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Conversations in Literature

Objectifying the Text

This session showcases the reader as critic, as the readers step out of the text to reflect on what it all means, how it works, and why. From this stance, the readers look at Alice Walker's "Revolutionary Petunias" and Langston Hughes's "Theme for English B" to examine the authors' craft, the structure of the text and its various literary elements, and the choice of language. Dr. Langer reminds readers of the importance of personal evaluation of the text and encourages teachers of readers to include the techniques explored here in their classrooms.


When readers step out and objectify their reading experience, they reflect on the text and their experience with it, by analyzing its words and its structure, comparing it to other texts, examining the author’s craft, and objectifying their personal responses to it. From this critical approach, readers have the opportunity to extend and examine their understanding of the piece. In this stance, they can try on different ways of seeing the text, explore other interpretations, and think about the ways language, syntax, genre, voice, and time period work within in the piece. This is also where readers bring various approaches to literary criticism to bear, using the tools of New criticism, feminist criticism, or historical criticism, for example, to analyze and critique the text.At this point in the envisionment-building process, readers take time to explore the author’s use of language and the impact of significant phrases and word choices on the message relayed to the reader. Here, effective readers utilize literary elements and allusions to critically analyze the text. Like all others, this stance can occur at any stage in the recursive envisionment-building process.

Some of the questions that readers ask themselves when stepping back from the text include:

  • Are there any other texts that I have read that can inform my understanding of this piece?
  • Why did the author choose that particular phrase, style, or organizational feature?
  • How does the title relate to the construct of the story?
  • How does the language and voice affect my understanding of the text?
  • How does the author’s voice contrast with my own perspective?
  • Why did some of the word choices affect me so deeply?
  • How can my understanding of literary elements (plot, setting, theme, characterization, and so forth) inform my envisionment?
  • How would the piece differ if written, taken place, or read in another era or culture? How would I see things differently if I were from another culture, another era, or another’s perspective?
  • How do other interpretations of the text contrast with my own?
  • What are some other ways I can react to the text? Consider other perspectives, such as critical, feminist, or political.

For a complete guide to the workshop session activities, download and print our support materials.

Key Points

  • Making sense of what you read requires readers to call upon their personal, social, and cultural history, their life experiences, their literary experiences, and the text itself.
  • By trying on different perspectives, readers’ understandings are moved beyond their current depths, adding layers of complexity and richness.
  • When readers step out and objectify a text, they focus on the author’s craft, literary elements and allusions, and their particular reading of the text. They try on other perspectives through which they might add other dimensions to their growing envisionments. They become critics of the text and their experience with it.
  • Readers utilize literary elements as tools to extend and examine meaning in a text, adding layers of sophistication to the understanding of the piece.
  • Readers can step out and objectify their reading experience at any point in the envisionment-building process and recursively return to this stance as the envisionment is developed and extended.

Learning Objectives

After viewing this program, participants will be able to:

  • Name at least three key activities that readers complete as they step out and objectify their literary experience.
  • Demonstrate through example multiple ways of examining a text through different perspectives.
  • Explain how adopting a critical stance helps readers grow their envisionments.

Background Reading

In preparation for this workshop, you may want to read the poems “Theme for English B” by Langston Hughes and “Revolutionary Petunias” by Alice Walker. Both selections are available from the anthology Literature: An Introduction To Reading and Writing, 5th edition, Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs, ©1998, Prentice Hall, ISBN 0-13-010076-5. “Revolutionary Petunias” is also available from Fiction 100: An Anthology of Short Fiction, 9th edition, James H. Pickering, University of Houston, Prentice Hall, ©2001 ISBN 0-13-014328-6.

Online versions of “Theme for English B” can be found at:

NOTE: Public and college libraries have access to a search engine called POEM FINDER, a library Internet service which provides indexing and detailed subject access to over 600,000 poems and the full text of over 50,000 poems. Check with your local public or college library to use this research tool to find these and other poems.

If you have not already done so, you may consider reading Envisioning Literature, Chapter 2, “Building Envisionments.” Additional information on this stance can be garnered from these online resources:

Within the workshop session, you will be reading one of the following poems: “Richard Cory” by Edward Arlington Robinson, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas, or “She Walks in Beauty” by George Gordon, Lord Byron. The poems listed can be found online:

“Richard Cory” by Edward Arlington Robinson

An online version of the poem is available from

“Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night” by Dylan Thomas

An online version of the poem is available from

“She Walks in Beauty ” by George Gordon, Lord Byron

Click here for an online version of the poem.

or within the following anthologies:

  • Adventures in Literature, Pegasus Edition. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989.
  • America Reads Series, Classic Edition. Glenview, Illinois: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1989.
  • The Elements of Literatures Program. Austin, Texas: Holt, Rinehart and Winston Inc., 1989.
  • McDougal, Littell Literature. Evanston, Illinois: McDougal, Littell and Company, 1989.
  • The McGraw-Hill Literature Series, The New Treasury Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill School Division, 1989.
  • Prentice Hall Literature. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1989.
  • Scribner Literature Series, Signature Edition. New York: Scribner Laidlaw, 1989.

For other resources, look under Additional Reading.


Homework Assignment

Journal: How can you incorporate a received interpretation of a text (one that has been traditionally accepted as the one “correct” meaning of the work) as students step out and objectify the text?

Reading: In preparation for Workshop 7, you may want to read the poems “Icarus” by Stephen Spender, “Icarus” by Edward Field, “To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph” by Anne Sexton, “Landscape With the Fall of Icarus” by William Carlos Williams, and the first chapter of the novel The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. All texts can be found in the anthology, Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing, 5th edition, Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs, ©1998, Prentice Hall, ISBN 0-13-010076-5.

Some online resources you might want to consult include:

Poem: “Icarus” by Stephen Spender

Poem: “Icarus” by Edward Field

Poem: “To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph”
by Anne Sexton

Poem: “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus”
by William Carlos Williams

Novel Excerpt: The House on Mango Street, Chapter One,
by Sandra Cisneros



Extension: Classroom Connection

You may want to try this activity back in the classroom.

Cinderella: A Cross-Textual Study

There are several versions of the traditional tale many of us know as “Cinderella” on the web, including:

Click here for several published English-language versions of Cinderella in the European tradition. Be sure to consult the project’s home page to understand how the inventory was put together and how each work is annotated.

Versions of the Cinderella story from France, Germany, Norway, Ireland, England, Scotland, Georgia, Serbia, Russia, India, and Vietnam.

A similar tale told by the Mi’kmaq on the Native American Indian Resources page.

An annotated copy of the Perrault version of the tale.

The story of “Cap O’Rushes.”

The story of “Tattercoats.”

The same version of the Italian tale “Cenerentola,” from two web sources (first version | second version).

The Russian tale entitled the “Golden Slipper.”

The English story about “Rushen Coatie.”

A site that contains story synposes and text references centered on African, Caribbean, Creole, and African American Cinderella’s.

Visit these sites before meeting with your class, and either print the information you find there or bookmark the sites for students’ use.

Divide the groups into small research teams and ask each group to select three versions of the Cinderella tale to look at in-depth. Provide each group with a copy of a Venn Diagram and ask them to look at the similarities and differences between the three versions of the story [click here for a PDF version]. Groups should share their work with the whole class. Together, think about and discuss the following questions:

  • How are the plots similar and different?
  • How are the characters similar or different?
  • How are other parts of the literary toolbox (metaphor, theme, mood, setting, etc.) the same or different?

Participants should then respond to the following questions in their Conversations in Literature journals:

  • What literary tools did your students use to step out and objectify their experience?
  • What other tools could be used to provide other perspectives and enrich their reading?
  • What kinds of help could you give them, so that they would begin to use these other tools in a later discussion?

Additional Reading

“Literary Understanding and Literature Instruction,” an article by Judith Langer that describes the characteristics of classrooms where students are encouraged to enter the world of literature as they explore possibilities and move beyond their initial understandings.

“How Did We Get Here: Seventh-Graders Sharing Literature,” an article by Elizabeth Close which describes how she and her seventh-grade students arrived at new perspectives on literature and literature instruction as they began building envisionments.

Recollections by teachers involved in Dr. Langer’s research projects and its effects on their work in the classroom.

Deborah Appleman’s Critical Encounters in High School English suggests ways that feminist, Marxists, reader response, and deconstruction approaches to literary criticism can be introduced in high school classrooms. It is available from Teachers College Press, ©2000.