MA Dissertation: Schema Theory and Reader Appreciation Of Literature
By Sarah Long
8 January 2019
Chapter 1: Introduction
The marriage of literary analysis and cognitive linguistics has been growing stronger over the past decades, and researchers are seeking to expand the field in various ways (Stockwell, 2002). One such expansion which has been suggested is the utilisation of cognitive poetics within a pragmatic sphere (Scott, 2018). This may involve presenting creative writers with a linguistic toolkit which can, in theory, help improve their crafts.
Scott’s article calls for both researchers and creative writers to expand upon the field of cognitive poetics as a practice (2018, p.86). Scott specifically cites schema theory as a relevant template, especially in regards to schema refreshment/disruption and the popular notion that the existence of such disruption may be a marker for quality literature (Scott, 2018, p.86; Stockwell, 2002, p. 79; Cook, 1994, p.10).
This concept was expanded upon by asking the following question: Is there a correlation between the level of reader appreciation of a particular story and the occurrence of schema disruption within it?
Any insight uncovered during this paper may open further dialogue, and possibly dissent, regarding schema disruption’s necessity for quality literature (Scott, 2018, p.86; Stockwell, 2002, p. 79; Cook, 1994, p.10). Furthermore, evidence suggesting a connection between schema disruption and reader appreciation of a piece of literature may serve not only as an introductory point for further research, but also help aid creative writers in a practical sphere.
As will be detailed in Chapters 2 and 3, two novels were compared: “Never Let Me Go,” by Kazuo Ishiguro (2004), and “J” by Howard Jacobson (2014). Reader reviews published on Goodreads were collected and analysed based on evidence of schema evocation.
The goals for this dissertation are twofold. First, it is hoped that any findings may highlight for future investigation the ways in which schema may affect how a reader enjoys a piece of literature. The second goal is to help create a practical toolkit, based on cognitive poetics, for creative writers to utilise in the future.
Chapter 2: Literature Review
Stockwell asserts that cognitive poetics is “all about reading literature” (2002, p.1), and “a way of thinking about literature rather than a framework itself” (2002, p. 6). With such a broad definition of cognitive poetics, it may also be helpful to utilise a more recent article by Scott, which narrows down focus to schema and deictic shift theories (2018). He specifically calls for analysis regarding schema theory and the balance between diegetically and mimetically oriented discourse narratives, “bearing in mind that the disruption and modification of schemas is one of the key processes that lends dynamism and momentum to narrative fiction” (Scott, 2018, pg. 86). As will be detailed later, this assertion seems to be popular amongst some theorists and literary critics.
Before detailing this further, first the history of schema theory and process of schema production must be addressed. Iser notes that “it is only by elucidating the processes of meaning-production that one can come to understand how meaning can take on so many different forms”. (1978, p. 23). With this in mind, the current chapter will begin with a summary of schema theory’s history, the previous research conducted regarding its relation to fictional discourse, how schema refreshment plays a role, and in which areas research is still lacking.
In the late 19th century, James characterised the relationship between knowledge and its representation in the brain as “the most mysterious thing in the world” (1950, p.5). Later, Gestalt psychology, popularised in the 1920s, began formulating the origins of schema theory (Cook, 1994, p. 9). Cook summarises the premise of its claim, which is that “a new experience is understood in comparison with a stereotypical version of a similar experience held in memory. The new experience is then processed in terms of its deviation from the stereotypical version, or conformity to it” (Cook, 1994, p. 9). In other words, a reader uses his or her own experiences and knowledge frames in comparison to the new experience, and then determines the level of similarity or difference between the two.
Psychologist Kant and philosopher Piaget also utilised the concept of schema in their studies (Wilson and Keil, 1999). Though these theorists and Gestalt psychology may have helped to shape many facets of schema theory, Semino dates the “true” origin of modern schema theory to psychologist Bartlett, whose investigations into the processing of visual and verbal stimuli suggested that memory, perception, and comprehension are shaped by “the expectations that people form on the basis of their prior knowledge” (Semino, 1997, p. 126).
Schema theory was re-popularised by artificial intelligence (AI) researchers in the late 20th century, especially with regards to answering problems relating to AI’s text comprehension abilities (Cook, 1994). Though Turing (1963), the creator of the AI test called the Imitation Game, has argued that machines will eventually exhibit a humanlike form of intelligence, Schank has noted that there are still issues researchers need to address, especially with regards to schema building and evolution (cited in: Cook, 1994; Schank, 1986). These questions about human intelligence helped formulate new research areas into schema theory and its notable effect on written discourse.
The types of knowledge that researchers like Schank and Cook are referring to are called schema, scripts, or “mental representations of typical instances… used in discourse processing to predict and make sense of the particular instance which the discourse describes” (Cook, 1994, p. 11). Schema and scripts come in many forms, but a simple example can be found in a cafe setting. If one lives in a Western culture in the 21st century, he or she can reasonably expect to walk into a coffee shop, look at the menu above the cash register, order a drink, and pay. There may be small regional variances; for example, if an American customer enters a British cafe, she may be asked if she wants a ‘takeaway’ cup, which is contrasting lexis to her American ‘to-go’. At first, she may experience cognitive disruption, but over time, she will relearn this particular schema and begin using ‘takeaway’ instead.
This schema alteration is further elucidated by cognitive and AI researchers. Schank asserts that “as knowledge is used, it changes. Or, to put this another way, as we undergo experiences we learn from them” (1986, p. 7). This vision of knowledge as dynamic and evolving is a critical component to the concept of schema refreshment, which will be detailed soon.
Cook also notes the importance of building new schema as a function of language, and the ability to “play with existing [schema]” (1994, p. 13). The safest place to do this is while reading, especially for entertainment (Cook, 1994, p. 13). If reading is considered a “safe place” to test schema and mind-reading abilities, then it can be argued that schema theory is a critical component of reader appreciation of a particular story (Cook, 1994, p. 13; Zunshine, 2006). A piece of literature which evokes schema, “in which readers are given points of reference and left to fill in the gaps “from imagination” (Cook, 1994, p. 13), rather than simply telling the reader every detail about what is happening, can alter the reading. To return to the cafe example, if a Western reader was given a scene in which each action of the character is described (walking inside, reading the menu, ordering, paying, etc.), he or she would at best grow bored, or at worst, be unable to imagine the scene in his or her own mind. However, it is important to note that another issue may arise if the opposite occurs; readers who are given too little information may become confused and unable to depend upon his or her own schemas to fill in the gaps.
A text which allows readers to “play with” new schema is also described as “simply the scaffolding on which you build the vivid psychological processes that stay with you for so long afterward” (Cook, 1994, p. 13; Palmer, 2004, p. 3). This scaffolding is built using countless forms of so-called literary tricks, however, a closer analysis of schema use within literature can provide clues as to what prompts — or takes away from — reader appreciation.
In order to best analyse schema use within literature, types of schema should be clarified. In this case, Stockwell’s definitions are some of the clearest and most concise to reference during a schema theory analysis (2002). Stockwell provides five types of schema and addresses how they may be used within a literary format.
The first is schema preservation, in which “incoming facts fit existing schematic knowledge and have been encountered previously” (Stockwell, 2002, p. 79). This includes parts of scene description which would normally be expected (the cafe menu, the barista standing behind the counter, etc.). Schema reinforcement is similar; however, it concerns new facts that strengthen and confirm schematic knowledge (Stockwell, 2002, p.79). Schema accretion concerns new facts that add to the range of knowledge within the script (Stockwell, 2002, p.79).
These types of schema don’t necessarily alter the foundations of the existing schema, instead, they add to it in some way. Schema disruption, however, concerns a “conceptual deviance” which could potentially “challenge” an existing schema (Stockwell, 2002, p. 80). For example, a cafe script may normally involve the customer choosing a drink from the menu. A deviation from this script may be that a cafe requires the barista to instead choose the customer’s drink.
Schema disruption is popular amongst literary fiction, especially within the absurdist genre (Semino, 1997). Literary critics generally tend to combine the effects of disruption with schema refreshment, which occurs when “a schema is revised and its membership elements and relations are recast” (Stockwell, 2002, p. 80; Semino, 1997, p.185). From a neurological perspective, if one views schema as “frequent patterns of activation in networks of low-level units of knowledge”, schema refreshment or disruption may correspond to unusual patterns of activation in units within these networks, which could result in a change in the strength of the connection between some of the units (Semino, 1997, p.185).
Some critics and researchers point to schema refreshment (or in some cases, disruption) as a mark of quality literature, at least in regards to the highest likelihood of broad reader appreciation (Cook, 1994, p. 10; Scott, 2018, p. 86; Stockwell, 2002, p. 79). Scott writes that “disruption and modification of schemas is one of the key processes that lends dynamism and momentum to narrative fiction” (2018, p. 86).
Stockwell takes this concept to a potentially controversial level by stating that “clearly, [schema refreshment] is not a definition of literariness as a whole, but a definition of ‘good’ literature, or literature which is felt to have an impact or effect” (2002, pg. 79). Additionally for Cook, literature performs an essential role in refreshing existing schema (1994, p. 10). He writes, “The argument in this book is that literary texts are not merely a category which needs to be included in an overall theory for the sake of completeness. It is rather that they are different in kind, representative of a type of text which may perform the important function of breaking down existing schemata, recognising them, and building new ones.” (Cook, 1994, p. 10). While on an intuitive level, it may be easy to agree with these theorists, there does not seem to be conclusive evidence that this is the case.
Additionally, many theorists disagree with the above assertions. While Semino supports Cook’s theories to a degree, she makes clear in multiple publications that she has disassociated herself with Cook’s definition of refreshment as a mark of literariness (Cook, 1994, p.10; Semino, 1997, p. 191). Jeffries argues that many, if not most, readers have developed one form of schemata or another which does not match the dominant ideology (2001, p. 334). Jeffries goes on to add that a problematic aspect of Cook’s model is the fact that in some cases, a reading can supply “not a challenge to existing schemata but the thrill of recognition” (2001, p.334). In this sense, schema reinforcement may also establish whether a piece of literature is enjoyable to a reader.
Jeffries continues with an argument against Cook’s and Semino’s suggestions that literature is schema-changing (Jeffries, 2001, p.334; Cook, 1994, p. 10; Semino, 1997, p. 191). She uses her own poetic readings as examples illustrating that, for some individuals, one element of a reading might be schema-changing, but for others the same element is schema-reinforcing (Jeffries, 2001, p.334). She goes on to state that even though one reading was schema reinforcing for her, she still felt the poem was just as literary as any which may evoke schema refreshment (Jeffries, 2001, p.334).
Semino argues against these assertions, however, stating that during her analysis, Jeffries did show evidence that she had the potential for schema change (2001, p.351). She states that “insofar as Jeffries claims that the ‘thrill of recognition’ resulting from such a combination of genre and topic is ‘a very common experience in the enjoyment of literary texts’, she is actually partly supporting Cook’s definition of literature which she (rightly) spends so much time refuting” (Semino, 2001, p.351). Jeffries’ article does seem to exhibit subtle connections with Cook’s definition of literature, and it seems that she is unknowingly refuting her own argument.
However, both Semino and Jeffries both believe that the level of schema refreshment should be seen on a cline (Semino, 1997, p. 251; Jeffries, 2001, p. 334). This viewpoint will be both incorporated into and tested within this dissertation. Semino states that “I would want to partially redefine the notion of schema refreshment in order to include not only schema change, but also less dramatic and less permanent experiences, such as connecting normally separate schemata in unusual ways in the processing of a particular text, becoming aware of one’s own schematic assumptions, questioning the validity of one’s schemata in the light of new experiences…” (Semino, 1997, p. 251). This new, more comprehensive definition of refreshment will be the main focus for the testing portion of this paper.
Additionally, despite some of the questionable assertions Jeffries makes, there may be instances of schema preservation which are just as valuable to the reader as refreshment (2001). However, there are few studies which specifically address the possible connection between the level of reader appreciation of a text, and schema refreshment and reinforcement (or preservation). This reflects a general lack of experimental research within the literary field (Miall, 2006, p. 12). Miall has addressed this in his own work, stating that “empirical studies have the capacity to take the primary place in defining literary studies, and that this approach would help to clarify the aims and unify the divided nature of this scholarship” (Miall, 2006, p. 12). With Miall’s assertions in mind, this paper will seek to address theorists’ claims using a data-based approach, which up until now has been limited (Stockwell, 2002, p. 79; Scott, 2018, p. 86; Cook, 1994, p. 10).
In order to adequately answer whether schema refreshment is a mark of “good” literature, as Stockwell has asserted, or whether schematic reinforcement is also meaningful, one must go to the readers themselves (Stockwell, 2002, p. 79; Jeffries, 2001, p.334).
Iser similarly notes the importance of readers to the study of literary discourse (1978, p.21). When speaking of the structures within literature that allow us to “describe basic conditions of human interaction”, he asserts that “[they] must be of a complex nature, for although they are contained in the text, they do not fulfil their function until they have affected the reader. Any description of the interaction between the two (verbal and affective) must therefore incorporate both the structure of effects (the text) and that of response (the reader)” (Iser, 1978, p. 21). Iser continues by arguing that “even if we were to accept that there was an ideal standard objectively embodied in the work, this would still tell us nothing about the adequacy of the reader’s comprehension of this standard” (1978, p. 23-24).
In response to Iser’s comment, this study will attempt to collect and analyse real reader data that may provide evidence of a “standard” for literature on a schematic level (1978, p. 24). However, any so-called standards discovered in the course of this paper will be entirely based on real-world reader responses.
With this in mind, the study will begin by accepting the arguments made by Cook (1994), Semino (1997; 2001), and Scott (2018) that elements of schema refreshment and disruption may contribute to, or in some cases detract from, a reader’s experience of a text. Though some theorists believe that a reader’s experience of schema refreshment can be a mark of good literature, the evidence is lacking, and requires further research.
This research focused on schema disruption and reinforcement occurring in two novels. ‘J’ by Howard Jacobson (2014), follows the love story of Kevern Cohen and Ailinn Solomons as they navigate a future dystopian world which has just suffered an unclear catastrophe. ‘Never Let Me Go’ by Kashuo Ishiguro (2004) similarly follows a dystopian society, however it is set in the recent past and involves cloning humans for organ donation.
‘J’ is set in an unspecified country after an apocalyptic event called WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED (Jacobson, 2014). It follows Kevern and Ailinn, who seem to have been brought together under mysterious circumstances. Neither of them seem to fit into their society, which has turned markedly more aggressive since the mysterious event, and Ailinn eventually discovers that this is due to their shared Jewish heritage. WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED is revealed to have been a mass genocide of the Jewish population, and Kevern and Ailinn are some of the only remaining Jewish citizens. Ailinn’s friend and roommate, Esme, believes that Ailinn and Kevern should marry and have a child in order to renew the Jewish lineage and give society a group of people to hate. According to Esme, this will help direct the energy of their society’s random aggressiveness to a specific target and will restore peace to their country again. Ailinn agrees and becomes pregnant with Kevern’s baby. Kevern is disgusted with this turn of events and commits suicide at the end of the story.
With regards to ‘J’, it may be argued that confusion while reading could be a result of schema disruption (Jacobson, 2014). For example, both characters act in ways which may not always fall in line with a traditional Western script. In the first paragraphs of the novel, Ailinn slides her feet into her slippers upon getting out of bed (reinforcement of a ‘getting dressed’ script) before taking them out again (disruption of a ‘getting dressed’ script) (Jacobson, 2014). While these small disruptions may lend an element of whimsy to the novel, when too many occur, such disruption could lead to confusion.
Larger disruptions may also be unpalatable, including the romantic scripts found within ‘J’s universe, which include beliefs that cheating and physical abuse against women are acceptable. Kevern, while described by other characters as grumpy and antisocial, is also seen as abnormal for his kind treatment of women (Jacobson, 2014). This disruption of the Western world script may lead readers to become sympathetic towards Kevern, however it may also lead them to dislike the story as a whole.
Another schema disruption found in ‘J’ includes a subplot involving Kevern being named a suspect in a minor character’s murder (Jacobson, 2014). This plot is all but forgotten in the last quarter of the novel, when the murderer is revealed to be another minor character who then kills the detective on the case. Nothing further is mentioned about the murder, and Kevern does not seem bothered by the events. This sense of ambivalence towards a murder investigation may be disruptive for most readers, especially those who are accustomed to crime genres, in which a plot twist is usually present. There is no such plot twist in ‘J’, which itself is tagged as science fiction, possibly further adding to the disruption a reader may experience (Jacobson, 2014).
One of the overarching themes regarding mistreatment of members of the Jewish religion may also serve as an unwelcome form of schema disruption. Esme’s goal to revive the Jewish population may at first seem more than acceptable to an average Western reader, however, when the character reveals her motive for the repopulation is to give the rest of society a culture to hate, readers may begin to feel uncomfortable. As will be detailed later, this discomfort could likely be the author’s goal.
Finally, the lexicon in ‘J’ is extremely advanced, especially for average readers (Jacobson, 2014). This could have added to reader confusion, and unfamiliar words which don’t fit an average reader’s literary script may lead to more unwelcome disruption.
The second novel, ‘Never Let Me Go’ (Ishiguro, 2004), is narrated in first-person by a woman named Kathy, who is living in Britain in the 2010’s, however, the majority of her story consists of her childhood memories a Hailsham, a boarding school in England. The reader learns that the children living at Hailsham are clones who will eventually be expected to donate their organs to others as young adults. However, the story itself focuses more on the relationships between Kathy and her close friends, Ruth and Tommy.
Schema disruption may occur in many ways, from Kathy’s constant calmness and complacency in the face of her death, to the simple fact that humans are being cloned at all. Similarly to ‘J’, the story highlights ethical boundaries which may make some readers uncomfortable (Jacobson, 2014).
These ethical issues, however, are slowly revealed throughout the story, which lends an argument to the idea that a reader may have been cognitively primed and prepared for the cloning and organ donation even before it became apparent. For example, clones who die after their donations are said to have ‘completed’. Such a word suggests that they have successfully served their purposes, which showcases that the ethical scripts present in the story are far different from those of the average reader. Despite the differing scripts and potential disruption, however, the reader generally accepts the new schema set within the novel.
The main question to ask is why. Despite potential ethical discomfort for the reader, ‘Never Let Me Go’ has received much more favourable reviews than ‘J’ (Ishiguro, 2004; Jacobson, 2014). This could be due to a more gradual sense of disruption, as mentioned; alternatively, Ishiguro’s simple and conversational writing style may have balanced disruption with reinforcement of a reader’s usual literary scripts.
Using both qualitative and quantitative data, it may be possible to answer this question, and on a larger scale, address assertions regarding schema disruption’s necessity to literary standards (Cook, 1994, p. 10; Scott, 2018, p.86; Stockwell, 2002, p. 79).
Chapter 3: Methodology
This chapter will set out the methodology of the study, including the texts used and why; the types of data collected, from where, and why; and the steps taken to ensure both the data and analyses were as accurate as possible.
In order to uncover evidence suggesting a connection between schema and widely appreciated literature, two literary novels were compared. While a great deal of schema analysis has dealt with poetry, fiction can also provide insights into a reader’s ability to retrieve stored knowledge. Additionally, prose can be a useful format to study due to the ease with which one can gather data regarding its popularity among readers (or lack thereof), which will be clarified further below.
The two novels analysed were similar in multiple ways. Both were shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and both were published within ten years of each other. Both were written by male British authors (though one was born in Japan) who have generally tended to write literary prose (Jacobson, 2014; Ishiguro, 2004). Finally, both novels fall under a ‘light sci-fi’, or speculative fiction genre. This all suggests that the novels received the same amount of exposure and enjoyed similar reading audiences. With the same awards, similar genres and publishing dates, and geographically similar locations, it is arguable that both books had the same so-called ‘chances’ for success. However, one of these books received a significantly lower rating on the reader review site Goodreads (to be detailed later in the chapter).
Schema theory was utilised during analysis for two reasons. The first, and arguably obvious reason, is that this paper sought revelations directly relating to schema refreshment and disruption. Second, there were pragmatic advantages of the theory with regards to literary analysis. Stockwell argues that “schema poetics might not be able to predict interpretative lines arising out of a reading, but it offers a currency of concepts to be able to discuss both interpretative agreement and difference in a way that is more principled than impressionistic” (pg. 261, 2003). Schema poetics allows for a more measured, logical approach to a field that tends to be otherwise, in Stockwell’s words, “impressionistic” (2003, pg. 261).
One note to make, however, is that schema theory has limitations. This is especially the case due to the fact that this study heavily relied on Cook’s theories whilst questioning whether his assertions were accurate in the real world (1994, p. 10). As mentioned in the previous chapter, many researchers have already questioned his views on schema theory, and whether his categorisations of the schema types utilised in this paper are too condensed. Jeffries asks whether there is an “oversimplification of the role of the dichotomy on which Cook’s whole model rests: that between schema refreshment and schema reinforcement. Recognising a schema, albeit one out of place, rather than finding a new or different schema, challenges the simplicity of his model, and muddies the distinction between change (or refreshment) and reinforcement” (pg. 328, 2001). Jeffries makes a compelling argument for the idea of refreshment and reinforcement lying on a scale, rather than sitting in completely separate categories. While this may have possibly, as Jeffries puts it, “muddied” this paper’s analysis, the methodology of this paper still closely reflected Cook’s own progression with his theory, and therefore helped establish a more compelling argument for any data collected that suggested that Cook’s assertions were inaccurate (Jeffries, 2001; p.328; Cook, 1994).
The genre for the two novels chosen was also an important consideration. While most literary genres do espouse a sense of the fantastic (if only due to their fictional nature), it is arguable that science fiction tends to do this more (Stockwell, 2003, p. 55). Stockwell cites Darko Suvin (1979) as a science fiction researcher who was one of the first to characterise the genre as utilising “cognitive estrangement” (cited in: Stockwell, 2003, p. 255). For Stockwell, science fiction offers “the most radical aesthetic operation of defamiliarisation” (2003, p. 255). He goes on to state that, “the key to an understanding of the working of SF is to be found in the readerly cognition of the literature. In this article, this can be explored through schemas” (2003, p.255). As science fiction has already been connected to schema theory in past analyses, it seemed appropriate to continue along this vein for the current study.
Both qualitative and quantitative data were collected for this study. Quantitative research methods generally emphasise the procurement of ‘hard’ data and empirical rules for a larger population, whereas qualitative research deals with personal information on a smaller and usually more holistic scale (House, 2018, p. 8). These methods were combined for this study because, as noted by Anderson and Poole (2001, p. 29), “it is sometimes desirable to combine qualitative with quantitive research to maximise the theoretical implications of research findings”.
Additionally, “understanding of whatever kind is the ability, through imagination, to relate limited, particular, concrete observations to larger, more encompassing, more stable schemas within which the particular experiences fit” (Chafe, 1994, p. 10). The current study aimed to utilise these ‘big picture’ ideas by analysing a select group of reviews which have been published on Goodreads.
While Amazon tends to be a popular choice for reviews, it can also be more focused on the sale of goods, as there is a direct “buy” button on each product page (Amazon, no date). In contrast, Goodreads does not offer such a direct purchase method (though it does provide links to other online booksellers, including Amazon) (Goodreads, no date). This suggests a less direct ‘bottom line’ approach when compared to Amazon. It has been noted that the Goodreads purchase links are “very discretely positioned on the book’s webpage” (Dimitrov et al., 2015, no page number). The researchers go on to state that, “while Goodreads is owned by Amazon, there appears to be little or no integration between the two services (other than a more prominent link to Amazon.com than to other booksellers).”
Goodreads is one of the largest literary review sites in the world. As of 14 August, 2018, it has 75 million members, lists 2.2 billion books and consists of 77 million reviews (Chandler, 2018). It allows virtually any reader with internet access to create an account and review any book he or she wishes. The reader can choose to simply give a star rating out of five, or add a text review that will be visible on the book’s page. While this allows for a wide range of data collection, there are some issues to consider. Like Amazon, many reviewers can theoretically be paid by a publisher or author for a positive review, despite the reader’s actual thoughts on the novel.
To remedy this, only reviews which have been thoroughly checked for authenticity were utilised. The content of each review was read and evaluated, along with the profile of each reviewer to ensure that he or she has reviewed other novels, and whether these reviews also seemed legitimate. Additionally, other reader comments on the reviewer’s profile were checked, as they may have flagged the reviewer in question as a ‘fake’ or paid reviewer. Goodreads also runs its own authenticity checks and will delete any profiles flagged as fake or inappropriate (Goodreads, no date). Even with these checks, however, some reviews may have fallen through the proverbial cracks. This is why the qualitative portion of the data collection was critical for a more accurate analysis.
Reviews with less than one hundred words were more heavily scrutinised or otherwise not used, both because they lacked a depth of analysis required for authenticity checks, and because they were not detailed enough to touch on aspects of schema theory. Additionally, any reviews that didn’t contain elements of schema preservation, accretion, reinforcement, disruption, or refreshment, were not applicable and therefore unused.
In order to stay within the limits of this paper and balance both the higher-number data requirements of quantitive research with the content-based needs of qualitative analysis, a total of 86 reader reviews were collected (44 for the negatively reviewed novel, 42 for the positive). Starting from the top of page one of each of the novel’s sites, each review was analysed based on the aforementioned criteria, working through each subsequent page until approximately 40 to 45 adequate reviews each were collected. During the course of the research, two of these reviews were shown to be inadequate and were subsequently discarded from the study. These were discarded after a second round of analysis, when the researcher determined that the reviews did not exhibit compelling enough evidence under the criteria previously mentioned.
After vetting all reviews for authenticity, a research tool called Zotero was utilised to organise all reviews into a content file. Zotero allowed each review to be tagged, for example, with keywords such as “5 Stars”, or “Accretion”, in order to quickly differentiate the different types of both quantitive and qualitative content.
This allowed greater ease of analysis for the quantitive portion, in which the average star rating of the reviews filtered for this study was then re-calculated. This new average was then compared to Goodreads’ average to check for significant differences.
The reviews were then given tags based on content. For example, if a reader asserted that the book was “confusing”, or that he or she could not comprehend what was taking place, the review was categorised as “schema disruption”, as this suggested literary elements that may not adhere to the reader’s scripts or schema. This is based on the concept that, during an episode of schema disruption, the reader may experience a cognitive setback resulting in confusion (Cook, 1994, p.192). Going back to an example from earlier, one may feel confused if, upon entering a cafe, the barista decides which drink the customer will have. In this sense, it can be argued that feeling confusion is closely linked to experiencing schema disruption.
This, however, was by no means a ‘hard science’ in the sense that such tag words could only point towards a certain type of schema phenomenon. A schema-reinforcing reading may also cause reader confusion. For example, if the novel presents too much information at once, despite the information being reinforcing, a reader may experience confusion. This is why a pairing with a qualitative approach was essential, as it allowed for a deeper analysis of the content of each review in order to uncover further evidence that a given schema event was taking place before tagging. Meanwhile, these tags helped to lend a more quantitively based structure to the study and the analyses performed.
If this dissertation is to take on the belief that schema disruption and confusion can usually be linked, this means that a sense of predictability, or even boredom, can be linked with reinforcement. This is why words like “boring” or “predictable” fell under “schema reinforcement,” as these statements suggested that the reader’s existing schema may not have been changed or altered in a significant way (Cook,1994, p.195). As Cook states, a discourse without some sort of schema alteration would be “both totally superfluous and utterly boring”, and though he makes clear that such discourse probably does not exist, it can be argued that the more “boring” discourses may be more lacking in significant schema alteration, which leads to a more schema-reinforcing category, rather than schema-disrupting (Cook, 1994, p. 195).
The connection between these tag words and phrases and certain schema types were additionally based on Cook’s assertion that, “discourses attempting [schema refreshment] but failing (for a given individual) are not simply ignored, but often violently attacked by those individuals and dismissed as boring or even harmful” (1994, p. 192). To expand upon this, it can also be argued that discourses tagged as “boring” were likely to contain larger episodes of schema reinforcement for the given reader, whereas “confusing” discourses may have been the result of the opposite effect of disruption (Cook, 1994, p.192).
Statements associated with preservation/accretion/reinforcement were then combined to be categorised under “reinforcement”, as these schema types have been described as generally sharing similar purposes, and have not been shown to significantly alter schema (Stockwell, 2002, p. 79). Statements associated with disruption/refreshment were combined into “disruption” due to their similarities with regard to a sense of change or alteration of schema (Stockwell, 2002, p. 80).
The instances of reinforcement and disruption were then calculated and analysed for any significant differences. A more qualitative analysis was then made by separating these categories into ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ reader reactions. For example, if a reader stated that she loved the fact the novel changed her perspective on something in her life, it was categorised as positive disruption due to her use of the word “love” and “change”. After categorising all the reviews, instances of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ disruption and reinforcement were compared. If, as Stockwell has suggested, ‘good’ literature requires schema refreshment, there should be evidence of this in the results, i.e., there should be more positive reactions to disruption than negative, and/or this type of disruption should be more plentiful in the more popular novel (Stockwell, 2002, p. 79).
There were of course possible issues with this type of analysis. Not all reviews posted on Goodreads could be directly be connected to schema reactions and were therefore disregarded. This meant that the findings were not universal and could have been skewed. There are other likely causes for a reader to enjoy or dislike a novel, and these may have nothing to do with schema disruption. Disregarding these reviews for the current analysis does not mean that they are insignificant to the overall causes of appreciation or dislike of the selected novels. They simply reflect a different reasoning for a reader’s appreciation. Adding these reviews to the analysis, however, would have gone far beyond the scope of this dissertation.
In order to account for potentially weakened data caused by the aforementioned potential issues, past schema theory analyses and studies were relied upon. This included poetic schema analyses by Cook (1994) and Semino (1997), and Stockwell’s definitions of schema types (2002). Other studies related to schema theory, most notably Fairley’s account of undergraduate reader appreciation of Sylvia Plath’s ‘Mushroom’ poem, and Gatbonton and Tucker’s evidence indicating that cultural background and knowledge plays a role in reading comprehension, were also utilised (Fairley, 1989; Steffensen and Chitra; 1984).
Chapter 4: Data Review
Goodreads allows readers to rate a title out of five stars, and then go on to write a personal review. These generally range from one hundred to five hundred words.
This analysis will begin first with Goodreads reviews of ‘J’ by Howard Jacobson, which received significantly lower reader ratings. As of 14 August, 2018, the average rating on Goodreads was 2.9 stars. (Goodreads, no date). From these, forty-four reviews that contained evidence of or associations to schema retrieval were compiled. The average of these reviews was calculated, which came to 2.7 stars (see Appendix 1a).
The reviews associated with schema disruption were then tagged and calculated. These reviews came in at thirty-four instances. In contrast, schema reinforcement-associated reviews came in at only ten instances (see Appendix 2). This indicates that 23% of the reviews were associated with reinforcement, compared to 77% associated with disruption. This significant difference will be further analysed in a moment.
Emotional reactions associated with schema disruption and those associated with schema reinforcement were then compiled. With regards to schema disruption, reactions associated with ‘J’ were significantly skewed to one side, with twenty-three ‘negative’ reactions vs. six ‘positive’ reactions and five ‘neutral’ reactions (see Appendix 3a). This means that 68% of reviews associated with disruption were negative. In contrast, both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ reviews regarding reinforcement came in at five each (50% negative, 50% positive), with zero ‘neutral’ reviews (see Appendix 3b).
In terms of a qualitative analysis, content within negative reviews were indicative of confusion and lack of clarity. One reviewer states, “it ws (sic) really interesting to discover the oddities of the society as I went on, but I really craved for a more in depth explanation.” (Ines, 2015). Here, a reviewer seems to enjoy “oddities”, or potentially schema disruptions, however, she also felt that there was a lack of explanation, or more specifically, accretion.
A second reader also touches upon this, stating, “some concepts being discussed went way over my head at times” (Krystin, 2016).
Other readers had arguably stronger opinions against ‘J’ and its alleged lack of explanation, clarity, and potentially reinforcement (Jacobson, 2014). Listed below are a just a few short examples of the reviews procured:
“It doesn’t matter how great this book is to the people who understand it, if most people don’t want to understand it at all.” (Tori, 2015).
“While reading J you learn to read between the lines, to pay attention, and to deduce the facts yourself…it is a bit inaccessible for most readers.” (Maxwell, 2014).
“There’s nothing clear here. Even this review makes no sense because my thoughts about it are all over the place.” (Haley, 2015).
Another reviewer makes a more detailed connection to a lack of schema reinforcement, and possibly too much schema disruption:
“The meaning was not accessible for me; I reread every page multiple times, striving for understanding and connection…For me, a great story must be more than its words. It must have meaning, connection, purpose, and express the real core of people. Sadly, for me, this story was a creative mousetrap; it lures you in and dazzles you, but leaves you empty and dazed.” (SuzyQB1987, 2014).
One specific occurrence of unenjoyable schema disruption concerns the two main characters, Kevern and Ailinn. According to reviewers, their relationship did not seem believable. One states, “And their love story was just weird, I dnd’t (sic) feel they loved each other at all” (Ines, 2015). Using a word such as “weird” suggests that Ines felt their relationship did not fit her love script, and this is further supported by her lack of belief in the trueness of their love.
Another concept that readers generally found unbelievable was the ultimate goal of one of the key characters, Esme. After having served as a motherly figure for Ailinn, Esme explains her plan to have Ailinn reveal herself to be Jewish and give birth to a child, in order to repopulate a previously destroyed Jewish community. The reason for repopulation, however, is to give the rest of the society a culture to hate. This concept challenged many modern reader schemas. One reader states, “I found the plan to save society to be monstrous and illogical and so struggled to take it seriously.” (Jan, 2015). For Jan, and many readers, this type of schema disruption did not successfully convert to any type of positive refreshment, and left readers with a level of discomfort, and in some cases anger, that made ‘J’ ultimately unenjoyable (Jacobson, 2014).
One important note to make is that many readers were led, based on reviews printed on ‘J’s back cover, to believe that the story bears similarity to ‘A Brave New World’ (Huxley, 1932) and ‘1984’ (Orwell, 1949). Four reviews mentioned the comparisons and noted that it was misleading, as ‘J’ seems to bear no resemblance to either novel (Jacobson, 2014). One of these states, “This doesn’t deserve to be compared to 1984 and Brave New World because those novels were accessible, most readers won’t be able to stomach this” (Tori, 2015).
Despite the high number of negative reviews for ‘J’, there were some positive points made (Jacobson, 2014). One reviewer states, “This makes the eventual unfolding of the truth, achieved partly through explanation within the story and partly through gradual realisation on the part of the reader, all the more powerful. but it’s still easy to read” (Blair, 2014). For this reader, ‘J’ achieved the right balance of disruption and reinforcement, and it was easy to understand (Jacobson, 2014).
Other reviewers simply put their faith in Jacobson and allowed him to lead the way: “Personally, I put my trust in Jacobson that it would come together, even as I pushed through moments of confusion or uncertainty, and, for me, it did” (Mlot, 2016). Though this reader did admit to feeling confusion, it seems that he was able to still feel that the novel “came together”. However, he does illustrate that this is only the case for him, as he notes, “for me, it did” (Mlot, 2016). He’s aware that for other readers, this was not the case.
It seems that the average rating of ‘J’ matched the content of reader reviews, and both the qualitative and quantitive data collected for this dissertation pointed towards schema disruption as a cause for the reader to dislike the novel (Jacobson, 2014).
In contrast, “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro enjoyed significantly higher Goodreads ratings. It had an average of 3.8 stars on Goodreads as of 14 August 2018 (Goodreads, no date). When 42 reviews associated with reader schema were compiled, the average rating stayed exactly the same as that listed on Goodreads (see Appendix 1b).
Instances of schema disruption were calculated, which came to 30. The instances of schema reinforcement came to 16 (see Appendix 2). Compared with ‘J’, the differences between disruption and reinforcement were not quite as significant, with disruption-associated instances at 65% and reinforcement at 35% (Jacobson, 2014). When these were divided into negative and positive reactions, ‘Never Let Me Go’ had 18 positive reactions to disruption, compared to only nine negative reactions (see Appendix 3a) (Ishiguro, 2005). In contrast to ‘J’, ‘Never Let Me Go’ seemed to illicit positive reader reactions with its instances of disruption (Jacobson, 2014; Ishiguro, 2005).
There were more negative associations with reinforcement (50% of these reviews) than positive (38%), though the difference here were not quite as significant (see Appendix 3b).
In regards to potential reinforcement issues, one reader states, “I thought there was WAAAAAAAAAAAY too much telling and not enough showing.’ (Mike, 2014). This connects to Scott’s notes when discussing the utilisation of schema refreshment and reinforcement, and the importance of ‘showing’ vs ‘telling’.
A lack of disruption or refreshment may be reflected in certain reader review word choices. These include “boring”, “not exciting”, and “repetitive”, which were found in seven reviews of ‘Never Let Me Go’ (Ishiguro, 2005). One example includes: “the beginning of this book is incredibly slow and borderline boring” (Wright, 2013).
Based on Goodreads, however, these readers seemed to be in the minority. Most reviews, as mentioned above, were extremely positive, and seemed to suggest a balance of reinforcement and disruption. One states, “the book forces us to rethink our hypocrisy and ignorance” (Margitte, 2015).
Another reviewer directly addresses how a reader’s previously developed schemas may affect his or her appreciation of ‘Never Let Me Go’ (Ishiguro, 2005). She says, “it depends on your personal experiences how much you can appreciate this book…I’m positive that I would not have loved it as much if I read it prior to 2009.” (l a i n e y, 2013). This review was categorised an example of readers’ inherent knowledge of individual schematic reactions.
Many readers mentioned a dichotomy between reinforcement and disruption-related aspects of ‘Never Let Me Go’ (Ishiguro, 2005). One states, “I love Ishiguro’s ability to give away so much by sharing so little. It’s musty and opaque, yet there’s a candidness to it that I adore… he is able to approach these subjects from a perspective that offers relatability and insight that is hard to recreate” (Maxwell, 2015).
Another reader goes on to say, “the quiet layering of his books is seriously masterful — that ‘show don’t tell’ thing that most authors just never quite pull off. He trusts his reader implicitly, dropping little hints and revealing what you probably have already figured out without fanfare — the point isn’t the reveal but the puzzle” (Jill, 2017). Here, the reader states that Ishiguro gives just enough information (telling), without revealing too much until the reader utilises his or her own schema and scripts to comprehend the ‘secret’ of the story (showing). Direct mentions of ‘showing and telling’ elements were found in twelve of the reviews for ‘Never Let Me Go’ (Ishiguro, 2005).
The data collected, both quantitive and qualitative, present some interesting evidence with regards schema disruption’s effect upon reader appreciation. In the next chapter, these results will be analysed through the lens of schema theory and ideologies presented in past publications.
Chapter 5: Analysis of Results
In regards to Goodreads reviews of ‘J’, a difference was found between the site’s average rating of 2.9 stars, and the average rating of reviews compiled for this paper of 2.7 stars (Jacobson, 2014). Though this is only slightly lower than the original score, it does serve as evidence suggesting that the more negative reviews may have loose associations with reader schema.
The large number of negative reactions to disruption (68%) compared to negative reactions to accretion (50%), suggest evidence of a negative reader reaction to instances of schema disruption in ‘J’ (Jacobson, 2014). The causes could range from a disconnect between the types of contained schema disruption and the average reader’s ability to appreciate them (Fairley, 1989), to a complete reversal of the claims made regarding refreshment’s necessity to literature (Cook 1994, p. 10; Stockwell, 2002, p. 79; Scott, 2018).
A middle-ground stance will be taken with the suggestion of the possibility that ‘J’ has, with regards to the reviews studied, evoked too much schema disruption for the average reader. There may be a certain balance between instances of disruption and reinforcement required for a reader to appreciate a piece of literature. With regards to ‘J’, the higher instance of reviews associated with disruption than with reinforcement (77% and 23%, respectively), coupled with significantly higher negative reactions, suggests that there is a higher occurrence of disruption, and that this may have caused negative reader reactions (Jacobson, 2014). These negative reactions could of course have little to do with the number of disruption occurrences, and more to do with the style of disruption, but there is evidence supporting a correlation between amount of disruption and level of enjoyment.
From a qualitative perspective, readers also made comments suggesting too much disruption in ‘J’ (Jacobson, 2014). As mentioned in the previous chapter, reviewers noted feeling confused, and in some instances even lost, during their readings. This similarly suggests a need for balance between disruption and reinforcement.
On a wider scale, there may be evidence of a large number of readers who share scripts that ‘J’ fails to refresh. In Fairley’s study of schema-related reactions of undergraduate readers, she states that she expects to find “areas of consensus for any given texts,” and to be able to “identify adequate or preferred readings” (1989, p. 293). Conversely, these Goodreads readers may have found an area of consensus regarding a reading that they disliked, which suggests that they may have a script in common.
Cook refers to this as well, stating that “the quality of schema refreshment is reader-dependent. Nevertheless, a given text may possess this quality for a large number of people” (Cook, 1994, p. 192). While it is impossible to pinpoint exactly which element(s) in ‘J’ may be correlated to a wide number of reader disapproval, there are some possible causes (Jacobson, 2014).
The first involves Esme, whose goal is to re-establish the Jewish population in order to create a target group for the rest of society to despise. As mentioned in the previous chapter, many reviews mentioned this part of the plot, and most were categorised under “negative disruption” on Zotero. This instance serves as an example of disruption that, on a broad level, did not make a positive impression on the reader. However, it must be noted that the author may have intended this type of disruption, and in this sense, it served its purpose, regardless of whether it was an enjoyable experience for the reader.
Other instances include readers’ disapproval of the romance portrayed between the two protagonists, and the depiction of each protagonist in general. In the first paragraph, of the novel, the reader is introduced to Ailinn, and based on her description (which has been detailed previously), it can be argued that she does not exhibit the emotional scripts that may be standard to many Western readers. This continues throughout the novel and can also be seen with regards to Kevern’s attitude.
Once again, a possible argument can be made that the author intentionally set Ailinn and Kevern’s attitudes separate from what may be regarded by larger reader populations as an appropriate script. Though this is on the line between linguistic analysis and literary speculation, it is imperative to note that Jacobson’s message may have been successful, in that it left the readers with a ‘standard Western’ cultural script feeling uncomfortable. In a sense, this discomfort highlights Jacobson’s message: certain cultures, and the scripts that may be tied exclusively to them, may be regarded with wariness by the larger group. If this is the case, it is arguable that Jacobson is, either consciously or unconsciously, using schema disruption to disturb the reader. Perhaps Jacobson was happy to create a piece of literature that did not fit the conventional Western science fiction script, with the goal to affect the reader in a different way. However, assuming that this is Jacobson’s goal, one must ask if he achieved it despite the readers generally finding the novel unenjoyable. It may be difficult to measure how the novel may affect a reader long-term, or whether, despite disapproval of the story, it affected his or her schema as the author intended. Such measurements may be of interest for future research.
While the aforementioned disruption may have been intentional (and, some may argue, even necessary), there was another instance of disruption which may have not served a helpful purpose. This involves not the story itself, but the novel’s back cover. As mentioned earlier, many reviewers noted a discrepancy between the expectations set on the cover, and the reality of the text itself.
Semino makes note of this potential issue during a reading, stating that “differences in default expectations may lead to differences in interpretation” (1997, p. 130). One can argue that, due to the possibly inaccurate back cover content on ‘J’, readers may come away with a reading which does not coincide with their default expectations (Jacobson, 2014). These expectations could come about due to a reader’s script for science fiction, in which certain elements must be in play to warrant such a genre categorisation. When these elements do not appear, and/or other elements are present which do not align with the science fiction genre/script, a reader may feel a sense of displacement similar to disruption. This type of schema disruption has potential to annoy or frustrate the reader, as he or she may feel that an unacceptable deception has occurred, which could result in an unenjoyable reading experience.
A general sense of reader confusion tended to pervade the reviews analysed. One reader mentioned a lack of connection to the novel, which is a phenomenon mentioned in other studies related to reader schema. During Fairley’s study of undergraduate reader responses to Sylvia Plath’s ‘Mushroom’, she notes that the readers who interpreted the poem literally experienced dissatisfaction with the reading, especially with regards to specific concepts that they did not understand (1989). She says that “many readers perceive language contradictions in the poem and express a desire to resolve them. But literal readers do not necessarily have the script that would help them to achieve such solutions…some of these readers, however, become disturbed by items that they cannot fit into their interpretation. Their expression of frustration and unhappiness is significant as it reveals an expectation of unity” (Fairley, 1989, p. 302). This may or may not be the case for ‘J’, however, it is critical to note that Goodreads readers have a diverse background, and therefore many may lack the reading script that Fairley mentions (1989).
Culler adds to this, stating that some readers expect to “bring under some general heading the particulars that the poem lists and describes” (1981, p. 69). There seems to be a consensus of the inherent need for a reader to be able to make certain connections within a fictional discourse, and if this is the case, it can be argued that these connections are not present in ‘J’ (Jacobson, 2014).
Jones also states that “the main thing that makes a text a text is relationships or connections” (2012, p. 7). As evidenced by the reviews collected, ‘J’ does not offer clear connections between textual themes and plot lines for most readers, and this may be a defining reason behind its lack of popularity (Jacobson, 2014).
As one reviewer states, “If you’re (sic) novel is not accessible to the readers, then what’s the point in publishing it?” (Catharine, Goodreads, 2014). While this statement may sound harsh, Catharine does bring up an interesting point: if the type or frequency of disruption utilised within literature is unenjoyable to the general reader population, and leaves them feeling a lack of connection that ultimately means the book is ‘bad’ in their view, then are Stockwell’s and others’ assertions connecting ‘good’ literature to schematic disruption rendered invalid (Stockwell, 2002, p. 79; Cook, 1994, p. 10; Scott, 2018)?
Based on the quantitive and qualitative analysis of schema-based Goodreads reviews, there does seem to be evidence of either too much schema disruption for the reader, or types of schema disruption which don’t affect the readers in a manner that will leave them enjoying the book.
A continued analysis of ‘Never Let Me Go’ may suggest that the former is true – too much, or too little, schema disruption for a reader may affect his or her opinion (Ishiguro, 2005). Unlike ‘J’, schema disruption in ‘Never Let Me Go’ was generally viewed positively, with 67% of reviews in favour (Jacobson, 2014; Ishiguro, 2005). Contrastingly, reinforcement was generally viewed poorly, with 50% viewed negatively compared to 38% positively.
Predominant keywords found in ‘Never Let Me Go’ Goodreads reviews included “bored” and “redundant” (Ishiguro, 2005). A sense of boredom may suggest that the reader’s schema or script is simply not being challenged (Cook, 1994, p. 192). If this is the case, those readers who did not enjoy ‘Never Let Me Go’ may have experienced too much schema reinforcement or accretion, and not enough disruption (Ishiguro, 2005).
This may challenge Jeffries’ assertion that “these non-literary schema-changing genres use familiarity, rather than defamiliarisation, as a starting-point to encourage readers to change their schemata” (Jeffries, 2001, pg. 330). Though she is specifying non-literary pieces, she uses this as an umbrella argument for literature as well. While her belief may be true to some degree, there may also be a need for balance between evoking familiarity and defamilarisation.
Rather than using familiarity as a starting point, Stockwell asserts that certain novels within the sci-fi genre utilise a pattern of presenting schema refreshment to “stylistically suggest a mere schema accretion is being undertaken” (2003, p. 267). This could arguably be the case for ‘Never Let Me Go’, where the refreshment is being dressed up as accretion (Ishiguro, 2005). Regardless, in this novel’s case, the trick does not seem to be working for some readers. Stockwell goes on to note that “the strategy can then work so as to lull the reader into a false sense of security, so that a final jaw-dropping full schema refreshment can be enacted at the end of the narrative” (2003, p. 267).
However, this “jaw-dropping” schema refreshment does not seem to occur for many readings of ‘Never Let Me Go’ (Stockwell, 2003, p. 267; Ishiguro, 2005). One reader states, “somehow it builds up so you’ve known it all along, but you never have this big moment of revelation. Unfortunately, that deadens the sharper shocks, I think” (Nikki, 2014). The “big moment of revelation” can be connected to a sense of schematic refreshment, and the lack of refreshment that the reader feels is further evidence of too little schema disruption within ‘Never Let Me Go’ (Nikki, 2014; Ishiguro, 2005).
This directly connects to the assertion Cook has made regarding his belief that a primary function of literature is to alter schemata (1994, p. 10). As mentioned in the previous chapter, a discourse attempting refreshment but failing for a given reading are “often violently attacked by those individuals and dismissed as boring or even harmful” (Cook, 1994 p. 192). These negative Goodreads reviews may be the effect that Cook describes — perhaps a lack of schema alteration in ‘Never Let Me Go’ elicited a sense of boredom for some readers (Cook, 1994, p. 192; Ishiguro, 2005). Meanwhile, ‘J’ may have attempted too much disruption, which caused certain readings to fail, and some reviewers to “violently attack” the novel (Cook, 1994, p.192; Jacobson, 2014).
On one hand, a lack of disruption in ‘Never Let Me Go’ supports the point Stockwell and others make when discussing the utilisation of schema refreshment vs reinforcement, and the importance of the former for ‘good’ literature (Stockwell, 2002, p. 79; Scott, 2018, p.86; Ishiguro, 2005). This suggests that there may be some truth to the arguments for schema refreshment’s necessity within literary novels (Scott, 2018, p.86; Cook, 1994, p. 10; Stockwell, 2002, p. 79). However, one cannot ignore the fact that, despite negative Goodreads reviews marking ‘Never Let Me Go’ as ‘boring’, the novel enjoys a much higher overall rating than ‘J’, which exhibits a higher prevalence of disruption (Ishiguro, 2005; Jacobson, 2014).
This may be addressed by the relative balances of disruption and reinforcement between each book. Though some reviews suggested that ‘Never Let Me Go’ did not contain enough schema-altering elements, generally readers seemed to enjoy the novel as a whole (Ishiguro, 2005). This could be due to a better balance of disruption and reinforcement, at least when compared to ‘J’ (Jacobson, 2014). Some reviews suggested evidence both of disruption (“musty”, “opaque”, “sharing so little”), and accretion/reinforcement (“candidness”, “relatability”, “insight”). Conversely, few reviews of ‘J’ displayed instances of reinforcement (Jacobson, 2014).
This seems to support the hypothesis that literature requires some level of balance between instances of schema disruption and reinforcement to receive a wider positive reader experience. However, this does not negate the possibility that Ishiguro simply utilised elements of disruption that were palatable to the reader, and it has little or nothing to do with the prevalence of disruption within the novel. Further research is necessary to provide better evidence.
To continue with this point, the Goodreads reviews procured involved readers whom the researcher has never met and does not know. This, coupled with the various causes for the contrasting levels of popularity between these novels, means that the results found are not unquestionably indicative of a need for schematic balance. The results merely begin the conversation, and bring into question statements made by established researchers (Cook, 1994, p.10; Stockwell, 2002, p.79; Scott, 2018).
However small these results are, they do provide evidence which may refute some theories. For example, Cook states that “the degree of schematic change, and thus the assignment of esteem, will depend upon the schemata which the reader employs in interpretation, and on his or her own receptiveness and ability or wish to change” (1994, pg.192). This statement can be partially refuted by evidence collected in that a large number of readers experienced similar results in their readings. Either each of these readers shared both the same schemata and the same “receptiveness to change” at the same instance they performed their readings, or there is something in the texts themselves that is either compelling or lacking (Cook, 1994, pg.192). As this study was limited, it is unable to irrefutably answer this question, and requires far more extensive research; however, it does point towards potential faults in Cook’s reasoning (1994).
Chapter 6: Conclusion
This paper brought into question the validity of certain established beliefs regarding schema disruption and its necessity for ‘good’ literature (Cook, 1994, p.10; Scott, 2018, p.86; Stockwell, 2002, p.79). It sought to answer the question of whether schema disruption largely serves as an element of positive change for a reader, and if this change is generally accepted by the audience.
Results indicated that the simple occurrence of schema disruption within a piece of literature did not automatically cause the reader to enjoy the novel. Analyses of Goodreads reviews of ‘J’ suggested a larger occurrence of disruption than its counterpart, ‘Never Let Me Go’, however, within the scope of Goodreads, the former was the least popular novel (Jacobson, 2014; Ishiguro, 2004).
An integral issue to address is that the frequency or types of disruption occurring within ‘J’ is unenjoyable to the general reader population, which categorically calls into question the belief that disruption indicates ‘good’ literature (Jacobson, 2014; Stockwell, 2002, p.79; Cook, 1994, p.10; Scott, 2018, p.86). Such a belief is difficult to support when results suggest a highly schema disruptive piece like ‘J’ garners such negative reviews. While other characteristics of the novel may have caused the general dislike, the reviews analysed suggested specifically that the disruption-oriented confusion experienced by the readers may have played an integral part in ‘J’’s low reviews (Jacobson, 2014).
Conversely, some results for ‘Never Let Me Go’ indicated that there may not have been as much schema disruption/refreshment (Ishiguro, 2004). For some readers, there was a lack of a‘revelation’ or ‘twist’ within the story, which may suggest a lack of disruption. While reviews specifically associated with this lack tended towards the negative, the general consensus was that ‘Never Let Me Go’ was an enjoyable novel (Ishiguro, 2004). This suggests, from another perspective, the questionable nature of the schema disruption belief. Either ‘Never Let Me Go’ evoked ‘just enough’ disruption for the general reader, or the disruption wasn’t a necessity at all.
If one is to momentarily accept that schema disruption has in fact played a part in negative reader reception for ‘J’, and that this disruption wasn’t necessary for reader enjoyment of ‘Never Let Me Go’, then one must also join the much larger conversation regarding who ‘decides’ whether a piece of literature is ‘good’ (Jacobson, 2014; Ishiguro, 2004). ‘J’s shortlisted status for the Man Booker Prize did not reflect the general reader’s opinion of the novel (Jacobson, 2014), and despite its schema-disruptive characteristics, most Goodreads readers did not think it was ‘good’ (Stockwell, 2002, p.79). As some Goodreads reviewers stated, if ‘J’ was too confusing and inaccessible for the general public, it should not have been considered a universally ‘good’ novel, despite literary critics asserting otherwise. The schema disruption belief presented and questioned seems to add fuel to the fire here, as it seemed that Goodreads readers did not fall in line with theorists’ assertions regarding ‘good’ literature (Cook, 1994, p. 10; Stockwell, 2002, p. 79; Scott, 2018, p.86).
On a wider scale, these results point to the continued lack of a conclusive benchmark for measuring of the ‘goodness’ of a novel, which may not be surprising considering the enjoyment of a piece of literature is a truly personal matter of personal opinion. However, this does not mean that the study and analysis of schema disruption’s effect on a reading should end. In fact, this paper supports the earlier assertions of Scott (2018), Miall (2006), and Iser (1978) to continue studying literary discourse from a practical and empirical reader-based perspective.
In order to more deeply analyse these results, further research may include a larger range of reader surveys, preferably with a group of readers who share similar schematic backgrounds and scripts that are known by the researchers. A more controlled study of literary disruption vs. reinforcement, in which an abstract novel is read against a novel that both disrupts and reinforces the scripts of the target reading group, may help to provide further evidence of a need for balance between disruption and reinforcement. Though it may be impossible to calculate an exact percentage, future research may be able to provide better insight into an ‘ideal’ balance between disruption and reinforcement that could potentially result in a positive reading.
As stated earlier, the results presented in this dissertation are merely the starting point for larger and more rigorous studies, which will hopefully be laid out in the future.
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