stresses.
To express this constancy that informs everything a human
being says or does, Yeats spoke of a "myth," Congreve of
"humour," and Charles Mauron, of a "mythe personnel." In
recent years, "identity" has become the most popular word
to describe the modern psychoanalytic concept of character,
although Erik Erikson's "ego identity" is more accurate
and Heinz Lichtenstein's "identity theme" still more so. Be-
cause of the connections I want to make between literary
man and literary work, I tend to adapt an old Adlerian term
and speak of "style" or "lifestyle." Whatever the term, how-
ever, it must convey a constancy that colors every phase of
an individual's life. It is what he brings from all his past to all
new experience, and it is extremely difficult-perhaps impos-
sible-to change. Yet, in practice, it can often be expressed
quite succinctly.
The classic case that developed the idea of a concise verbal
statement of identity is Heinz Lichtenstein's Anna S., a woman
suffering through a pathetic and destructive round of alcoholic
bouts, lesbian affairs, and businesslike prostitution. Lichten-
stein concluded in working with her that her identity theme
could be "transcribed" as "being another's essence."12 That
is, Lichtenstein asserts, for every individual there is a central
identity "theme" on which he lives out variations, much as
a musician can infinitely vary a single musical motif to create
a theme and variations. By being a prostitute, Anna made her-
self her client's essence, the passive appendage that proved
his masculinity. In her relations with her mother-the kind of
woman of whom one would say, "She is nothing with-
out a man"-Anna became that man: a lover and husband who
sold brushes door to door or worked in a factory to support
her. She sustained her lesbian partners' claims to masculinity
by becoming very feminine and dependent and jealous in those

How? The '"Experiment" 57

The point is that one can state an identity theme for some-
body like Anna very briefly, yet that theme can ramify
infinitely into all the events of her or anyone's life. Critic
Charles Mauron, for example, takes all the texts (even of
writers as prolific as Racine or Moliere) and "superimposes"
them. Mere comparison would keep a distinct view of the
juxtaposed texts, but superimposition jumbles them in order to
bring out the "coincidences tnigmatiques" or "des rtseaux
d'associations ou des groupements d'images, obsedantes et
probablement involontaires." From these groups and networks
of images and associations he infers the "'mythe personnel"
that can then be interpreted as an expression of "la
personnalitd inconsciente" and its development, limited as
need be by the comparison with the life of the writer. "The
perception of the 'whole person,' says Lichtenstein, sum-
ming up his own conception of this kind of interpretation of a
personality, "means the process of abstracting an invariant
from the multitude of [bodily and behavioral transformations

during the
scribe as
"mythe pe
When I

a "th

whole life of the individual]. This invariant, when
in our encounter with another individual, we de-
the individual's 'personality' "'3-or "myth" or

or "character"
rsonnel" or "id<
say, then, that

ling" in a "system'
closer and closer to
to see their loss, I
as I can, identity
as they create infinil
to state for them
I enable us to under

or "ego identity" or "lifestyle" or
entity theme."
a certain reader wants to become
" or that another reader wants to
sources of strength and nurture and
am trying to state for them, as ex-
themes that permeate their lives
te variation on those themes. I am
the "myth" Yeats wanted that
stand all someone did and thought,

but I am arriving at such a "myth" by means of psychoana-
lytic ego-psychology.
Ego-psychology has, in Hartmann's words, "sharpened our
eyes to the frequent identity of patterns in often widely di-
vergent fields of an individual's behavior."''4 By 1966, Anna
Freud noted, most analysts had begun to conceive of "a
general cognitive and perceptive style of the ego," an extension
of notions of defense

58 5 Readers Reading

to include besides the ego's dealings with danger, anxiety,
affects, etc., also its everyday functioning such as perceiv-
ing, thinking, abstracting, conceptualizing. An ego style, in
this sense, is linked with the concept of defence but by no
means identical with it. It represents an attempt to embrace
the area of conflict as well as the conflict-free area of sec-
ondary process functioning.15
Such a "style," as Hartmann had said earlier, would show how
"a person's moral behavior is as much an essential part and a
distinctive sign of his personality as is his character or his
instinctual life."'6 In a more literary vein, such an "identity
theme" links a man's prose style with his total personality.'7
Equally, ideologies, values, and all systems projected on the
world, notes Abram Kardiner, will reflect the adaptation of
outer, social forces by inner character, often in surprising
ways. "The son of a millionaire may be a communist because
it seems rational and desirable. Back of his endorsement may
be an identification with the underdog. But he will present
his endorsement in the form of a logical argument which has
no reference to his unconscious identification with the 'un-
derprivileged.' "18
Identities in this sense begin very early, presumably with
one's biological endowment and prenatal influences-the
vague kind of thing mothers recognize when they speak of an
"easy" baby or a "good eater." Freud himself went so far as
to suggest that a person's repertoire of defenses might be
inherited (even though defense itself is an ego function), be-
cause id and ego begin life as one. To some extent recent
observations of newborn children bear him out. We seem to
come into the world with a certain ego style or "initial organiz-
ing configuration" that then becomes fleshed out with particu-
lars as we pass through Freud's phases of development,
Erikson's modalities, or the sequence of object relations some
English theorists have recently stressed.19 As the author of
Peter Pan charmingly put the matter: "I think one remains the
same person throughout [all the decades of life], merely pass-
ing, as it were, in these lapses of time from one room to
another, but all in the same house. If we unlock the rooms of

How? The "Experiment" 59

the far past we can peer in and see ourselves, busily occupied
in beginning to become you and me."'2
Lichtenstein, however, goes beyond the other theorists and
nontheorists to suggest one specific phase at which the identity
theme takes form: during the growth of self-object differentia-
tion, as the child begins to recognize that his mother is separate
and therefore that he is a separate being. Although born with a
great range of possible adaptations, "the specific unconscious
need of the mother actualizes out of these infinite poten-
tialities one way of being in the child, namely being the child
for this particular mother, responding to her unique and indi-
vidual needs." This way of being represents a "primary iden-
tity," "a zero point which must precede all other mental
developments." Then, the child develops in a kind of rhythmic
oscillation. He brings the identity he has achieved to each new
experience, which in turn enlarges the identity he brings to it."2
Thus, in Erikson's closely related epigenetic theory, "Each
successive step is a potential crisis." Erikson uses that
word, however, "to connote not a threat of catastrophe, but a
turning point, a crucial period of increased vulnerability and
heightened potential, and therefore, the ontogenetic source of
generational strength and maladjustment," a point, in other
words, where the individual's new growth subjects him to new
weaknesses in order to open him to new powers as well. "Each
stage becomes a crisis because incipient growth and awareness
in a new part function go together with a shift in instinctual
energy and yet also cause a specific vulnerability in that part."
The crisis ends when the new capacities match the new oppor-
tunities "to become full-grown components of the ever-new
configuration that is the growing personality."22
The central style or identity theme does not change but the
individual does as he absorbs changed external realities or
growth from within (biological changes, for example). These
changes imply danger, and the ego must defend, often by
affirming older patterns of adaptation. "Psychic development
implies at all stages both progressive and regressive manifesta-
tions," notes Elizabeth R. Zetzel, summing the matter up.
"Regression is thus an inevitable concomitant of forward pro-
gressive movement.""' Roy Schafer puts the matter in struc-

60 5 Readers Reading

tural terms: development of character involves "a series of
hierarchically ordered id-ego positions, each of which acts as a
defence against the position below it in the hierarchy.""4
Once a person's identity theme is established it never
changes, however. (Lichtenstein goes so far as to argue the
"identity principle" is prior even to man's drive for pleasure.
To give up identity one would have to become a thing--die.) At
the same time, the individual can grow and change infinitely
within that style. Similarly, the individual's theme is (probably)
not in and of itself healthy or unhealthy--only what he does
with it.
Anna's theme was "being another's essence." Before
therapy, she expressed it in a series of self-destroying relation-
ships, painful enough to lead her to seek help. After therapy,
she found other variations. Yet one can see the essential
continuity of her personality by comparing something she
wrote before with something she wrote after. Anna had had
fantasies of an imaginary lover, who was a "madman," and she
would set them down in a kind of poetic form:
Is that you beloved, is that you returning to Drown in my
madness, to baptize me with the Sweetness of our foolish-
ness? Oh, bring back the strange but happy love.-Bless
you, and drink with me my blood to quench our starved
thirstiness. Embrace me oh madness, let my nakedness
and nudity quench thy thirst for madness with love of a
longing heart.
When you leave I find my Self in a reality upon this God's
hell on earth, to breathe only the contemptuousness of
man's Sanity. Come back, come back, my Sweet love, don't
turn me out, let me bathe my Soul in your torment, bleed
my body of its blood for a Smooth Vintage of men's liqueur.
Let me drink to your holy madness, to our love of Solitude.
Oh madness, I love you, come back to keep me from Sanity.
In such prose poems, her images of being drunk by her lover,
bathing or drowning in him or he in her, state her wish to fuse
with him and become his essence-which is madness. Isolated,
however, she is a "longing heart," turned out into a reality,
which being sanity-separateness-is hell on earth. There is, to

How? The "Experiment" 61

be sure, a Byronic grandeur in Anna's seeking the unattainable,
but at the same time she was suffering-starving and thirsting
--deeply enough to seek help in therapy. After that therapy,
she wrote of her first real love affair:
I feel so much part of him that when he tells me something
that was unpleasant to him no' matter what I hate the
thing or person for it. I feel it displeased him and that makes
it terrible. If he is very tired, fatigue takes hold of me, and I
seem to share his feeling, and usually end up relieving him of
it. Does real loving make one feel a part of another? When he
makes love to me I really feel that I'm way down deep inside
of him, that his arms are my arms, etc. When he laughs ... I
am filled with sheer glee. When he is sad I long to whitewash
all that has caused him his miseries and I feel compassion so
deep that I usually have indigestion.
She is still "being another's essence," but now in a more
loving and self-fulfilling or, at least (I assume), a less painful
In short, interpreting behavior through an "identity theme"
explains how we remain the same, yet change. The essence of
this view of identity is that we can see one theme or style
permeating all aspects of an individual's life. In that sense, we
have an unchanging self, but nevertheless reality and one's own
inner drives demand that that self reach out to new experi-
ences. It then grows by adding these experiences as new
variations to its unchanging central theme. An "identity
theme" is determined by past events, yet paradoxically it is the
only basis for future growth and, therefore, freedom. It is the
foundation for every personal and human synthesis of new
experience, be it falling in love or simply reading a book. In
understanding the principles within the one we learn something
about the other as well, for the separate parts of life cease to be
so separate.
It is tempting to say, as many critics do, that a given reader
likes some story because it affirms his political or religious
beliefs, and, in a partial way, that kind of statement is true. But
one relates all fields of a person's behavior if one seeks out the
underlying identity theme or lifestyle that both the story and

62 5 Readers Reading

the beliefs (and a great many other activities) fulfill. As we
have seen, Sheldon liked "Mario and the Magician" because it
reminded him of his own trip to Acapulco. Yet I know it to be
more true that he was interested in Latins for their sexuality
and in ethnic types in general because he felt controlled by his
own matrix of tradition. To understand fully Sheldon's state-
ment, "The real reason I enjoyed [the story] was because there
was so much Italian in it," would take us very deeply indeed
into his life.
Again, we come up against the difficulty or impossibility of
sorting out the experience of literature into a discrete stimulus
and a definable response. Each reader will bring all kinds of
personal associations and experiences into the relationship
between himself and the story-not least the very conditions of
this "experiment." Obviously, I was myself one of the factors
entering into what these readers said about their reading, and I
need to face up to the biases and trends I may have introduced.

The Influence of the Sixth Reader

As you (the seventh reader) read the evidence, you will very
likely ask yourself from time to time how and to what extent I
influenced the things these readers said. After all, they were
undergraduates in their early twenties and I a full professor in
what one might call the prime of life. Some may have found the
whole interview procedure (complete with tape recorder) ar-
cane and threatening. Others may have taken my efforts at
experimental neutrality for hostility or indifference. Still others
may have felt frustrated that they were not told more of what
the tests revealed, for I found that curiosity about oneself was
the chief reason readers volunteered. All these readers knew of
my interest in applying psychoanalysis to literature, and some
of them tried at times to give me what they thought I wanted
(interpreted through the usual undergraduate misunderstand-
ings of psychoanalysis).
To ask how these factors affected what they said, however,
is to proceed from the same cause-and-effect, stimulus-
response model that we have already found inadequate. That
is, the story did not "cause" their response--they did. Simi-

How? The "Experiment" 63

larly, the interviewer and the interview situation did not
"cause" their response. Nor did the current crises in their
lives. But any or all of these might have-no, must have-
entered into what they said about these stories. The point is:
what "caused" what they said was their own inner style of
creation and synthesis of everything they were experiencing at
that moment.
It would be impossible to sort out all the factors that each of
these readers worked over in his own mind to make up his
personal synthesis of a short story. Could one "hold constant"
Saul's anger at being jilted by a girl whom he thought like the
heroine of the Fitzgerald story and still "vary" his fear of being
overpowered by me in the contest that he took the interview to
be? It is useless to think of the problem of Saul's experience of
the story-or of me-this way.
Each reader "storied his story." He created his experience
of the literary work from his own lifestyle. Thus, one of the five
readers, Sebastian, thought the Fitzgerald hero simply silly,
while Sam thought him sturdy and self-reliant and altogether
admirable. Sam said he felt toward one of the characters in
"The Battler" as toward a sinister and frightening Oriental
torturer, a Fu Manchu. On the other hand, Sandra found the
same character so gentle and reassuring, she positively glowed
that he was in the story. These are the things to be understood,
and they are not explained simply by saying Sebastian, Sam,
and Sandra were reacting to me.
Had I been working with questionnaires or fixed-question
interviews, looking for classes or categories of behavior that
could be considered the same no matter who was doing the
behaving, such contamination would have been fatal. Had a
reader said in answering a questionnaire that he liked a story
when he didn't, because he wanted either to please or to
frustrate me, the experiment would have gone quite awry. This
project, however, sought out the uniqueness of each response.
I tried to get the reader to say more and more rather than to
force his response into fixed classes and categories.
I was, therefore, more in the position of the analyst whose
patient brings him a made-up dream. It doesn't really matter.
Both a real dream and an invented one voice the dreamer's

64 5 Readers Reading

mind. So here, when Sam apparently misremembered and said
that what Miss Emily taught the maidens of the town was
knitting (instead of china-painting), I learned something about
what was going on in Sam's mind. I learned that he trans-
formed an activity with certain specific symbolic overtones
into an activity with quite different overtones, and it would
not make very much difference whether he did so uncon-
sciously or deliberately.
In fact, I think his was an honest misremembering, quite
impossible for me to "cause." And evidently the "words-on-
the-page" (which are "china-painting") did not cause it, either.
His misremembering is his unique act of re-creation, and even
if a dozen readers misremembered the china-painting as knit-
ting, the same reasoning would apply. I did not cause it.
Neither did the text. Therefore, I would have to look for the
explanation in the individual identity of each reader and his
unique way of giving life to the story for himself.
In short, we come back to the basic data of this study-what
the reader said. Once he has himself decided and said what he
was going to say, the data, the two hundred or more pages of
his talk, are fixed. What then comes to matter is the interpreta-
tion of this mass of material. In effect, the "experiment"
becomes the putting together of those materials with the
reader's lifestyle.

Two Kinds of Interpretation

The first interpretation involves looking through all the materi-
als for the identity theme of an individual reader. Drawing on
the tests as well as the transcripts, I looked through everything
for general traits. I sought remarks on general topics, such as
politics, marriage, friendship, sex, or family, and also general
patterns that pervaded all those pages of talk: splitting dangers
into two, looking for sources of security, seeing the world in
terms of systems and inanimate objects--that sort of thing. You
will find the results of this analysis in the next chapter, which
describes the five readers in detail.
The second mode of interpretation was much trickier. It
depended on the first which, after all, is a fairly traditional

How? The "Experiment" 65

psychoanalytic approach to free or more or less free associa-
tions. Having already arrived at an identity theme for a given
reader from all his interviews and tests, I looked through the
transcript of only one of his interviews to find the principles at
work in his highly personal synthesis of some one story.
As a practical matter, theory aside, my talk about a story
with a reader for an hour or so would result in a transcript of
from twenty to forty pages. To analyze this diffuse, discursive
text, I would transcribe (in a shorthand form, so I could see
it in a single overview) everything that reader said which could
conceivably illuminate his response: opinions usual and un-
usual, misreadings, slips, special wordings, body symbol-
isms, and so on. In practice, I would leave out only those very
rare remarks that said nothing about either the story or the
reader. I would sort these separate items into from ten to
twenty themes. Some of them would represent aspects of the
story (a given character or episode or theme, an opinion on its
merits, its style, and so on). Others would refer more directly
to the reader's concerns (for example, a political association to
the story, an association to some other work or an experience,
or a special emotion).
Frankly, it took me a long time to infer from the reader's
identity theme and the kind of reading he did the principles at
work. I found, finally, that I sorted out the ten or twenty
themes in his commentary on a given story into three interre-
lated and overlapping groups. First and simplest were those
statements about his likes and dislikes of the story as a whole
or of particular parts. Of course, sometimes I inferred a liking
even when a reader did not say so explicitly but showed a lot of
interest or enthusiasm at a certain feature. Second, I tried to
see how, within his likes and dislikes, his wordings revealed
fantasy materials: imagery of the body, for example, or
significant persons or familiar fears and desires-the kind of
thing we have seen reflected in the critics' wordings about "A
Rose for Emily" or the phrases Poulet, Davis, and Ortega used
about being "absorbed" in a literary experience. Third-and
this was the subtlest part-I tried to see how the reader had
adapted or managed various elements of the story. Had he
stressed some and omitted others? I was interested in his

66 5 Readers Reading

rewordings and his interpretations, his perception of the story
in the broadest sense. In particular, how did he see the charac-
ters? How did he interpret the various episodes? Had he for-
gotten parts (a name, for example)? Changed the sequence of
events? Misremembered plot or wording? All these I took to be
evidence of the way he had adapted the story to his own
identity theme, construing it through his defensive structures.
These analyses of the separate interviews make up the most
important outcome of an "experiment" which turned out to be
not an experiment at all but the interrelation of two kinds of
interpretation. Reworking and refining the interpretation of the
individual readings in the light of the readers' identity themes
led me to the general conclusions about the literary experience
this book sets out. I offer them to you in two forms.
Chapter 5 sets out in general terms the four principles that I
think govern the reading experience. They emerged slowly but
definitely, with greater and greater clarity, from successive
reinterpretations. Alternatively, I offer you the analyzed inter-
views themselves: five readers' readings of "A Rose for
Emily" in Chapter 6- and the same five readers' readings of
Fitzgerald's "Winter Dreams" and Hemingway's "The Bat-
tler" in Appendix B. In presenting these readings, I quote from
70 to 80 percent of what a given reader said about a given
work, but I quote it in a more meaningful sequence and with
considerable commentary from me to bring out the principles
within the reading.
That, of course, is the real problem of the sixth reader here:
that these conclusions rest on my interpretations, first of the
readers' personalities, second of their comments. Conse-
quently, my interpretations must necessarily express my own
identity theme. The best I can do for the time being (that is,
until the last three chapters) is be open with you and show you
step by step how I proceeded. In analyzing the interviews, I
was on my own, but for the readers themselves, Dr. Corvus's
tests provide some confirmation and guidance. The briefest and
gentlest of next steps, then, is to look at my style of interpreta-
tion as it applied to the search for the identity themes of these
five readers. The next step is to see the "Who?" in "Who
reads what how?"

4 Who? The Five Readers

They were undergraduates, advanced English majors, skilled
and interested enough in reading so that all five were consider-
ing graduate school-in short, the kind of student a teacher of
literature gets to know best. To know them only as students,
however, is not to know why they experience a story or a poem
or a drama the way they do. That calls for something more, a
richer kind of knowledge, a sense of the essential core of the in-
dividual, his or her personal myth, lifestyle, or identity theme.
The data we have consist of Dr. Corvus's Rorschach and
TAT results, the COPE test I sometimes administered,' and,
most important, the two hundred or more pages of transcribed
interview with each reader. To interpret the primary data, the
transcribed interviews, I looked for each reader's remarks on
his habitual likes and dislikes in people, politics, poetry-
generalizations about anything. As I read, I kept in mind
themes Dr. Corvus had singled out, such as feelings about
gender and sexuality, attitudes toward aggression, preferred
defenses, sensory modes, recurring configurations, and imagery
of all kinds. I looked for them in the interviews and also for
general clinical entities, personality types and themes, patterns
of drive and defense, that occur commonly in our culture. And
I also tried to keep an open mind.
In my own notes, I jotted down in shorthand form every
statement a reader made that generalized beyond a particular
text. I tried to recognize in the set of generalizations a central,
recurring pattern of drive and defense, in short, an identity
theme within the infinite variations of one individual's con-
cerns. I was carrying out what Heinz Lichtenstein calls "the
process of abstracting an invariant from the multitude of trans-
formations," which is the principle of another person's
"personality."''2 First and always, however, I had in my mind's
eye the individual human being in front of me and my own
feelings toward him.

68 5 Readers Reading


Good-looking, tall, talkative, cheerful, and gregarious, Sam
was a favorite among the departmental secretaries, with whom
he gaily chatted and joked and flirted when he came for
interviews. He dressed dapperly, taking obvious pleasure in
himself and his world and the flattering attentions his world
bestowed on him. I must admit he quite charmed me, too: I
thought him one of the most likable readers I worked with. He
laughed with ease, and he lounged through his interviews with
me comfortably and engagingly. I sensed a certain lack of drive
or aggression in him, but a striking ability to project himself
imaginatively into people and situations, lending his own good
nature freely to his guesses about the motivations of others.
As he told me more about himself, I realized how much Sam
wanted to be supplied esteem and admiration, particularly as a
tall, handsome, stylish, affectionate young man. He found
conflict menacing and either fled fights literally or refused to
recognize them. At his most successful, he wooed and placated
whatever threatened him until he and it could serve each other
in the mutual admiration Sam liked.
This pattern of drive and defense, this hunger for outside
supplies of self-esteem, which was to be satisfied through
mutuality, colored Sam's personality as he revealed himself in
offhand comments on various events and aspects of his life.
For example, he told me that he tended to be rather "square"
in matters literary. "I suppose my taste is just terribly tradi-
tional," he said, contrasting his likes with more "experimen-
tal" fare, and by the word "traditional" admitting he sought
reassurances from the past (or perhaps confirmation from me).
Similarly, although he held liberal enough political views, he
liked established institutions, even Lyndon Johnson (at a time
when almost all his fellow-students were gnashing their teeth at
him). "I've a great deal of sympathy for [him]. He's got a
rotten job." In a period of long hair and body odor, Sam held
out for "social amenities and graces and stuff like that."
They at least seem to me to be much more abiding. Those are
the things that carry down through the generations.... Sure,

Who? The Five Readers 69

they're ephemeral and they're superficial. Fine. But those
are the things that seem to be more worthwhile to master
than any particular credo that may be out of style in five
years. And besides, you don't effect any changes anyway.
I'm very pessimistic about that.
Sam's pessimism about political actions showed the passivity
implicit in his desire to deal with reality by cozying up to it as a
child would. Thus, he could laugh at his own response to a
movie, "I enjoyed the color--as I and a child of five would
-and I enjoyed all the motion." At movies, "I just literally
lose myself in it. I think of nothing else. I think of no one that
I'm with. I think of no problems that I have. I just literally sit
back and watch the movie." Similarly, he described a theatrical
performance: "This was a case of my really being carried away
by what was said, by the lines." People, by contrast, did not
merge with him so easily as he with works of art. "If you ever
feel in any mood, don't ask someone that you're feeling it
about what they're thinking, because the answer is inevitably
something that will destroy you totally..., because they're not
thinking anything attuned to my mood."
In phrasings like "being carried away," Sam often put his
feelings of regression and identification in terms of body move-
ment. "I think that the movie, with its greater scope and with
its more intense powers of pushing you wherever the camera
goes, has greater capabilities as far as audience participation
(of sorts) goes than the play does." Sometimes, Sam's phras-
ings turned toward a sexual passivity, as when he spoke of
John Updike's poetry: "I think what he set out to accomplish,
or what it seems to me he set out to accomplish, he accom-
plished in me." Often, he phrased his likes and dislikes as body
movements. Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" was
"too extreme, too much of a pull on the imagination," while
Katherine Mansfield's "The Garden Party", he said, "never
got you into the nitty-gritty of any great universal problem." A
story "has to at some point lead youto more basic things."
The feminine identification he implied by being so passive
showed in Sam's style of study, particularly in the house-
wifely ways he avoided anxiety:

70 5 Readers Reading

Let's say I have a paper to do ... I will do anything. I will
find- You know, I'll mop the floors so as not to have to start
to do that paper. I will wash dishes. I will page through a
magazine that I haven't looked at and should be looked at
because the new one's coming in and if I don't look at it, I'll
never look at it and so on. As long as it's a reasonably valid
excuse. I'll dust. I'll empty ashtrays. I'll straighten my desk.
I'll take care of any little trivia until, like if I've got a week to
do a paper, there is nothing left to do ... except to sit down
and do the paper.
This passive trend affected his reading habits: "I want to have
a couple of hours to sit down and read [a book I'm really into].
That's why I do most of my reading at nighttime, when all the
dishes are done, the bathroom is clean, and all that stuff, and I
can just sit down." I got the picture of someone being clean,
orderly, or erect on demand. Thus, Sam said he read The New
Yorker for a store of amusing ephemera, because "I find myself
a lot of times in social situations where conversation has to be
kept going and whether I am actually responsible for it or not,
I find myself feeling that something's got to be done, and that
I'm the elect- So things have to come up out of nowhere."
Thus, Sam would stop being passive or housewifely and
"come up" with something, because he felt he was being cho-
sen or demanded of and someone might judge him adversely if
he did not play a more active role. Also, a fear of the unknown
--such as difficult poetry-would bring him up: "If I'm sitting
down to read [Wallace] Stevens, I'm on the edge of my chair."
"You've got to be ready to catch the things he throws out."
"I've got to be on my toes. I've got to be constantly thinking
of what I'm doing." "I am sitting on the edge of the chair, so to
speak, pencil in hand, ready to underline words, and to watch
out for syllables and stuff like that." By contrast, with Up-
dike's poetry, which Sam took to be "an exercise in language
play," "I find myself able to sit back in the chair. I can put my
pencil down and just read him and it's nice."
Sam was again brought up into an erect position in his
response to D. H. Lawrence's "The Blind Man," a mysterious
story that plays a theme and variations on fears of injury. Sam

Who? The Five Readers

defended against the blindness by watching. "Wow! It's
something!" "It was strange." "I wasn't terribly comfortable.
I was always kind of hanging on ... trying to grasp just what
was going on. It was kind of unfamiliar." "I wasn't exactly
sure what I should have my eyes open for ... and it seemed to
me that he [Lawrence] kept trying to say something, kept
trying to tell everybody something, and that I had to keep
aware for what it was." Similarly, with "experimental" litera-
ture, "Perhaps it is just that I don't understand it. Maybe I'm
just a bit afraid of it, but I just think that there is a lot of other
stuff that one could be bothering about."
These two last responses outline Sam's two basic adaptations
to threat: in the second, flight to get close to some other,
nonthreatening thing; in the first, trying actively to "grasp" or
see or understand what was going on-preferably so as to
achieve a loving, passive identification, the "it's nice" he felt
when Updike accomplished something in him. "I'm romantic
enough to like the idea of touching and of that meaning some-
thing." "I'd be perfectly willing to adapt myself to an Italian
sense of touch."
A lot of my guards are dropped immediately, when I'm put in
with Italians, because that's where two men can walk down
the street arm in arm and not be-not have water poured on
them from high windows and stuff like that, and girls can
hold hands as they walk down the street, and these are things
which I find personally charming.

In general Sam tended to retreat
simple friendliness, faintly sexual, b
at a critic's making a good point, he
on the flyleaf for being clever," or

I have great sympathy for
especially among friends, mc
lovers, where, you know,..
to worry about... [but with
becomes meaningful .

from heterosexuality to a
between men. For example,
quipped, "I simply pat him

the sacredness of touch,
ire so among friends than among
. you have so many other things
friends] even the slightest touch

. and, one should add, a means to identification.
Dr. Corvus described Sam in clinical terms as a well-put-

72 5 Readers Reading

together, almost classical, hysteric, that is, to oversimplify,
someone who deals with reality in terms of male and female
bodies. Thus, Sam showed the ability to range, in his Ror-
schach responses, from parts and fantasies of people to real,
whole human forms. For example, he could move from raw,
unrepressed "cock" and "phallus" to symbolizations like
"bowling pin" or "snake head," or from an area of the inkblot
to an actual, well-known person. What problems Sam showed
in the Rorschach seemed to stem from aggression. When he
perceived aggressive material in the inkblots, he would flee, as
it were, to the edges. To inkblots that ordinarily evoke aggres-
sive responses, Sam's associations suggested that, for him, ag-
gression chiefly had to do with biting or the mouth: he would
see "something crabbish or clawish," "tigers," "wolves," "a
fox," "a manta ray," or, most explicitly, "an angry mouth."
He also seemed to retreat easily from masculine aggression to
an infant's hunger, as when he moved (in a series of responses)
from "scrotum" to "breast" or from "a [David] Levine carica-
ture of a nose" to "breast and tummy." Never, in his re-
sponses, was he the aggressor. Rather he cast himself as a
wooer, trying to placate others and get them to like him,
perhaps, Dr. Corvus suggested, as a reaction against his own
aggressive feelings.
One would guess Sam feared and denied his own anger
because he feared the anger of others who might retaliate
physically. Such a dynamic showed, for example, in the TAT
story Sam wrote for Card 13B which pictures a boy sitting in an
empty doorway.
The boy sat stooped and huddled and small against the black
depths of the darkened house beyond the doorway. The sun
slanted against the side of his face, catching the glisten of his
eyes and the gold of his hair. He thought: "Father is away
and gone for the day. I wish he would never come back and
mother and I would be alone together and mother would be
different and we would love each other as it was once before
father ever came back." The father walked into the yard,
glinting fire-eyed, red-haired, to the boy-towering above
him, daemonic, fiery. The boy shuddered as the father

Who? The Five Readers

stooped to pick him up. The father gave the boy a kiss on the
forehead and set his bare feet back on the dust of the ground.
The boy thought the blood [sic] that ran from the calf's throat
when his father killed him last week, and how it ran into the
dry dust of the ground.

I cannot help feeling that Sam was trying tc
or me by giving a pair of "Freudians" the k
oedipall" story he thought we wanted.
diction of the story shows he was trying to
does not disguise oneself, however, by
Sam identified easily with the boy, rea
thoughts into direct quotation. The first feel
loneliness or depression ("the black deptl

)please Dr. Corvus
ind of transparently
Also, I think the
be "literary." One
being literary and

Idily projecting his
ings of smallness or
hs") Sam canceled

out by picturing the light of the sun enhancing the boy's ap-
pearance and by having the boy imagine an earlier union with
his mother. This wish to go back prior to the father's impor-
tance remained only a wish, however, although the fears and
anger associated with it were clear enough in the defenses
against them. Sam mollified the fiery, daemonic father: all he
does is kiss his son. In the description of the towering, red-
headed father and also in the rough equation of the boy's body
on the ground to the cut calf ("his father killed him [whom?]
last week"), Sam almost treated the father-son relation as a
contest of two phallic demons. "The boy thought the blood" (a

father, bu
man as a
fear, Sam

and the




slip"?) suggests Sam's fear and anger toward the
t, presumably, Sam partly identified with that fiery,
father, too. The anger, Sam denied by seeing the
loving father and the son as misunderstanding. The
denied by, first, wishing the father away, then, by
n as only loving. Loving and being loved, then,
him's most pervasive answers to his own aggression
;gression of others. He would deny inner and outer

;, if need be,
and, indeed,
e same patter

to find love and admiration among father,
ns of defense showed more schematically

in Sam's COPE test. In five out of six queries, Sam picked as
his preferred response (eighth decile): "He realizes that the fault

74 5 Readers Reading

for [X] lies completely with himself and with no one else." The
designers of the test call this "turning-against-the-self," "a way
of dealing with anxiety-blaming the self rather than others
who also may be available." By defining his fault himself, Sam
avoided having it either in or defined by "others."
Conversely, Sam's least favorite defensive maneuver (last
choice out of five, four times out of six, hence first decile) was:
"He feels that he may [do or be X], but with help from some-
one more experienced, he could change." As the test designers
say, this item "implies recognition of the anxiety and a state-
ment of the need for help, employing the use of a parent-
figure," and this was not something Sam liked to do at all-
have a parent recognize deficiencies in himself. By contrast,
Sam loved to relate himself to others in a context where both
would see things to admire.
To use all this testing to understand Sam's reactions to lit-
erary works, we need to translate it into precise terms of drive
and adaptation, and then into an identity theme. We can think
of Sam as driven by two kinds of hunger. First, he hungered for
admiration of his boyish virility and charm, most specifically,
of his erectness in all senses of the word. Second, he longed for
affection and thought he would achieve it through "touch"
leading to merger with some reassuring person. He resisted his
own aggressive drives-instead, he wanted to be given affec-
tion and admiration in a passive way.
Sam's adaptations had a duality that matched his drives.
Primarily, Sam tried to deal with dangers by creating situations
of mutual admiration and reassurance leading to identification,
particularly with the very person whose aggression he feared.
Through this kind of identification, Sam could gratify at least
three drives: to receive admiration and love by wooing them
from that other; to penetrate, fuse, or merge with the other; to
act out aggressions vicariously and guiltlessly through the
other. Secondarily, Sam dealt with dangers by external flight or
internal avoidance: denial (refusing to perceive dangers); re-
pression (refusing to acknowledge that he had perceived a
danger); regression (a retreat to an earlier state of mind), and
so on. In still more clinical terms, Dr. Corvus remarked la
belle indifference, the Pollyanna and counterphobic denials

Who? The Five Readers 75

often seen in the classical hysteric.
Flight, however, especially a flight from passivity, could
itself let Sam assert power and gratify drives to express his
manliness, as when he could "come up" with a joke or an
interpretation. Flight could also make a bid for outside supplies
of admiration or affection: "See how I stand up and fly, free of
wrongdoing. Admire and love me." Inner flight, particularly a
regression toward childishness, could open still another way of
receiving a flow from outside of love and admiration from an
environment partly seen as mothering him. And all these adap-
tations could either aid identification or avoid aggression and so
help Sam achieve the popularity on which he thrived.
In briefest terms, Sam's fantasies and defenses came to-
gether around wishes to take in or get out, taking in passively
or getting out actively. Thus, Sam wanted to take in love and
admiration of his own self-contained masculinity. He defended
against threats to this solitary maleness by getting out of
dangers into an isolated boyishness or by coming close to and
taking into himself reassurances about his maleness from out-
side. Ideally, he achieved the most satisfaction by combining
both these defenses and his hunger to be loved as an intact,
boyish male by fleeing to a source of admiration. He did not
want a sexual woman (who might pose dangers to his isolated
virility) so much as he wanted desexualized brothers, fathers,
or mothers-provided they seemed strong enough to him to be
sources of security against his own deeply buried and quite
unconscious hostilities. We could state this as an identity very
laconically indeed: to get out of dangers to his maleness and to
take into his body love and admiration.
To be sure, this must seem to you much more of an X ray
than a portrait. Only a short step, however, takes us from
Sam's identity theme-with its polarities of loss and gain,
taking in and getting out, male and female-to the very real,
very ingratiating and dressy young man seated before me,
confessing his concern for manners and external appearances,
touch between friends (but not lovers), The New Yorker,
housekeeping, and Lyndon Johnson. In all such preferences
and interests Sam re-created those polarities-and, of course,
in his experience of literature as well.

76 Five Readers Reading


The first thing I sensed in Saul was self-possession. He had an
inwardness, intensity, and concentration that one associates
with the traditional image of the scholar. Yet this self-contained
quality masked a number of paradoxes. Although he was the
most scholarly of this group of readers, Saul was also the most
quirky and unexpected. He sought a precision and clarity far
beyond anything the others tried for, yet niore often than not
the result was shadowy, vague, and elusive. He seemed eager
to participate in the project, but when it came to the interviews
themselves he so managed and controlled them as to be dis-
tinctly uncooperative. He talked, but he seemed to talk mostly
to himself. He would muffle his words in his beard, embodying
his tendency to slur in a modern hairiness. Matters got more
difficult the more he talked, for, to get things very exactly, he
would read quickly, softly, in a mumble, as if to himself, long
sections from the stories, making his tapes painful and difficult
to transcribe. Nevertheless, whatever his unconscious feelings,
he brought to our enterprise a conscious commitment and
enthusiasm that I appreciated.
Dr. Corvus thought Saul showed a good deal of originality in
his Rorschach responses. He would come up with things like
"a Gemini capsule" (Card II), "gibbons" instead of ordinary
monkeys (III), or an image like "gophers holding hands with
elephants" (VIII). He was much involved with trying to make
the whole card make sense, and often he would use his in-
genuity to synthesize and master the entire blot.
He had trouble, however, with colors. He would say things
like, "The colors don't support this well." "The red and white
conflict with a sense of fact" (Card II). "The red is spatially
different" (Card III). In Rorschach testing, Dr. Corvus said,
discrepancies perceived between the colors and the shapes
often signal discrepancies felt between emotions and intellect.
Saul tended to use harsh or degraded animal imagery for sexual
material, and this might have been the basis for such a feeling
of conflict.
Saul seemed preoccupied with another set of images: small-
ness and largeness (for example, the gophers and elephants).

Who? The Five Readers 77

Often (as in Card VI) he saw the relationship as "a small
creature towing a large one." Other responses-Draculas, fat
cats, a fat professor, various images of food--introduced situa-
tions in which the "large one" was eating the "small crea-
ture." Saul repeatedly used the word "odd" for the blots, and
he concerned himself with the "strangeness" of the various
images and how well they "fit" the totality. Thus, he would
often turn from biu or "important" sections of the blot to

concentrate on innocuous details. Dr.
for him was, "He's a photographer
peeking at small facets, rather than the

Corvus's first metaphor
, searching for reality,
total view." This, I take

it, was what he accomplished by his scholarly, Talmudic style
in his interviews with me, when he would take pains to read out
exactly the right wording of some relatively unimportant pas-
sage while the larger question I had asked him went unan-
swered. "Circumspect," in its original Latin sense of "looking
around," would describe Saul exactly.
In his COPE test, he avoided the defense of "denial" (in the
sense of "a lack of recognition of feeling toward a significant


*.. a lack of recognition that the discrepancy between
and ideal behavior occurs ... The 'don't worry'
"). He chose denial last six times out of six, placing it
in the zero decile. Saul did not like at all the idea of not

seeing something. By contrast, Saul did like to have what he
saw confirmed by others. He favored the defense of projection
(defined in this test as "reversing the subject and object of the
feeling"; "the anxiety problem is accepted but the motivating
source of the behavior is perceived as being in the object rather
than the subject"). Thus, in his Rorschach responses, he would
sometimes preface an image by saying, "You can see ."
meaning, "I see," or, perhaps, "I hope you see what I see."
Another way he would strengthen his sight was to argue his
perceptions into validity. Thus, in Card IV (the "father" card),
he saw a tall man leaning against a tree. "That [the tree] is to
account for the odd appendage." In effect, he would comment
on his comment, his fantasy becoming more real than the
inkblot that gave rise to it. Once, at least, Dr. Corvus said, he
physically turned away from the card so as not to be distracted
by it as he developed a particularly interesting fantasy. Some-

78 5 Readers Reading

times, he would give his images tactile values: for Card VIII,
"cotton candy, but it's the wrong consistency." At other
times, he would produce three-dimensional pictures with angles
and perspectives.
As with the other subjects, a TAT response gives a good
sample of Saul's style. This is to the boy in the doorway:
Appalachia--boy's family not desperately poor (he has shirt,
overalls in decent repair) but still they live in hand-hewn
house. Poor enough that the boy is succumbing to the emo-
tional blight that poverty confers on the inhabitants of the
other America. Boy's unhappiness partly this, partly his
father's absence-he has been gone, looking for work, for a
month (when the mines pulled out 3 years ago, dad lost
job)-father not broken yet by the poverty (only extreme last
3 yrs.) but affected. The boy is affected by father's progres-
sive demoralization.
Saul's response is the shortest of all the subjects', and this is as
long as his TAT stories ever got. His writing was tiny and
crabbed, and in this story there are eleven places where he
crossed out his first word to replace it by a more considered
one, not, I would say, with any great difference in subtlety or
Yet in the content of what he wrote, he showed the same
careful scholarly attention to details such as how the house was
made or how good the boy's shirt and overalls were. But only
these few details caught his attention, since the story overall
remained quite elusive. Unlike Sam, who put a mother and a
red-haired father in the picture, Saul saw it entirely in terms of
loss, absence, and deprivation.
Specifically, he saw a large, vague, superior force; "pov-
erty," he called it, using only that word but using it twice.
"Poverty" was attacking an equally large, vague victim-
"Appalachia," "the other America"---and dealing out nebu-
lous harms-"emotional blight," "progressive demoraliza-
tion." The specific people are, vaguely, "succumbing" or "af-
fected." Against these shapeless ills, Saul tried to balance
details and set exact limits. He carefully distinguished two dif-
ferent causes for the boy's unhappiness. The family was "not

Who? The Five Readers 79

desperately poor," the father "not broken yet." The poverty
has been "extreme" only the last "3" years (expressed with
a digit) since the mines left.
In general, Saul sought a precision to avoid vagueness (but
unconsciously he often sought vagueness itself). He was preoc-
cupied with "fit." He was alert for the "odd" or "strange,"
and he would hedge, qualify, and redefine in his interviews
until he reached what he thought was just the right match.
Incidentally, this revising also controlled the interview accord-
ing to Saul's terms, not mine. "A logician," Dr. Corvus called
him, "a systems analyzer," and this defensive pattern ac-
counted for some of his literary preferences. "The prose works
with authority and precision,", he said of an author he liked
(Flannery O'Connor), "specifies something." "I like the preci-
sion in defining this emotion with a good deal of- Well, after
'precision,' I don't know for sure what to say. That strikes me
as absolutely right. That's another way of saying 'precision.' "
" 'Crystalline' is another word." "I get back to these vague
critical terms like 'conciseness' and 'efficiency' and so forth,
which I groove on." In particular, he liked "that kind of
precision, utterly no nonsense, precision in delineating the
inadequacies and grotesqueries." I decided Saul took especial
pleasure from women's controlling these grotesqueries, for he
praised a very frilly, feminine story as "perfectly realized,"
"perfectly described," "perfectly clear." "What the mother
does fits perfectly," Later, he described that mother as
"frightening terrible." Similarly, when he was discussing a Poe
story, he said to me, "I felt as though the prose was like iron
bars between me and great shadowy shapes on the other side of
them." In effect, as an English major and an aspiring writer; he
felt free to avoid the great shapes and concentrate on the
exactness of the controls.
Another way Saul's guardedness came through in his inter-
views with me was his habit of quoting authorities. In a given
interview, he might quote critics and writers half a dozen times,
often rather oddly. Thus, "I learned from Fitzgerald. I learned
more about how America works." He quoted another novelist
as an authority on what men's sexual fantasies were like. He
even cited me, as a critic, to myself and fed me psychoanalytic

80 5 Readers Reading

terms he thought might please me, confessing meanwhile, "I'm
still pretty innocent in this terminology." He also quoted a
great deal of text and felt uncomfortable when I posed ques-
tions that asked him to imagine events not explicitly described.
"Uh, now we're talking less about the text with that question.
It's not really clear. ... That one was one of the questions I
was asking myself, obviously. Um, textually, um [pause] textu-
ally, I think it suggests ." and he began to quote again, thus
evading my question and keeping his imaginings about the text
quite to himself.
I took Saul's inwardness and scholarly intensity to represent
at the visible level a deeper inner need to hold knowledge and
situations in himself. Saul was a remarkably guarded and
secretive young man, much concerned with issues like: Who
controls whom? Who is big and powerful and therefore likely to
control? Who will be exact and hard and therefore force the
other to let go of something, particularly something sloppy or
vague, hard to hold onto, whether it is inside or outside one's
self? At his deepest level, Saul seemed most to fear being a
small, passive object with some big, vague power threatening
to take something out of him. He was afraid that a "mine"
would be "pulled out." He seemed to expect the threat from a
large, sadistic person, most likely a woman (for Saul tended to
see women as threatening, aggressive, or austere).
Saul's scholarly and logical search for precision was the
creative way he avoided this danger. He became an intellectual
who got things to fit or match in an exact balance that he could
control. He bargained terms with that superior force, fearing a
disproportion that would lead to an unequal bargain and a
situation where he would be overpowered and forced to give up
something precious. He constantly searched his environment
for anything big or vague that might pose a danger. He needed
to see all threats before they could become dangerous; to leave
nothing hidden or uncertain; to control situations; and, in
particular, to hew to measured balances between closeness and
distance, emotion and intellect, acceptance and rejection, or
man and woman. If he could not get such a match or bargain,
he would avoid the whole situation, physically or psychically,
and look for a world of safe precision elsewhere.

Who? The Five Readers 81


Of all the readers, Shep most intrigued and most saddened me.
I found him mixing in the most striking way, stereotype and
original, morality and pathology, maturity and immaturity. He
held forthright and progressive ideas but in a bitter, wronged
way. Shep presented himself as almost a prototype of young
alienation-radical, hip, and hostile. His clothes had achieved a
kind of monochromatic brown patina. Indeed, he proudly told
me one day that everything he had on his back was used
clothing he had scrounged for free. His hair was very long and
very much in a state of nature. In the interviews, he sprawled
and slouched, and his flat Southwestern a's often trailed into
snarls. He tended to be taciturn or at least to measure his
words carefully.
He could also be evasive. Consistently, he diverted literary
talk into his own sweeping generalizations about revolution,
drugs, sex, and a sort of at-oneness with the cosmos. When he
did confine himself to literature, he began almost automatically
to analyze it, skillfully phrasing clever comments and modern
dogmatisms, but talking almost to himself. He was quick and
good at literary analysis, but he preferred to seem impulsive,
and often, I thought, he deliberately and self-consciously
created the mere appearance of spontaneity.
I got the impression from seeing Shep among other students
that he had no close friends. Certainly, he never mentioned a
close relationship with another person (as Sam talked about
walking with friends and lovers or Saul about his girl troubles).
Shep did complain of his parents, bolh in his childhood and
in his life at the time of the interviews, and he did mention var-
ious writers and celebrities. In a manner almost mythically
American, he would speak of fleeting figures he had met on
his travels-Shep as the archetypal hitchhiker, the stranger
on the train, the frontiersman. But he never spoke simply of
being with someone. Instead, he seemed to relate to people
in terms of systems, abstractions, and ideologies. To be
sure, most of us in Shep's milieu in 1969 applauded Shep's
values but, even so, he gave them an oddly bitter, relentless

82 5 Readers Reading

Dr. Corvus told me that Shep would typically project some-
thing into the test materials but then deny his own projection,
insisting someone else had put it there. In the first cards of the
Rorschach, for example, he spoke of the images he gave as
"the arrangement of ink." "It was designated that way," he
said, mixing his saying with the blot's design.
Similarly, in one of the interviews, he remarked, "You're
leading me down the primrose path just to see how much I can
fabricate." True, I was much interested in his "fabrications,"
but why did he think fabrication a "primrose path"? Why
would he say of my request that he retell the story in his own
words, "That sounds like a trap question"? Before taking the
TAT for this study, he recalled, "I think I had one of those
once, and it didn't make any sense, because the pictures all
aimed toward a certain story that wasn't what I wanted to see
in it." I thought he was saying he preferred his own fantasy
free from what he took to be a controlling intelligence in the
pictures. In the same way, Shep tended to see the Rorschach
cards as literal, not in an "as if" way. Many of his responses to
them were hostile: images of projectiles or ripping and tearing
apart. In Card IV, he saw a bat, but it was "not particularly out
to get me," he said, as though he had to remind himself he was
not under attack. Dr. Corvus said he got the impression Shep
felt watched by a harsh superego.
As I reminisce about Shep, I find myself thinking that his
mind adapted to the world as a small or frightened animal
would. That is, he related to reality by perceiving it in terms of
threats. Indeed, a vulnerable organism has to react this way in
order to keep constantly on the alert. In this mobilized state,
Shep coped adroitly with the world's actual dangers (and those
he projected into the world) in one of two ways: either he hid
or he fled to a point from which he could fight.
For Shep, hiding meant becoming a mere object among other
objects in a "system." Flight meant exile and resistance.
"That's a damned everyday occurrence in my life, the fascism
of this country. I carry a piece of paper in my hip pocket," he
said one day, referring to his draft card, "that tells me about
it any time I care to look, and that will probably drive me
into exile." Like so many in 1969, Shep felt that he had only

Who? The Five Readers

the choice of submitting like a mere piece of paper to an
all-powerful state or fleeing elsewhere to fight another day,
and the political setting exactly matched these two modes
of adaptation.
The United States of 1969 also matched his need to perceive
the world as threatening and to threaten in return. In all our
conversations, Shep had a tendency to push out from the ma-
terial at hand into general themes and issues, usually political
and social, where he could, in effect, pick fights. Some of these
generalizations and comparisons seemed sensible enough, some
seemed silly, but all gave me the same feeling in the interview
situation. I felt challenged and, in hearing or reading our inter-
views again, I often detected a testy note in my questions--as
now I feel a distinct tendency to be defensive in writing about
those discussions. Shep was forcing on me (and on others he
described in his interviews) occasions to take offense or to
These assertions functioned multiply in Shep's character. He
was talking the "language of escalation," generalizing more
and more widely and so maximizing the possible areas of disa-
greement. He thus created the aggressive atmosphere that
mobilized his adaptive strengths. In one mode, he cloaked him-
self in generalities. In another, these general themes and issues
worked as a kind of flight for Shep, away from my literary
questions into something he himself had chosen; and there, he
could fight.
One day, for example, he announced he had come across a
review that said an author had "raised fiction to the level of a
sport." Is this what one says to a singularly nonathletic teacher
of literature? He talked about Shopper's World, a local mall:
"It's really a scary place, not so much the people, but as a
whole plastic environment covering acres and acres." He, by
contrast, was "into" Zen and yoga and so did not need a hi-fi,
did not even like light shows or the Fillmore. I found myself
feeling I was damned if I did (but cowardly if I didn't) argue
with him about the aesthetics of shopping plazas or the tech-
nology of acid rock. Yet if I had, I suppose we would have
settled into a distant sniping, each secure in the fortress of his
own value system.

84 5 Readers Reading

Shep's adaptation of "hiding" himself in a system showed
with particular clarity in his response to TAT Card 13B, the
picture of the solitary boy in the doorway. Ordinarily, this card
elicits depressive material, thoughts about the loss of nurturing
persons, for example, or loneliness or hunger. Shep quickly
developed the ambivalent themes one might feel toward a with-
holding mother, but he applied them to the government. (His
writing was all small capitals, as if there were no difference
between big and little letters.)


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