Teaching Resisting Reading


Teaching Resisting Reading


Sara Keeth


For an introductory course for literature majors, I assign the introduction from Fetterley's The Resisting Reader, which I have annotated for the students in advance (I do this with all scholarly articles in introductory courses, and I explain that the purpose is to introduce them to the way scholars read). I assign "The Flea" and "To His Coy Mistress" for the same day.

I supply them with some questions to consider in advance, such as "Who or what is a resisting reader?" and "What other less-privileged populations might use this tactic?" Other discussion points:
-This is a good time to discuss reader response.
-Why do readers respond differently to texts?
-Are there significant differences between how the original audience might have read this text and how modern audiences may read it?
-How might this text affect different kinds of readers (people of different ages/genders/ethnicities/religion/personal experience)?
-How do you handle being asked to read something (for a course) that you find offensive?

I use the following working definitions:
Dominant readings are the most common and widely-accepted interpretations of a given text.
An alternative reading is any reading that differs from the commonly accepted interpretation.
A resistant reading is an alternative reading that contradicts the dominant reading.

We then read the two poems together as a class, usually "The Flea" first. I tell them we will do a dominant reading first, then a resisting reading. (You can ask for alternative readings if you like.) We do this stanza by stanza or line by line. Then we do the same with "To His Coy Mistress." The students pick up quickly on the resisting technique here.

*Note that the poems imply some level of sexual violence; consider how you will address that in advance. Also, there are some spoilers for commonly used texts, so make sure you assign at the appropriate time during your semester.

Usually, a student will push back, especially with the Marvell: "But this poem is so beautiful, and I loved it the first time I read it." This is a great time to mention that you, too, may find a poem lovely and inspiring while at the same time being able to view it as a resisting reader. Introduce them to the idea of doing both at the same time.


Type of course: Lower Level
Time required: 45 minutes. Instructor should annotate the Fetterley in advance. I make a note especially about the use of the word "nigger." Copy and distribute the annotated chapter in advance. It's fine to give the students the discussion questions in advance.


Sara Keeth, “Teaching Resisting Reading,” Teaching the Middle Ages in Higher Ed, accessed May 29, 2020, https://medievalhighered.omeka.net/items/show/38.

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