The implied reader will best understand the author’s intentions and their turns of phrase and take the most from their use of imagery and other literary devices. This hypothetical person will enjoy the author’s humor, understand their use of allusion, and agree with what the author says. Or perhaps be inspired to change their mind due to the author’s compelling arguments (for example, a piece of writing created with the desire of convincing or changing the reader’s mind).
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Implied Reader Definition
The implied reader is the ideal reader the author of a poem, short story, novel, play, essay, etc., is writing for. This person needs or will relate easily to the work they’re reading. For example, the implied reader of a poem about the loss of a pet is someone who has lost an animal close to their heart. Or, the implied reader of a novel about sibling rivalry is someone who has experienced complex familial relationships.
When someone who is not the implied reader explores a work of literature, they might not connect to the work in the way the author intended. But, this doesn’t mean that they can’t read it or enjoy it. They might find themselves faced with different obstacles than the implied reader. For example, understanding a specific life experience or an elevated writing style.
Examples of Implied Readers in Poetry
‘The House Was Quiet, and The World Was Calm’ is a sixteen-line poem that describes the relationship between a calm night and the search for truth within the written word. The poem is about “the reader” who comes to a book looking for answers. The person, who the implied reader should relate to closely, is seeking something in the text. The perfect implied reader loves literature, values reading, and may also be on a search for “truth” in their life.
Here are a few lines:
The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night
The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,
Read more Wallace Stevens poems.
Flare by Mary Oliver
‘Flare’ by Mary Oliver is an excellent example of a poem written with a specific reader in mind. Throughout, Oliver’s speaker talks directly to the reader. Throughout, she encourages the reader to “rise up” from their “stump of sorrow” and realize the joy of the present. Here are a few lines from the twelfth section of the poem:
When loneliness comes stalking, go into the fields, consider
the orderliness of the world. Notice
something you have never noticed before,
The perfect reader will empathize with the feelings Oliver is alluding to (those of depression, disconnection, alienation, and lack of purpose). They will also have a love of nature, one that may need reinvigorating.
Explore more Mary Oliver poems.
Implied Reader vs. Actual Reader
The implied and actual readers are both terms worth understanding in literary analysis. The implied reader, as noted above, is the person who is going to get the most out of the writing. The author wrote their poem, short story, or novel with this person or type of person in mind. They wrote it for a specific level of education, frame of mind, belief system, etc.
The actual reader is the person who actually picks up the book, poem, etc., and makes their way through the text—perhaps, having a less-than-ideal time in doing so. The actual reader might find the text too complicated to understand or too boring to keep their attention. They might not understand the author’s humor or allusions. But they continue reading. They will see the text in a very different light than what the author intended.
For example, consider the different ways that two people, one the perfect implied reader and one the actual reader, would interpret a poem about heartbreak. The implied reader might be moved to tears by the ideas and images the poet presents, while the actual reader, someone who has never experienced heartbreak or love, will be lost regarding why they should care about the subject and images.
An implied narrator is the person telling the story as interpreted by the reader. It is the character a reader infers based on their interpretation of the text.
The distinction is between who the written work is, the hypothetical person the text is most likely to appeal to, and the person who ends up reading it.
Like the implied reader, the ideal reader is the person who will get the most out of a written work. They have a certain education, a collection of life experiences, and preferences that align with those the author had in mind when they wrote their poems, short stories, essays, etc.
Related Literary Terms
- Authorial Intrusion: when the writer breaks the wall of their work and addresses the reader. This can happen in any genre.
- Essay: a short piece of writing that is based on a single subject. More often than not, the personal opinion of the author is included.
- Dramatic Monologue: a conversation a speaker has with themselves or which is directed at a listener or reader who does not respond.
- Irony: when an outcome is different than expected. It is possible for one situation to strike one reader as ironic and another as not.
- Persuasion: a literary technique. Writers use it to ensure that their readers find their written content believable.
- Narrative Hook: appears at the beginning of a piece of literature and is used to “hook” or capture the reader’s attention.